Should we improve our SEOs for Voice Commands in SA?

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A couple of days ago, we went to visit my Grandad and his wife. Everything considered, they are pretty tech-savvy people. While not interested in social media at all, they each have their phones and tablets that they like using and fiddling on. If there is an issue, though, they call the grandkids, and that is exactly what happened when we visited them. We fixed the problems they were experiencing, and then we blew their minds and showed them how the Google Assistant on their tablets and Voice Search works. These are by no means new features to Google, yet it was completely new to them. Seeing their fascination was entertaining at first and then thought-provoking. My Grandad, who is steadily going blind, could suddenly search for things and operate his tablet with ease when it was usually a bit of a hassle and slow going before. It made me realize, as if for the first time, what an aid and advantage these features can be, but here is the question it left me with: Should we, in South Africa, seriously consider this as part of our SEO strategy and website optimisation?

What is Voice Search?

This seems like a silly question – the answer is obvious, isn’t it? Well, yes and no.

Yes, it’s all in the name and when you voice search it means your search for something using voice-activated technology. But and this is where the no part comes in, there is a lot of voice-activated technology out there and they are all part of the advancements in voice technology and AI.

The other side of the Voice coin is Voice Actions. Voice Actions do not lead the user to a SERP but do provide results/information. Ask Google Assistant what the weather is like today, for example, and your voice will give you a quick rundown. There is no need for you to type in a search, look at an entire page of results or go click on the one you think is best.

What to do with our SEOs

The SEOs you need to consider for these two Voice Commands can look a bit different.  When you input a Voice Action, the results can be pulled from different places. Google and Android, for example, use Google Local Pack while Siri uses Yelp when asked to find “the best” of something. When I told Google Assistant, “I want to order pizza” it uses Google Maps to provide a list of various pizzerias near me and then I can just say, “Which is the closest one” and it gives me the result with the option to then also say, “Call them.” In this entire search, I didn’t look at my screen once. Not all businesses can optimize for these types of searches, but if your business can, it is vital to ensure that all your business info on Google Maps and your website is accurate and up to date. This type of online visibility should already be part of your SEO strategy.

To test out a Voice Search, I asked Google Assistant, “How can I get wine stains from my carpet?” The result was from a cleaning service in California with a blog titled “How to remove red wine from carpet.” Though not an exact match, it’s clear to see how similar the search result’s first line of text is to the Voice Search input. I did a couple of similar searches, and the results were usually from an American website where the search result and first line of the result’s text matched significantly. The search, “What does a realtor do?” had two results from USA websites (both organic) first with both results’ headlines matching the search input 100%. The third result was from a South African site with the heading, “What do estate agents actually do?’ I then went on to the news. If you search for, “What are today’s headlines?” the results in the Top Stories ribbon are from South Africa with the results below that being from international newspapers first before a South African paper in position 4. All the first (international) results, however, have the word ‘headline’ in the title of their page. When searching for “Today’s news” by voice, the first results were from South African newspapers where the word ‘news’ is part of the website’s name. A similar trend is seen in other searches that should be specific to South Africa. I Voice Searched “Today’s election news,” and the first results went to our IEC websites, but the actual news it provided is from the USA. South African election news is provided when the search is, “Is there any South African election news?”

So, what’s the trend and what should you do today with Voice Search in mind?

At the end of the day, Google is an American company, and it is optimized for that location. When using Voice Actions, Google will use localised information from Google Map to give you relevant results and that’s why we reiterate – update and keep updated any localised information that will make a business more visible to Google Map searches or any “Near me” Voice Searches. For Voice Searches that don’t contain the words “near me” or that aren’t specified by a location though, don’t expect that your local business will be a top SERP result.

This foray into the world of Voice Search, however, emphasise even more why your SEOs are important, not only for Voice Searches but Text as well. You should be adding those ‘in Pretoria’, ‘near Cape Town’, etc keywords into your website’s SEOs to help local people find your business and your website. You should be adding simple questions to your FAQs that are answered concisely and you should consider using question format titles for blogs that are findable by way of natural language (voice) or text searches.

So, how does my Grandad figure into all this? Voice Search makes things easy for a host of people, Gramps included. If he just knows how to search, i.e. in SA he needs to be more specific and say “Headlines on <his favourite news site here>” he gets the exact, location appropriate news he is after. If he wants to get a book for his favourite grandchild, and the small bookshop just down the street isn’t visible on Google Maps when he inputs the Voice Search, they will lose out on business. Now we just need to get him to wear his hearing aids so he can hear the results from Google.