Voice-enabled virtual assistants (voice search) are quickly being adopted by consumers. These devices, especially Amazon’s Echo (and Alexa) make purchasing products very easy. No wonder Amazon invested heavily on this.

So will voice devices kill off independent ecommerce businesses? Is there a way to compete with Amazon over virtual assistants?

Don’t give up!

There’s hope if you help customers early in the shopping process.

Buying something off an Echo is very easy, “Alexa, buy cat food.” Amazon remembers the last cat food I purchased, confirms I still want it, and I get it in two days. Thank you Prime.

But what if I want to switch cat foods? What if I’m a new cat owner and don’t know the right cat food to buy? Amazon can’t answer these questions from their extensive product catalog. Sometimes this means Alexa has to punt, “I’m sorry, I don’t know that.” Other times Alexa goes to Bing for an answer. This is your opportunity.

You might not use Bing a lot. In response to some search queries, Bing serves a featured snippet. This is an answer to a question that appears within the search results. It means you don’t have to click on a page, to get the answer. It’s from these featured snippets that Alexa is most-likely to retrieve voice search answers.

Amazon

Google Home works much better than Alexa when answering broader questions. Google Home device is pulling its voice search answers from a featured snippet, too.

The Key to Voice Search: Featured Snippets

So, if you want your ecommerce site to be found in voice searches, you need to optimize for featured snippets. When trying to earn featured snippets for an ecommerce site, we have to overcome several problems:

  • Search engines don’t give featured snippets for products. They give them for questions that are answered.
  • Not every question you ask a search engine will generate a featured snippet. You have to find a featured snippet that already exists, and then optimize for it.
  • Ecommerce sites don’t often have a lot of words. The words they have are often duplicated product descriptions (that everyone else uses, too).

Don’t despair. All these problems can be overcome. One you’re able to do this, you will not only earn a featured snippet but be found by voice searches.

Here’s what I’d do:

1. Find out what questions people are asking about your products.

There are lots of ways you can find these questions:

  • Do a search engine search modified by interrogatives: KEYWORDS who OR what OR where OR why OR how
  • While doing a Google search, do you see a “People also ask” list? Take note!
  • There are tools that will automate the search process for you such as Answer the Public or Keyword.io
  • Ask your sales reps. They know what people want to know.
  • Ask your customers.
  • Look at social media. Don’t just look at your own customers- what questions are people asking your competitors?

Don’t just think about specific products. Figure out what people want to know about types of products (categories) too. In fact, broader questions will have more opportunities than specific ones.

2. Find out if the search engines are giving featured snippets for any of these questions.

Take your list of possible questions to the search engines. Look for a featured snippet. If you find one, take note: you might be able to earn one too.

Don’t forget to look at Bing! Remember: Alexa voice searches use Bing featured snippets.

If you’re lucky to happen upon a Google search result with a “People also ask” list, pay special attention! Each of these questions (and answers) are featured snippets themselves. You can optimize for these, too.

If you’re not able to find any featured snippets, don’t despair. There might not be one yet. It might be worth the time to invest anyway, in case one comes up later. Still, I’d focus my efforts on the ones that already exist. That’s where the biggest opportunity lies.

3. Find ways to add these questions and answers to your ecommerce site.

This is going to be your biggest hurdle. Designers hate words on pages. If you want to be found for a featured snippet (and voice search) you need words on your pages.

Perhaps I should say, “bad designers hate words on pages.” Yes, you need clear beautiful images, to sell your products. This is not mutually-exclusive from words on a page.

Don’t be tempted to hide words on pages, either. Although designers sometimes do this, it’s an old assumption of design. It assumes a printed page rather than a web page. Besides, the search engines ignore words hidden behind tabs and the like. Hiding words like this will defeat your ultimate goal.

Don’t just put answers on product pages. Answer questions on category pages, too. In fact, this is where most people will have questions. They haven’t decided which product they need, yet. They’re trying to decide the right product. Their question lies with the types of product. Add content that asks and answers questions on category pages.

Can’t make this happen? Are the technical hurdles too big to overcome? Can’t convince your designer? Your boss? Well, then you can add these questions and answers to your blog. This can still generate the featured snippet. Unfortunately, your customer will have to make one extra click to get to your products. In the worst-case your blog post answers their question and they go to another site for the sale.

4. Follow SEO best-practices to get your site ranking for these queries.

The search engines are pulling featured snippets from pages that already rank in the first page of results. If the page (with questions and answers) doesn’t rank here, follow the best-practices for SEO:

  • Is your content unique? Readable? Helpful?
  • Are you using your h-tags to organize your content on your page? Do the h-tags contain a question that a paragraph answers?
  • Avoid jargon and use the words people are really asking in their query.
  • Are there any internal links to your page? Don’t rely on navigation for links to a page. Find creative ways to link to a page from within your content.
  • Don’t forget about external links (from other sites) to your page, as well.
  • Etc.

5. Get found by voice searches because you’ve earned a featured snippet.

After all this work, you might earn your featured snippet. Once you have that, you can become the answer to a voice search.

If you’re not seeing this, after all this work, keep optimizing the page. Keep making tweaks to earn the featured snippet. Once you’ve got it, voice search will soon follow.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Even if you’re not able to earn the featured snippet, you’ll still see a lot of benefits from your work.

Extensive content can drive lots of long-tailed traffic to your site. This very-specific traffic has a high conversion rate. Even if it doesn’t come from a virtual assistant, you will see a lot of value. This will be even more effective if the extensive content is on your product pages. In my experience ecommerce sites often suffer from inadequate content. Sometimes products descriptions are the same as on any other site. Other times ecommerce stores forget to put content on category pages. Even if you can’t earn a featured snippet, additional helpful and unique content will help a lot!

Helpful content has a way of attracting links to your site. As you answer questions other sites might link to your page as a source in their article. I’m sure you already know how the value of links to your pages.

Questions and answers make great social media content. Need an excuse to share a product page on social media? If you answer a question, your audience might find it helpful. In fact, they might even make a purchase, while they’re visiting.

Preparing your ecommerce site for voice search will take a lot of work. This hard work will pay off as Alexa mentions your site. How great will it be when Amazon recommends your store!

Do you think voice search will be able to compete with Amazon? Share it with us below or Tweet us!