Should Voice SEO Be a Retailer's Focus?: Q&A with CallRail

Ninety-one million U.S. consumers are using voice assistants on some type of device; and by 2020, one-third of Americans will use a voice assistant for daily tasks. In this Q&A with RetailTechNews, Carolyn Lyden, SEO Manager, CallRail, argues that if companies aren’t already optimising SEO with this in mind, they are already behind.

RetailTechNews: How is CallRail working with voice SEO?

Carolyn Lyden: The basis of a good SEO strategy is about serving the searcher’s intent. Voice search has the same goals as other searches: to get users the answers they want. So we’re approaching voice as a part of our holistic SEO strategy. We want to help searchers find solutions to their problems by flat out answering their questions. This means looking into the long-tail queries that people actually ask. We brainstorm and research what types of questions people ask about our product, our industry, and marketing as a whole, and we try to answer them succinctly, directly, and honestly. The answer content doesn’t beat around the bush or include fluff intro paragraphs – it just gives people the answers they want.

These types of answers often do well in featured snippets and other rich snippets. We hypothesise that as voice search continues to expand, search engines (that are really just answer-retrieval engines) will find the best answer on the web to a user’s query and serve that to them via a voice response. We’ve tested it with Google Home and a few queries, and when we have the featured snippet for that query, the Home says, “According to CallRail…”

Are retailers currently doing enough to optimise their SEO to voice?
Google research shows that current users of voice search are not searching with purchase intent, in most cases. Voice search users ask queries that improve everyday activities, like asking for directions, checking the weather, or making a call. We’ve seen this even at CallRail when some of our ranking queries include terms like, “call Carolyn.”

All that said, the next logical step in voice search could be a purchase. One-in-five teens, and 9% of adults, use voice search to look up movie times. These queries – while not retail, exactly – have a purchase intent. By keeping an eye on how voice searches are converting into buying for other industries, retailers can determine what the best next steps are for their markets.

What more do retailers need to do to make sure their SEO is voice-optimised?

My initial reaction is, for online retail featuring products you can buy online, to use alt text for images and thorough descriptions that translate what products actually are. Use words to bridge the gap, because voice search is screenless search. We have to have someone telling us what’s going on.

The same Google study indicated that the majority of voice-search users perform searches while they watch TV. This means there’s a good opportunity to figure out how to connect your television commercials with what’s going on online. If someone saw a commercial, planned to research it or make a purchase from it, what would they ask? These are the thought processes we need to be going through to really figure out the connections.
I think, in terms of what you can actually control right now, I’d focus on optimising my Google My Business listings and investing time into the capabilities GMB offers now. Searches for brick-and-mortar businesses tend to be localised: “wedding dresses near me” or “appliance store in Atlanta”. Use the Google posts to highlight features, answer questions on the Q&A feature, and respond to reviews. Anything that helps local SEO should help with voice search for businesses that rely on actual footfall (not just online traffic).
Are there particular verticals within retail that will feel the growth of voice commerce more than others?
One of the more standout pieces of that Google study found that 45% of teens and 36% of adults wish voice search could deliver a pizza to them. It feels like we’re working towards an age where we have voice assistants that can help us accomplish the minor everyday tasks that we wish we all had a real-life assistant to do. We can also see big companies gearing up to meet that need.
We have grocery delivery services already, thanks to companies like Instacart. You can make a shopping list on your Google Home, and Amazon (well-known for its fast delivery and warehouses brimming with pretty much anything you’d ever need in life) bought Whole Foods. These three separate puzzle pieces seem like they’re on the brink of you being able to just make a grocery list, send it off to Whole Foods/Amazon, and have Instacart deliver it by the end of the day. If we can make the connection with grocery, it’s just a few steps away from being able to make your hardware order through voice for house projects, make clothing purchases online, have your medications delivered to your house, etc.

I do believe there will always be some elements of retail that people will want to have tactile, in-person experiences with; but with the help of AI advances, those could also eventually take place within the home. It’s always interesting to check out Google patents to see what they’re looking towards in the future.

Voice retail is yet to fully take hold. What would you say to retail marketers who feel they have more important priorities to invest in at present?
It’s not a marketing emergency, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for and to make small improvements towards. It’s easier to incrementally work up to something than to have a fire drill and try to do it all at once.
The easiest steps are the ones that are part of an overall good SEO strategy, regardless if voice were an upcoming trend or not – focus on serving users (what do they want? what problems can you help them solve? what questions can you answer for them? etc.), complete your Google My Business listings and engage with users there, and think critically about how your site would serve someone without a screen (one way to think about this is to think about accessibility – alt text, clear copy, etc.).
And, as always, keep abreast of what’s new and what’s coming up. I spend every morning reading articles I find on Twitter, on SEO publications online, in feeds, etc. Ask experts for their opinions and then think critically about what may or may not be best for your business.