Hey Siri: What Do Content Marketers Need to Know About Voice Search?

Earlier this year, an Alexa smart speaker started a public uproar and a minor crisis at Amazon when a series of words (misunderstood as a voice search query) led the device to record its owners — and then send that recording to one of their contacts.

The debacle impressed upon people the power of these devices to change their relationship to technology. For marketers, it highlighted just how much the process of mining meaning from user data was about to change.

It used to be that marketers had a wealth of opportunities to insert their message between a consumer and their potential purchase. From the decision to buy shoes to the act of buying them, the consumer would pass through a variety of bottlenecks: a physical mall, the Yellow Pages or even just an online store.

Now, however, voice search and control of consumer devices are beginning to make that relationship between marketer and audience less direct, and thus more challenging to monetize. In particular, voice search is dramatically shrinking the number of points at which a content marketer can make contact with consumers. One in every five people talk to Siri at least once daily, and 43% of mobile device users prefer voice search to traditional search engines or apps.

This is because voice searches tend to be more “action-oriented” than text queries, as evidenced by the fact that they are often referred to as voice commands rather than searches. Voice commands cut through possibilities and speak directly to a recipient service. Think of it as being something more akin to, “Hey Siri, show me directions to the nearest Foot Locker,” than, “Hey Siri, where should I buy my new shoes?”

This cutting out of the middle man has resulted in a whole array of search results and landing pages now being skipped entirely, and not even through intentional consumer choice. It’s in the best interest of search giants like Google and device companies like Apple to mine information from more and more explicit user commands. The more specific a set of instructions, the more information the company can package and sell; this is a definite opportunity for content marketers themselves to buy their way into that insight. But even with this intelligence at our fingertips, it’s still necessary to find opportunities to leverage it.

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Voice Search Makes It Necessary to Put Content Forward

In terms of content strategy, this new approach to voice search queries requires content marketers to orient content to answer specific questions directly. Gone are the days when keyword placement was enough to get to the top of search ranking. Search crawlers for both written and spoken queries are getting advanced enough to notice whether a piece of content is truly or only superficially related to the topic at hand.

As it turns out, this is a good thing for content marketers. It helps cut a whole layer off of the ideation workflow, allowing you and your creators to focus on the themes that answer your client’s questions and inspire your potential customers. This results in less forced phrasing to satisfy an algorithm, because now the algorithm is genuine human interest — which undeniably changes how marketers must approach their content strategy.

It’s also important to write articles that answer a question, as this is the kind of content Google mines for their direct answers to questions. If your content becomes the featured snippet on Google, voice assistant software such as Google Home will read it out when answering voice search questions; and the device will often read out the name of the site as a citation — a note worth considering when naming new sites and choosing URLs.

There’s a lot of good advice out there about how to rank for Google’s featured snippets, but you should start by investigating what questions your audience is asking. Use tools like Google Keywords and Trends to determine what certain audiences are looking for, or talk to your sales team about the frequently asked questions they receive. Then, you can begin to create content that specifically addresses those concerns, positioning yourself as a helpful and thoughtful resource.

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Forget Keywords — Embrace Key Concepts

One simple but effective way to overcome the new challenges of voice search is to refocus your SEO efforts on so-called “long tail keywords” that are more oriented toward the conversational syntax people use when speaking to a voice assistant. This means focusing not on the word “volleyball,” but the entire phrase “best volleyball store in Seattle.” Turning away from keywords and towards key concepts is done by adopting the phrasing used most frequently for interaction with voice assistant software.

To do this, you’ll need to accommodate a diversity of concepts and possible ways of phrasing each one. This is one area where purchasing insight into search functionality can be a crucial advantage, as it allows you to highlight the exact keyword phrases you want to focus on hitting with your SEO strategy. SEMrush’s Keyword Research feature and Moz’s Keyword Explorer will both provide you with well-tried and tested key concepts that leaders in your industry are using.

Even if you’re still seeing strong performance from your legacy strategies, it’s time to start compiling your lists of crucial long-tail key phrases and concepts. Preparation will be the secret to winning the race to own this space in the future, and that means assessing solutions before problems arise. Once you’ve done this, you can start to roll out these new approaches in addition to your existing strategies and capitalize on new markets even while still collecting revenue from the old.

The Times (and Demos) They Are A-Changin’

Voice search is also uniquely approachable for an older demographic of consumer who might not be comfortable using a touchscreen or web-based interface to do their searching. This means that the tenor and intent of online searches could be about to change dramatically. Even if you know the most relevant concepts in text search, you might not know them in voice search.

The emotional tenor of a query will be affected by this shift as well, as it’s one of the few upward-moving age trends in digital marketing. Older people are interested in different sorts of topics, and they approach those topics in distinct ways — your understanding of the most effective approach to a given topic needs to evolve in tandem with the potential audience.

According to Google, voice searches are around 30 times more likely to be a direct command than a typed search — and this is just the beginning. You can think of the voice search revolution as a means to bypass your content marketing efforts, or you can think of it as an opportunity to redouble those efforts and reach your target audience more personally and more powerfully than ever.

Though the Alexa recording debacle is an example of how voice activated technology can negatively infiltrate the daily lives of consumers, it also shows that modern tools can gain insight from a whole host of previously unreachable, intriguing sources. Even without bugs or exploits, that’s going to have an enormous impact on the sorts of content marketing opportunities out there. What form that impact will take, and how it will require marketers to adapt to keep up, remains to be seen.

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