Industry Update
Opinion Article24 January 2019

The Truth About Voice Search

By Trish Leighton, Sr. Manager Search Marketing Services at Vizergy

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Chances are, if you have searched for tips on preparing for voice search, you have been inundated with article after article leading with the same statistic, "by 2020, 50% of all searches will be conducted via voice search."


This statistic is likely a scare tactic used by the author, alluding to some secret formula they have to ensure you rank at the top of voice search results. We are here to set the record straight. For starters, statistics can be unreliable unless the source is verified, and this instance is no different.

Don't Believe Everything You Read

Like a classic game of telephone, this statistic has been taken out of context, recycled, repeated and overused. Originally used in an interview with then-Chief Scientist of the search engine Baidu, Andrew Ng, in 2014 and then referenced again in this article from ComScore in 2016, only a portion of the context was taken into consideration.

To clarify, Ng made a prediction about searches in China on their search engine Baidu and was speaking of voice AND image searches. At the time of his prediction, a mere 10% of searches were done on Baidu by voice, with an even smaller amount by an image. Image searches that he refers to are the kind where you take a picture with your phone and then search for a similar image to identify what it is.

This was interesting to him at the time because he had been hired by Baidu to develop a deep learning system that improved their speech recognition, computer vision, and language processing. Ng was immersed in the voice and image search world and made an ambitious prediction as a wish for something major to happen that he would play a key role in.

The problem is, it was taken out of context and cited in numerous places. Many digital marketers also assumed this was true and used it to leverage their knowledge in this new, mysterious world of voice search. Several Vizergy clients have mentioned concerns about being ready for voice search to make sure they can capture that 50 % of searches done via voice search.

Setting the Record Straight

Let's set the record straight and tell you what we know and how we know it. As we've pointed out, statistics can be unreliable unless the source is verified. When looking at a wide range of current data surrounding voice search, the range of usage doesn't even come close to 50%. The last time Google released any statistics around voice search was in 2016 when they declared that 20% of all searches made on the Google app or search widget on mobile phones were voice searches.

What's lacking here is the definition of a voice search. Asking "what's the closest Chinese food restaurant?" or "navigate home" aren't exactly the type of voice searches that get SEO experts nervous. The nearest Chinese food place is based mainly on the searcher's location at the time, not the optimization of the Chinese restaurant's website.

You could ask your fridge what the weather is like outside, but does that count as a voice search? It's splitting hairs over details about that 20% of searches done on a device that compromises 60% of overall searches. It does help to show that the 50% of all searches being conducted via voice search is far from reality for the hospitality industry.

What also is lacking is information about industries most heavily impacted by voice search. Granted we can only make educated guesses here, it is unlikely that hotel booking behavior will shift dramatically. Travelers rely on images, room information, guest reviews, and specific amenities to influence their booking decision. Too much information would be missed if travelers asked Google Assistant to book a two-night stay at a hotel near the Magic Kingdom.

Travelers will still need to shop, compare, and play an active role in their booking.

This isn't meant to discourage hoteliers from making sure they have basic elements for voice search results. It is more so to let you know that if your property isn't voice search ready yet, it's okay.

What does being "voice ready" entail? We've laid out five best practices any website should have.

Best Practices for Voice Search

1. Content

Your website pages should have at least a few hundred words on them and be in a logical order with headers. Search engine bots crawl the page's content for information and answers to questions people may be searching for. Pages full of images, pdf's and flashing lights won't be seen as valuable in either a voice or typed search.

2. Context

Even if you have great website content, it's important the search engine bots really understand what your page is about. Schema markup is the best way to provide that valuable context.

It is a specific language made up by the search engines to help them translate the content and show the right results for searches. You can use schema markup to let the search engines know what the page is about - there is a set of terms made specifically for hotels so you can markup room types, reviews, amenity features, and location information.

The code is placed right where search engines go, and you better believe they will be relying on markup more heavily in the future.

3. Stop Relying on Keywords

This is a tough behavior to change, as all we've known and been telling clients for years is how important keywords are, including them everywhere you can, and tracking their movement religiously.

While this is still somewhat important, search engine technology IS changing this a little bit. Location is probably the most important ranking factor for hotels - people need to go to a certain town, you need to show up for searches for hotels in that town.

But placing "hotel in Orlando" or "hotel near Magic Kingdom" everywhere possible and thinking that will do the trick is not a viable approach anymore. Google knows exactly where your property is located and its proximity to Magic Kingdom. You can say it a million times on your website, but if Google doesn't think you're close enough to be relevant… you're not showing up on page 1 or 2 for search results for hotels near Magic Kingdom.

4. Local Listing Consistency

Local businesses are most heavily impacted by voice search on mobile, and hotels really ARE local businesses to a person nearby. It's especially true when you have non-hotel amenities open to the public, like a spa or restaurant. Foot traffic matters and making sure you have consistent information out there about your location and what you offer is imperative.

Your Google My Business profile should be owned and managed by you or someone on your property who can reply to reviews, upload current pictures, answer questions, and keep the information up-to-date. Google looks to a litany of local listing websites for address and business information, so every site that has your business listed needs to have accurate information. Since it could be a full-time job itself to manage that, using a local listing service is highly beneficial.

Also, if you do have separate businesses on the property, each of them needs to have its own identity and presence. Your spa and restaurant shouldn't be just mentioned on your hotel's Google listing, they need their own listing.

5. FAQ Page

Having an FAQ page is another way to stand out with voice search.

If you think about the way people search via voice, it is more conversational, in longer sentences, and can be highly specific. This is where you capture searchers that are looking for something in particular that you might offer, and you can utilize an FAQ page as a way to integrate the content into your website.

For hotels, just think about some of the questions your guests ask on a regular basis that you can address here. Questions such as do you offer late checkout? Early check-in? Do you have a rewards program? Is there late-night room service? Can I bring my pets? For a restaurant, do you have a keto friendly menu? Are there vegan options? Do you provide bottomless mimosas with brunch?

These are things that would likely be searched with voice and can help your website's presence in the results. It's also just great information to have about your business and help your website get in front of people who are looking for something specific.

In Conclusion

So, the truth is, there really is nothing you have to do to prepare just for voice search. These best practices are standard for any business to follow. They help to create a healthy digital presence, not just specific to voice search.

Having a well-optimized website for an established business will do well on both typed and voice searches. Make sure your website has good content, is marked up with schema, contains an FAQ page, and that your business is represented correctly across the internet.

Next time you get an email from an agency trying to scare you into doing business with them by saying that by next year 50% of searches will be done by voice, you can politely remind them that you'd rather be with a digital marketing agency that knows fact from fiction.

Trish Leighton

Trish is the Senior Manager of Search Marketing Services at Vizergy Digital Marketing and has been with the company since 2017. Having parents that both worked in the hospitality industry and working in hotel management in NYC herself, Trish has always had a passion for the industry. She started working in digital marketing in 2011 and found the perfect role for her combination of interests at Vizergy, where she started as SEO Manager.

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