In an in-depth guide to voice search by Brian Dean of Backlinko.com, he states that 41% of adults use voice search daily and that 20% of all Google mobile queries are done by voice. In Microsoft’s 2019 Voice Report, it was found that 72% of survey respondents reported they use a digital assistant (Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant). Voice search isn’t the next big trend, it’s here already, and if you aren’t making changes to your web experience to support it, you are missing out on a big opportunity. But it goes even further than that.
How is voice search different?
How many of us have become a bit lazy when we are on our desktop and perform a Google (or Bing or Yahoo) search? We type in a few keywords and hope the best answers come in the top ten listings on the search results page. Every person or company that wants to be on the first page, preferably at the top, do a lot of search engine optimization to make it happen.
A big part of that is choosing the best keywords and making sure they are used appropriately throughout website content and its associated metadata. Now voice search comes along and shakes up some of the traditional approaches to SEO. Because, as Dean points out, searching with your voice is very different from searching by typing. He says voice will affect SEO because it changes how people search, when they search and what they search for. Probably the biggest adjustment will be in how people search. Voice searches tend to be longer and more conversational.
Dean notes that 70% of searches on Google Assistant use natural language - the way we speak every day. So now, along with ensuring you have specific keywords covered in your content, you also want to make sure there are longer keywords that are more ‘sentence-like' included as well. One way to do this, Dean suggests, is to do question and answer type content. You could, for example, create a specific Q&A page and make sure you are answering key questions that your target audience would ask. Or you can include short, concise answers in your web content (Dean recommends 30 words or less). Neil Patel suggests that long-tail keywords will return text-based queries that you can leverage. Answer the Public is the one mentioned most, and it’s quite useful for any content marketer. Other tools suggested included BuzzSumo, Storybase and Question Samurai. Answer the Public categorizes questions by type: what, how, who, when, where and so on. Here’s an example created from the keyword “GDPR”:
Patel observes that you could interpret certain question types as the degree of intent. Questions that start with What or Who are typically done by people in the research stages, while questions that start with Where tend to mean the person might be ready to buy. Another thing to consider is getting your content used for Google’s Featured Snippet. According to Dean, 40.7% of voice search answers come from the Featured Snippet.
What’s more important - voice search or voice answers?
Rand Fishkin has a different perspective that’s worth discussing. In a blog, he wrote about marketing trends for 2019. Number three on his list of five was voice answers:
Voice Answers have the potential to disrupt any competitive opportunity to appear in results and earn traffic and value. This affects Google, most obviously, but Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s devices could have similar, though less-wide-ranging impacts.
We’ve been talking about Voice Search, and he differentiates the two, saying:
…yes, voice search is different than voice answers. A machine that responds with a single, audio answer vastly changes the marketing landscape of how people think about search. A machine that accepts voice input but still shows options on a screen of results (like most Google Voice searches on mobile or desktop device) doesn’t change much of anything.
Consider Microsoft’s voice report. In a study it was found that people are using digital assistants for a number of things :
- 68% are searching for a quick fact
- 44% are researching a product/service
- 52% are searching for a product/service
- 30% are comparing a product or service
If you could be the one to provide “the answer,” wouldn’t you want to do that?
Or it is 'actions'?
The Microsoft report notes that it’s no longer about questions and answers; it’s about questions and “action.” People want a fast way to find out the information they need, and they expect voice to help them do that:
Voice itself is not the next big disrupter. There is an even bigger disruption on the horizon: Conversational AI and its impact on consumer behavior. Conversational AI simplifies computer usage like never before as it flips the user dynamic – instead of humans learning computer code, computers are learning our language. At the same time, conversational AI amplifies human ability, giving us access to our own personal clouds. We are just beginning to tap into this power through mobile phones and smart speakers.
Mention of Conversational AI take us further into the world of digital assistants, which in essence are the evolution of the chatbots we use today. To get there, we have to get a lot better at using chatbots and the content they use, but that’s another topic altogether.
I agree with Fishkin that voice search isn’t new and it’s something every brand should include in their SEO and content marketing strategies. But without a strong approach to voice search, you aren’t going to be able to be at the top of the list to provide that “answer” a digital assistant will give someone. I think we should be taking advantage of everything voice offers today. We should make our chatbot content available via voice search, create voice versions of blogs, website content and other resources as well and make those available to digital assistants. We are a long way off from a world of voice like Star Trek shows us, but that doesn’t mean a brand shouldn’t act on the benefits and opportunities that voice search - and answer - and action - provide today.