The eCommerce game is turning conversational. If you want to keep playing, you should be ready to talk the talk. The rise of voice-activated devices is changing the way people search for content, but also how they shop online. Rather than to see this shift as a source for panic, consider that within this revolution is an opportunity to get to know buyers like never before.

The rise of voice search: more than small talk

Know thy customer; the holy grail of any eCommerce adventure. To know them is to cater to their pain points, solve problems, and get to the crux of how to retain people. At this juncture in history, we have more tech than ever to accomplish this. Recently, the most prolific is the all-hearing and all-knowing digital assistant.

The digital assistant market is set to reach 15.79 billion by 2021. You’re no doubt familiar with the big guns – Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Assistant.

These devices are developing to an advanced level of intelligence. They’re genuinely curious about your wants and needs, and they look for ways to cater to them. This affects eCommerce. Easy to use and effective in meeting your needs: which customer wouldn’t want that?

Voice search isn’t only the domain of these specialist devices. We all know that the common smartphone has this ability, and will be improving as the tech develops further. With a voice assistant in every pocket, voice search is more important than ever.

The fast facts about voice search

Voice search is not going anywhere. Here are some stats that will get you talking:

According to the Capgemini Digital Transformation Institute, 51% of consumers already use voice search.
Approximately 30% of searchers will be done without a screen by 2020, Gartner predicts.
ComScore anticipates that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.
Per Alpine.AI, in January 2018, the frequency of voice search was expected to be in the realm of 1 billion a month.
According to eMarketer, 39.3% is the number of millenials that will be using voice-enable digital assistants in 2019. (And you know how those millennials love their online shopping.)

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Voice search has gone from a barely audible whisper to a loud bellow. What does this mean for your business?

Quite simply, having a blueprint for how you will integrate voice search into your company’s marketing strategy is a necessity, not an option. As Amine Bentahar writes for Forbes, “my biggest advice to brands is to start by having a defined voice engine optimisation strategy.”

Read on to discover how to achieve this.

Finding your voice
This is how you optimise your eCommerce site for voice search:

1. Know that asking questions is back in fashion

If you want to be found, it’s imperative that you re-orientate yourself to the very essence of what a search engine has now become. While in days of yore (as in pre-2015), a search engine may have been likened to a catalogue – now it’s more like a personal shopper.

This means that rather than popping in a few relevant words, users are interacting with search engines as if there is a human being on the other end of each query.

To adopt this shift into your SEO, your keyword strategy has to:

Be structured around full questions and answers
Move from simple keywords and phrases in favour of long-tail keywords
Use trigger words such as what, where and how, knowing that your customers will be using those words too.

Instead of searching for “best chocolate biscuits hangry”, voice searchers will be asking,

“Where can I get the best chocolate biscuits to take away my irrational annoyance of other human beings?”

Ok, maybe that was a little more detail than most searchers would divulge, but you get the point.

Part of developing a more question-orientated approach is really getting to know your customer. If this is about having a conversation, who is on the other end of it?

Detail your target market, and examine every inch of the customer journey. This has always been important, but never more so than now.

2. It’s more about the semantics

You may have heard the term “semantic search” floating around. If you want to optimise for voice search, it is vital that you get to the bottom of what this term means.

Semantics,very simply put, is the study of how we construct meaning through language. It follows that semantic search looks beyond the exact words that people are feeding search engines and tries to understand the why’s and the how’s behind those words.

AI feeds on the entries to become more intelligent. As search engines have become more human-like, they go beyond the literal in search of the implied. Algorithms are programmed to concept-match and include synonyms, rather than only respond to cookie-cutter inputs.

What does this mean for your eCommerce SEO strategy? You have to create a menagerie of terminology that may be similar but not identical to what you had envisioned for your products, whilst ensuring you don’t go too far down the rabbit hole. It is still vital that you keep your product keywords relevant, and the best way to do this is to refer back to point one in this list.

What do they want to find out through their voice search query, and how can you ensure that you provide the answer (and associated product) they’re looking for?

3. Own position zero for related content

Ever heard of Google’s position zero? Essentially, Google’s featured snippet, otherwise known as position zero, is that fun little box that you see above the “first” entry on a SERP.

While getting your content to this position is important for any type of search optimisation, the urgency to do this for voice search is beyond parallel. It means that Google rates your answer as the best to the question that has been asked. Guess which answer they are going to read out to their voice searchers? You got it! The best one, and nobody else’s.

The problem is, the pathway to this position is somewhat enigmatic: Google has not provided a blueprint to follow. Luckily, we do have the sage advice of those who got there through careful experimentation, like Marcelo De Vivo who shares secrets with us in her article for Forbes.

Start by optimising your content for this position by including the following:

A short introduction to the content of 40-50 words
Tables, wherever possible
Bullet-point lists, wherever possible

4. Think local

This is a dream if you are an omnichannel eCommerce seller who includes a physical bricks-and-mortar component. Local search, where users look to find out more information about products and services near their current location, is a major element of voice search.

This graph from KPCB shows a voice query breakdown based on data from the Hound App. As you can see, local information comes in at a whopping 22%.

daily voice search results
Source: Search Engine Land

When it comes to your business, this means that you should bring a local focus to your content. Start by adding location-based keywords to your site, where relevant. The next step is to consider your physical location when constructing your product catalogue. Perhaps now is the time to include those locally-sourced products that you’ve been eyeing.

Time to raise your voice search strategy.

If you have not yet included voice search in your eCommerce marketing strategy, now is the time. According to Walker Sands, 19% of consumers have already made a voice purchase with a digital home assistant and another 33% plan to do so in the next year.

If you want one or more of those purchases to be from your store, the moment is here for you to get a voice search plan in place, and then start implementing it as soon as possible.

Siri, Alexa, Cortana: How do I capitalise on this shift in consumer behaviour?

“You need to have a voice search strategy in place”, they say in unison.

AUTHOR BIO

Charlie Carpenter is the co-founder and CEO of Kite. He is a mobile advocate with over ten years of industry experience.

After working for large and small agencies for many years, he co-founded Kite; a software solution for print-on-demand, zero inventory merchandise, and personalised photo print goods. As well as an entrepreneur, Charlie is a seasoned product strategist with experience of various types of digital projects which include: Responsive and Adaptive Websites, Mobile & Tablet Apps, Hybrid Apps, Cross Platform App development. You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter.