Alexa, what’s the weather like today?

Hey Google, add tomatoes to my shopping list.”

Siri, where’s the nearest Chinese restaurant?

Chances are excellent you’ve heard commands like these in the past year – and more frequently as time has gone on. It’s the rise of the voice assistant, the technology rapidly becoming ubiquitous in smartphones, smart speakers, smart displays, and computers. That means that voice searches are on the rise too: Are you ready for their impact?

A popular statistic says that by 2020, 50% of online searches will be done without a screen, by voice search or some other means. It’s a little more complicated than that, but voice searches are quickly becoming a substantial portion of search activity…especially when it comes to product research and purchase decisions. That’s big news for brands, but most businesses aren’t well prepared for voice searches or how they affect SEO. It’s time to fix that.

The Voice Search Algorithm

While voice assistants including Cortana and Siri, the two showing up most frequently for everyday tasks are Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa (typically available through Echo devices). These VAs use algorithms to locate and deliver information to queries at top speed – no one wants to wait around for a voice assistant to think before answering.

As with web-based searches, these algorithms are largely opaque, and voice searches are particularly difficult to analyze because so many decisions occur “under the hood.” However, we know a little about how they work, and it’s all based on how humans talk. Think back to the last time you asked a VA a question and your last Google search, and you’ll quickly realize the syntax is very different! Voice search algorithms focus on how we actually ask questions out loud. When speaking to a VA, people tend to give more detail, but also use more casual words and lingo that they wouldn’t choose when typing.

When looking for specific brands, the algorithms appear to play favorites, too. Alexa appears to favor brands that are competitive when it comes to pricing, and have good reviews on Amazon (surprise). Google Assistant appears to favor companies that have optimized SEO with Google’s partner sites and high ratings on Google search.

Currently, voice search SEO appears to respond well to direct, informative content that, well, sounds like an answer to a question. And if you haven’t thought about this type of optimization before, it’s definitely time!

Voice Searches are Growing More Useful

Voice searches are growing more common for several reasons – and a big one is that they’re just more handy these days. Google Assistant and Alexa can connect to multiple services and devices, controlling productivity apps, smart homes, and much more. Alexa also has “skills” which are like small apps you can search through and download to give Alexa additional abilities or compatibility.

Additionally, the number of devices VAs are available on has rapidly increased in the past year. There are dozens of Echo devices alone, and even more devices and phones compatible with Google Assistant. That includes a lot of smart screens, which offer touchscreen results that add a new dynamic to the voice search process. Thermostats like Ecobee are already including Alexa in their new models, and more appliances – even cars – are on their way as well.

Reliance on Voice Search is Increasing

Amazon alone has already sold more than 20 million Alexa devices…over a year ago. Google Assistant works on literally 100s of millions of devices. So, people are getting increasingly adept at using them. Remember, even someone who doesn’t really like a VA may be won over by seeing how their friends or coworkers use it. Security concerns are also fading (for now), as VAs have shown low rates of misuse or any type of data theft.

For now, most VAs are used for weather reports and playing music, as you may expect. But experimentation is increasing, especially when it comes to online questions and searching. In other words, using VAs is already becoming a daily habit for people. And that makes it an important channel that brands should look into investing in! This is true even in professional environments, because…

Voice Searches are Saving Time

There’s one particularly important thing that voice searches are doing: They help save time when researching products. We’ve seen this happen for a while with locations like restaurants, but now people are using VAs more to search for and compare online products as well. This is an especially common use of smart screens!

The advantage, of course, is that it can save time to have the VA search for you and display or mention top results. You can conduct product comparisons while multitasking, or in the middle of a talk about product shortages, or in many other situations where it’s an efficient alternative. That alone should give brands a good reason to include more voice search content in their marketing.

Additionally, remember that one of the important ways VAs save time is to automatically reorder products. If you ask Alexa to “buy me copy paper” then Alexa is going to order the copy paper you bought last, if it’s able to. That places even more important on winning over leads – and display products on Amazon!

The Bottom Line: Voice-Based SEO is Vital…But There’s Much More You Can Do

Obviously, SEO practices are important to prepare for the voice search wave. But we want to leave you with two other potentially powerful voice search tools that you should keep on the list.

  • Apps: Alexa Skills and similar mini-apps are incredibly brand friendly. We’re seeing brands develop skills for their own products, skills for events (like the holidays), and skills used as other marketing tools. This is a great way to tap into voice assistant power and get an edge over competitors as voice searches start growing more common in your industry.
  • Ads: Voice search ads are still in their infancy. It’s a tricky situation, because voice ads are particularly annoying when someone is waiting for a VA’s quick response – it’s something no one wants. The way through appears to be sponsored information, such as quick tips or additional helpful facts based on the voice search, and sponsored by a brand. Keep an eye out for these opportunities.

Remember, voice search may be a new channel, but its one that’s filled with possibilities!