In the past five to 10 years, marketers have seen the emergence and convergence of mobile, local and voice search as significant marketing opportunities. Phones and other personal devices contain artificial intelligence-powered personal assistants (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, Bixby, etc.) which, enhanced by machine learning, can connect users with timely answers to questions, recommend products or services, or facilitate purchase. Voice search provides an opportunity for smaller companies to play in a crowded and competitive space: the coveted top of search results. In part one of a two-part series, I'll explore the opportunities around voice search and its cousin, position zero.
Understanding voice search
Voice search allows you to ask questions of your home assistant or personal device that are answered once that device searches the web. While many questions are informationally-oriented (directions, statistics, etc.) there are opportunities for brands to provide a single answer currently provided by devices like Google Home, Apple iPhone and Amazon Echo. In 2016, 20% of Google searches and 25% of Bing searches originated from voice. ComScore/ Campaign predict voice search will constitute half of all searches by 2020.
When it comes to voice search, users want direct answers, instead of a set of links to more information common in text searches. Essentially, consumers are having a conversation with their devices as if those pieces of technology are a human oracle. As a result, marketers must treat voice search as a conversation, where they provide content (typically answers or recommendations) based on the context provided in the question itself. Most voice search queries focus on the 5 W’s + 1 H: who, what, when, where, why and how. Specifically, the most popular leading phrases in voice search are who, how and when.
Voice searches are different than traditional text-based searches in one major way. Since most searches are phrased as questions, they are typically longer. On your laptop, you might type ‘movies nearby’ whereas in voice search, you might ask ‘what movies are playing tonight near me?’ The net result is that content and context (aka semantic search) are replacing traditional search-optimized keywords and phrases.
Understanding position zero
Position zero is another way to describe rich snippets that appear in Google’s Answer Box or Instant Answers, which appear above organic search results when the query is commonly phrased as a question. The objective for marketers is to own position zero, a.k.a. the Answer Box. Google’s Answer Box is powered by Google’s Knowledge Graph via rich or featured snippets. Featured snippet boxes appear at the top of Google’s search engine results pages – or SERPs – in four common formats: paragraph, bulleted list, tables/charts or less commonly, embedded images.
Essentially, ‘rich snippets’ provide an opportunity to own specific search phrases, even outranking competitors in the coveted #1 organic search position. This is important, especially if your website lacks the inbound links and domain authority of your competitors. Position zero is also important because it powers voice search as the only answer to common questions. Growth of rich snippets/position zero in search results has grown significantly in the past few years. Not all devices or personal assistants are created equal, however. In a recent larger Stone Temple study of 1.4 million Google queries, nearly 30% of results triggered position zero results. Position zero results are typically short and sweet. The average featured snippet is only 54 to 58 words in length.
On the downside of voice search and position zero, your site must rank organically on page one to be considered to power the Answer Box. Conversely, the good news is that you have an opportunity to be featured in position zero even if your website ranks 10th on page one. Once you achieve position zero, you will now have two organic results in targeted search queries. According to research, roughly one-third of results are powered by the top organic listing, yet you have an equal or greater opportunity to power position zero if your site ranks in position two through five. Positions six through 10 rarely rank, so the goal is to get your site to rank ‘above the fold’ in position five or higher for your target queries.
Why you should care about voice search and position zero
Voice searches on Google are three times more likely to be local-based and 30 times more likely to be action-oriented than text-based searches. Consumers looking for "burgers nearby" or "how to remove a blood stain" can now be engaged by Burger King, Papa Murphy’s or Tide, should those brands convince Google they have the best answer for those voice search queries.
Position zero results generated via voice search can be farther down the sales funnel, towards transaction (also known as voice commerce or v-commerce). Echo alone will account for $7 billion in voice transactions—or vcommerce—per investment firm Mizuho Bank. According to a March 2017 study by eMarketer, 33% US internet users are somewhat or very likely to make a purchase via voice-enable speakers:
The value of achieving a position zero result is significant. According to a 2016 STAT Search Analytics study factoring in average equivalent CPC based on search volume, the estimated annual value for owning position 0 for ‘virtual desktop’ related-phrase was over $2 million. Whether your objective is awareness, thought-leadership, leads or sales, owning position zero should be a high priority for your brand in 2018.
In part 2 of this series, I’ll outline how to optimize your website for voice search and position zero.
Kent Lewis is the president and founder of Anvil Media.