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Beyond Text Searching: a Marketer’s Guide to Voice and Visual Search Optimization

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Jul 31, 2020 | Brent Heslop

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In the mid-1960s, Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk summoned the on-board computer on the USS Enterprise in the same way we casually ask Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri to play music for us today. Voice search and its cousin visual search are rapidly gaining ground as technology catches up with things we used to watch on television.

In 2019 alone, an estimated 3.25 billion digital voice assistants were being used in devices worldwide. Forecasts suggest that by 2023 the number of digital voice assistants will grow to eight billion — similar to the earth’s population at the same time.

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Artificial intelligence and machine learning have brought yesterday’s sci-fi to today’s fingertips. As smartphones get smarter and more digital assistants move into our homes, customers are interacting with content in new ways. Instead of looking at a map, we can ask Siri for directions. Visual search capabilities turn every moment into an opportunity for brands as consumers point their smart devices at objects to learn more about them.

Like Captain Kirk’s voice queries, end users don’t see the algorithms that go to work locating the information for which we ask. However, marketers need to know about the back-end processes that make their content easy to find, no matter how someone is searching for it.

This guide helps marketers understand the latest search methods and how to adapt your content to capture traffic from increasing voice and visual searches.

The Evolution of Content Searching: How We Got to “OK Google” and Why it Matters

In the early days of internet content, tools like WebCrawler ushered in text-based searches. Yahoo! Directory soon followed, along with search engines like AltaVista, MSN Search, and Google. These search engines have long relied on keywords to find content that matched our wants.

But with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) that’s smart enough to deliver content based on human requests and questions, hands-free voice search came on the scene.

Instead of using a few short keywords, voice searching is more like a dialogue. With voice search, people ask longer questions as if they’re speaking with another person. For example, when we want directions, we say, “Hey Siri, get directions to the nearest gas station.” When we want the weather forecast, we ask, “Alexa, what is the temperature outside?” If you plug those words into a search engine, you’ll generate quite different results than if you type a more concentrated query like “St. Louis weather” or “gas stations in Albuquerque,” even when you’re after the same information.

Speed and hands-free capability top the list of reasons why people like voice searching, but ease and accuracy follow closely behind. Voice searching is also a powerful accessibility tool for users who can’t use text-based search methods.

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Then there’s the newest frontier — visual searching. With a visual search, the image itself is the search query. For example, if you see something you’re curious about — like a beautiful sofa — and you want to know more about it, you can snap a pic, upload it to a visual search engine, and look for matches. For a furniture retailer with a catalog full of high-quality sofa pictures, visual searching can shorten the sales journey by reducing the steps a customer takes from wanting something to finding and buying it.

Voice and visual search optimization help you differentiate your brand and create more engaging experiences for the growing number of customers poised to take advantage of this technology. By employing voice and visual search optimization tactics, you can now get a step ahead of your competition. Let’s look at how you can achieve that.

The Nuts and Bolts of Voice and Visual Search Optimization

Tech-forward marketers can follow these tips to adapt their content for voice and visual search.

Write How You Speak

The best way to optimize for voice searches is by writing how your customers speak.

Blending conversational phrases seamlessly into your content helps ensure that voice-enabled search engines find your material. When used alongside your regular keywords, your content will offer the added context that will help elevate your relevance in search results.

The key is to consider this from your customer’s point of view. What kinds of questions would they ask if they’re searching for something that your company can provide? What are the answers to those questions? If you sell running shoes, your natural keywords might include stability, motion control, or neutral support. In a voice search, your customers might ask, “What are the best running shoes for people with bad knees?”

If you want to bring more precision to writing for voice queries, try readability tools like the Flesh-Kincaid reading test (which is conveniently embedded in some word processing programs) to match your writing level to that of your target audience, thereby increasing the probability that your content matches their style.*

Look Local

If your business has any local component, a great way to level-up your performance on voice searches is to focus some energy on optimizing your content for local searches. 

Research shows that in 2019, almost a third of online consumers in the United States used the internet to search for local businesses daily. And nearly 60% used voice search specifically to look for information on companies in their area.

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Incorporate High-Quality, Optimized Images for Visual Searchers

Visual searches help people searching for something quick, or that isn't easy to describe using text. The first thing to consider with visual searching is whether your company would benefit from the effort. Some service-focused industries may not generate the same ROI from the visual search that product retailers would. The simplest way to measure this is by asking: “Can I photograph what we offer?”

If the answer is yes, you can improve your discoverability by incorporating your products' images into your content.

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In visual searching, AI and machine learning algorithms identify the objects in an image and try to match those with images of similar objects. Quality matters, both for the image itself and the surrounding text. High-resolution photos will make it easier for search engines (the most popular ones are Google, Bing, and Pinterest) to process your image and match it with a search. Search engines prioritize results from high-quality sites, which are those with fresh and original content — including pictures. Stock photos won’t perform nearly as well as original images.

Remember that quality still shouldn’t come at the cost of usability. Don’t use large photo files. Use a well-known image format, such as .png or .jpeg, and compress your photos to ensure they load quickly.

In addition to the image itself, search engines make excellent use of the related metadata, such as captions, image titles, alternate text descriptions (also called alt tags), and URL paths. Customize these, and be sure to use relevant keywords that accurately describe your images, to help improve accuracy. Lastly, your images should align with the surrounding content on your web pages and be placed as close as possible to the most relevant content.

The More Things Change, the More SEO Best Practices Stay the Same

The trend toward voice and visual searching emphasizes some standard best practices in search optimization, including prioritizing website speed and mobile usability. Voice searches tend to use more words than text-based searches, which means your content may get longer and take more effort to load. Likewise, visual searches are heavier on bandwidth. Don’t disappoint potential customers by making them wait.

It’s also important to remember that voice and visual searching are increasing in popularity precisely because of our growing reliance on mobile devices. While optimizing for mobile devices used to be an afterthought, it is increasingly worthwhile to design your content with a mobile-first approach. After all, over 90% of websites report more unique visitors from mobile devices than from desktops. And Google says, “Mobile-friendly sites show up higher in search results.”

And of course, the most effective SEO tool of all is offering straight-up amazing content designed for humans, not for search engines.

The Final Element of Your Content Optimization Strategy: The Right Content Management System

The process of voice and visual search optimization is infinitely easier with a content management system (CMS) that makes creating, optimizing, and delivering voice- and search-friendly content a breeze.

Headless CMS streamlines voice and visual search optimization by storing all of your content assets in highly-accessible modules. So instead of the exhausting process of rewriting, redesigning, and relaunching content every time you want to publish it to a new channel or audience — marketers enjoy a single source of reusable content which can be run through various translation integrations, SEO plugins, and more before being published anytime, anywhere.

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To keep learning about the new digital technology and trends that are reshaping business and how to adapt your strategy to keep up, enjoy complimentary access to Forrester’s report: “Digitize Your Business Strategy.”

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Sep 22, 2022

How to launch an online store in under 90 days

There are two absolutes in a digital economy: impatient, demanding customers and the need for an e-commerce presence. If you don’t have an e-commerce presence or the one you do have fails to meet customer expectations, you’re likely considering how to solve your problem.What’s been your experience with a software development effort? If you’re like many, it conjures images of:Rounding up the best qualified (and already overworked) team membersSlogging through endless team meetings on top of your other job dutiesWorking through months of coding, testing, refining and debugging to field a minimum viable product (MVP) e-commerce siteWe’ve all been there and have the T-shirts to prove it. But how would you react if we said it is possible to launch an e-commerce venture in under 90 days? Not a work-in-progress, bare-bones MVP placeholder, but a fully functional, customer-centric, remarkably agile e-commerce site built by a team of six people using four independent technologies in less than three months.Why build a working example?How do you address the incredulous responses to the “up and running in under 90 days” claim? As professional baseball player Dizzy Dean said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” So, we decided to prove the power and ease of using composable commerce tools by building and demonstrating a working e-commerce site at ContentCon 2022, our annual conference.Why tie the project to the conference? A swag store was the natural choice to launch at a conference as attendees could access the store, select their items, create digital receipts and collect their items at the vendor’s booth.“We wanted to use this as an example to give you guys an application that you can actually interact with that we’ve built with our four technologies to show it’s really not that difficult,” said Piyush Patel, chief ecosystem officer at Algolia.The team planned the project as more than just a conference presentation, however.“This is just the starting point,” said Gary Ballabio, VP of technology partnerships at Cloudinary. While every business will have its own requirements, the team used their four technologies to create a proof of concept “but also [to create a reusable platform] for anybody to use afterward, for everybody to branch off and use really for a starting point themselves.”How do you launch an e-commerce store in under 90 days?How did we pull this off in less than 90 days? By partnering with three other industry leaders, BigCommerce, Cloudinary and Algolia. We each contributed part-time team members and our software to the project. Here’s a rundown of the platform software each company contributed:E-commerce enablement by BigCommerceImage and video management by CloudinaryHeadless CMS by ContentstackInstant searchability by AlgoliaThe next step was setting up our goals and success measures with the technologies chosen. The resulting project parameters were simple and to the point:Our working premise was that the four technologies working together would meet all project requirements.The site would include four pillars: content, search, commerce and media.Each technology partner would provide part-time technologists, not full-time developers.In a nod to the reality people face developing and deploying software today, all team members were remote, spanning time zones from India to California.Assess the ability of each technology’s integration framework to facilitate information flow seamlessly between platforms.Deliver a solution other e-commerce ventures could use as a starting point.We wanted the development effort to reflect the real world, not be an academic exercise. “This really mimicked what many of your organizations have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” said Nick Barron, senior director of partner enablement at Contentstack. “We’ve got a lot of remote employees; we’ve got a lot of dispersed teams that live in little siloes, specialties and little centers.” So, a 100% remote team was an ideal test environment.The results? We met all our goals and delivered the e-commerce site in well under 90 days. The team became so enthused and productive that we finally called a hard stop as we had more than enough to prove our concept.Here are the project’s summary stats:How it worksHow do you bridge the integration gap between different technologies to deliver functional e-commerce sites and other applications quickly and easily? The short answer lies in using application protocol interfaces (APIs) to manage communication between technologies. Configuration settings replace software customization, allowing users to compose the processes and actions needed to make the application meaningful to customers and the business.Here's a high-level look at how the ABC Swag e-commerce site brings a new product to life.The product manager creates the product in BigCommerce, entering the required information like SKU, product name, product specifications and more.BigCommerce automatically creates the product detail page (PDP) in Contentstack, notifying the product marketer that it’s available for enrichment.The product marketer adds enriched content, including images, videos, 3D models and more, to the PDP from Cloudinary.Contentstack updates Cloudinary assets with metadata describing the location of each asset used in the PDP.When Contentstack publishes the product, it sends all the details to Algolia to index and prepare for searching.As the product manager or marketer makes changes based on analytics like sales, clicks and customer questions, the system automatically manages them, eliminating human error and increasing system responsiveness.Why it worksOf course, technology underpins everything, but people and a cooperative spirit are the two things that make technology valuable and usable. At Contentstack, we call this “Care Without Compromise™.”Here are some observations from the other team members about why the project worked:“The ability to reach out to the other vendors with questions made everyone’s job easier,” Patel said. “I think that’s the lesson we learned is, have help.”Ballabio said the team members were technologists, not full-time developers, working part-time with new tools and working full-time with the tools they were familiar with.“It is a testament to how well documented and how well set up those other tools are for them to pick it up and to create this proof of concept together,” he said.The project also illustrates the dedication of the companies leading the Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless (MACH) evolution to solve their customers’ problems. This dedication extends to getting help from other technology partners when necessary.Powered by composable architectureWhat made it possible for our part-time team, working remotely in their area of expertise, to build this e-commerce venture in record time? Composable architecture. Composable architecture takes advantage of APIs and scalable web services to create a digital-first enterprise.A simplified definition, to be sure, but it’s more important how composable architecture helps enterprises than how you define it. According to Architecture & Governance, Gartner says, “supporting composable architecture means architecting your business for real-time adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainty.” What business cannot benefit from adaptability and resilience?Acceptance of the MACH/composable architecture approach to e-commerce continues to grow. More organizations are finding they can no longer meet the demands of today’s consumers with traditional monolithic systems and dated development methodologies. To survive and thrive, they are making the move to composable systems. According to a recent Salesforce State of Commerce report, 80% of businesses that don’t currently have headless e-commerce technology up and running plan to implement it in the next two years.Composable architecture using MACH components enables teams in any size company to develop, deploy and maintain responsive e-commerce ventures in record time. We demonstrated that combining headless CMS, media enrichment, e-commerce enablement and instant search replaces monoliths with superior solutions.Connect Without CompromiseContentstack and our partners are taking Care Without Compromise™ to another level with Connect Without Compromise™. We want to assure our mutual customers that our tools will work as described. Should any customer experience issues, we'll work with our partners to find a solutionHow does this differ from our Care Without Compromise? Think of it as a combination of technology and best practices.Marketplace: An extensive ecosystem of features, services, apps, integrations and accelerators.Automation Hub: Simple, no-code, cross-stack business logic you can implement immediately.Blueprints: Extremely detailed best practices and implementation guides to get you from zero to operational in the shortest time possible.For example, if you want to set up a store using the same technologies we used to build our ABC Swag Store demo, we have a blueprint that will give you a jump start on creating a similar application for your business.The passing of the age of the monolithsIt’s fair to say that the age of the monoliths has passed, replaced by the age of composable architecture. Rather than waiting weeks for developers to create a simple integration in a monolithic system, businesses can model, evaluate and deploy them in minutes. We think that’s worth celebrating. If you agree and want to learn more to move your business forward, we offer these options:See the ABC Swag Store in action.  For a deeper dive into the building of the ABC Swag Store site, watch our webinar series, “The ABCs of Composable Commerce.”Want to build your e-commerce venture or headless CMS? Learn more and schedule a free demo.