6 Critical Steps to Optimize Your Business for Voice Search

Lori Maupas
Lori Maupas, Senior Editor

Not long ago the idea of a voice-activated virtual assistant was something straight out of Star Trek. And yet here we are -— seven years since Siri debuted and four years since the world first met Alexa — with one in six Americans already owning a smart-speaker.

And as voice-activated technology continues to improve, more users will flock to the ease of speaking a question aloud instead of typing it. Experts predict that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be spoken and 30% of all searches will be done on devices without a screen.

That’s less than two years away — what is your business doing to prepare for this impending and inevitable shift in the way consumers choose to engage?

Are You the One?

The most critical difference between text and voice search is this: Digital assistants provide ONE best result. Just one. Sure, some devices allow you to ask for more options, but people using voice search are less  likely to request more results — they’ll trust the first recommendation.

If virtual assistants rank your business as the best option, you win. If not, you lose potential customers. How can you be sure you rank you higher than your competitors?

In a recent Forbes.com article, Michael Fertik, founder and chairman of Reputation.com, said, “Google and Alexa don’t care how big you are — if your business nails the key ranking factors, you’re not just first in search results — you’re the only result.”

And while there are similarities between text and voice search, there are some important differences. Here are a six critical steps to optimize your business listings for voice search:

  1. Think accurate, complete and identical: These are three critical elements to consider when populating various platforms with data about your business. The more accurate and complete your business data is – location, phone number, website, hours of operation and so on — the more likely it is that Google and other search engines will trust it. And the more they trust the info, the higher your ranking in search results. And Google loves local, which gives smaller businesses a unique opportunity in terms of competitive advantage — as long as the information you’re sharing is correct and up to date.
  2. Don’t limit yourself to Google: As you audit your listings, be sure to include all relevant sites — not just the usual suspects such as Google and Facebook. Those are certainly the right first step, but Bing is Alexa’s go-to for search. Yellow pages still has a significant following and influence. And don’t forget Foursquare. For best results, make sure your business information is accurate across all these sites.
  3. Be relevant and timely: Current and authentic content keeps your business pertinent to both consumers and search engines. The algorithms used in voice search look for keywords and attributes that help to distinguish one business from another. If you’re sharing a steady stream of consistently useful and targeted information, your company will stand out, a crucial consideration as virtual assistants winnow their way down to that one final result.
  4. Have great ratings and reviews: Ratings and reviews matter in both text and voice search — a lot. But consider this: As a virtual assistant hones in on the one result to answer your question, only a business with recent (and high) ratings and reviews will stand a chance of coming out on top. Businesses that request reviews and ratings consistently and monitor and respond in a timely manner to consumer concerns gain credibility with potential customers and digital assistants.
  5. Use a conversational tone: This one’s a biggie — people use different words when performing voice searches than they do when typing a search into Google. They may type a short string of nouns, such as “car repair local,” but they’re much more likely to say the words, “Bixby, find the best local car repair shop.” As the intelligence behind voice-activated search continues to evolve, searches will invariably trend toward returning these simple, conversational phrases. Savvy businesses should incorporate conversational language into their websites and online listings to increase their chances of getting selected in “long tail” search queries.
  6. Determine the questions your audience asks: Consider simple questions people might ask about your goods and services, your physical location and the way you operate. For example, “Alexa, where’s the best local Thai food?” A follow-up questions may be one of the following: “Are they open now? Do they accept credit cards? Do they deliver? Do they take reservations?” Sit down and brainstorm simple, searchable answers for the questions potential customers are most likely to ask when searching for a business like yours. (Note: not every device supports related questions. On Alexa, Follow-up mode has to be enabled by the user. So ensure you’ve got a set of question answers that are first optimized for single-query results.)

For more information about optimizing your business listings for search, check out this video.