The implications of voice search

Hailed as a game changer, voice search allows us to trawl through web results by speech. Designed to improve how we have access to information, statistics illustrate just how quickly this medium has taken off.

In 2010, Google announced that 25% of Android searches in the United States were initiated through voice search. Years later, the organisation also published research stating that 55% of American teens used voice search more than once a day.

This raises an interesting question, these stats, while still frequently quoted, were originally published years ago. Furthermore, if voice search has continued to grow, why isn’t it an everyday part of our lives yet? One explanation could be that such a large technological shift requires years to be properly adopted. For example, despite elements of this research being around seven-years-old, it’s only recently that devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home have entered the mainstream market.

Voice search is a new avenue to access information. It might take time but eventually – much like mobile browsing – it could be an everyday part of our lives.

voice recognition

What are the benefits of voice search?

For years, identifying information was a simple matter of just typing it into a search engine and trawling through the data to find exactly what you needed. Now, voice-related queries are becoming increasingly common aided by the arrival of devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo. In fact, VoiceLabs estimates that there are now 33 million voice-first devices currently in circulation.

For users, the benefits of voice search are aimed around easier access to information. Whether this is on the move or while doing another task, individuals can use the voice function to speed up their access to data. Validity is not in question either as research demonstrated that 87% of users thought mobile voice search results were accurate.

Following a similar strategy of making data easier to access, we’ve seen other organisations look to integrate voice. One example is Adobe Photoshop. Whereas it takes considerable training to use the software, Adobe Sensei should allow users to make complex changes by simply asking.

For companies, the benefits of targeting voice search are all about appealing to customers. Simply put, if 33 million compatible devices are on the market, firms could be missing out on an extremely large customer base. Therefore, we are left asking the following questions:

Why do we use voice search?

To first answer the voice search optimisation problem, we need to understand how people use it. The Internet Trends Report 2016 highlighted that people ask queries in four distinct ways:

• To seek local information
• For fun and entertainment
• Seeking general information
• Using the personal assistant function

How do I optimise for voice search?

Armed with this research above, there are two key strategies which should pay dividends when looking to optimise for voice search.

Think local

According to research published by Marketing Profs, voice searches conducted through mobile are three times more likely than text-based queries to be local-related. Consequently, those with an effective local SEO strategy should be in a good position to reap the rewards offered by voice search.

This means having an up-to-date complete Google My Business listing and ensuring all citations are as accurate as possible. This is also a key opportunity to start working on improving your business reviews. Simply put, those with a higher business rating are more likely to receive greater local visibility than those held in lower esteem.

With the advent of voice search, the importance of thinking local cannot be understated. By combining all the above elements into an effective strategy, you should be well poised to target these queries.

Target frequently asked questions

To further enhance chances of appearing for a vocal query, it is worth understanding how these terms are made. Voice search is conducted conversationally and usually in the form of a question. Therefore, gearing content towards more natural phrases could be an effective way to target this consumer base.

For example, for furniture retailers, instead of typing “leather sofa” into a search engine, someone asking vocally might state “where can I buy a leather sofa?”. Similarly, questions may be asked around the topic, such as “how do I clean a leather sofa?”.

This presents a change to keyword research where those desiring visibility for voice search could benefit by employing a more conversational tone. However, although this could make identifying phrases easier, it’s very important to still bear desktop and text searchers in mind – and not to leave them on the sidelines.


Can voice search by commercially viable?

The main challenge for SEO will not be ‘how do I optimise for this?’ but instead will ask how voice search can be made commercially viable. If a robot directly obtains the answer for the user without that person visiting the related page, he or she will not contribute to the website’s traffic or conversions.

Therefore, voice search could create an attribution problem and may lead to declines in traffic as its popularity increases.

Although a gloomy prospect, it is worth remembering that the strategies used to target voice search are fundamentally good SEO. Other channels will likely improve and may even off-set the negatives brought about by this new technology.

Next steps:

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