Preparing for local reach in a ‘post-rank’ world: Get your data in line
How might voice search impact local businesses? Columnist Megan Hannay shares her predictions and provides some advice on how SMBs can prepare for a future without rankings.
Just last October at the Street Fight Summit, many marketers ranked voice search as the most “over-hyped” marketing tactic of the year. I think this is because many of them aren’t seeing the full scope of the technology. We’re putting on our consumer brains and thinking about the current awkwardness of speaking to Siri in public, not of a future inside self-driving cars or those moments when we just don’t want to get up from the couch.
Currently, most voice searches happen on mobile phones. But within the next few years, it seems likely that devices with this capacity will increase in prevalence — and technological capability — in private spaces, where voicing out-loud intent won’t feel so silly.
What might voice search mean for local?
Most who do believe in a voice-dominated future are in a love/hate relationship with the idea. Some predict we’ll lose all local organic space to ads. Others foresee a future in which anything less than the No. 1 rank is worthless. I see both conclusions as an incomplete picture.
A recent Moz study demonstrated that only 3.4 percent of Google local searches result in ad clicks. While it’s possible to anticipate a future in which voice search results are entirely paid ads, the fact that consumers seem to largely prefer organic suggests that Google would have a hard time retaining customers with such a model.
Imagine if Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” search were a paid ad spot — who would click that button? Replacing the organic “best” option with the highest bidder changes our perception of the result. For businesses, this is further encouragement to tap into the power of organic local reach via accurate data and local knowledge sharing.
Additionally, I think it’s a fallacy to assume that instant answers will beget a world where only the lucky top-ranked result wins. Rather, as I’ll show in this post, voice will make filtering for exactly what a consumer wants a much simpler process. So instead of a single No. 1 rank for a given local keyword (e.g., “divorce lawyer Los Angeles”), there will be dozens of No. 1 pages based on the other parameters a searcher indicates in her query (“a female divorce lawyer within a 20-minute drive from my office in Los Angeles who has experience in custody cases and pre-nups, with at least a 4.5-star rating and who can meet during my lunch break this week”).
So a “post-rank” world doesn’t mean “a world where there’s only top-dog answer” — it means “a world where there are many equally top-dog answers.”