As the Web evolves, so has the way people search and the way marketers have had to adjust their strategies to maximize reach. For the SEO community, Voice Search and mobile user experience are top priorities, since so many “Assistant” technologies continue to emerge, untethering us from our phones and keyboards to get the answers we are looking for.
In this article we’ll attempt to uncover how brands are researching content that addresses voice search, sharing and content syndication best practices, and tools that offer ways to streamline the content marketing process from beginning to end.
What’s an Answer Engine?
In 2014 Amazon launched the first tabletop voice assistant they named Alexa who consumers could talk through via a device called the Echo. You asked a question; Alexa would spit out an answer.
Two years later, Google released the Google Home with a nameless Google Assistant voice to compete with Amazon. Neither of these devices have displays or keyboards, neither produced traditional web search results, but instead would broadcast an answer or engage in a conversation to help you solve a problem.
Ergo, the Answer Engine was born, and with it the dawn of a new age in content marketing to be found when users “voice” their query versus “typing” it.
Today, studies indicate that 26.2% of the U.S. adult population now own a smart speaker, with predictions that 50% of all mobile searches being performed will use voice by 2020 and 30% of searches will be done without even a screen.
The Featured Answer you often see in a Web search or hear as the exclusive answer on a voice search is often called Position Zero to a search engine marketer. The ranking of which has a unique recipe that (unfortunately) many aggressive marketers are already attempting to manipulate.
The recipe to rank in the Featured Snippet box is simple:
- Great the best answer to a question (compare yourself to the top 10 search results)
- Syndicate and share the summary of that answer wherever and whenever possible
- Listen and respond to help requests with the verbatim answer text
Sourcing questions to create answers to may be the easiest task when planning a long-term content marketing strategy designed to solve for voice search, thanks to keyword research tools such as StoryBase, AnswerThePublic, Linkio and SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.
The first step after downloading thousands of questions (and early-stage content ideas) is to organize the keywords into groups based on the user intent. A common mistake is to create a single landing page for each variation of a question someone might ask, creating all sorts of ambiguity and duplicate content issues that work against SEO instead of toward it.
SEO specialists often have to reduce the number of pages on a client’s website by more than 60% by consolidating similar content, simply because the marketing team didn’t know any better when initially planning the content they were publishing.
Next, using a content marketing framework, such as the one we created in this template, publish one answer per week, in addition to any other campaign theme ideas your digital marketing team comes up with. After all, your audience might get bored if all they see is answers all day.
Our favorite ideas include:
- Industry Studies / Focus Group Results
- How To’s and Guides
- Sharing Checklists and Templates
- Humorous Skits – (builds authenticity and transparency)
- Surveys and Quizzes
- Weekly Vlogs and/or Podcasts
Elements that seem to make pages stand out, attract more links, and tend to get shared more often include:
- Custom images – most stock images are already indexed by Google
- Short 1-2-minute HD videos, or perhaps an explainer video if appropriate
- A short summary at the top of the page, some readers don’t have time to scroll
- Using lists (yes, like this list you’re reading) rather than a waterfall of paragraphs
- Featuring quotes from experts or industry influencers
Sharing and Syndicating Your Summary or List
Share Via Social Media
Once you, your team, and maybe a handful of critics who don’t work for the company have reviewed and love a piece of content, the next step is sharing it with the world. In particular, sharing the short summary or list to earn that coveted Position Zero discussed above.
The most obvious places to share are the business Facebook page, Twitter profile, LinkedIn stream, and any other social media destinations that make sense based on the content being shared.
It can be difficult to come up with the right messaging when sharing content, because we don’t want to seem like we’re cramming content down our follower’s throats, but genuinely solving problems. Google did a great job of vetting and prioritizing questions provided by their audience via an interactive form they called Google Moderator.
Taking inspiration from Google, one solution might be asking individual followers through a direct message if they’d like to see a piece of content you already have in queue, and then tagging them in the post. For example: “@JaneDoe says she’s curious how this product works with that product. So, here’s what we came up with: [drop short summary here].”
Share Your Media
Media-sharing platforms such as Pinterest, YouTube and Reddit have plenty of description space to drop a short summary and a link. Keep in mind that most links from popular websites are either not-crawlable by search engines or have a rel=nofollow attribute that won’t pass PageRank to boost rankings; and that’s absolutely fine, since you’ll still likely receive referral traffic from those links.
Listen and Respond
If social media is an initiative of your company, then you’re likely already listening to what users on social channels are saying about your business, picking up tags, mentions, or maybe even competitor mentions. Why not add to that listening task by including questions your landing page solves for and dropping in your short summary or list?
Why stop on social media? With each page published, setup Google Alerts for variations of questions you found in the original research. Within weeks, you’ll start to see Quora, Yahoo! Answers, Reddit and multiple forums appear in your inbox, requiring only a few minutes to drop in the summary (or list). Even if only one opportunity presents itself each month, you’ll end up with 24 instances of your answer over two years. It’s worthwhile to set these up.
Set a goal of 20 mentions of your content before you mark the page “complete.”
Measuring Your Results
Whether you’re using a sophisticated content marketing platform, or just a Google Sheet, tracking content could include the following metrics (typically measured monthly or quarterly):
- Featured Snippets Earned (available in Conductor, BrightEdge, SEMrush)
- Links Earned (Google Search Console, and try SEMrush, AHREFS, Majestic)
- Shares, Likes and Comments
- Mentions, Curations (quote-search a phrase from your page in Google)
- Web Traffic, Conversions, Revenue (Google Analytics or other web analytics)
Content Marketing as we know it is evolving. Publishing content for the sake of publishing content can create a mess that an SEO specialist will eventually have to consolidate down the road. Especially if your marketing team neglected to properly research and schedule content that is more likely to appear in a search query as inbound marketing moves from Web Search to Voice Search.
By identifying questions your potential customers might have, publishing media-rich and keyword-rich content frequently, and sharing the summary from that content where and when it’s appropriate (such as social media or Google Alert hints), a business can earn authority with search engines while building brand awareness with early-stage searchers.
Data shows the tide turning toward Voice Search, so there’s no better time than now to start having Alexa or Google Assistant mention your business name when potential customers start untethering from their smartphones and searching with their hands-free.