The rise and rise of voice search

Michael Jenkins

As founder and director of Shout Agency, a digital marketing agency based in Sydney and Melbourne, Michael is at the forefront of the industry. Since its inception in 2009, Shout has built a strong reputation as one of Australia's leading strategic SEO agencies, assisting online businesses to formulate, implement and track successful marketing strategies. Michael is a respected thought leader and digital strategist, specialising in online strategy, corporate SEO, Google retargeting, email and conversion rate optimisation, and online reputation management.

In 1982, an AT&T employee by the name of Plotzke predicted the rise of voice: “In fact, it has been predicted that, by 1990, well over half the communications dollars spent by businesses will be for products and services that include voice technologies. 

"I think most managers, including me, are talkers," he said, his computer terminal unplugged and facing the wall. "I would rather talk than write.”  

While it took almost 25 years for his prediction to be realised, the rise of voice is well and truly here - and, it’s only going to become more ubiquitous.  

In revealing its predictions for IT organisations and users in 2017, research and advisory company, Gartner, declared that by 2020 30 per cent of online browsing will be screen free. Consumer experts, ComScore, think that figure will be closer to 50 per cent.  

While it may be difficult to imagine trawling the net without the device you’re currently reading this article from, in a world where “Alexa", "Hey Siri" or "OK Google” is becoming increasingly synonymous with search, the ability to browse the web without hands, or eyes for that matter, is certainly imaginable.  

Eliminating the use of hands and eyes for browsing will drastically change the way we consume content, communicate and connect. Whether driving, cooking, grocery shopping or gardening, Web searches can be activated from almost anywhere. Interestingly, even now people are becoming increasingly comfortable using search from strange places. While a whopping 45 per cent of people either agree or strongly agree that they feel annoyed when hearing someone else use voice commands, in 2018, over 20 per cent of people are using voice search in a public restroom. In addition, close to 40 per cent on public transport and over 50 per cent in the office alone.  

So what about Google?

For an empire like Google, built on search, the rise of voice is a huge disruption to its business model.  With 74.5 per cent of all Internet searches on most platforms almost are made using Google, a YouGov survey published in April revealed Microsoft's Bing is the market leader when it comes to voice. That’s because Google Home holds 7 per cent of the UK smart speaker market (plus 9 per cent for the Google Home Mini) compared to Amazon Echo's (combined) 75 per cent. The clincher is Amazon's voice assistant runs using Bing, meaning Google is facing a rather serious threat to its business model.  

The question then becomes: How can you protect your business from the rise of search?  

Just as the mobile experience is completely different from websites, voice-led search is another shift for marketers. You do not need to make huge changes, but you need to continually tweak your voice search efforts. Fortunately, the data you collect will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your experimenting. To do this well, it is important to recognise exactly how voice data works.  

Data must be structured  

Search works by interpreting an input and then matching it with the content of a Web page. By providing explicit clues about the meaning of a page to search engines – known as structured data - providing information about a page and classifying the page content is key. For example, on a recipe page, this could include what the ingredients are, the cooking time and temperature, the calories, and so on.  

This information is part of the data the search engines use for voice search to determine the relevancy of a website and is a goldmine for websites that want to get local search traffic. In fact, mobile voice search is three times more likely to be used for local-based queries than text searches.  

Therefore, including microdata on each page like location, product information, and other essential details helps you improve your searchability when people ask for a local establishment.  

In doing this, keep in mind:

  • Conversational language: While becoming increasingly sophisticated, voice search has more intent than traditional search. For example, common words like king can be confusing. Computers do not know if you referred to royalty or Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. A parameter, like play the king of rock and roll music provides helpful data to choose the correct version.

  • User pathways: Instead of simply relying upon the search, companies like Google and Facebook explore how users interact with brands and other channels to predict voice interactions. When they know you came to their site from another, they can see how you liked this type of site and use it as a predicator for future possible voice searches.
  • Mistakes can happen: Voice search is still in its infancy, which means mistakes can occur. It is important to be aware of this when optimising your business for search. Take, for example, homophones like sure or shore. These can be incredibly confusing for voice-led technology, and can have very different outcomes for the users.
  • Experiment: Like any emerging trend in search engine optimisation, you must experiment to determine what works best. For example, many companies just transferred their website to a mobile app. Instead of experimenting with the channel to understand the needs of their customers or how to gain advantages over their competitors, companies stuck with what they knew.

  • Longtail keywords: This refers to those three and four keyword phrases which are very, very specific to whatever you are selling. What this means for marketers is that SEO now is about going for a larger keyword strategy. Searchers’ queries, particularly on voice, are more conversational by nature. People are not typing – or saying for that matter – phrases like "clothing store" they may speak "best designer fashion stores to buy a cashmere coat near me”.

  • Content, content and more content: Truly conquering voice search requires more content on pages; content that is mapped to the search keyword strategy. Having more content means you will also need to balance the user experience – ensuring that it both enhances usability and also enhances SEO. Most importantly, it’s imperative longer-tail keywords are seamlessly sprinkled through the syntax of website copy. This will allow search engines to see more context via voice-activated search and will result in pages appearing for a higher volume of phrases.   

Key takeaway

In an ever-changing field like voice search, we know what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and it’s important to continually refine strategies that meet current demands. Do this by looking at the data, testing, and improving the structured data you have on your website to drive more targeted traffic to your website.     

 

Tags: digital marketing, voice-activated devices, search engine optimisation

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