05/02/20 // Written by Samantha Beckham

Understanding Voice Search and Position Zero

There is no denying mobile devices have altered the way we connect and communicate, offering a digital world that is quite literally at our fingertips. Did you know that Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second? Our need for instant answers has only increased and as a result, the way we search for those answers and how Google presents them has evolved. Over the past decade, Google has taken significant steps towards providing a relevant, intuitive and faster user experience. One of the biggest advances has been the progression of voice search and natural language processing.

In terms of market share, total consumer spending via voice assistants is predicted to reach nearly 20 percent by 2022, highlighting a major change in shopping behaviour. But with change, comes opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to close the gap between businesses and customers in a natural, conversational way that satisfies user intent. AI powered personal assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant are becoming more advanced at connecting users with timely solutions to their questions. The rise of voice search and position zero is providing brands with new opportunities to compete in a saturated space.

But how can brands adopt voice search into their strategy, how developed is the opportunity and should it be a consideration for your business?

What is Voice Search?

Quite simply, voice search is a speech recognition technology allowing users to search by speaking rather than typing into the search field. You can ask questions to your home assistant or personal device which then searches the web to provide the result it identifies as best answering your query.

When individuals use voice search, they are searching for a direct answer instead of a stream of resources. You are essentially having a conversation with your device meaning brands must aim to provide content based on the context of the question. The majority of voice search queries focus on who, what, when, where, why and how.

What is Position Zero?

When discussing voice search today, position zero, also known as the featured snippet, often comes up in conversation. This is the content that Google offers in the top search results position, above organic and paid content with the aim of directly answering a search query. The content is usually displayed in four formats: paragraph, bulleted list, tables or image.

In the world of desktop and mobile, position zero is followed by other search results. But in the world of voice search, position zero is the only information relayed to the user. Position zero provides an opportunity for certain businesses to ‘own’ specific search phrases, even outranking competitors in the number one organic top spot. This is important, particularly if your website lacks the domain authority of your competitors.

Why should you care about Voice Search and Position Zero?

Getting your brand in position zero can have a wealth of benefits for your business including improved click-through rate, increased traffic and heightened brand visibility. But there’s more to it than this.

By 2020, it’s predicted that 30 percent of web browsing will be screenless, highlighting a fundamental shift in the way users interact with online brands. Voice search has the potential to be transformational for businesses, particularly those with a local footprint or recognised brand credibility. Consumers looking for ‘clothes shop nearby’ or ‘best Italian restaurant’ can now be engaged by various business, should they convince Google their result is worthy enough to be in position zero.

Voice search is predominantly used by individuals seeking a specific answer with these types of searches providing a much clearer intent. For example, a desktop user may search for ‘France holidays’ which allows Google to interpret the phrase. However, a mobile user using voice search may ask, ‘where should I holiday in France in March?’ eliminating a certain level of ambiguity. Provided with a greater understanding of intent, online businesses can be proactive with their content to capture the potential dialogue between a voice assistant and the user.

For desktop users, voice search is less common. However, as 40 percent of people now search only on a mobile device, obtaining position zero lends itself to the ongoing rise of mobile. On the downside, your website must rank organically on page one in order to be considered within featured snippets. But remember, you also have an opportunity to be featured in position zero even if your website ranks 10th on page one.

When this feature first emerged, businesses had the opportunity of showing two organic results within page one of the SERPs – one for position zero and one wherever your page ranked. However, Google’s Danny Sullivan recently shared that this feature has been removed. Now, if you own the featured snippet, that URL is not able to rank for the same term. Our Digital Acquisition Marketing Specialist, Chris Walsh, shared further insight around this, posing the question of whether brands will now be more inclined to aim for the top organic listing rather than position zero.

In a study completed by AHREFs, it was found that the first organic result is predicted to gain 26 percent of available clicks. If a featured snippet was also owned by the same brand, the snippet would gain 8.6 percent of the clicks and the first organic result would gain 19.6 percent of the clicks. This implies that owning both the featured snippet and first organic result could result in a significant increase in click through rate.

It’s important to remember, particularly as voice search continues evolving, these features are always changing. As Google consistently strives to provide the best search experience for the user, a certain amount of fluidity is expected.

Is Voice Search and Position Zero relevant to every business?

Currently, renowned tech players including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple are investing deeply in voice search for three key reasons:

  • Voice search represents a transformative user experience that reduces friction, speeds up research and moves people away from using screens
  • Voice search is a core technology that is forecasted to grow in popularity. Its predicted that by the end of 2020, 50% of all internet searches will be voice-based
  • Voice search offers a new method to tap into markets such as India and Southeast Asia where mobile devices and emerging behaviours are dominant

However, as with every marketing strategy, the success of implementing a new tactic depends heavily on your audience and your objectives. It was reported that 25-49 year olds are most likely to perform daily voice searches, followed closely by 18-24 year olds. If this trend continues, we can expect voice search to be more influential among younger and future generations who are more likely to drive early adoption of the technology. For brands targeting young users, voice represents a significant area of opportunity. Position zero could also be particularly beneficial to your business if you have a local presence with customers, or for B2B businesses when searching for suppliers and other business services.

Closing the knowledge gap is how industries will succeed. Information rich and often complex industries such as finance, travel or legal could use voice search to encourage brand loyalty by catering to what users seek most of all: simplicity. It’s well known in the world of SEO that structuring your content in an easy to digest, intelligent manner, underpinned by Google’s Schema mark-up allows the search engine to better understand your web page. In this respect, text search is no different to voice search as businesses still need to provide concise, accurate and relevant answers.

What should you be focusing on?

If browsing behaviour is really moving towards a world where interactions are made without a screen, brands need to consider how they can create a voice user interface that offers a personal and seamless experience. Just as landing pages are designed to encourage users to click-through, voice search needs to do the same, becoming more of a reliable source of information for individuals. To implement this successfully, there needs to be a clear understanding of where users are likely to interact with brands as they progress through their journey. Some tips to consider are:

  • Focus on keywords and phrases which are likely to lead to an interaction. This could include ‘where can I…’, ‘tell me where…’, ‘how can I find…’, ‘what is…’
  • Understand what the user may want to ask next so relevant content can be created to support their intent
  • Consider potential dialogues which the user and voice assistant may engage in. This can help develop an understanding of how a back and forth interaction could play out, helping predict the user journey

Optimising for voice isn’t relevant for every industry, it’s important to consider your target audience and goals before investing the time. While voice search may not be experiencing an explosive adoption rate, it is something that should not be ignored. Think of voice search as a new area of opportunity for your business to consider.

Aiming to achieve position zero could help you reach your target audience wherever they are and however they are searching. With our team of established content writers and SEO specialists, we can discuss this area in depth, just contact us to find out more.