Preparing for Voice Search (Part 2 of 3) - Brick & Mortar Optimization

In part one of this series, we looked at some compelling adoption statistics for voice search as well as fundamental differences between voice and traditional search. In part two, we look at some ways that brick and mortar businesses can maximize their exposure in localized searches - searches with a geographic modifier, such as ‘near me’ or ‘in boulder’ - that are relevant to their products and services.

Methodology

We conducted hundreds of voice searches on Google Home, Amazon Echo and an Apple iPhone (Siri) and compared the results to searches on a desktop computer. Searches were performed at the Parallel Path Voice Search Studio in Boulder, CO. Web searches can produce varying results depending on your browsing history, so searches were performed using an ‘incognito’ browser to minimize the influence of prior searches.

Voice Search Results Analysis

Google Home

Thanks to their industry-leading search engine platform, Google Assistant is in the best position to deliver relevant, accurate web search results via voice. Our hypothesis going into our tests with Google Home was that voice search results for local businesses would reflect those in the Google’s Local 3-Pack - the three results that appear alongside the map towards the top of Google’s SERP. Our tests confirmed that assumption, as you will see in the following example.

Sample search: ‘yoga studio near me

Traditional Google Search Results
Top 3 Results in Voice Search Paid Ad Ranking Organic Ranking Local 3-Pack
Jeanie Manchester Yoga No Ad Showing Page 2 / Result 6 4
BoulderBodyworks No Ad Showing Not in top 3 pages 1
Yoga Pod Boulder No Ad Showing Page 1 / Result 3 8

Some observations:

  • Paid advertising through Adwords is clearly not going to get you into the top results with Google Assistant….yet.
  • Organic results don’t appear to be a factor in determining the ranking of voice results ether.
  • As we expected, the strongest correlation between voice and desktop searches occurred with Google’s Local 3-Pack.

Google Voice Optimization Tips

If you are showing up in Google’s Local 3-Pack on a desktop search, you are going to be among the top results in a voice search for the same query. How do you optimize for the Google Local 3-Pack? Expand and strengthen your local business listing portfolio. Here are some best practices:

  • Claim ownership of your business listing(s) on Google My Business and other local business listing sites, including Bing Places for Business, Yahoo! Small Business (aka Aabacco), Yelp.com, YP.com and Apple Maps. Also, identify and claim ownership of vertical-specific business listing sites that are relevant to your business.
  • Be comprehensive, both in the number of business listings you claim and in the amount of information you provide for each listing. Make sure every field provided - category, address, hours, contact information, description, pictures, social media links - is filled out completely and thoughtfully.
  • Consistency of your information across listing profiles is critical. Even little inconsistencies can have a negative impact. For instance, if one listing says “123 Main St. Suite 203” and another site says “123 Main St. Unit 203” your local listing strength is diminished.
  • Build up your (preferably positive) reviews. Businesses with a lot of reviews, particularly on Google and Yelp, tend to fare much better in the local searches. Encourage customer reviews, but be careful about egregious review solicitation; an overabundance of positive reviews that show up all at once can work against you.

Amazon Alexa

According to Amazon’s website, “Alexa uses your address saved to your device settings in the Alexa app and information from Yelp to find places nearby.” In 2017, Amazon and Microsoft announced a partnership to integrate Cortana to power voice searches that require a web search. From CNET: “Cortana, with its Bing-driven search technology and Alexa, with its Amazon shopping prowess and a broad base of hardware and software, could be ideal for the voice-commander crowd.” With this in mind, we compared Alexa results to those that appeared on Yelp.com and Bing.com to see if we could determine the extent to which these sources are influencing results on Amazon Echo.

Sample search: ‘yoga studio, boulder, co’

Traditional Bing Search Results
Top Voice Result on Alexa Yelp Ranking Paid Ad Ranking Organic Ranking Map Ranking
Little Yoga Studio 1 No Ad Showing 1 1
Amana Yoga Studio 4 No Ad Showing 3 3
Awake Yoga Studio Not on first 3 pages No Ad Showing 7 14
Studio Be Yoga Not on first 3 pages No Ad Showing 5 4

Some observations:

  • Although Yelp is a data source for Alexa’s local business information, it doesn’t seem to influence ranking.
  • Similar to what we saw with Google Home, paid ads on Bing.com have no bearing on Alexa’s results.
  • The strongest correlation between Alexa and traditional SERPs are the organic results, followed closely by the local business results that appear next to the map on the Bing SERP.

Amazon Alexa Voice Optimization Tips

So how do you optimize your local business for Alexa? Building a strong presence on Bing and Yelp is a good place to start.

As for Bing, a strong local business listing presence (follow the optimization tips outlined in the Google Voice Optimization Tips section) and an organic SEO strategy are key. If your traditional SEO strategy has neglected Bing, it’s time to broaden your strategy accordingly if you want to succeed with Alexa’s web search results for local businesses.

Even though Yelp results don’t have a bearing on Alexa rankings, their reviews are visible on Alexa devices that have a screen. Foster great Yelp reviews and respond to bad reviews so you can hopefully turn them into positive reviews through great customer service.

Apple Siri Results (performed on iPhone)

Apple’s voice assistant technology, named Siri, can be found on Apple’s iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac computers and Apple TV.

When delivering results for local businesses, it makes sense for Siri to pull from Apple Maps, Apple’s version of Google Maps. Apple Maps pulls in reviews from Yelp, so we included Yelp rankings in our tests. Lastly, we looked at Google Local 3-Pack results because of a recent decision by Apple to use Google.com for results that require a web search. How much of Siri’s voice results are influenced by Yelp and Google vs. Apple Maps? Read on to see what we found.

Sample search: yoga studio near me

Top Voice Result on Siri Apple Maps Ranking Yelp Ranking Google Local 3-Pack Ranking
Yoga Intentions 1 11 18
Joyful Yoga Community Co-Op 4 Not in top 30 2
BoulderBodyworks 2 7 3

Some observations:

  • Although Yelp reviews are pulled in with Apple Map results, there appears to be no correlation between the rankings on the two platforms.
  • Google’s Local 3-Pack results are similar to Siri’s results, but the correlation was not as strong as what we see with Apple Maps.
  • Apple Maps is a primary influencer of Siri results as of the writing of this blog post.

Apple Siri Optimization Tips

Your Siri optimization strategy starts with registering your business with Apple Maps. Make sure your profile is comprehensive and consistent with your business listings on all other platforms.

It is doubtful that Apple would utilize Google’s Local 3-Pack results while it is so invested in its own map product. The correlation between Google Maps and Apple Maps results is likely due to the fact that both platforms utilize similar factors when ranking businesses in their results. So a broad-based business listing strategy, based on the best practices discussed in the Google Home Optimization Tips section of this article, is likely going to have a similar positive impact on your Apple Maps and Siri rankings.

Conclusion

If it feels like voice search optimization is simply “another thing to worry about”, take solace in the fact that the best practices for voice search are rooted in best practices for traditional SEO and reputation management - things that web-savvy businesses are already doing. If you have a buttoned-up local SEO strategy already in place, you are poised for success in the voice search world.

If you are familiar with traditional SEO, you also know that successful SEO relies on many different factors and that those factors change over time. So a voice search strategy that stays current is key.

Learn about Parallel Path's SEO and local business listing management expertise. And contact us when you are ready to Start Winning Digital.

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