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Are voice assistants changing the way we use search engines?

Are voice assistants changing the way we use search engines?

The use of voice enabled assistants for internet search has risen exponentially over the last two years, and shows little sign of stopping. To give you a taste of the current landscape:

  • The global market for voice search devices grew 187 per cent in Q2 2018, according to Canalys.
  • As of January 2018, there were an estimated one billion voice searches per month according to Alpine.AI.
  • 35.6 million Americans used a voice-activated assistant at least once a month in 2017 according to eMarketer.
  • Apple, Google, Xiaomi, Amazon, and other manufacturers collectively shipped 16.8 million units in Q1 of 2018 according to Canalys.
  • 30 per cent of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020 predicts Gartner.
  • More than half of all owners of voice assistants use them at least once per day, and more than 20 per cent rely on it for online shopping, according to the ADI Consumer Electronics Report.

Certainly the increasing public interest in voice and digital assistants has led to rapid development in the variety of units available. The current leading voice search devices are:

  1. Amazon Echo/ Alexa
  2. Google Home
  3. Google Assistant
  4. Siri

But what is the proliferation of voice enabled search doing to search engines and importantly what can we as digital marketers do to adapt?

Change to Language

  • What is changing?

Switching from old fashioned typing to verbal cues changes the way we phrase our searches. Spoken language tends to be more natural and phrase-focused. It also follows a more normal grammatical structure than typed commands.

For example we may type a search for ‘Auckland content marketing’ but verbally ask ‘Where is the best place for me to get content marketing in Auckland?’.

In a similar fashion voice searches tend to focus around direct questions and include more detail. This in itself is a more natural way to ask for information and for many users also helps differentiate between requests for information and giving their assistant a task.

  • How can digital marketers adapt?

The best bet for SEO success is to match your language to that of the user’s search. Ergo natural language should be matched with natural language. This can be quite easily done by including more natural words in your subheads and meta text. For example ‘cost of airfare to london’ should become ‘what is the cost of an airfare to London?’ to match the far more likely voice search.

Another big adaption to think about is making use of the extra information that question-based search provides. Natural language questions offer a wealth of information regarding the user’s intent that is typically not available in typed search commands. For example: a typed search for ‘new iphone’, could be voice searched as ‘what are people saying about the new iphone?’, what features does the new iphone have? or ‘where can I buy the new Iphone?’.

If you are running a Google Ads campaign, bidding for question words that show stronger buyer intent such as ‘where’ could be beneficial in converting customers lower down the sales funnel.

Location, location, location

  • What is changing?

Navigation and location are deeply integrated with voice assistant search – why? Because people using voice search overwhelming look for businesses and services ‘near them’. Research by BrightLocal found that 75 per cent of smart speaker owners search for local businesses on a weekly basis, and 53 per cent search every day.

Essentially people searching through voice are more inclined to ask for ‘florist near me’ and look for available local services, rather than researching the perfect business.

  • How can digital marketers adapt?

This is great news for physical businesses that can really take advantage of the increase in location-based searches.

Certainly for businesses in general it will be increasingly important to make sure that your company information is available on Google maps, or another location identifier. This will help voice assistants match your service to people searching within your locality. You can do this pretty easily by claiming your business on the Google My Business page.

A final key takeaway here is to make your website mobile friendly. This is because a large number of those who use voice assistants for search do so through their mobile phones.

Quick answers for quick wins

  • What is changing?

Voice searching is all about getting usable answers fast. For the majority of users, hands-free devices are not a means for doing meaty research; that sort of activity is typically saved for sitting down at a screen. Instead people want to hurl questions at their voice unit while cooking dinner, driving the car or whatever activity they are already involved in.

Whether it’s recipes, quick facts or reminders, people want short sharp information and you are unlikely to get people reading reams of information through voice search.

  • How can digital marketers adapt?

Articles and websites that provide quick answers are clearly going to win at the rankings for voice search. This means including clear queries within your text and making your answers short and to the point. This can often be achieved through a well-thought-out FAQ page to help voice assistants deliver all manner of information about your product or service through a question and answer format.

Furthermore a current trend that voice search is likely to exacerbate is featured snippets. Winning the featured snippet almost guarantees that your nuggets of text will be chosen to answer a  question. As we move forward it is likely that unless you are position 0 in the rankings, you won’t be heard at all.

Getting personal

  • What is changing?

Voice assistants are designed to individually tailor their service to individual profiles. They know which of your siblings you call most, what you got your mum for her birthday and the song you listen to when you get dressed in the morning. Inevitably when this sort of understanding of personal preference exists it will also be used to help get you the most useful information when you search.

For example someone who listens to a lot of cool jazz through their digital assistant may find tickets to Fat Freddy’s Drop appear first when asking ‘what concerts are on in Auckland in 2019?’

A notable development in this field is recognition of individual voices, something that Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are now both capable of. This means the question ‘show me my messages’ will offer different results depending on who is asking.

  • How can digital marketers adapt?

Personalisation is something that is becoming more and more expected amongst customers – and marketers need to respond. Having a well researched and nuanced understanding of your target audience is  essential place for optimising for personalised search. It can help you provide the sort of detail and demographic preferences that a user’s digital assistant will be looking for.

Looking further into the future, developing ways to create more personalised websites, newsletters and other searchable material will help capture the voice market.

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Cathy Breed
Cathy Breed About the author

With a degree from Downing College at Cambridge University and experience as a Marketing Executive in London Cathy comes to the Castleford Blog with a reputation for deep research and high-level subject-matter expertise. Her current writing portfolio covers artificial intelligence, financial services, the property sector and not-for-profits. Clients include Stackchat, Surf Life Saving New South Wales, Fiserv and Investa.

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