How Financial Marketers Must Prep Banking Websites for Voice Search

'Hey Siri, will my bank's website show up in voice search?' Not if your site loads at a glacial pace. For big banks and community credit unions alike, optimizing website content for voice must be a focus now. That means speeding up your web pages and including content specific for Google's voice-search agents.

Many question marks about voice search remain. Are smart speakers going to become as ubiquitous as refrigerators? Will consumers ever use them to apply for loans or credit cards?

We may not know the answers to these questions yet, but it’s clear that the era of voice has arrived. For big banks and community credit unions alike, optimizing web content for voice must be a focus now.

If you own a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod you have a lot of company. More than 50 million of these devices were sold in the U.S. in 2018 alone. eMarketer expects that 74 million people, or 26% of the nation’s internet users, to have a smart speaker by the end of 2019.

The rise of smart speakers could upend the way consumers search for and engage with financial information. Built-in voice agents such as Siri and Google Assistant can parse and process searches in near real-time, making them much faster than typing out queries on the web.

Smart speakers are only one frontier for voice search. By Google’s estimate, there are now over 1 billion devices with Google Assistant. And you can expect it to be available on every connected device, inside the home and out.

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How Will Voice Impact the Bottom Line?

In the ecommerce world, the revenue impact of voice-enabled devices has thus far been limited. eMarketer estimates that voice commerce represented just 0.2% of ecommerce sales in 2018.

The real impact of voice is in search, more than in direct commerce. Search is the second-most-popular use case for smart speakers, with 73% of speaker owners using them for inquiries. (Listening to music is the #1 application.)

Because search is already a powerful driver of acquisition, financial brands must make optimizing their websites for voice search a priority. The question is: Do financial marketers need to extensively modify their existing search strategy for voice?

Yes and no. If the goal is to generate more engagement and traffic from the search channel, then article titles and content that contain more “long-tail” keyword variations will continue to be your friend, regardless of what happens in the voice-search space.

Long-tail keyword derivatives allow you to create more educational content that enhances your search presence in a number of ways. It helps you gain topical authority and relevancy within your product or service verticals. It can boost your ranking for keywords specific to your verticals, gaining you more search clicks and possibly new backlinks from others sharing your content. It also increases the likelihood that consumers will engage with you early in their purchase journey, so you can remarket to them down the line.

In other words, content will remain king. But with voice, how users interact with your content may change. Specifically, people may be more inclined to seek out snippets of information or simple walkthroughs.

Imagine I’m trying to bake an apple pie with the help of my Amazon Echo. An in-depth article about the history of pie won’t meet my needs, but a simplified step-by-step recipe would. Optimizing the structure of your content and utilizing “answer elements” as marked up data is going to be important in the era of voice.

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Five Tips to Help Financial Brands Win With Voice Search

1. Serve up data the way Google likes it. Structured information is valuable in voice search because of the way Google ingests and interprets web pages. The company has a patented process of scoring pages for how well their answer elements match the intent of searches.

This score is what determines whether a page will appear in the “answer box” in the first search results position. Answer box content not only receives more click-throughs due to its favorable position on the Search Engine Results Page (position zero) — it’s the information Google typically provides to voice search users.

For these reasons, getting into the answer box should be a primary objective for any brand. Lists are one way to increase the odds of appearing in the answer box; numerical format is another.

2. Start thinking in “snippets.” Overall, think about how your page content is structured. Because voice users need quick, snippet-style answers, that’s the kind of content that search engines will increasingly be looking for. And make an effort to use schema markup as appropriate. Search engines use schema to find operating hours, addresses, and other key information, all of which is frequently searched for.

3. Start getting more technical, even if you’re a marketer. Technical page elements are also important when optimizing for voice search. Technical SEO has long been an afterthought for brands, but in 2019, it’s become one of the most important things to think about.

Are you considering moving your site to a new content management system, or migrating from an AngularJS site to a ReactJS site? Are you measuring load times? These issues have typically been handled by dev teams — but now marketers must be thinking about them too.

4. Speed up your pages or get left behind by voice — think “3G.” In general, site speed gets neglected by enterprise digital marketers — even in migrations. Google assesses your site performance and ranks your pages assuming lower (3G) speeds. If your page doesn’t load in a few seconds on a 3G connection, Google is less likely to index and cache your content.

Not only that, humans will leave your site if you can’t get your first content to load quickly.

Because Google looks at page load speed as a proxy for overall usability, it will reduce your rankings if your page performance is below par. Answer box results are typically restricted to pages with a rank position of 10 or better, so if you want to rank in voice searches, you need to get the technical details right.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of backlinks. Sites that are well represented in answer box results not only have compelling, well-structured content but other people linking to it.

Backlinks are the single most influential ranking factor in search engine algorithms. Links validate that content is not only legitimate but topically authoritative — in other words, that it is an expert opinion on a particular topic.

Financial services brands have a built-in advantage when it comes to authority, because they tend to have well-established brand names and a significant amount of site traffic. These factors make it relatively easy to build links within the financial-services vertical.

But be careful not to overdo it with link-building. A large number of new inbound links all with almost identical anchor texts in a short time frame, can lead search engines to think that black-hat tactics are in play

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