Voice search, the topic that is on the virtual tip of every marketer’s tongue, currently accounts for one out of every five Google mobile searches — and that number is expected to grow over time as digital assistants and smart home devices become more commonplace. For the modern-day SEO, the shift from manual text queries to voice commands has been subtle over time, but the potential impact over the next few years could be game-changing.
To prepare for the voice search revolution, it is essential that marketers understand the difference between market growth and consumer adoption, the nuances of conversational search and natural language and the role that AI and machine learning play in SERP responses. Just as with any emerging trend in our industry, it is important to plan now to ensure you stay one step ahead of the search curve.
Trend and adoption
All major technology providers, not just Google, are investing in virtual assistants — and by extension, voice search. Google has Google Assistant, Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa, Microsoft has Cortana and Samsung has their new Bixby.
These voice-enabled digital assistants are playing an increasingly larger part in consumers’ everyday lives. For example, on your way to work, you may use voice commands to send messages, listen to mail or navigate via your in-car system. At work, you may use voice search on your Mac (Siri) or PC (Cortana) to manage your schedule. And when you get home, Amazon Echo or Google Home may help you choose your favorite TV show or film on Netflix.
The consumer and marketer disconnect
While voice search is becoming part of consumers’ everyday lives, many marketers still don’t have a plan for voice search. This disconnect may indicate that while consumers are ready, marketers may not be fully prepared. According to research from BrightEdge (disclosure: my company), 31 percent of marketers see voice search as the next big thing. However, approximately 62 percent have no plans to prepare for voice search.
These findings suggest that marketers can see the consumer trend but are not prepared. If they don’t address the trend, brands will not meet their consumers’ expectations.
Bridging the gap and connecting the dots
To capitalize on the opportunity and bridge the gap to meet consumer expectations, it is vital to understand the relationship between voice, mobile and local — and to adapt your optimization strategies accordingly.
Below, I share some insights on voice search and provide some optimization tips.
Conversation and intent
One of the biggest mistakes a marketer can make with voice search concerns intent. In many of my previous articles, I have gone into deep detail on the importance of understanding intent, leveraging intent signals and optimizing for the user accordingly. With voice search, understanding intent becomes even more important, and navigating the nuances is critical to success. The rise in conversational search is one of the main reasons voice search is on the rise.
In fact, Google reports that 70 percent of the queries that Google Assistant receives consist of natural language — in other words, a searcher is speaking to their digital search device in the same way that they would ask a question of another person. This is very different from the way they interact with a text search box. Compared to traditional text search over the last 10 years — where marketers’ focus was on keywords and their implicit meanings — voice search queries are more conversational in nature and can reveal new levels of intent.
For example, when looking for a restaurant with text search, I may type in, “lunch in San Mateo.” When I use voice search, my query may change to, “What restaurants are open in San Mateo?” or “What restaurants are open now for lunch?” Voice search queries are longer than their text-based counterparts and normally focus around “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why” and “how.” What’s more, according to Google’s Mariya Moeva, voice searches on Google are 30 times more likely than text searches to be action queries.
Mobile, local and machine learning
Voice, mobile and local search are on a path to convergence. Mobile devices have disrupted search by giving users the ability to perform on-the-go local queries, and the artificial intelligence behind voice search is introducing new methods of query and different experiences for users.
It is important to note that a key difference between text and voice search is that when a person activates voice search, what is considered the best answer is normally the only answer. So it is a winner-take-all search result. I think this increases the importance of SEO skills and bodes well for its skilled practitioners.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.