Google Voice Search has been around since 2011 for desktops, and since 2008 for mobile. Originally available only on the iPhone, the feature was touted as an ultimate achievement in the realm of artificial intelligence.
Despite these auspicious beginnings, it seems as though Google Voice Search didn’t really take off until this year. And it’s not just me. All kinds of sources are talking about the “voice search explosion” and what it means for tech companies and advertisers.
While less than 20 percent of adult smartphone users relied on voice search in recent years, more than 40 percent suddenly started using it in 2015. I believe this means changes are on the horizon for advertisers.
What is Google Voice Search and How Does It Work?
Let me first make an important distinction between Google Voice and Google Voice Search. Google Voice is a telephone and voicemail service, while Google Voice Search is a product that lets you search Google with your voice instead of by typing in the search bar.
For example, if you want a basic pizza crust recipe, and your hands are covered in flour, you can say to Google: “I need a basic pizza crust recipe,” saving both your hands and your keyboard some trouble.
To use Google Voice Search, you must operate the Google app or Chrome browser. Here are some instructions on how to get going with it.
The Rise of Human-Computer Interaction and Voice Command
In her presentation on the 2016 Internet Trends report, Mary Meeker talked about the efficiency, accuracy and usage of voice in human-computer interaction..
She pointed out that voice should be the most efficient form of computing input, as it’s faster, easier and well-suited to the Internet of Things:
Also, speech recognition is becoming incredibly capable when it comes to accurately recognizing words, reaching about 90 percent accuracy by 2016:
It’s not surprising, then, that voice searches are gaining in popularity, with Google Voice Search queries happening more than 35 times as often as they did in their infancy.
On Android alone, 20 percent of searches are voice searches:
How Can Advertisers Prepare?
As we continue in this direction, my gut feeling is that Google Voice Search is a snapshot of the future—eventually everything will be voice-based.
So, as a paid search advertiser, are you ready for that future?
Let’s look at how paid search handles typed versus voice searches right now on desktop. I typed in “best vegetarian cookbook” and got this:
Then I asked Google Voice Search: “What are the best vegetarian cookbooks?” and got this:
Both searches resulted in six Google Shopping listings each. Three of the books were in both types of searches, and the others varied. I also noticed that five of the books in the Shopping results from voice search were available from Google Play (one more than in the typed search).
Notice that my language changed from search to search—sentence fragments and keywords are how I’m used to typing in search bars. However, when I speak, even to a computer, it’s more natural to pose my search as a complete question (and Google is getting good at answering complex questions, too).
My behavior is likely indicative of how the keywords advertisers bid on will change as time goes on. As more and more people use voice searches, we should expect keyword phrases to become more long-tail, including more keywords in phrases than just one or two, and reflecting the conversational way people speak.
Right now, we see some variances in the search results from voice to typed searches, and time will tell how Google and AdWords will work its algorithms to deliver the most relevant results by picking up on key terms.
Purna Virji in her article over at Search Engine Land focuses on how to prepare for what’s to come in voice search. In her article, she touches on the pitfalls of how the search engines might misinterpret what we say or simply butcher phrases that aren’t in English (“Yves Saint Laurent” becomes “the song laurent”).
Virji warns advertisers to research mispronunciations that might arise from misspellings, and test them out along with relevant negative keywords. To connect with the natural language queries, she suggests adapting for the top of the funnel by offering informational marketing content and optimizing pages for FAQs.
Voice Search and Mobile Go Hand in Hand
Since so many voice searches happen on mobile devices, ensure you’re ready by maintaining a mobile-friendly site. Google now has a mobile-friendly algorithm for organic search results, which makes mobile friendliness a ranking signal for searches performed on mobile devices.
But it’s not just organic that’s feeling the pressure to be mobile friendly, AdWords has tested mobile-friendly tags on ads, letting users know which sites are designed for a mobile experience. You just never know how Google will next reward your efforts toward mobile friendliness, so it’s best to err on the side of being prepared.
Keeping Pace at the Speed of Speech
As usual, Google is moving fast, and quickly finding ways to make things simpler for users. Of course, this doesn’t mean it gets any simpler for advertisers. Anticipating voice search is as much about looking at what the future of keywords are as it is about knowing what your target audience is looking for when they perform a voice search on mobile, and making sure that when they click through, they get what they need with ease.