By Jane Harrell, President of ’cause Digital Marketing and co-owner of Working with Dog

It’s official, computers now talk back. More importantly, with the sudden explosion of voice-search technology like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, Bixby and Cortana, it’s forever changing how pet owners find your shelter or rescue group.

Let’s take a look at this new trend, how it impacts local search (local SEO) and some quick things you can do to continue to show up in this brave new search-engine world.

What is voice search technology?

In its simplest form, voice-search technology is the ability to ask a device (like your phone or smart-home controller) a question by speaking aloud and having it answer you back. Originally, the answer came in written as well as spoken form, but more platforms are moving toward spoken results first. How does voice search give answers? Depending on the device you’re using, “answers” are pulled from a variety of digital sources, like Google’s search results pages, Yelp, Kayak and other “experts”.

You’re probably used to seeing a long list of all possible resources to click through, like this:

But now voice-searchers are given either a single answer or shorter list. In many cases, these lists and rankings have to do with additional directories – like your practice’s Google My Business, Bing or Yelp pages.

For example, if I ask my Google Home “what is the best animal shelter near the upper west side?” I get a list of three highly-rated AWOs back. I can then further refine that by asking, “are they open now?” Google Assistant will retain the first search and tell me the hours for the first group that’s listed.

Why does voice search matter and what can my animal shelter do about it?

While the world of search engine marketing evolves daily, few things have both changed how pet owners are searching and been adopted as quickly as voice-search:

  • Use of voice search is exploding. Voice search technology has been significantly enhanced in the last few years and pet owners are taking notice. Google reports that at least 20% of all mobile searches are already voice-searches. Share of searches by voice-based programs are increasing exponentially with the growing use of smart-home technology, like Alexa and Google Home. In fact, experts believe that 1/3 to ½ of all web-based searches will be done without a screen by 2020 – that’s 33-50 billion voice-activated searches every month.
  • It’s not just millennials who are using it. In fact, according to a study by Thrive Analytics, nearly 40% of people over 44 years old are using mobile personal assistants. (Versus 71% of 18-29 year olds and 59% of 30-43 year olds.) Not to mention that once they try it, they’re hooked, “42 percent say voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives.” So whether your pet business targets baby boomers or millennials, voice search is going to impact how your customers find you.
  • Voice search is changing how pet owners ask for and are returned answers about local services. “We’ve taught ourselves to think like computers when we use search engines through a keyboard,” notes, but this is changing. Beyond the fact that pet owners no longer have to look at a screen to enter a search or be given results, voice search lends itself to some key differences in how pet owners ask for help finding local businesses in the first place.Break away from the screen and a much more conversational approach to search is adopted. “Consumers aren’t going to be typing in individual keywords; instead, they’ll be asking questions and giving commands,” Jayson DeMers recently wrote for Forbes Magazine. Pet businesses that cater to these longer search strings (often referred to as long-tail keywords) and address the natural way people may ask a question stand a better chance of showing up. For example, businesses that include landmarks as key indicators on their website or in the listings on sites like Yelp are more likely to appear when a pet owner asks for “great dog rescue near Washington Square Park.”
  • Voice search is changing how pet owners are returned answers about their pet’s care. Whether you’re a brick and mortar shelter or a volunteer-run rescue, you probably often venture into the world of providing guidance on pet care. “The world of search is evolving and [pet businesses] need to be prepared to be present within the results of the modern searches,” says Bill Schroeder, Senior Vice President of InTouch Practice Communications. While on-screen search engine results pages show a snippet of the answer Google assumes the searcher is looking for, below that the user is able to quickly find other sources to typical pet-care questions.Like this:
    This is not so easy when Alexa or Google home just begin reading aloud the first result.To increase your chances of this “snippet” result, be sure to think about how pet parents will actually ask a question. Including phrasing like, “what,” “how,” “who,” etc, and full-sentences, like someone might say in normal conversation is important. So, while we used to focus on titles and keywords like this: “Dog shelter” and “Silver Spring,” we should be thinking of creating content titles and headers that look more like this now: “How can I find a great dog to adopt in Silver Spring?” OR “Who’s the best cat shelter near me?”
  • Above all, think local. While your website may not ever be the number one result for “why is my dog barking?,” you have a good shot at “where can I adopt a dog near me”?

The main thing to keep in mind is that the world of search is ever-changing and evolving. While voice-search technologies are the most recent and seemingly here to stay, the technology of how search engines help consumers find answers will continue to evolve – and that means your website content and SEO needs to as well. (Sorry, no “set it and forget it” websites anymore.) The bright side is that these same changes make it easier for you to find an abundance of tools, resources and experts to help you.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone – Alexa is listening. 🙂

Have questions about long-tail keywords and voice search? Reach out to the team at ’cause Digital Marketing or consider joining the club at Working With Dog.