Talking is easier than typing.
Which is why all the big technology providers have invested so much time and research into developing the perfect digital personal assistant. Cortana, Siri, Google Now and now the Amazon Echo have all made major strides when it comes to voice recognition.
And, people are finally starting to take notice. According to Timothy Tuttle, a voice interface specialist at MindMeld, “at the end of 2015 41% of smartphone users had begun using voice search in the last 6 months.” That’s an estimated 50 billion searches per month.
These voice searches aren’t confined to the mobile space anymore either, they’re increasingly integrated into other devices such as laptops, tablets, smart home hubs and game consoles.
Being able to use natural language for a search is certainly convenient for the user, but what should it mean for the Digital Marketer?
What is voice search good for?
Before you panic and change your whole SEO strategy for voice search, take a step back and think about what voice search is actually used for.
Yes, the number of voice search queries is increasing, but for the most part, people are asking very simple questions. Things like, “What’s the weather today?”, “Tell me the score of the World Series” or “Who is Donald Trump?”.
Google recently published a report on the types of queries adults and teens are speaking instead of typing.
Shopping didn’t even make the list. These are all queries that have a simple, finite answer. And, if we’re being honest, Google doesn’t need or want your help in answering these types of questions. If Google can read a simple answer back the user, they will.
Where will people use voice search?
Will voice search be used everywhere? It seems unlikely. Smartphone usage is a reclusive behavior by nature. We use them to escape noisy and unfriendly surroundings like on public transport. Mobile usage is extremely high during periods when people are commuting. Will that behavior change to voice search? Probably not. People don’t want to be exposed by talking to their phone in public.
Where voice search probably will prosper is in private places like the home and in the car. This is great news for shopping – the times of day during which people shop will increase by at least an hour.
That same Google study found that more than half of all voice searches occur while the user is at home (usually while they’re doing something else).
What does voice search mean for the future of digital advertising?
Right now, it doesn’t seem essential to change your entire strategy for voice search – it’s just not there yet. Voice search is adding to the total search volume right now, it’s not taking away from traditional online searching just yet.
However, as voice search continues to improve and become more useful, new forms of paid search advertising may become available. One day, we may be able to bid for appearing as the spoken answer. For example, if I ask Siri to show me the book a holiday, giving it a budget, I don’t care all that much about the travel provider as long as I get the deal for my budget. So, Google may let companies bid in the background.
How to optimize for voice search
If you want to try and get ahead of the curve and start optimizing your site and paid search ads for voice search there are a few things to keep in mind.
The variation in pronunciation means that voice search services don’t always get it right – especially when it comes to brand names. For example, a search for “Bobbi Brown makeup” might be spelled “Bobby Brown makeup”. This becomes even more problematic if your band has a difficult to pronounce name like Yves Saint Laurent.
As search marketers, it’s important to research the misspellings that can result from common mispronunciations of your brand name, products, and key search terms. You’ll likely want to add these to your keyword strategy along with the relevant negative keywords.
Since it’s much easier to talk than to type, voice search queries are becoming longer and more detailed.
“When you type a search, you use computer language — ‘Bahamas vacation deals,’ for example. When you speak a search, you use your own language: ‘What are some Bahamas vacation deals for June?’ or ‘How much does it cost to fly to the Bahamas?’” – Purna Virji, Senior Bing Ads Client Dev. & Training Specialist at Microsoft @purnavirji
This type of searching can be both good and bad for your campaigns. On the one hand, it adds a degree of specificity that can often tell you at what point in buying cycle the shopper is. On the other hand, if you’re surfacing a generic (or unrelated) ad, you’ll lose the click – and waste money.
You’ll want to make sure the ad you are surfacing matches the query as closely as possible. Start by optimizing your landing pages and ad copy for natural language searches, then add those same natural language phrases as keywords to your Paid Search campaigns. Finally, you’ll need to adjust your bids for those natural language keywords to account for searcher intent.
“Shopping Campaigns are an ideal match for voice search queries. Product ads can more easily fit the bill for ultra-specific queries than text ads.” – Purna Virji, Senior Bing Ads Client Dev. & Training Specialist at Microsoft @purnavirji
Often times, a voice search will include the al important phrase “near me”, which means the searcher is looking for a local business. This allows businesses and site owners to collect valuable location data and an excellent chance to employ Google’s new Local Inventory Ads. Mobile voice searches are three times more likely to be local than text, so optimizing for local search and mobile will also help you to rank for many voice searches.
Practical advice for capitalizing on voice search
Start by keeping an eye out for queries in your site analytics that look like they might be natural language queries. Technically, there’s no way to know for sure – although it’s rumored Google is releasing this feature soon – but in general, natural language queries will be longer and more question based than regular searches.
You should also start to think proactively about how someone might search for your brand or products using natural language. Try performing a few of these voice searches yourself to see what feels most natural. It’s a lot like playing Jeopardy – you’re trying to find the questions for which your website or product is the answer.
Once you have a good idea what people will say when using voice search, you can start optimizing your site for those keywords and phrases. Rob Kerry, co-founder of Ayima, gave a presentation on the future of search in which he advised website owners to start integrating Q&A-style content into their sites in order to rank better for natural language searches. You should also consider making your website content more conversational. Natural language queries aren’t just longer, they’re also more colloquial.
Lastly, don’t forgo your current strategy in favor of a voice search one. This kind of optimization should be done in addition to, not instead of your traditional Search and Shopping campaigns.