At Google’s I/O developer conference, Google CEO Sundar Pichai shared that 20 percent of Google’s mobile app and Android queries are conducted as voice searches.
Voice search and voice assistants have become increasingly popular in the past year. Software company MindMeld’s Q1 2016 User Adoption survey found that 45 percent of voice users adopted it within the previous year, and 55 percent use voice assistants daily. Last year seems to have been a tipping point for the technology, and users are expecting more and more from voice products.
Google Voice Search, Google Assistant and Google Home
We need to make an important distinction between voice search and voice assistants. Google, for example, has Google voice search (not to be confused with the telephone service Google Voice), which is simply performing a Google search query using your voice instead of typing. The Google assistant, on the other hand, is more conversational and complex as a form of artificial intelligence that responds to the human voice.
In December, Google assistant will further surpass simple voice search by featuring third-party integration through Actions on Google https://developers.google.com/actions/. This will make it possible for users to ask Google assistant to work with apps and services like Uber or Open Table. The assistant will take direct requests for things like home automation, interact in a “back and forth” manner and be embedded into a range of devices.
Google assistant goes beyond devices with Google Home, a voice-activated speaker powered by Google assistant and able to learn more about users personally. It sits in your home and is ready to set alarms, play your favorite music and translate phrases into different languages.
All of this sounds wonderful, and a little like something out of science fiction. As retailers and advertisers, there is a whole new wave of opportunity emerging that’s not yet understood fully. For example, optimizing for voice searches versus typed searches, and how those differ.
Today, we have to acknowledge the limitations of voice search and the tools that rely upon it. This article at Search Engine Land highlights some challenges that advertisers may encounter:
- Voice search offers no method of tracking and gauging impact on sales. Until Google offers a way to understand this sales and conversion data, advertisers won’t be able to measure revenue from voice search.
- No control over how content appears in the results. Moreover, as voice search moves in as a standard, websites (and the advertising on which they rely) themselves may see less traffic.
There’s also the question of search advertising. Will Google assistant offer just one paid listing for one lucky advertiser? Will the results be a blend of paid and organic? Or will it be more like Google Shopping where all of the listings are paid? Only time will tell.
What Does the Rise of Voice Search Mean?
The shift from text to voice in search is huge. Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report looks at the main reasons people use voice search:
At the same time, microphones are being developed for all kinds of environments to help us maintain a high level of hands-free connectivity.
One thing we know for sure is that voice search is different, and may change the way we view search queries altogether. In fact, earlier this year we did a piece on Google voice search and the future of paid advertising, and noted differences in query language and results, as well as how voice search and mobile can work together.
That difference in query language is a major factor. This article at Search Engine Land devoted some time to this topic back in June, and emphasized how much more conversational users are with voice search and voice assistants than they are when typing into a search box:
For example, a user might type in keywords “a/c repair near me” but might tell a voice assistant, “There’s a burning smell coming from my outside Trane a/c condenser unit.”
Beyond that, traditional search intent will likely be bypassed for action and appointment-making:
Instead of searching for electricians near me, the request might be a request for an appointment with the highest-rated local electrician who is available between noon and 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.
For advertisers, this is where it gets tricky. It isn’t really reasonable to expect local businesses to develop apps just to be where voice assistants go (such as those coming through Actions with Google).
However, as the article at Search Engine Land suggests, those businesses can and should optimize for vertical sites that do integrate voice search. For example, a bed and breakfast can ensure its profile on Kayak (which integrates with Amazon Echo) is fully optimized for searches through the travel site’s app.
How Advertisers Can Prepare
So what actions can advertisers take to increase their chances of being found in a voice search? Purna Virji over at Moz gives some great tips to consider:
- Test out longer keyword phrases that sound conversational, as we’ll probably get more and more used to searching this way in the coming years.
- Add more keyword phrases that are in the form of a question. Specific questions about costs, highest quality products and information resources are likely to be asked about your brand.
- Figure out the intent of your searchers by examining the language of their more conversational questions, then optimize for those keywords.
- Refine your keyword strategy if you have a local physical presence. Consider including landmarks, points of interest and local speak to describe the neighborhood.
- Keep your listings up to date on crowd-sourced sites like Yelp, as people won’t need to visit your actual website as much for basic information.
Voice search, and all that comes with it, is exciting. It’s also going to be a huge change for how users engage with the web. Start paying attention and preparing now, and your brand can continue to be a part of the conversation for years to come.