Is the future of voice search happening as we speak? Are we really in the middle of a voice search revolution? Are you part of the 41% of adults or 55% of teenagers who use voice search daily? By 2020, at least 50% of all Internet searches will be through images or speech.
Today, we’re talking to Jeremiah Smith, founder and CEO of SimpleTiger. He breaks down how voice searches will impact SEO, algorithms, keywords, and research. Also, he shares how marketers can optimize their content in a voice search world.
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AMP122: The Future (And Present) of Voice Search & SEO With Jeremiah Smith From SimpleTiger
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- Pulse and perspective on current state of voice search
- Search Categories: General and transactional
- What’s the intent of voice search? Good answers, no advertising
- Indirect Commercial Intent: Customers become comfortable with and trust voice devices enough to conduct commercial searches to buy something
- Search engines using artificially intelligent rules and inputs to deduce output
- User engagement metrics trumping every other ranking metric in Google
- Google: Changing from a search engine to an answer engine?
- Evolution of old vs. new types of search; people need to rethink how they search
- Conversational marketing created to address surge of conversational searches
- Optimize content for voice search by answering searcher’s intent for any keyword
- Prepare for voice search by keeping things the same, read SEO documentation
If you liked today’s show, please subscribe on iTunes to The Actionable Content Marketing Podcast! The podcast is also available on SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Google Play.
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Eric: The future of voice search is now. Forgive me for the overdramatic voiceover but I ran across this ominous headline the other day and I thought to myself, “Are we really in the middle of a voice search revolution?” So I decided to turn into the data. What I found out is 41% of adults and 55% of teens use voice search daily, according to Google, and by 2020, Comscore says that 50% of all searches will be voice searches. We are certainly in some sort of a shift when it comes to voice search.
Really to figure out what in tarnation a marketer is to make out of all this, and how do we prepare for the future of search in SEO, I decided to bring on our guest for today’s Actionable Marketing Podcast. His name is Jeremiah Smith, and he is the founder and CEO of SimpleTiger. Jeremiah is going to break down what does SEO actually look like in a voice search world. How is Google uptaking their algorithms? Is there voice keyword research we should be doing to keep in mind for voice search? Finally, how do we optimize our content in the voice search world? All these things are kind of milling in my head that Jeremiah breaks down. It’s a fascinating episode. I can’t wait to introduce you to him. My name is Eric Piela. I’m the Brand and Buzz Manager here at CoSchedule and your host of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Buckle up because it’s time to get AMPed.
Alright ladies and gentlemen, thanks so much for joining the Actionable Marketing Podcast. The future is now. We are excited to talk about voice search robots, how the way people are going to be searching for things online on the web using their home devices. I’m excited to bring on our guest to help us understand the change in the landscape. What does it mean for your business, for your marketing team, what adjustments you can make, but before I get too long in the tooth here, Jeremiah, welcome.
Jeremiah: Thank you so much for having me today, Eric. I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.
Eric: You bet. It’s funny, I’ve been doing a couple of shows here and each time I’m jumping into the show, I’m making a comment about the weather outside. We’re based in Fargo, North Dakota. Outside we have -57 degree winter. It gets colder and colder with each show that I have. I’m hoping we can keep things warmer with the convo we have in here. Where you calling in from today Jeremiah?
Jeremiah: I’m so sorry you can’t be here with me. I’m in sunny Tampa, Florida right now. It is beautiful outside, it’s in the mid 70s.
Eric: You’re killing me right now.
Eric: That’s okay. My family and I, we just got back from a week long Disney cruise. We left from Port Canaveral there. I got my week-long of 78 and sunny. Now, I’m reclused back to my frozen tundra here, but I digress. I’m excited to talk a little about how we can all prepare for the future of search and SEO. I think that’s really at the crux of what we’re talking about here in this episode. Before we dive into that, Jeremiah, just let our listeners know what’s your story. Obviously we know that you’re on the show because you are an expert in this area, but what led you to sort of the founder, president, CEO of SimpleTiger?
Jeremiah: Sure. I appreciate that. I got into SEO about 12 years ago. Back then, I was building websites for clients. I had one client just kind of asked me, “I want to get a site to show up in Google. Can you do that?” and I was like, “Yeah, of course. I’m sure there’s a form I have to submit somewhere that will show up in Google,” I didn’t even think about it. I was so naïve. I discovered when I started looking into it, there is a whole underground industry here that is worth probably billions a year. It’s massive and it’s called Search Engine Optimization. I was like, “What? This is a thing?” I started realizing it makes sense. If your business shows up in Google for certain keywords and a lot of people are searching those keywords, you’re going to get a lot of business, and it’s going to be good quality business because these people are actively seeking things out.
I had this light bulb moment and I was so excited. I was like, I’m going to get this site show up in Google, but the answer is not that easy. I got to go tell this client. I had this conversation with him and I was like, “Look, I can get the site show up in Google, but it’s going to take a lot of work. This is actually a process, it’s a thing called SEO, and I don’t know enough about it to confidently say that I’m going to do it right now, and it’s just going to work perfectly. If you’re willing to pay me to kind of go through the process and learn on your site, and just pay for my time to do it, I will do everything I can in my power to do it.” I was very blessed, very lucky. They were like, “Yeah, let’s do it. But you got to show results.” I was like, “Okay. Deal.”
Within six months of that date, I helped the company grow from $4 million to $6 million in annual revenue, and was able to look at that $2 million difference, and directly equate it to SEO results. At that moment, my mind was blown. I saw the value of this and I decided building websites is cool, but it is not this. Everyone who built a website is going to need someone who does what I do. This is incredible. I decided that’s going on my resume, I’m going to go work for an ad agency, I’m going to learn how they do it in the big leagues, and officially give it a shot. I went to work with a huge ad agency at that time, their clients were NBC,E-Trade, MDB, really big companies.
I got to work with all these companies, practiced SEO in their sites, and noticed that it was literally the exact same thing that I did for the small company. The playing field is level. It’s really a reverse engineering. It is a cleaning up of the web, structuring, building your site with people in mind, and things like that. I fell deeper in love with it and decided, I have to build my own agency and do just this. That is how SimpleTiger was born. It really kind of grew from there into the agency it is today. That’s all we do, search engine optimization. That’s how I got from zero to here.
Eric: I love hearing those origination stories. It’s just great to hear where entrepreneurs like yourself, where did they start, what’s the experience or something that kind of drives and creates what is now a 12-year career in SEO. We’ve done shows on the Actionable Marketing Podcast about SEO, but we really want to focus this particular episode on the future of search, and specifically around voice related search. If you’re like me and a lot of the listeners, you’ve come across a couple of articles, maybe you’ve done some work, but I think we’re sort of at this precipice of, “Okay, how much do I really need to start thinking about this now? Are the numbers there? Are we in a ‘voice search revolution’ right now?” so, if you could just start maybe, Jeremiah, by just talking about what’s the state of voice search right now? Obviously, I have an Amazon at home. I’m doing some things, but it’s very anecdotal. Where is it at? What sort of your pulse in your perspective of voice search, and how significant is it right now?
Jeremiah: Yeah, I would say voice search as a search methodology is still definitely in its infancy. It’s something that I think is taking on kind of odd adoption over time. It exploded out of the gate with Amazon’s devices which I can’t say her name because she’s listening right now. I don’t want her interrupting us. Obviously, that kind of exploded onto the scene. Also, Apple and Google have their own, which are great as well.
I think market domination in terms of voice search as an interface belongs to Amazon squarely. It’s getting the strongest involvement and it’s just incredibly overwhelming how many people bought those devices up just for the sake of voice search, whereas people who have owned Google phones and iPhones for a long time didn’t start buying more Google phones and iPhones because they have voice search capability. As a matter of fact, I don’t know how many people actually just started using the voice search on their phones as much as without an Amazon device.
Knowing that, I think that Amazon has some incredible market ownership for that and there’s a reason for it. I think Bezos saw that search can be divided into a couple of different categories. There is general search that does a lot of different things and it serves a lot of different ends, but then there’s a certain type of search that Bezos wanted to own with Amazon which I would call transactional search. Transactional search being something where, when somebody is searching for something that they are hovering over a buy now button to click as soon as they find what they’re looking for, he wants to be right there.
Amazon has done a hell of a job in doing that. They are right there. That has expanded into some interesting categories for Amazon that maybe not a lot of people realize Amazon is actually working on which is other stuff that’s not just buying product. Buying services online like pro services. They have a whole pro services department. I have a good friend that works in the pro services department. He’s explained to me what was going on there. I can’t talk about it in detail to you guys, but I can tell you this. Amazon wants to be in between you and me hiring someone to come clean our house, or somebody to come mow our lawn, and stuff like that. That’s a transactional search. They see that if they pair up the searcher with the business, or service, or item provider, and then take a little bit of that transaction fee, that they will always have a place in that transactional search paradigm.
What’s interesting about that is though, that a lot of other searches happen in other areas that aren’t quite as commercially viable, or useful, or don’t have commercial intent. That’s something I talk about a lot. When we talk about voice search, what’s the intent? When we talk about any kind of search, what’s the intent? In in voice search, a lot of people are asking, how many cups are in a gallon.
Jeremiah:. Yeah. Exactly. I’m asking her stupid questions like that all day long, what’s the square root of so and so, because I’m just curious, silly stuff. There is not much commercial intent behind that and if you start show me an ad just to get that answer, I’m going to quit using it. So, something like Google has to deal with that. What Google is doing is they’re just giving a good answer with no advertising around it, no commercial intent. Their indirect commercial intent starts coming more apparent where if they get you to be comfortable having that interaction with it and trusting it, then eventually maybe you will search a commercial intent search through it as well, because you trust it more. Google has proven that that works in dealing with Bing for years. They have beat the crap out of Bing by just being a better search engine to where people quit using Bing as much. I think that’s kind of part of the renaissance that we see going on in search, and voice is the catalyst for that.
Eric: Yeah. Thanks for painting that canvass. That’s a great perspective. So to move on, everyone’s personal use of search but then also with your lens kind of understanding and providing, I love that. The opportunity I think that Bezos saw and then really how Google has really kind of entered that space as well in search. Let’s look at SEO in a voice search world. Obviously, I think it probably changes how people are searching. Maybe it changes where they’re searching. From an SEO perspective, what are the biggest impacts that you’ve seen when it comes to search?
Jeremiah: The past year and a half, maybe two years, have been so fun to be in SEO for me. For a lot of other people, they pull their hair out and they hated it. But I’m an optimist. I believe that every little thing that happens has some kind of good outcome in the long run. If you just stay patient and look forward, you’ll see that outcome and it’ll be great. I’m looking over the horizon and I’m seeing some really exciting stuff. Google in the past couple of years has made a major shift from using a kind of an outdated rules-based machine and algorithm to shifting into an artificially intelligent, I can’t say algorithm, but artificially intelligent search engine. Now, it does use some rules and some initial inputs, and it has some ways that it’s automatically going to process those coming out the other side. But it doesn’t have as many as it used to now. Instead, it’s got a lot of input that is deducing and it’s kind of coming up with its own measurement for what is a good output.
What I mean by that is, when you go perform a search, Google is monitoring how happy you are with the result of that search based on the interaction you have with the results they gave you. This is new, this is very new from the past couple of years here. We’ve got 20 years of search history here in regards to SEO just in applying to Google, but in the past couple of years, it’s changed that dramatically. What we’re seeing is, this artificially intelligent machine and engine is deciding for us what results we like more. A lot of SEO people, a lot of businesses, a lot of individuals out there are SEO marketers and stuff, are really nervous about what that means or what’s going to happen. To them, they sense that that means they’re losing control ultimately over SEO, over what their site is going to do, how well it’s going to rank, and how they’re going to give you traffic.
A lot of people completely live off of SEO like I do. I live off of it. A lot of them are scared to the point of maybe trying to change industries, getting in advertising, or getting into something else. To be honest though, I don’t think we need to be nervous and be scared, because this artificially intelligent engine, at the end of the day, is doing something to produce a result for a company. We have to keep that in mind. Google, when we look at their net worth, their market cap—which you can just look it up in Google right now, just type in GOOG and they’ll tell you the market cap for their stock—98% or 99% of that revenue, or that the value of that market cap is based on their advertising that they display around search results. That’s it.
Knowing that, we know that they wrap really good search experience with well-targeted ads. That’s how they make their money. It’s on those ads. If we know that, then we know that this artificially intelligent search engine is going to try to show us really good results, so that they can continue to garner our trust, and we will continue interacting with some of the ads that they show us to pay them their bills. If that’s the case, then we just need to ask ourselves the question, what are they going to think is a good result?
Well, that depends on what people think is a good result because it’s getting its input from people’s interactions. In 2018, 2019 what we saw happened for the first time was, user engagement metrics trumping every single other ranking metric in Google. Prior to that, links was the number one thing, the amount of links you got pointing to your site, all this link metrics and everything. That was a metric that Google could easily measure and see that was hard for us to control as a site owner, how many links are pointing to our site, and things like that. That got harder and harder with people coming up with all these crazy link schemes and stuff.
This artificially intelligent engine is now looking at, “Let’s not ignore links altogether, they’re still very important in the system. They still have some heavy weight.” But what’s the heaviest now is, if a user searches a keyword and then clicks on a listing, how they interact with that listing after that says everything about whether or not that listing is relevant for that keyword and informs Google’s engine. Then Google makes a decision and either allows that listing to continue ranking number one, or drop to number two, number three, or number four because it’s just not getting good engagement.
That’s happening and we’ve seen some crazy results all over the search engines where things that were like golden calves of the industry of SEO are suddenly just being slaughtered. Rankings dropping for sites that are very well optimized and you’re like, “Oh my gosh. How is this happening?” Well, because people aren’t engaging with the content of that site as well anymore, and so Google has figured you out. Your SEO schemes aren’t going to work anymore. You need to actually start pleasing your customers and your visitors on your site. It’s a much more blunt game that we’re playing now. You got to step it up. You got to play the game correctly. That’s what I have to say about it.
Eric: One of the things that I think is interesting, again if I’m thinking about my limited experience of search using voice, I read this somewhere and it was like, Google is changing from a search engine to an answer engine. If you think about whenever I’m talking, for example, if I’m using a voice search, I’m usually using a full sentence, I’m using a phrase, I’m asking a question. Like an answer engine, I’m having flashbacks to like askjeeves.com. How does the way people are going to be searching for the things change the way in which we want to have our content show up?
Jeremiah: Good question. The way that we search for things also says a lot about the type of result that ought to occur. That’s where we get mixed results. Mixed results being a good thing and not a bad thing. It sounds like a bad thing, but mixed results are really where you have everything from a Google maps listing versus a video listing that shows up, or something like that.
Let’s go back to the voice search example. If I’m asking questions like, “What’s the weather like today,” or, “What’s the best pizza shop in town?” Town might be within a 25-mile radius or they’d look at the geographical center of the city I’m asking that from and say, “Well, this is the town he means, so this pizza shop right over here based on TripAdvisor reviews.” They time in and then they tell you that. That would be awesome. That’s a great experience.
But if I ask it, “Where’s the best place for me to get an I-9 form or load it into my employment system,” or some complex search like that. That doesn’t really lend itself to voice search because you kind of need options. You need to do a little bit of research. I don’t really want to know what Google thinks is best for me and just tell me by voice. I’m going to take that to the search bar and I’m going to type that one in. When I type that one in, I don’t really want videos. I kind of want maybe some government institutions letting me know this is the best way to get this done. I’m going to look at that listing. I’m going to do a little research. You kind of get the idea that the type of result matters and is relevant to the search intent. We have to keep that in mind about voice search, too, that voice search isn’t going to steal everything. It’s just going to take a percentage of the search interaction.
Eric: Yeah. Is it too off of the brush to say B2C feels really like more of a natural fit for voice search than B2B? Again, maybe I’m making too big of a stretch there, but maybe that’s just right now that we’re comfortable with searching, that we’re okay with sort of a candid answer versus like, “Hey, I want to do some really deep research here,” and maybe piggyback on that. The whole idea of the screenless voice search, even when I think about keyword research, do we have to rethink the way we do that?
Jeremiah: Yeah, we do. We do have to rethink that to be honest. People are doing conversational search now. That’s a huge deal. I don’t think marketers fully understand the ramifications of what that means and what kind of industry just blew up out of nowhere because of it. We’ll talk into it in a moment. There’s an evolution from an old type of search to a new type of search. The old type of search was keyword, key phrase kind of search like, “Best pizza shop in town,” or, “Best pizza shop in Tampa.” We’ll start there. That’s how people used to search. People are now searching, “What is the most delicious pizza shop in Ybor?” Ybor is a borough in Tampa. It’s a city kind of thing, but it’s in Tampa. That’s way more narrow, that’s really funky, it’s kind of a weird search. How do you deal with that?
Some of them are actually asking which is the most delicious one. That’s kind of harder to really quickly answer. We have to have an artificially intelligent search engine who can deal with that because I don’t think humans are capable of putting together the kind of result to make sense of that. What that’s going to look for is people using the keyword delicious and dealing with the conversational aspect of a search. What’s happened is, this whole new industry of marketing has erupted called conversational marketing.
I think that comes from conversational search. People have gotten so comfortable asking Google whole questions that they are now comfortable asking a random robot sitting on different people’s websites questions. We now have this conversational search where every site you go to has this whole chat pop up in the bottom right hand corner, and you can ask in natural language questions. Some artificially intelligent engine like Drift, or Intercom, or something is sitting behind that doling out answers that are going to guide you into a business relationship with them.
That’s like a new industry that I think came from people interacting with robots like Google. With that said, I think that it’s only natural that our search evolves and the way that we search for things evolves. I don’t know that conversational search is necessarily an ideal direction. I kind of miss the days of simplistic search, because sometimes I’ll just go do a real simple search because I want to quickly get the result I want, but I find that conversational sometimes just works better. Then there are times where conversational search actually fails miserably. I realized that Google has not figured that one out yet in that way. You got to remember, this is still an evolving, growing machine that has learned probably do some things really well than other things not quite yet. It’s just funny to be dealing with something that feels so organic, I think.
Eric: Yeah. I think some of it will be, we’ll figure out what the experience is. As an individual, what the experience is when I ask certain questions. We’re going to figure out maybe from a single instance, “This didn’t work. This was a giant fail. I’m going to go back to my traditional way of doing these types of searches.” You’re kind of pushing the boundaries to see. I do at least with my Alexa. I’ve got Google at home and I talk to them both. Sometimes, maybe this is because I’m a nerdy marketer, but I’m trying to push what type of answers they’re delivering to me, what are they just defaulting to search, what are they actually providing to me as an actual answer. I’m kind of seeing they haven’t quite figured that one out yet. I would encourage everyone to do that as well.
Knowing this is coming, whether or not it’s tomorrow, I think we’ve established there’s still some evolving that needs to take place. But depending on your industry and depending on the list, you’re maybe thinking, “Hey, I’m in this industry. I need to be ahead of this. It’s better to think about it now than when you’re too late.” How the heck do we start to think about optimizing our content for voice search? Are there any tips that we can do, or is it just do what you’ve been doing, or do you have any quick thoughts on that?
Jeremiah: I think in regards to content optimization, I like when people have always done it correctly to begin with. Just keep doing that. You have nothing to fear. But really, what I mean by doing it correctly for those of us who may be unclear and want to be sure that they’re doing it correctly or doing it right for the first time, what we really need to do is be answering the searcher’s intent for any kind of keyword.
Let’s say there’s a keyword you want to rank well for. A good thing to do to begin with is actually just go search that keyword in Google. Open up a new tab, maybe make it incognito, or something separate from the main browser that you use so that you don’t have all those metrics changing your results based on your search history. Search that keyword and see what kind of results come up and go through them. Read them intimately. Build a relationship with those pieces of content real quick to see what comes up because that’s what Google thinks is the most relevant for that keyword right now for what people are looking for. If in the first two or three results you find something compelling, something interesting, you’ll usually learn about what, at least in Google’s mind, is relevant to the searcher of that keyword.
What you want to do is provide some content that does better than those results at answering that searcher’s intent. Sometimes, that’s going to come down to formatting and laying out the content in a way that really guides the user through the content. If there’s a table of contents or overview at the very beginning, sometimes like, “I’m going to cover these topics…” and they link down to each topic and stuff like that, that oftentimes helps a lot just getting the formatting very usable and giving people a nice, healthy overview at the beginning. Things like making sure the site loads quickly and stuff like that, I’d say those are kind of no brainers. You’ve got to make sure that’s being done. Hopefully, what you’re trying to do there is just make sure that the user engagement metrics for the content that you’re optimizing are going to be good. You want to make sure that you’re answering all the concerns and stuff like that.
One of the strategies I love to recommend people do is go talk to your sales team if you have a sales team in the house, or maybe you are the salesperson, and figure out, “What are the most common questions that people ask me in the sales process?” and really figure those out. Go write those questions down as the title of the blog article and write the answer to that question as the article and format it really well. Guide people through that answer. That is a good example of answering searcher intent. If somebody’s asking you that question on the phone, I guarantee you, they’re probably asking that question in Google somewhere by searching for it. Content optimization comes down to making sure that your content answers the searcher’s intent better than anyone else does. You don’t have to do it perfectly, which is really hard to do, if even possible. You just have to do it better than everyone else. Kind of like running from a cheetah. You just have to run faster than your friend. That’s messed up, but you get the idea.
Eric: I do.
Jeremiah: You just got to provide better content search intent than anyone else.
Eric: Awesome. I love that tip of advice. Maybe as we wrap up the conversation here, I’ve got listeners in here that are like, “Okay, this has all been great, but if I can just maybe start focusing on one thing,” what would be the one piece of advice you would give listeners to start to prepare themselves for voice search?
Jeremiah: To prepare yourself for voice search, for now I would keep most things the same. In so far as Google is concerned, leave everything alone. Just work with Google. You’ll be fine. Google’s voice search is still kind of trying to figure itself out. I think it’s kind of an infancy in so far as, especially as B2B is concerned. If it’s Amazon though, I would look into their documentation around what really works well for Amazon search. Amazon is making it clear. With Google, we really have to reverse engineer a lot. It’s kind of a black box. Finally, we figured out that they’re just never going to tell us everything, and that the true answer is good user experience. They have a huge net. They’re trying to throw over everything.
Where Amazon doesn’t have as huge of a net, they’re just trying to own transactional search. They made that very clear, and so they make the rules to work with Amazon pretty clear too. You can kind of look into that and learn Amazon’s algorithmic tricks and everything you need to do to work on the Alexa devices without all the reverse engineering that you definitely have to do with Google. I would say do that, look into what Amazon requires. If you’re a Fulfilled by Amazon company, or you’re a pro services provider of some sort, HVC repair, massage therapist, stuff like that, look into Amazon pro services and what that’s going to require in the long run.
You may not get much from it right now, but it would be good to go ahead and get ready for it, because when people adopt to voice search even more, they start getting comfortable searching for things like HVC repairman, or a massage therapist, you want to be there when that starts happening. Google, they’re already comfortable with, but that comes down to just basic good old fashioned SEO for Google. I guess those are my best recommendations on how to deal with voice search and in those areas.
Eric: I love it, this is great. Thanks so much for the wonderful advice. Thanks for being on the show Jeremiah. Can they go to SimpleTiger? Is there a place you can point them on your website to learn more about the future of search and SEO? Is there a ball you guys got?
Jeremiah: Absolutely. If you go simpletiger.com, we have a blog on there and we try to keep it updated with news and some insights. There’s so much noise in the SEO industry, so we try not to just add to the noise. The sky is always falling in SEO, and SEO is always dead, and all that stuff. On our blog, we kind of get into a little bit more strategies, things that we’re doing, and what we see working. I would check that out. If anyone’s interested in just talking about SEO and needs some help, they can always contact me through our site and sign up for a discovery call. I’d be more than happy to chat with you, give you some advice, and see if I can help your business grow.
Eric: I love it. Well thanks again for coming on the show. You enjoy your 78 and sunny and have a good rest of the day. I appreciate you coming on.
Jeremiah: Awesome, thanks so much for having me Eric. It’s been an honor. I really enjoyed it.
Eric: Great. Thanks so much. Take care.