Why Voice? Consumers are mobile and hands free
The modern consumer has changed. The way we search for information, shop, travel and buy is now Mobile and is quickly becoming “hands free.” Consumers and guests are interacting in new ways with new devices and apps that simply make life easier.
For 2019, eMarketer predicted that time spent on mobile devices will surpass time spent in front of a television for the first time. In fact, eMarketer expects that the average adult will spend 3 hours and 50 minutes (on average) on their mobile devices each day. But mobile usage is not the only driver for voice search. In fact by 2020, Gartner predicts that 30% of “web browsing” sessions will be performed without a screen. The reason is that screen-less devices – and devices with smaller screens – are the new norm.
Whether it’s tapping on one’s AirPods™, asking a question to Google Home or Amazon Alexa, eliminating the need to use hands or eyes for interacting with content is already causing a huge shift in how consumers interact with content and purchase goods and services online. In fact, Gartner also predicts that screenless devices will occupy more than 10 million homes. And 22% of smart speaker owners have already purchased something using their screen-less devices.
The market for “voice shopping” is poised to grow to US$40B by 2022, up from an already sizeable $2B in 2018. This continuing trend towards a voice-enabled world is going to envelop all industries – including travel, hospitality and retail – where companies like Kayak have already deployed “skills” to platforms like Alexa in order to make booking flights and hotels easier and faster using voice commands. As an independent hotel, how do you stay ahead of these trends? How do you leverage these new devices and how do you change your digital marketing approach to benefit?
Start with your website user experience
While it may seem counter-intuitive to these trends, assuming your website is no longer relevant in a voice-powered world would be a big mistake. In a survey published in early 2018, Phocuswire found that nearly 75% of hotel bookings still happened on desktop sites. While the trend towards voice enabled commerce is real, your website is still at the heart of the entire process. In large part, the continuing preference for consumers to use desktop websites for conversions has more to do with poor mobile user experiences than with device preference. In fact, conversions on mobile devices in 2017 was barely at 0.8% according to PhocusWire.
There are many factors that impact mobile conversion rates negatively, but poor user experience and how consumers tend to leverage mobile devices are two of the biggest reasons. According to Google, consumers tend to use mobile devices for research with nearly 40% of travel site visits coming from mobile.
So how should a modern hotel come to terms with the competing behaviors of voice technology with continued reliance on desktop devices for the booking process? Outside of creating better mobile booking experiences, hoteliers must also embrace a holistic approach that leverages voice-technology across the early stages of the buyer journey and that relies on desktop and mobile sites for the conversion stage. As technology matures, booking engines improve mobile experiences, and technologies like mobile payment systems make using credit cards on mobile devices easier and more seamless, hoteliers will need to keep up.
Schemas: How search understands your content
Let’s get to the big question first: Do Schemas directly affect voice search? No, but ignoring them would be a critical error. That’s because schemas are fundamental to how search engines understand your content. This is especially true with what’s known as “entity search” or the process of searching for an “entity” using a search engine. Take for example: “what is the address of Elite Hotel in Santa Clara?” Schemas are “tags” wrapped around the address of the Hotel that tell the search engine that the content in question is an address.
Don’t be fooled into believing, however, that having a schema for your business type and address are enough. If you go to the schema.org website, you will see that there are dozens of schemas to employ for just about any vertical, especially hotels and retail. There are schemas to describe products (your rooms), meeting spaces, ratings – just about anything.
According to Google, fewer than 30% of websites use any schema at all. Reason? Simple – adding schemas to your content can be a very manual, tedious, and time-consuming process. The good news is that there are alternatives to adding schemas manually. If you don’t have access to a Content Management System like Milestone CMS™ that lets you add schemas easily, you might opt for what’s known as “Schema Injection.” Your schemas are created and stored in a 3rd party cloud environment and are associated with your content. Your IT team then adds a few lines of code to your website and presto your website now has schemas. Milestone provides this service and it has shown dramatic results. One of our customers saw a boost in impressions of 58% by just adding schemas to their site.
FAQs: Give your hotel website a “voice”
So, you’ve got a great website, with great design and technology. How do you get systems like Google Home or Alexa to answer questions about your business they way YOU want them answered? Part of your answer lies with Frequently Asked Questions.
It turns out that your customers have questions about your business, your products and services, and your location. Answering those questions will not only engage customers on your site, it turns out it’s also the foundation of how you answer their voice-based questions. Cool right?
Using question aggregators like Answerthepublic.com and keyword tools like SEM Rush, you can search for keyword and questions associated with your property and location to see what queries consumers are asking about your business. Those questions are marked with schemas (remember those?) and can then be published as voice “actions” on systems like Google Assistant and Alexa.
It’s a bit more involved, but there are ways to automate the entire process. Of course, a critical component of any voice-search system is going to be the ability to track your actions and report on how consumers are interacting with your voice actions.
Chat: If voice search had a cousin
What does chat have to do with voice search? In a nutshell, it’s the same technology that’s driven by the same consumer behavior that is driving voice search. The desire to use conversational exchanges to get information. Chatbots can provide an ideal point of reference for your visitors who have hotel-specific questions. According to research done by Salesforce.com and Drift, 34% of those surveyed would use a Chatbot to book a hotel or restaurant – the convenience factor is very strong.
The best part is that Chatbots are based on pre-defined questions and answers, and therefore a perfect vehicle for getting extra use out of those FAQs you developed for your voice-search strategy. Chatbots can be used to provide information about rates, answer questions about your location, things to do near your hotel -just about anything.
Whatever Chatbot you choose should allow for what’s known as a “live agent handoff” – so that you can pass unanswered questions to a real person via a traditional live agent process. Your Chatbot should also be smart enough to learn – as it gets questions from consumers and more FAQs added to your sites – and track un-answered questions that can be leveraged for future FAQs. This ecosystem will make your repertoire of Chatbot questions – and voice search answers – richer and user focused.
Putting it all together
Voice search and conversational interactions are the way we know, go, and buy and this behavior is growing. Consumers are increasingly looking for easier and faster ways to get information and to accomplish their tasks. With half of all search being voice driven by 2020 and nearly 30% of browsing being done on screen-less devices by the same time, not having a voice strategy as you enter 2019 is online suicide.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get ready. Understanding the relationship between content and voice search systems and the need for schemas to help search engines understand your content are just the start. To be effective, your voice strategy must also include FAQs in your website, as well as mechanisms for publishing those FAQs to voice systems. Creating a holistic strategy that includes Content, Schemas, Voice Actions and Chatbot interactions with related Paid marketing campaigns is a powerful approach to getting maximum engagement from this shift in consumer behavior.
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