For the past half-century, AI-powered voice machines have pervaded our pop cultural consciousness. From characters like Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Samantha from Her, we have witnessed the transition from what was once science fiction to what is now commonplace.

Today, voice responding technology can be found practically everywhere, from docked stations using Alexa, to computers through Cortana, and to smart phones with Siri. The prevalence of these pieces of software presents marketers with a surprising opportunity to reach prospective customers.

What is Voice Search?

While software like Siri and Alexa may be widely known today, it’s important to unpack how the different kinds of voice search technology function. When people use voice search technology, they typically ask questions like, “What will the weather be today?” or, “What’s the cheapest place to get an oil change?” The voice technology responds with an appropriate answer after scouring a search engine with keywords included in the question. As a result, companies large and small are tapping into the voice search trend, and marketers need to keep pace to stay ahead of competition.

Recently, a bombshell in marketing research titled “Consumer Intelligence Series: Prepare for the voice revolution” from PwC, a marketing and auditing firm, captured empirically just how popular voice search technology has become. Statistically, the researchers found that 59% of respondents ages 18-24 and 65% of people between ages 25-49 are “heavy” voice technology users. For respondents over age 50, 57% also reported to use voice technology heavily. These figures are important for companies and for marketers, since the number of people using voice technology is forecasted to increase in the coming years.

With the rise of voice search technology, search engine optimization (SEO) is changing, too. Several factors affect how a company ranks in search results, and website optimization can help companies to appear higher in search query results. John Lincoln, CEO of Ignite Visibility and guest writer at Entrepreneur, writes about how the nature of SEO is changing because of voice search. Specifically, he commented on how marketers are no longer competing for the first spot on Google but, instead, the ranking known as position zero.

Position zero is the featured snippet or small information box that Google places above all the other search results. In the context of voice search marketing, this concept is hugely important since technology like Siri or Alexa will more often than not read from the content in position zero.

Considering this importance of the position zero and the featured snippet in search results, Andrew Oziemblo of the Forbes Agency Council has urged companies to optimize for voice search. He said, “By steering your SEO strategy toward long-tail keywords and listing out clear answers to these types of questions on your brand’s website and social media pages, you can help give your business a big boost in voice searches.”

When marketers optimize search results for the web, the keywords they choose to rank higher are usually brief, incomplete phrases. On the other hand, results for voice searches will typically require a longer, more complete question or answer in order to rank higher.

With this critical understanding of the current state of SEO, businesses can begin developing unique tactics for reaching targeted audiences through voice search marketing.

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Strategies for Voice Search Marketing

Many factors influence how a company should strategize to reach customers through voice search technology. From the messaging of the brand to the targeted audience, businesses need to evaluate its own goals and how SEO marketing can achieve those objectives. Once a company has determined its specific set of objectives, it can move into determining how best to implement an effective voice search marketing strategy.

One of the most important changes that companies will have to make is how it delivers content on the web. Forbes Communications Council member Kristaps Brencans said, “To optimize for voice search results, focus on your mobile SEO rankings.” To put this into context, while many consumers use docked voice technology like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, the majority of consumers use mobile phones to conduct voice searches, according to the PwC study.

This means that when companies look to revise their content for their mobile websites, they should closely consider making their material more voice search friendly. Longer sets of keywords, like those recommended by Oziemblo, will help optimize a company’s content for voice search marketing ultimately.

With higher specificity and lower competition, longer keywords are tailored particularly well for voice searches.

The purpose and necessity of longer keywords requires more attention. Bob McKay, who also writes for the Forbes Agency Council, gives a little more context to the effectiveness of these long-tail keywords. The major benefit for longer keywords is how much more specific they can be. He said, “There is often less competition for long-tail phrases, so it is more likely that you will be seen.” With higher specificity and lower competition, longer keywords are tailored particularly well for voice searches. At the same time, marketers need to be careful about how they select these keywords. According to McKay, voice search keywords must:

  • Feature a low-stakes, casual tone.
  • Be structured as an answer to a question.

On the topic of conversational tone, scholars have begun to weigh in on its effectiveness in voice search marketing. In an article that appeared in Applied Marketing Analytics, researchers wrote, “As adoption of conversational interfaces increases, so will opportunities for marketers to use them to better meet consumer needs.” This explanation might seem a little too simplistic, but it gives additional context for how voice search marketing is the perfect arena for a more conversational approach. People are talking to their machines as if they are having a personal, informal conversation, and it’s only natural that machines adapt to that form of communication.

Outside of the focus on keyword optimization and the general restructuring of content, companies have other things to consider as they develop their voice search marketing strategy. As Stefan Pollack, a contributor to Forbes, wrote, location is hugely important in both keyword generation and content optimization. The more localized a company makes its content, the more effective its SEO will be, especially for voice searches. For example, if a consumer asks a device “Where is a printing service nearby?”, then the content that has been written to feature local information will appear sooner.

Tapping into the Tools of Voice Search Marketing

As voice search technology only continues to grow more sophisticated and popular, voice search marketing will grow more necessary for companies to reach new customers. By engaging with voice search today, marketers can prepare for future trends within the industry. The best way to gain this kind of experience is in the classroom through an online B.A/B.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications. In this kind of program, students will gain firsthand knowledge how marketers use specific content organized in particular ways to optimize for voice search.

The University of West Alabama uniquely offers this degree track which feeds into an online Master of Arts in Integrated Marketing Communications for students who want to reach the next level in their career. These programs offer a nuanced look into the ways that different technologies are changing how people consume media – and how future marketers can position themselves as a result of that change. In these flexible, fully online courses, students can develop skills for a dynamic field at their own pace. Voice search technology is only going to grow more immersive, and the marketers who jump into the game today will have a foundation strong enough for the evolving field.