This photo shows a woman holding her mobile phone in her hand. The phone is held in front of her face, near her mouth. She is talking at the phone as if to ask the phone’s integrated virtual assistant a question. The photo suggests that online merchants must optimize for multilingual voice search if they want their products to be found on the crowded digital shelf.

The E-Commerce Disruption Series: How to Get Found on the Crowded Digital Shelf  

Hint: Embrace a strategy comprised of multilingual voice search optimization, structured data and free ads 

This is the third piece in the Lionbridge E-commerce Disruption Series, which explores changes in the e-commerce space as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It doesn’t take a statistician to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic vastly reduced sales at brick-and-mortar stores and drove up online shopping revenues in numerous sectors during lockdowns. Now that social distancing measures are being relaxed in many countries, what’s next? Expect a new normal in which consumers continue to heavily rely on online shopping.    

“People have gotten used to shopping online. We won’t go back to where we were and the digital wallet seems to be getting bigger and bigger,” says Brendan Walsh, Lionbridge’s Global Search Subject Matter Expert. 

Based on research done in May 2020, eMarketer forecasts the following e-commerce trends for this year: 

The digital market is critical for merchants’ survival. It’s essential for companies to stand out on the crowded digital shelf in order to be found. Achieving this goal requires proactive measures. 

What Does the Digital Shelf Look Like? 

The digital shelf is where and how products are presented online. From a search engine optimization perspective, it has changed drastically over time. Five years ago, one could expect a list of 10 results from a search query. Today, there are numerous parts of the search screen reserved for different types of results. Envision sections for ads, product overviews with direct links to shopping, site links, images, and a “PEOPLE ALSO ASK” section. 

While product displays have changed significantly, many businesses (e.g., local farms who have seen increased demand during COVID-19) have not kept up with these online developments. In order to be found on the digital shelf, companies must fully adapt to those changes. To do so, they must focus on three areas: voice optimization, structured data and ads in the Google Merchant Center. Each component is necessary to stand out and capture their fair share of online shopping.    

 #1 Embrace the Voice Channel

How has voice search changed during the pandemic?

By now, Alexa and Siri are household names and when they speak, consumers listen.

However, personal assistants provide only one answer to a potential customer’s product query. Therefore, there is only one winner amongst online merchants. To get to this highly beneficial position zero and be found on the digital shelf, voice search is an essential channel that must be optimized.

Personal assistants, integrated into widely used smart phones, have caused a proliferation in voice search usage, according to Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data. In a survey during the first quarter of 2019, the firm found that 42% of people worldwide had conducted a voice search within the past month.

Voice search is also the perfect medium for an older population, which is an important market resulting from the pandemic.

“More and more, voice is the democratizer of search. It doesn’t matter if the user has faulty eyesight, literacy challenges or dyslexia. Voice is the enabler,” says Walsh. “From a globalization perspective, there is strong uptake of voice search in countries that have complex character sets. There’s no need to type quickly. There’s no need to type at all.”

Being found on the digital shelf requires companies to accommodate the needs of a variety of people in multiple languages, no matter what their challenges may be. Enabling people to search products via voice goes a long way towards achieving that goal.  

How do you optimize for multilingual voice search? 

The optimization of voice search is based on data-driven research. It involves an understanding of the questions people ask that relate to your products and then taking ownership of that content. Companies that answer these questions will drive people to their product pages. These are the products that will be found on the digital shelf.

“Voice search is about connecting to your audience. It’s about caring for your audience,” says Walsh. “It’s about providing useful content to your audience and, on the back end, selling your products.”  

What type of questions are most frequently asked?

Who, Where and How do I questions are among the most common types of queries. As you do your research, be mindful of the context in which people are making purchases. Queries are constantly changing, which means research is an ongoing process. 

For instance, prior to the pandemic, these questions may not have been at top of mind:   

  • “Who offers curbside pickup near me?” 
  • “Where can I vacation close to home?” 
  • “How do I make a face mask?”

The pandemic has made these types of queries more relevant to consumers, but these questions may become less important in the future. 

Online merchants must constantly research questions and key words that are germane to their buyers and adapt their content accordingly. 

Where are the biggest opportunities with voice search? 

With thoughtful planning, any company can win at voice search and be front and center on the digital shelf because voice optimization has not yet been adopted widely. There are numerous cases where obscure mom and pop shops beat out the big brands on the digital shelf because these smaller stores answer the right questions, even if it is accidentally.  

While there are great opportunities to be found on the digital shelf by optimizing for voice in the English language, there are even bigger opportunities to achieve this result for other languages, such as German, French and Japanese. The content gap between English and all other languages also means it is easier to perform. There are fewer competitors and greater possibilities to provide useful content for consumers.   

However, one mustn’t simply translate queries from one language to another. Different cultures and locales will have distinct, discrete queries. Online vendors must research questions that are being asked in the region that is being targeted and then answer those questions from a local perspective, using a local resource. 

The upshot of optimizing for voice search is the simultaneous outcome of optimizing for text search, but only if you use structured data and Google is able to extract information from your page.

#2 Adopt Structured Data

Structured data is what allows additional search elements such as image, price or product availability to be associated with your offering. Structured data helps your product perform within the featured snippet, the area on top of Google’s search results. 

While one would expect the featured snippet section to be dominated by big brands, that’s often not the case. 

Make it easy for your products to be found by Google through your use of  structured data. Your offerings will stand out by providing this type of informational content about your product.  

#3 Take advantage of free shopping ads in the Google Merchant Center 

Google shopping ads have recently become free in the U.S. and will be rolled out to other countries over the course of the year. For product search results, Google dedicates a lot of real estate to these ads.

To capitalize on this section, first create an account in the Google Merchant Center. Then, upload a product feed with all the elements you need. Alternatively, if you have good structured data, point your profile at your website and a product feed will be generated from your structured data.

It’s that easy to participate.

Owning your Digital Shelf Strategy

Your products will have the best opportunity to be found on the digital shelf by optimizing voice search in all the markets you are targeting, properly using structured data and taking advantage of free ads. Lionbridge is well-equipped to help you create data-driven content that is well-structured and well-researched, based on the questions people are asking in a particular market. Lionbridge can help you create and optimize your product data whether it’s source content, product pages or informational pages. Read more about how we support brands and retailers

Get in touch

Interested in seeing if your company can improve its visibility on the digital shelf? Reach out to us

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Janette Mandell
Janette Mandell