In the cult classic comedy, Taladega Nights, Will Ferrell plays an outspoken race car driver whose personal mantra encapsulates his competitive spirit: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” In most areas of life, that tagline is probably misguided, but it is highly relevant to anyone concerned with current marketing practices in the voice space.

Not too long ago, a workable SEO strategy might consist entirely of working your website to the first page of Google and then paying your way to climb up or keep your current status on that page. The higher the page rank, the more eyeballs will see and click on your site, translating into greater sales and marketing success. If someone were to search “Buy Cookies” and your wholesale bakery appeared on the first page of search results, chances are you would receive a great deal more online business than a bakery on the second or third page. Voice searching is different, however, because there are no Google pages. With voice, searching for “Buy Cookies” turns up only one result.

What does this mean in practical terms? Well, for retailers hoping to compete in the voice commerce space, it means they want to be the first search result, not simply in the top five or six. When a consumer asks Alexa or Google Home to search for a nearby pizza or Thai food place that delivers, local restaurants will want to be at the top of those devices’ recommendations—or else miss out on a prime source of new and recurring business. In this way, being an early adopter of voice enabled purchasing offers a distinct long-term advantage. The earliest adopters will be the ones who show up in voice searches and whose services and products will be recommended to new consumers. Meanwhile, as consumers make those purchases, it will reinforce to the search engine that the early-adopting retailer should remain the preferred option. The bottom line, therefore, is that retailers who enable voice purchasing early will have a head start in competing for the valuable real estate atop voice search engine rankings.

To be sure, some retailers might still be skeptical about the need to enter the voice space so early. It’s worth noting, however, that voice assistants have recently become the fastest adopted consumer technology ever. Purchases from voice tripled within the last year and are expected to continue rising rapidly. The data suggests a massive new commerce frontier is being developed:

  • 50% of all mobile searches will be done by voice by 2020
  • 82% of mobile users search for a local business
  • 50% of mobile users who performed a local search will visit a store in 1 day
  • 18% of local searches lead to a sale within 24 hours

Restaurant chains that want to take advantage of this new commercial platform will need to first ensure that each of their locations has been updated for voice, including basic information such as store hours, address, and menu. But being top of the search ranking will require more. Since the ability to fulfill consumer requests is baked into search algorithms, restaurants that want to be recommended by Amazon or Google will need to have enabled customers to make purchases via voice. It will soon not be enough for retailers to simply be found in a search query (e.g., “Where is the best juice bar close to me?”), they must also be interactive (e.g., “Order me a Green Juice”). Restaurants optimized for both search and performance are thus best positioned to capture this new market.

The bottom line is that becoming an early adopter of voice enabled purchasing is a smart marketing strategy. Not only will retailers gain access to a new commercial platform with little competition, but they will also position themselves for massive SEO benefits down the road, as more or more competitors move into the space. Those who recognize the importance of voice SEO now will reap the long-term benefits as voice becomes the main way for consumers to find and interact with your brand. Being in the winners’ circle can mean massive revenue increases and sustained excellence for those who start the race before their competition. Start now and finish first. If you don’t, you might be last.

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