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Ensure Your eCommerce Brand Has a ‘Voice” in Voice Commerce

Some things change, others stay the same. For example, women are still more likely than men to ask (their voice assistant) for directions. Joking aside, mobile and smart speaker voice assistants are fast becoming a part of everyday life, allowing us to conveniently ask for information like the day’s weather report or commute times, or to more easily multi-task; for example, to adjust the thermostat and play a favorite song while working. 

Current usage

It’s estimated that 111.8 million Americans, or nearly 34% of the U.S. population, use a voice assistant at least monthly. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, use of voice assistants has increased while people are staying home during the pandemic, with 52% of voice-assistant users reporting they use voice technology several times per day or nearly every day, compared with 46% before shelter-in-place began. 

What does increased use of voice assistants mean for eCommerce? One consumer research study projected that voice shopping will grow 1,900% to $40 billion in 2022 from $2 billion today, with Amazon and Google leading the way in terms of market share. While that number seems a bit optimistic to us, the scene is being set, with tech giants investing in voice assistants and offering deep discounts on smart speakers to increase sales (currently about 24% of people over 18 or 60 million people own at least one smart speaker). Also, voice search technology is improving, and consumers are becoming more comfortable using voice search and commands. 

The data shows that purchases using smart speakers are still pretty infrequent: 

There are a few reasons why voice commerce has yet to become the norm. First, the user experience is still new and shopping is limited to specific retailers, such as asking Alexa to reorder basic items like toilet paper from Amazon. Also, consumers have privacy concerns – research shows that smart speakers are inadvertently turned on and record conversations on average between 1.5 and 19 times per day. Further, the reality is that shopping is a very visual activity. It’s hard to imagine that browsing and comparing products like shoes or skincare via voice assistant will ever be too efficient. Instead what probably will evolve is a combination of initiating and filtering an eCommerce search via voice assistant and then transitioning to see a visual display of results via mobile device, TV, laptop or integrated touch screen like on the Amazon Echo Show.   

How to optimize for voice search

If voice search and voice commerce aren’t popular yet, why bother even thinking about them? Although current usage is limited to early adopters, things will change, and probably faster than we anticipate. Optimizing your eCommerce website for voice search is not an overnight process; therefore, beginning to prepare now for what voice commerce will become (versus what it is today) is a smart move. If you’re not ready when voice commerce does become mainstream, you’ll be scrambling to catch up. Additionally, the work you do on your website content now will also serve to improve your regular desktop and mobile search results. Following are some key areas to focus on that will help optimize your website for search today and tomorrow. 

Leverage Q&A content snippets & long-tail keywords

Featured snippets are short answers to a user’s question that appear at the top of the Google search engine results page (SERP). They get premium placement because the search engine rates them as best able to answer the query in a succinct way that doesn’t take the user off of the SERP. To develop short, informative featured snippet content, you need to understand what questions users are asking and how and when they ask them. For example, users might use hands-free voice search while driving or cooking – and have specific questions using specific keywords (including long-tail keywords) in these situations. According to one report, up to 80% of answers on Google Home devices are pulled from Q&A snippets. 

Leverage long-form content & link authority

Google likes content that has enough detail to seem authoritative on a specific topic. Articles that provide valuable, comprehensive information are useful to users and tend to get more backlinks and shares, which helps pages rank higher. In addition, articles of at least 1,200 words and up to 2,500 keep users on the page longer, which Google also likes. 

Optimize site speed

While you want your pages to load quickly to provide a good customer experience and increase conversion rates and revenue, page speed also impacts how your content will rank in a Google search and index in the SERP. The slower the page load, the lower you’ll rank. Ideally a page should load in two to three seconds or less – on any device. You can give your business an overall boost by auditing desktop and mobile page speeds and fixing whatever is slowing things down.  

Leverage schema

One of the factors search engines look for besides content authority and user value is schema, or structured data that give search engines more clues to what your web page is about. Schema also can create “rich results” or enhanced search results that feature “extras” like customer ratings, product images and prices – Google likes these and they help your pages rank higher. Coming soon: Google “speakable schema,” which will indicate which parts of your content are most relevant for a voice assistant to read aloud to users. 

Start optimizing products for Amazon & Google

Amazon recommends Amazon Choice products more often than non-Amazon Choice products. Although Amazon hasn’t revealed how it picks them, the company has indicated that popularity (sales), ratings and reviews, price and shipping speed all factor in. You can optimize your product listings by ensuring you use keywords (including long-tail keywords) in product listing titles, bullet points, descriptions and backend search terms. Also make sure to have great photos that show multiple views of your product, monitor comments, answer customer questions and tweak your information, price, etc. to keep customer ratings high. Approximately 70% of Amazon searches are long-tail searches, as users typically are further along the customer journey, know what they want, and are looking to buy. Therefore, optimizing for long-tail search terms is key.  

While Amazon smart speakers enable shopping on Amazon only, Google Home has partnered to enable shopping with large retailers including Walmart, Target, Ulta and Walgreens. Google voice search also may offer better opportunities for retailers with local stores, supporting queries like “surf shops in Charleston,” much like it does now for local search. 

Start using voice search for customer service

Once you’ve optimized for voice search, a next step is to integrate with voice search platforms to support customers post-purchase and continue to build the brand experience. For example, Lamps Plus has linked chatbots to voice-assistant technology, allowing customers to ask product questions, track orders, and start returns by speaking into their devices.

Preparing for a chattier future

While voice search is still developing and isn’t mainstream quite yet, all of the pieces are falling into place to support it in the not-too-distant future. While you may not consider optimizing for voice search a top priority, the effort you put in now will not only position you well once voice search becomes popular, it will boost your current SEO efforts and give you more of an edge over the competition. Better to take a well-planned, thoughtful approach that will benefit your brand over the next few years and beyond, rather than having to play catch up to create a great voice search experience for your customers.