Is your business ready for Apple’s Siri voice search?

Are you ready for a new and deeply polarized search experience in which if your brand isn’t the first one Siri finds, you’ll be invisible?

Apple, iOS, Siri, AirPod, HomePod, Alexa, Voice Search
Swapnil Bhartiya/IDG

Have you thought about how spoken word search assistants (Siri, Alexa and the others) will impact your business? Are you ready for a new and deeply polarized search experience in which if your brand isn’t the first one Siri finds, you’ll be invisible?

Siri/voice search requests are climbing fast

Siri is one of many voice-based interfaces that enable voice-based search. This rapidly-growing segment of overall search traffic already accounts for more than 1  billion voice searches every month, according to Alpine.AI.

Matching the rapid adoption of voice search-empowered products, usage is climbing fast: 60% of people engaging in voice search only began doing so in the past year.

So, what do people use voice to find?

We know that overall 40% of search is about local requests. That’s people searching for local shops, organizations, events, skills and more. It’s reasonable to assume that a big chunk of Siri search activity is for the same thing.

How does Siri search work?

When you ask Siri to find you, say, a plumber, the software does the following things:

  • Listens to what you ask and sends the request to Apple’s servers for translation.
  • Takes that request and attempts to fulfil it.
  • In the case of a search for a business, the search agent will usually automatically localize that request – so you might say “Find me a plumber,” but Siri will assume “Find me a plumber” + local to me.
  • To fulfil your search, Siri will usually ask Google. Google will then look at its own databases, search results, local results, local business and any local business reviews it may have access to in order to provide these results.
  • Siri also looks at other resources, like Yelp.

Having done all this work in more or less real time, the search agent then has a little think, synthesizes the data, and delivers you an answer.

On a Mac, iPad or iPhone you’ll see a list, but if you are using a voice search-enabled device like HomePod, AirPod or one of those other far less private smart ‘surveillance capitalism’ speakers out there, you only get told about the top result found.

What this means is that if you run any kind of business, if you aren’t at the top of the list you are invisible when it comes to spoken search.

[Also read: 142 useful voice commands for Siri]

How to improve local search presence

The bottom line is that as spoken search queries grow to become a larger chunk of search query traffic, enterprises must optimize their local presence if they want Siri to tell people they exist.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to give your business a better chance of being found by Siri. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Your results need to match both local and national vernacular, slang and sentence construction.
  • You should also think about how people find businesses like yours – a plumber may want to think about how well it performs in local search for requests like “Who can fix my hot water system?” as well as “Plumbers in MyHomeTown.”
  • Get listed on Apple Maps (as well as Google Maps, Bing, and other directories).
  • Consider cooperating with other firms in order to share such traffic – the business that is always top of the rankings may be unable to handle all the requests, I guess. Personal recommendation of alternatives once a potential customer does make contact beats any search result.
  • Claim ownership of your business listings across services like Google, Yahoo and others, and respond to queries and criticisms there.
  • Figure out how to optimize your online presence so you get found for longer questions in more natural language; people don’t say “plumber in London," but might say “best qualified plumber in London”. 
  • Check how you respond to errors when they emerge; it can make a big difference to how highly search engines rank you. That's particularly important if you need to be the top of the list. 

 There’s an excellent article with more ideas on how to build local search here.

Flash in the pan? Ask Siri

The evolution of smart speaker systems (HomePod, et al.) and the emergence of wearable audio-enabled voice assistant interfaces (AirPods, Apple Watch) means that spoken search using Siri – for both question and response – is already here.

I’m not arguing that it will replace traditional search using a browser, but it will grow in importance, particularly as computers disappear into the background and ambient/wearable computing solutions become widely-used to find services, digital goods and information.

That future is emerging fast: Gartner claims 30% of all web browsing sessions will be transacted without a screen by 2020. comScore has previously predicted that 50% of all searches (and there are literally billions of searches daily) will be voice-based by then.

This is why making sure your business is ready for Siri (or any other voice assistant) is moving from being a nice-to-have feature toward becoming a business essential.

Don’t get me started on the inevitable way in which this kind of search will eventually put small local businesses under even more pressure as they fail to compete with locally-focused corporations equipped with better SEO.

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