The premier of Google Duplex—the search giant's latest and controversial addition to a growing suite of virtual assistants that depend on voice search—has opened Pandora's box for the world of artificial intelligence, voice-activated virtual assistants, and search engine marketing.
Its explosive opening hinges on the virtual assistant's ability to harness voice search, smartphone operating systems, and AI technologies to search venues and schedule appointments, all at the sound of your voice:
That's right. Whether we're ready for it or not, Duplex's debut is showing us that voice search and AI technologies are taking their first steps on a whole new plane of development.
On this plane, a virtual assistant can not only recognize your voice and search the Internet for you—it can interact with another human seamlessly, without said human even recognizing that he or she is speaking to a machine.
If that doesn't raise the hair on your neck and a mountain of questions, I don't know what will.
But for the moment, let's set aside the questions that have to do with how this is even allowed—we'll address those towards the end of this post—because one of your questions should definitely be: How can I prepare for Google Duplex and transform these new developments into opportunities to market my business?
For now, the two safest answers are:
- Optimize your content for voice search: the virtual assistant technology that supports features like Google Assistant and Google Duplex.
- Optimize your content for position 0: the most visible spot at the top of search engine results pages, where virtual assistants most often pull their answers to voice search queries.
Why Optimize for Voice Search
There are many reasons. The latest of these is that Google's most recent advance in virtual assistant AI relies on natural speech processors that were developed for voice search.
The most compelling reason to optimize for voice search is the fact that the operating system which most readily supports Google Assistant (and soon Google Duplex), i.e., Google Android, also supports voice search for a much wider user base than other operating systems.
Add to that the fact that Android's largest smartphone host, Samsung, has been the overall leader in the worldwide smartphone market for several years running, and you begin to see that optimizing for voice search means opening up a large window of opportunity to reach to biggest market share of smartphone users in the world.
Compound all this with the fact that in-home smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Alexa saw record sales at the end of 2017—along with the fact that AI companies are conservatively estimating 1 billion voice search queries per month (many of those via smartphone and for local businesses)—and we begin to see that the probability of voice search growth impacting Android users and users of Android-based operating systems like Amazon Fire is high.
And increasingly, it's looking like the best way to reach that huge audience is to optimize content to reach them when they perform a voice search on their smartphones and smart speakers.
How to Optimize for Voice Search
Write Content that Answers Questions in Conversational Language
Because they're speaking instead of typing, people who use voice search tend to use more diluted, conversational language when querying their virtual assistants.
For example, someone who wants to know the first person who landed on the moon might ask their virtual assistant: "Who was the first person to land on the moon?" while the same person might type "moon landing first person" into a search engine.
While search results for both queries will likely be the same or very similar (assuming both queries are processed by the same search engine) voice search on a smartphone or smart speaker will return a much more abbreviated list of results than a typed search—so abbreviated in fact, that a virtual assistant like Google Assistant will sometimes simply read aloud what it perceives to be the simplest and most relevant answer from content displayed in the top search result.
This means that in order to optimize for voice search, you need to translate your page content to fit the more conversational language patterns that end users and virtual assistants prefer. This way, both parties can easily read it.
The simplest ways to optimize for voice search:
- When writing page content, formulate sentences in such as way that they answer questions that might begin with Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
- Simple word choice. Avoid unnecessarily specific technical terminology.
- Use keywords that your target audience would use in everyday conversation.
- Read all content out loud before posting. Post content under the assumption that it will be read aloud and as an answer to a frequently asked question.
Doing all of the above will also help optimize your content for position 0.
Why Optimize for Position 0
Since 2015, the ability for content to be ranked as one of Google's "Featured Snippets," more popularly known in search engine marketing circles as "position 0," has effectively raised the bar for online writers to reach.
That is, position 0 has made it possible for content to rank ahead of even the #1 organic search result for a given query and get an edge over the competition for a given set of keywords. We can see an example of this in the fact that different content ranks at position 0 when we compare the #1 search result for a voice search to the #1 search result for a text search about the first person to land on the Moon.
Each of the images below is a screenshot taken of Google's "Featured Snippet," or position 0, for a voice search vs. a text search about the first person to land on the Moon. Each naturally contains different keyword combinations. Both were conducted on a desktop device.
Voice Search about the Moon Landing:
Text Search about the Moon Landing:
This example shows not only that different keyword combinations result in different search returns, but also that voice search and text search return different results for position 0. It also shows that voice search was able to return a more visually detailed result, one that arguably better understood the intent behind the query: to return the name of the person who first to set foot on the Moon.
Yet with so many variables at play, how can anyone hope to optimize for position 0 in both text search and voice search? While it may be difficult, there is one pro-tip that might help you land at the top of Google for both types of search.
How to Optimize for Position 0
Place Most Important Facts at Top of Page
A great way to optimize for position 0 in both voice search and text search is to place the most important facts for a given piece of content at the top of the page. The easiest way to accomplish this is with a list of bullet points summarizing the content on the page.
Business Insider does this to great effect, and they are often rewarded for their efforts by appearing near or at the top of Google's search engine results pages.
Placing the most important information at the top of your page also makes your information easily available for search engines and virtual assistants to reproduce in featured snippets and soundbites.
So while it may feel like a lot to think about ranking for both text and voice search, the good news is that by optimizing your text for voice search, you will naturally take many of the steps you need take in order to optimize your content to land at position 0.
That said, you'll need to do a lot more than generate a list of bullet points for all your pages to rank consistently at position 0, particularly when search ranking algorithms are always changing.
Lingering questions (and Answers) About the Ethics of Google Duplex
As promised, here are some of the biggest questions people are already asking, and probably should be asking, about Google Duplex:
- Q: Will Google Duplex tell the person on the other end of the line that they are interacting with a virtual assistant?
- A: Yes.
- Q: Are other virtual assistants going to follow Google's example?
- A: We don't know yet, but because so many smart speakers and smartphones use either Android or an Android-based operating system, you could bet that they will.
- Q: If someone can use Google Duplex to schedule appointments directly, does that mean they'll be querying less through Google Assistant?
- A: If anything, people will likely start querying more through Google Assistant and other voice search technologies because of increased awareness around the new technology.
- Q: What the bottom line for voice search?
- A: The time is past due to optimize.
Now that we know it's possible for voice search technology to develop into virtual assistants that can make appointments for us in the near future, we know it's time to start thinking about how we can optimize our content for the increasing number of people who are using voice search technology at home, on the go, and for everyday life tasks.
Because in light of Google Duplex and other advancing AI technology, you should not only be preparing for the world of possibilities that they are opening up, you should be reaching for the bar they're raising to get ahead of the game.
Need more detail about how you can optimize for voice search and position 0? Attend OMI's free upcoming webinar on Optimizing Your Website for Voice Search and Position 0, which will host the acclaimed voice search expert, Kent Lewis.