SEO is basically a popularity contest, according to Jim Stewart. In an age where people would rather converse with a machine than consult with a screen, how will brands be forced to fight for homecoming queen?
This article is part of Marketing’s special focus on audio and voice in marketing »
Of the ways that people interact with voice technology, search is by far the most common. Since Siri brought intricate voice interactions with technology out of the realm of science fiction, consumers have been eager for their devices to be able to say more.
Google’s Duplex demonstration earlier this year shocked the world – a machine speaking with the fluency and pacing of real human being sent chills down spines. One might think an AI approximating Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Samantha’ from Her may not be so far away.
When voice does become a primary mode of navigating the internet, brands will be fighting to be the content of Siri/Alexa/Duplex’s response. Jim Stewart, search engine optimisation (SEO) guru and founder of one of Australia’s first internet businesses, StewArt Media (founded in 1998), says the key to becoming the answer, is to figure out the question.
Marketing speaks with Stewart to learn more about the difference between text and voice SEO, what marketers tend to get wrong with voice and thermomixers.
Marketing: How do you define voice marketing?
Jim Stewart: Well, we’re moving towards what we call a ‘screenless society’ – the most common examples we currently have being the Apple HomePod, Google Home and Amazon Alexa. All of these things use voice search, but voice search is something that has been available on our phones for a while as well. Even the Google app allows you to just talk straight to your phone, and I certainly search a lot using Siri on my iPhone.
What we find with voice search, though, is it tends to be used more often where people are looking for a closed answer – we don’t find that a lot of research is being done using voice – but it certainly is used a lot for convenience, when people are looking for something specific.
Voice marketing is a tricky one, because a lot of the time it just comes down to answering questions. As people are always looking for answers, this is an extension on normal text search as well. Google figured out many years ago that more and more people were typing long questions into Google, rather than just keywords – to the point where Google changed its algorithm (about three or four years ago) to incorporate and give more focus to voice-related searches.
The sorts of things that you see companies do – those that do it well – is focus on building a stronger brand.
Because at the end of the day, you don’t want to be just part of a category. If you’re Kleenex, you don’t want to be part of a general search for ‘tissue paper’; you want people to be searching for ‘Kleenex’. That’s the difference of where you need to be.
So stronger brands will do very well with voice search; lesser known brands probably won’t because they’re going to be harder to find, and people will have to research.
So one of the things that we always recommend to clients is: have a think about the questions that your customers are asking, and what you can do to answer those questions. What can you be publishing to help your customers understand the product while establishing your brand as an authority? How do you become the Dyson of your industry?
And it doesn’t have to be global or national; it could be something very local. There are bloggers that have successfully done this, where their brands are synonymous with the things that they blog about. Anybody who is running a business online should be looking to get to that point.
How does voice SEO differ from traditional text-based SEO?
It differs a lot these days. I think that as voice searching evolves over the years along with the types of searches that people are doing – if you are answering questions in a blog post, for example – I think Google is going to look at that, more so than a page that was optimised five or six years ago.
That website may be running on a whole bunch of old techniques that Google has moved on from, because Google is always trying to evolve the quality of its results. So if the trend among users is looking for explicit answers then Google is going to focusing on sites that are doing that. This is a sort of combination of the user evolution of the internet and the algorithms catching up and producing the results that reflect that.
More from Jim Stewart: Want to rank higher on Google? Stop competing against yourself »
What do marketers tend to get wrong when looking at voice?
I haven’t seen a lot of stuff optimised for voice marketing yet, certainly locally. The sorts of things they are probably not doing is, again, answering those questions that are already being asked. And you can actually find a lot of these questions straightaway.
For instance, if you go to Google Trends, and type in the word ‘why’, and look at the growth of people typing that in over the past 14 years, it’s quite stark how that upwards tick happened about five years ago. So searches including words like ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ are all – almost certainly – questions.
What marketers can do is go into their Google Search Console – which is a free tool that every website owner should have set up – and look for the phrases that people are using to find your website. From there you can narrow down on those phrases and look for those including ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’, and see what kinds of questions are being asked.
If you have enough traffic you’ll find that there’s a trend that emerges from those questions. Then you can start producing content, packaging, marketing or whatever it may be, that actually targets and answers these questions – so your brand becomes known as the one that has the answer to the problems.
Another lesser used word or abbreviation that you can also look at is ‘versus’. So if you look for ‘versus’ in Search Console where the key words are kept, you can see how many people are trying to make a decision between your product and that of another company. It could be ‘Nikon versus Canon’ or ‘home delivery versus pick-up’, who knows? So, unless you’re actually looking at the data, you are not going to be able to optimise well for voice search.
Do you see voice becoming a dominant part of the way people navigate the internet?
In certain situations, definitely. I don’t think it’s going to replace text, mainly because it’s not a convenient way to research. It is very convenient to say: ‘hey Siri, order me a pizza’ or ‘hey Alexa, order me some golf clubs’. Those sorts of requests, where the decision has already been made, will start to dominate. ‘Hey Siri, what time is this movie playing’ – with things like that, where you need a specific answer to a question, voice will dominate.
However, when you’re researching, you’re not necessarily going to trust voice search for ‘what’s the best ride-on lawnmower in Melbourne?’ That’s probably going to require a bit more research, because it’s a bit more open ended. So I think closed questions will dominate in voice, but text is definitely here to stay.
What is your advice to brands that want to be at the forefront of voice search?
It really depends on what niche you’re in. As I said, I’ve seen single mums working out of home become successful with this, so you don’t necessarily have to have big budgets to do it.
Who are you targeting? Who are your buyer personas? Understand who your customer base is and where they hang out online, and that will dictate where you need to hang out online.
‘Skinnymixers’ (or Nikalene Riddle, as her family calls her) runs a blog on Thermomix recipes and has over 160,000 followers on Facebook – she is pretty much synonymous with Thermomix recipes online around the world. She hasn’t spent big on marketing for that; she’s just done normal PR and engaged with her audience.
Things like PR are important, getting people talking about you is important. Techniques even such as newsjacking, which is the practice of injecting your brand or ideas into coverage of something topical to gain exposure.
A lot of it is about general marketing practices, as well such as television and radio, which I think is an area missing some great opportunities in converting customers into the online space. Simple things such as telling customers to ‘just search for our brand’, which a lot of companies do, but a lot don’t.
That helps the brand gain more awareness in search – the more people searching for your brand, the more likely it is that your brand will appear for keywords associated with it. Google needs to show the most popular brand; it has to. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a very good search engine. So the goal of a brand owner should be to become a search-star.
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Image credit:Jens Johnsson