Voice searches may only have seen incremental growth in 2018, but according to Comscore, half of all internet searches will be voice-based by 2020.
The tech might not be perfect right now – South African consumers have already pointed out a few glitches with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home (mainly that the devices aren’t able to recognize accents, slang and inflections) but advances in AI and indexing of audio content are numerous and rapid, says Michael Walker, Growth marketing manager at Gumtree.
Google has already started work on a fix for voice-related searches in Africa with the launch of Google Go, an app that not only recognizes sub-Saharan accents but is optimised for devices low on RAM and storage space.
The app is also designed for a market that is used to slow connections and requires minimal data use.
The face of search is going to change, evolving from screen-based, one-sided queries into a much more conversational approach. It's an exciting prospect, as natural language processing, artificial intelligence and machine learning continues to nudge us towards more engaging and emotive voice-first content.
Gartner predicts that early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support voice search will increase their digital commerce revenue by 30% in the next three years, and that enterprises will soon spend more on chatbots than their conventional mobile apps.
Local SEO professionals will have to prepare the voice revolution, just like their international counterparts. Audio content is going to enjoy a much longer shelf life, and there will be new uses for content on existing mediums like radio and podcasts.
Spoken language as a means of communication is also a lot more convenient, free and intimate of an experience than typing into a device; brands that pioneer the experience will have a distinct advantage and a very real connection with their customers, conversing with their client base and conveying their messages with much more emotive power than their peers.
Start by building up a custom editorial content strategy, utilising the most common voice search phrases.
Voice might be a new medium, but the questions will probably be in line with your text-based FAQs.
A bank of voice-based how-to’s are a good starting point.
It’s also important to study the sites that are already utilising voice search. Examine their answer trees, replicate their style, emulate what works. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
Test everything. Determine how voice searches differ from text-based searches. What are the most common questions asked over chat and telephonic support, and what are the most common follow-up questions? How do the conversations flow and can they be replicated? What will your new keyword strategy be?
Lastly, start planning for redundancies. It's entirely possible that conventional visual and text-based media (like your company website) will not be the primary port of call for new and existing customers in a few years time. How will you interact with your customers and present data to them?
Voice-based search interactions are much shorter than text-based ones – how will you make an impression in a shorter window of time?
It might be tricky to prepare for a new status quo, but as with all innovations, the worst thing you can do is nothing.