voice search featured image

The Rise of Voice Search and What it Means for your Business12 min read

‘Okay Google, tell me all about voice search.’ Since its conception in 2010, voice search has become more influential in our lives than anyone will have anticipated. It’s present in our homes, our cars, in our pockets, and it’s changing a fair few aspects of our lives.

Namely, it’s having a significant influence on the way people interact with search engines, as well as inspiring concerns about privacy, data misuse, and even free will. So, don your tinfoil hat, and let’s have an in-depth talk about voice search.

I’m sure you can probably remember the first time voice search made its way to the mainstream. When Apple released the iPhone 4S in 2010, it came with a feature that allowed to speak to, and be heard, by your phone.

It was a fun gimmick. There was as much value to be taken out of laughing at the answers it provided as in the function it was actually supposed to provide.

Voice recognition technology wasn’t great, and asking Siri what SEO meant would probably result in an answer describing a commonly used conjunction.

But Apple had just bought Siri for over $200 million…

siri voice search

Because if you fast-forward to 2019, the voice search landscape is completely and utterly different.

In the US, voice commerce is set to reach a value of $40 billion by 2020. In the same year, half of all searches will likely be through the medium of voice.

Voice recognition technology is at 95%, the same as the ability of a human being. More so, if you’re from the south-west. And technology capable of voice recognition has worked its way into every facet of our lives.

So what does this all mean? What does it mean for the way we market online? What does it mean for our lives in general? Read on, and find out…

What is Voice Search?

voice search recognition stats

If you’ve made it to this point in the blog without actually knowing what voice search is, then hats off to you. But what actually is voice search?

It’s a branch of voice recognition technology, which really kicked off in 1962 when IBM presented their IBM Shoebox computer, capable of recognising 16 spoken words. Voice search only really came to the fore when Apple introduced Siri, as we mentioned earlier, in 2010.

Voice search is the act of a user speaking to one of two types of devices, in order to gather information, buy a product, or carry out any activity one might normally do on a search engine browser.

So, when you tell your phone to find the nearest kebab shop, when you ask Alexa where the Taj Mahal is, you’re making a voice search.

Pretty simple then.

There are two types of devices that currently support voice search:

  • Audio-first devices (Amazon Echo, Google Home Speaker etc.)
  • Phones

As a combination, we are almost always around these devices, and are becoming more accustomed to them year-on-year. They help people multi-task, organise their lives and carry out tasks with ease.

In fact, almost a quarter of American households now own a smart speaker. And think about how many people have phones that can access Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana. It’s said there are already 223 million smartphone users in the US alone.

A third of people that own a smart speaker say they can’t imagine going back to life before a smart speaker, and 42% say that they are now “essential” to their lives.

We’re clearly more enamoured and integrated with voice technology than we ever have been before, and this trend is only set to continue.

Voice search is with us, and it’s here to stay.

What has Voice Search Affected?

map of smart speakers us

In terms of your business, and in terms of your digital marketing strategy, the rise of voice search has had an enormous impact, specifically in the sphere of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.

People are less likely to sit down at a computer and type a search query into Google. They are, nowadays, far more likely to take their phone out of their pocket and speak directly to it.

Rather than searching:

“Greek restaurant Shoreditch”, you’d be far more likely to see users search for terms like:

“Okay Google, where can I get Greek food near me?”

If you know a little about SEO already, I’m sure you can see how this would affect your keyword strategy.

How does Voice Search impact your Keyword Strategy?

When a user enters a query into a search engine, the query is matched to keywords that appear on a webpage. As a simple example, if the user types ‘cats’ then a page with a title using the keyword ‘cats’, would be more likely to appear as a result than one that didn’t.

Voice search has opened up a new trend in how users are making queries. People are literally speaking to their search engines. They’re using longer, more natural sounding phrases or questions, which are not what SEOs have traditionally optimized their pages for.

On results pages we now see boxes containing snippets of information and answers to FAQs that relate to the topic of the search, as Google aim to reflect this trend by providing users with quick, accessible answers.

Not only this, but voice search is aiding the comeback of local business. Users making a voice search are 3x more likely to be local-based in comparison to those typing their queries.

google maps search

This has led to the increased usage of maps on Google’s search engine results pages, or SERPs, again as they look to improve the user experience and provide useful information.

These changes in the world of search have a name, Google Hummingbird.

An update to its algorithm that analyses and ranks webpages, Google Hummingbird was rolled out in 2013 and had a clear focus on serving users with results that satisfied the natural, location-based nature that search terms were becoming more and more likely to have.

The new features on SERPs included the Google Maps results, featured snippets, and FAQ sections, altogether known as the ‘knowledge graph’.

Today, with voice search becoming more and more influential, your business needs to be optimized for Google Hummingbird by ensuring you appear when the user speaks to their search engine.

Optimising for Voice Search

google hummingbird

How do you get your page to pop up when a user proposes that they potentially want to purchase a product you provide?

How do you ensure you take advantage of Hummingbird? And how do you become the voice of authority in voice search?

Well, there are a few good practices you should be implementing on your site today in order to take advantage of this ever-growing trend, but first you need to understand the different types of voice search users make.

1.      Social or Convenience Searches

These types of searches refer to those that involve the user just asking their device to do something useful. ‘Alexa, play my jazz funk playlist’ or ‘Siri, call mum’ are classic examples of convenience searches.

They exist to carry out a function, make the users life that tiny bit easier, saving them the monumental effort of actually picking up a phone and carrying out the action themselves. They are also impossible to optimize your site for. Because the requests, in general, don’t lead to a website.

2.      Local business searches

man selling coffee smiling

For those who can’t see what local business searches might entail, they occur when a user asks a search engine to find them a local business. Something like, ‘Okay Google, where is the nearest pub’, ‘Cortana, where can I buy paracetamol’, that kind of thing.

Any searches that correspond to the user trying to find a product or service in relation to their location is a local business search. To optimize for these searches, you have to ensure your business is registered on Google My Business.

If you are, then you have a chance of appearing in the Google Maps results that appear on the SERPs for a local business search. Include as much detail as you can when you register.

If you include your opening hours, 13:00-23:00 for example, then anyone asking at 21:45, ‘Okay Google, show me pubs that are open now’, will potentially see your pub appear in the results, as you are providing more information for Google to go on.

List the products you sell. Maybe the user is asking, ‘Okay Google, find me a pub that sells maple bacon coffee porter’.

Now, although this is obviously the kind of freak of nature you want to stay as far from your establishment as possible, by some miracle of nature, you sell this beer!

So, if you have it listed in your products for Google My Business, you can be pretty certain your pub will appear as a result for this user. You get the idea, be specific with your product listings, and you increase the number of searches you may appear for and offer a specific service to the user.

3.      Ecommerce Searches

voice commerce sales graph

Ecommerce searches occur when a user asks to see, buy or reorder a specific product. Someone might say to their smart fridge (yes, they exist) ‘reorder milk’, or someone might say ‘Siri, I want to buy a pair of jeans’.

Now, although these searches are pretty specific, as especially those that reorder items will likely repeat buy from a brand, there is certainly room for optimisation here.

And clearly, it’s going to be a really lucrative space for your business to appear in. Users are actively looking to buy, of course this is where you want your products to appear.

Getting this to happen is all about inspiring engagement and positive reviews with your brand. You need to offer customers the opportunity to leave reviews, encourage them to speak positively about your brand.

It’s also a good idea to try and get your result to have ‘rich snippets’. This extra info on a search result can catch the user’s eye and really encourage them to pick you over a page of other results. Remember, there isn’t much to distinguish one result from another.

A good star rating, a price, and any other info can really aid you in attracting a click from the highest-converting customer. Using Schema.org is a really useful way to do this.

4.      Informational Search

informational search

Informational search is the purest form of SEO voice search, not that you’d guess there could be such a thing. They are searches like, ‘Okay Google, where’s the hottest place on earth’ or ‘Alexa who was the first man on the moon’.

This is where you can get yourself in that promised land, that upper echelon, that unattainable mystery, position zero.

Position zero just refers to the featured snippet, where Google displays a box with the immediate answer to a query and other pieces of useful information.

Informational search also gives you an opportunity to appear in the related FAQ section of the SERPs, where dropdown boxes with answers to questions that relate to the search topic are served to the user. To appear here, you need to specifically answer your audience’s questions.

Write fresh FAQ pages that specifically answer questions you might think a user would ask Siri or Google. If you can build up a large bank of answers, the chances that you’ll appear as an FAQ answer will only rise. Write rich, detailed answers. This will not only encourage the user to click through to your site, this will also convince Google that you are worthy of being presented in the hallowed position zero spot.

how to advertise for little money

Does Voice Search Mean the End of Privacy?

alexa voice search

The whole point in voice assistants – Google, Siri, Alexa and the rest – is to provide a user with convenience. To provide a convenient service, warning you of traffic updates, reminding you of events, helping you to multi-task, a device has to store data.

Google Assistant couldn’t serve accurate, useful bits of information unless it had access to your location, your search history, your email. It’s hardly like we’re unaccustomed to this fact. We provide technology with this kind of data all the time.

The worries start to creep in when you consider the fact that home speakers and smart phones could, theoretically, be recording you all day, every day.

When you consider the fact that there were 33 million smart speakers in circulation in 2017, when you consider that voice recognition is now installed in fridges, cars, headphones, mirrors, smoke alarms and so many more fixtures of our lives, it’s fair to feel a little concerned.

In fact, by the end of 2020, 3 out of every 4 homes in the US is expected to have a smart speaker. If someone really wanted to get an in-depth picture of the lives of millions, then voice recognition devices connected to the internet that are integrated into almost every facet of an individual’s life, would probably be a good way to go.

But are our digital assistants really listening to us? Well, that is something for another blog.

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