September 4, 2013

Google Voice Search: A new wrinkle for social marketers & small businesses

As more of us go mobile, the number of local searches is rising fast

Target audience: Marketing professionals, SEO specialists, digital PR pros, location-based marketers, small businesses, nonprofits, anyone who searches on Google.

Guest post by Barry Welford

Barry-WelfordIn May Google announced a new form of search that lets you ask your search term out loud instead of typing it. Google Now, the mobile application for searching by voice command (similar to Apple’s Siri), is now coming to the desktop and is getting a big makeover. With the new update, you’ll be able to speak directly to your smartphone or computer using a huge variety of commands, and Google will understand and respond.

This could be a convenient way to search if you speak faster than you type or if you’re not sure how to spell your search term.

The implications of this new development are far-reaching.

Google Voice Search is being rolled out at a time when a large proportion of Internet users is switching to mobile devices. For a growing number of us, that means switching away from their desktop PC to a tablet. In the United States, more smartphones are now sold than PCs. Many will find that their smartphones can handle whatever they want to do on the Web.

Mobile search often turns out to be local search

As Emarketer reminds us, mobile Internet users reach for their devices to route their trip home, read reviews of local restaurants and find the location of a nearby business. And as more consumers convert to smartphones and tablets, the number of local searches is rising fast.

At the same time, they’re often connecting with their friends in social media such as FacebookTwitter or Foursquare. In addition to traditional social media, new ways of connecting with your friends are popping up all the time. One interesting example is Waze, which Google is acquiring for $966 million. This navigation software includes information from others in your local area as they encounter traffic problems or other hazards.

Finally, an advantage for local businesses over national brands

Google NowWhen you’re working on your mobile device, you have the dilemma of how to input information into whatever software you may be using. On a smartphone, the visual keyboard presents a major challenge to those with large fingers. It’s also impossible to use all your touch typing skills on such a visual keyboard. Clearly, another input method is essential even on a tablet.

Voice technology is one good answer.

Phones are devised to handle voice communication, so it naturally flows to use voice technology to handle as much input as possible. It was only a matter of time before Google search would use voice inputs for mobile devices, particularly on smartphones. Provided the search experience is satisfactory, it seems likely that consumer adoption of this new search method will follow.

Google makes certain assumptions about a search done on a smartphone — and that, in turn, provides improved marketing opportunities, particularly for small and midsize businesses.

Increasingly when consumers are looking for local suppliers, they’ll be using search on their smartphone, perhaps in tandem with a the social network such as Facebook. In this situation, small businesses with a clearly defined local address may well appear at the top of the list in such a search. Big national brands lose out in such local search results.

Siri vs. Google Voice

iPhone users will of course wonder what all the fuss is about since they’ve had Siri, the voice-powered personal assistant, on their devices since October 2011. In a test comparing Google Now and Siri, CNET’s Sharon Vaknin checked which one offered the fastest, most accurate and richest voice command experience. The test demonstrated that neither is perfect, but Siri currently noses out Google Now, better particularly for business applications.

Both technologies will undoubtedly see rapid improvements in the months to come so Google Voice will certainly be the equal of what ever Siri can offer. The particular attraction of voice technology is that it is immediate. However rapid you may be at thumbing your smartphone, your voice will allow you to do what you want much more quickly. As more and more people adopt this way of interacting with their smart phones, you will see an explosive growth in the connections they are making. Some of those are with merchants who are selling goods but many more will be with their friends in social media.

Opportunities for small businesses

Given this developing trend, SMBs should maximize their visibility in such local searches. To achieve this, they should focus on the following:

  • Make sure that your company NAP (Name, Address, Phone) is clear and always set out in the same way. The company name should be one that is memorable and that is not easily confused with others when someone talks into a cell phone.
  • Make sure that your company location is correctly identified in Google Places.  Google provides some good advice on how to strengthen your Google Places page.
  • Create a company page in social media such as Facebook and Google Plus.
  • Register your company in local online directories. Check out this list of the largest local business directories.
  • Where possible get customer reviews displayed on your Google Places page

This trend for local searches to be done increasingly on smart phones is a real opportunity for companies with a strong local presence. You should make sure that it works for you and not for your competitors.

Barry Welford writes for Next Day Flyers and is a frequent blogger on business performance, Internet marketing and social media marketing. You can follow him at his .
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