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How to optimize your website for voice search

(MARKETING) With the use of voice searches and digital assistants on the rise, it is more important now than ever before that your website be optimized for voice searches

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Voice control’s effect on web content

One-in-five mobile users rely on voice searches to find information or control their device according to a recent study. Considering many cars now enable you to control your music, messages, and email through voice, this isn’t too surprising. What does it mean for web content though?

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With the rise of digital assistants and talk-to-text, should web content be re-evaluated to ensure it is compatible with Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and others?

Deep learning

Digital assistants have certainly contributed to the rise in popularity of voice searches, talk-to-text and deep learning. Deep learning is an artificial intelligence (AI) process that imitates the workings of the way the human brain processes data and creates patterns for decision making. Deep learning is a subset of machine learning in AI that has networks which are capable of learning unsupervised from data that is unstructured.

Deep learning is a type of machine learning that uses complex systems to carry out their “learning processes.”

Given the complex algorithms and “learning” involved for deep learning to be fully functional and optimal, it’s not surprising that voice searches are on the rise; the more it’s used, the better it “learns.” Every day more and more people are choosing to say what they need, rather than type it out. With this rise, also comes the need for entrepreneurs and businesspeople to optimize their SEO and web content for voice searches. How can you ensure your site is compatible and flawless optimized?

Phrases instead of key words

The first thing you should keep in mind regarding your content is how voice users search for content. Instead of searching for one or two keywords, voice users typically ask a question in the form of a complete sentence. For example, you might hear someone say, “Hey, Siri. What’s the best way to make chocolate chip cookies?” Then, Siri might respond with a recipe. How does Siri know what you what? Deep learning.

How does Siri know what to show you? Deep learning and website optimization.

Soon, instead of focusing your SEO on selected keywords, you may be focusing on key phrases (also called long-tail keywords) which will likely answer the questions a voice user would ask. By humanizing your content through thinking about your answers in full sentences, you’ll be one step closer to optimization. For example, think, what would a consumer likely ask in order to find me? Do I have the answer to these questions on my pages and SEO? Not sure what to ask or answer? Answer the Public is a great tool for helping you dig deeper into your content and gets things optimized. In addition to re-evaluating your SEO, you may want to develop questions you think searchers might ask and then include the answers in your Q&A content (thus, making your site higher up in the result ranks).

Mobile friendly/Covering your bases

Another way to make sure your site is ready for voice searches is to make sure it is also mobile friendly. Google recommends responsive web design, along with several other points you may want to consider to ensure your website is mobile friendly. Wondering if your site is mobile-friendly? Google developed a test to help you. Simply click here, and enter your site’s URL in the box and it will let you know if your site has passed the test.

If your site does not pass, Google will suggest what could be changed to make your site more mobile friendly.

Also, keep in mind mobile users will often reference microdata, like a business’s location, phone number, price and more (think: when people speak the phrase “find near me” or “nearby.”) You can ensure voice searchers can find you by making this information easily retrievable for digital assistants by creating a comprehensive sitemap for your site, including your address, relevant contact information, directions from main highways, etc.

Understanding digital assistants

One final thing to keep in mind: Siri and Cortana are not search engines. They default to Bing to collect and collate web-based results. Google Now, will of course, collect from Google. Given the popularity of both Siri and Cortana, is there a possible that Bing will outpace Google?

Probably not, but you do want to make sure that you are optimized for both search engines or your business might lose out on voice searches.

If you want to ensure you do not miss out on Siri and Cortana users, you may need to do a bit of research on what works best on Bing. For example, Bing prioritizes local results, whereas Google gives the most popular topic priority. Google is better at semantic search, while Bing is better with specific keywords. Again, both useful search tools, but if you want to ensure maximum traffic, you should be aware of the difference. (Side note: some tech savvy users know how to re-program Siri and Cortana to pull from their favorite search engine, but I do not thing the larger majority of users choose to do this).

The future of voice searches

Technology enthusiasts are absolutely going to continue to use their keyboards for some things, however voice searches are on the rise simply because they are more convenient. If the trend continues, and I think it will, it is a worthwhile step to have your site already prepared and optimized because as the capabilities and value of voice continue to grow, so will the need for marketers to evolve. Emphasis will need to be placed on sentences, phrases, and topics rather than keywords.
And the demand for mobile friendly sites will be paramount. What do you think – is your site optimized for digital assistant and voice searches?

#VoiceSearch

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Real Estate Marketing

DOJ prepares antitrust charges against Google, possibly this month

(MARKETING) The Department of Justice indicates that it may soon be bringing forth its antitrust charges against Google and alleged monopoly.

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Dino holding Google logo on campus.

After a year of investigations, the Department of Justice is preparing antitrust charges against Google. Signs indicate the case may be brought to the company as soon as the end of this month. The most indicative of which is Attorney General William Barr’s dismissal of the career lawyers. They had previously requested more time to build their case.

The DOJ has told lawyers conducting the antitrust inquiry into Alphabet Inc. to complete their work by the end of September. Alphabet is Google and YouTube’s parent company, which exercises a wide control over online search engines, video, and advertising markets.

A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary panel has raised major concerns regarding the company’s ability to exploit and monopolize the market to fuel their own business ventures. Subsequently, the DOJ is asking Google about how it utilizes a mixture of strategies to entice advertisers and online publishers, such as bundling offers, giving discounts, or creating restrictions.

Other critics have pointed out how Google deploys software to manage each step of online advertising, playing both sides of the market. “In no other market does the party represent the seller, the buyer, makes the rules, and conduct the auction,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, in this week’s hearing. He also called Google’s monopolizing position “indefensible”.

Google’s president of global partnerships and corporate development, Don Harrison, responded to these allegations by pointing out that while the company leads in general online searches, consumers are more likely to turn to Amazon for product and commercial queries.

Google currently controls roughly 90% of online searches globally, aided by the fact that it’s become the default browser on phones through its Android operating system. About one-third of every dollar spent on online advertising also finds its way into Google’s hands. It’s likely we’ll see more movement in this massive case heading into the end of the year.

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Real Estate Marketing

Knowledge Panels are equivalent to Google gold: Here’s how to get them

(MARKETING) This major, but underutilized, Google product can boost your business’ visibility in search. Here are secrets to getting and utilizing them.

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Hands on Mac laptop looking at Google results.

You know how sometimes you google something and an info box on the right immediately catches your eye with a large image and a big, bold title? And how sometimes that box has the information you want, so you don’t even need to click through the list of top results?

Those are Google’s nifty Knowledge Panels. For clued-in digital marketers, they are coveted real estate, but they’re not one of Google’s well-known products.

How do they get there? That, my friend, is not entirely clear. The ways of Google are often inscrutable, but those clued-in marketers have been figuring it out. And if you figure it out for your business, your brand, or even your band, you can give your visibility a big booster shot.

Got questions? We’ve got answers.

What is a Knowledge Panel?

In short, Knowledge Panels are a big shortcut into your online information.

A Knowledge Panel is a box of information that sometimes appears on a search engine results page (SERP). They’re on the right side on desktop or at the top on mobile. (FYI: Paid ads always get the top spot because money.)

Google automatically generates panels by crawling through the web to grab information from multiple sources and producing a concise list of information it thinks is the most relevant.

What you see depends on what type of information you seek. Typically, you’ll see an image or several photos, a title, and a short description, which is often pulled from the first few lines of a Wikipedia page. You’ll also get website and social links. Then may come a few relevant facts, contact information for businesses, or products for sale.

Thomas Jefferson’s panel gives you his birth and death dates, term as president, spouse, and vice presidents. Adele’s panel links to music services such as Spotify, songs on YouTube, and her social profiles.

For REI, the panel leads with handy links to the website, customer service chat, and a phone number. Also handy: The cost of a membership is followed by a link to an article on whether the membership fee is worth the money. (Fortunately for REI, the answer is yes.) There’s also a question and answer section, reviews, and specific product listings.

Local businesses can display photos, directions, hours, and inventory. (Google explains how they source information for local listings, which can also include user-generated content like reviews.)

If you want more of the nuts and bolts, check out Google’s blog post, “A reintroduction to our Knowledge Graph and knowledge panels.”

Who can get one?

Knowledge panels aren’t just for the big players. Startups and small local businesses can get them just like Starbucks or IBM. Even local bands can get the same treatment as Adele. The key is to show Google you’re worthy by demonstrating relevance and authority through your digital presence.

If you’re a thought leader or entrepreneur who’s wondering if you can make the grade, having a Wikipedia page is a good indicator that shows you’ve already been deemed worthy by the internet.

Do I really need one?

No, but the benefits to businesses are big enough that it makes sense to shoot for that brass ring. Knowledge panels can:

  • Boost SEO and bring in more of those sweet organic search results.
  • Get potential customers into your sales funnel quickly and efficiently.
  • Make it easier for customers to find you with one click to directions or your phone number.
  • Support your brand identity.

Note that, while you can’t shape the initial information, you can request edits to add information.

Sounds awesome! How do I create one?

You can’t. Only Google can bestow this gift upon you. Its algorithms are judging you, your relevance, and your authority. If you pass muster, one day a Knowledge Panel could magically appear. Or not. (Try to have a healthy ego when you start this quest.)

But I want one. Is Google being unfair?

Is anything in life really fair? Does it matter? You can’t blame Google for wanting to make sure you’re legit. But you can do some things that may increase your chances.

OK, whatever. What can I do to increase my chances?

Be everywhere. Take inventory and assess your online assets. Good places to start: Your website is findable, clean, and explains what you do. You’re on as many social platforms as make sense for your business. Maybe you have some videos up on YouTube. You have a Wikipedia page if you’re eligible. (Creating one is a process, but Hubspot lays it all out for you.)

Make sure you’ve linked all your platforms to one another – your website to your Facebook to your YouTube channel and so on.

Google looks at both the quantity and quality of your online presence, so make sure your content is strong.

Open a free Google My Business account if you don’t have one. GMB is a directory that lets smaller local businesses connect with customers and increase their visibility based on geolocation. If you have an account, make sure it’s complete and up to date. (Hootsuite has a beautiful, comprehensive step-by-step guide to setting up and optimizing GMB.)

You’ll need to verify that you’re the owner via postcard, phone, or email. Once you’re verified, you can add and edit information such as your address and opening hours, which should appear in your Knowledge Panel.

The Knowledge Panel fairy visited me! What happens next?

At the bottom of the panel you should see this button:

Claim this knowledge panel button on Google, when ready to activate.

Click it and claim it! This will allow you to request edits. Make sure all info is accurate. (Take a look at ReviewTrackers.com for more info.)

This part of the process seems to be something that isn’t well known. As of this writing, business leaders like Simon Sinek and Warren Buffet, the Spanx brand, and even Starbucks do not appear to have claimed their Knowledge Panels. You can do better!

Anything else?

Be consistent with your wording. Take your mission statement, branding guidelines, value proposition, elevator pitch – all of it, and distill it into one clear and simple sentence that you use across platforms in bios or descriptions of your business. Google likes it when you do that.

Finally, ignore companies that promise they can get you a knowledge panel. They can’t.

The Knowledge Panel quest is something you can DIY with research and persistence. But if you work with a digital marketing agency, now you’ll know to ask them how they’re questing for you.

Just remember: There are no guarantees, but you should still go for the Google gold.

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Real Estate Marketing

Why you should check Google Street View before listing a property

(MARKETING) Before you list a property, there’s one unexpected factor to check: What does it look like on Google Street View? And is it blurred out?

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Bird's eye view of neighborhood homes on Google Street View.

So, you’re ready to list a property.

You’ve got the tower of documents signed, photos and videos uploaded, and the sign with a QR code and fliers in the front yard, where the landscaping has been meticulously tidied up. Take a breath… then think about one more thing you need to do.

What does the property look like on Google Street View? More importantly, is it even visible or is it blurred out?

Homeowners have the ability to tell Google to blur out photos of their homes. They might do it for privacy reasons. Some people just don’t like the idea of anyone in the world being able to see their homes. Some might do it for personal safety, say, in a stalking situation. Or there might be information that’s too revealing, or a person whose presence could be embarrassing in the photo.

Whatever the reason, you want to know whether the seller or a previous owner asked Google to blur the property. Prospective buyers might see it and wonder what’s gone on there. Is it a crack house? Did some kind of violence occur? Were the windows at one time covered in tin foil?

You want prospects to imagine living happily in the home, not imagining something out of a bingeable TV crime drama.

But there’s a problem: Once Google agrees to blur a house, it’s permanent. They’ve deleted the photos. They’re not going to send out the car or the person wearing a backpack with the 360 cameras again to photograph that property.

But don’t give up on perfection just yet! Here are some possible workarounds:

Direct prospects to another search engine such as Bing, which has its own Street View function on its maps.

Try to upload a user-generated photo to Google Street View (Caveat: We have not done this, but it seems like it’s worth a try). Google allows user-generated photos to be uploaded into Street View according to their image policy. (To do your own 360 photos you would need a specific type of camera, which Google lists. Those are in the $4,000 range). However, we could not find any mention in their privacy policies or Maps’ terms of service that specifically say what will happen if someone uploads a photo of a property that has been blurred. Hey, no risk, no reward, right?

Ask Google for help. A search through Google’s user forums on this question offers little hope that a human will respond to an inquiry, but who knows? The Google gods just might look upon you with favor.

In any case, be ready to answer questions about why the property does not show up in Google Street View. A straightforward “A previous owner asked Google to blur the photo because of privacy concerns” should probably do the trick. Everyone understands privacy concerns in the digital era.

Your job is to offer as much transparency as possible while making sure your client’s property is presented in the best light. Checking out Google Street View is just one more detail that will ensure both of those happen.

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