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How Voice Search Will Impact on Business in the Next 3 Years

21 May, 2018

I recently had the pleasure of delivering a presentation as part of the third Leeds Digital Festival programme. It was the 2nd time I had hosted a session during the Festival, and it was great to be back at what is now the North’s largest digital festival.

Courtesy of Gary McKinney

This year, my seminar took place in the impressive Grade II listed Printworks Campus of Leeds City College. It was the former home of the Alf Cooke Printworks back in the late 1800s, achieving fame globally at the time for printing spectacular playing cards, of all things.

 

Now, the site has been transformed into a modern college campus for a host of subjects, with the building we were in a newly-opened digital-training hub. This was apt given my seminar was on the topic of Voice Search and business impacts.

 

I was keen to explore this topic given that recent reports from ComScore predict that “voice searches will account for 50% of all searches by 2020.” This has potentially huge impacts on how businesses reach and engage with people online – from integrating conversational speech patterns into long-tail keyword strategies to optimising for Bing as much as for Google.

My background is in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). When I started out in Marketing, I managed a top-rated e-commerce store before moving on to helping other businesses with their SEO. So, needless to say, I have been interested in the voice-search landscape for some time now, and how voice is affecting search especially in a business context.

So how should marketers and business leaders be changing their content and campaigns? What relevance and importance does it have for search algorithms? How do we analyse voice search data? It is now more critical than ever that businesses change their digital strategy and review web presence to maximise opportunities with voice search and avoid being left behind.

We had a insightful debate during my session about this topic; there is a little video of the session here:

LinkedIn voice search post

Here are some of the key points covered:

What is the current voice-search picture?

Search-engine features have changed rapidly in recent years.

  • There’s a rise in Search Engine Results Page (SERP) features,
  • a push towards the narrative of a singular answer,
  • intent and a deeper understanding of the user and context,
  • improved speed and usability, machine learning,
  • and, of course, voice search.

According to tech company Alpine.Ai, over one billion voice searches now occur per month. A survey of the seminar gave a snapshot of its popularity: 68% already used voice search, with 33% using it weekly. Today, there are said to be over 50 million “voice-first” devices and hundreds of millions of voice-enabled devices globally.

These phenomenal stats are mostly due to the explosion in popularity of smartphones, mobile devices, and smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod over the last few years (again shown in the audience survey results).

In fact, Techcrunch reported that the Echo Dot was the best-selling product on Amazon during the 2017 festive season (Amazon now has nearly 72% market share of smart speakers). Speech-recognition technology is allowing users to search by voice far more quickly and efficiently than in the past and replacing the need to type a question into an online search engine.

 

One issue with voice control has historically been about devices understanding accents and jargon. Given the low prices of gadgets that have saturated the marketplace, this is improving rapidly. With AI comes the absorption of LOTS of data and learning. Gradually, there is an understanding of

  • the user,
  • their internet history,
  • the location and time of usage,
  • and so future search results become based on previous data

the cumulative output is gradually refined.

Some of the audience at my presentation expressed concerned about the concept of “Alexa always listening,” how this links to ethics, GDPR, and sensitive data regulation. This very topic – of privacy and surveillance – was in fact at the centre of many news articles recently on the release of the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition.

Voice Search Marketing Gone Wrong

The audience were likewise cynical about the accuracy of voice searches. However, last year it was reported that Microsoft’s speech recognition had reached a significant milestone when their voice recognition software attained an error rate of 5.1% (equalling that of its human counterparts).

We, as a society, are also learning how to use this new technology, and so our language is evolving. There is a big difference between how we speak and how to write, so for example, I may ask for “Restaurants in Manchester” if I was Googling information online, whereas I may say “Where is the best place to eat in Manchester” when speaking.

 

We are all slowly adapting our language in how we ask for or initiate voice searches, to using specific keywords or merely adapting language or sentence syntax. Plus remember, the “Google machine” is said to have learned by reading 3,000 romance novels to improve its conversational searchability!

 

Smart assistants are getting better

 

Where and how is voice search being used?

Some of the most popular situations for voice search are when driving to ask for directions (an older demographic), while doing other activities or using other devices such as calling someone (a younger demographic), while watching TV, or when working, cooking, or exercising. This new method of searching is helping people to multitask in an ever-more complex world.

Now, 25% of searches on Windows 10 taskbar are by voice according to IBM, showing a growing trend and which is only going to get bigger as we become more connected. Even cars are being sold purely on their features relating to such tech. I don’t think it will be long before people are voice searching information and confirming plans en route to a destination and not just directions.

Speed and convenience is another influence; voice recognition can work up to 3x faster than people can type helping people at work and during leisure activities.  The increased sophistication of voice-recognition systems is improving user experience too.

 

Now, search-engine requests, launching programmes or applications, operating home devices, searching for music or video files, voice dialling, and navigational instructions are just some of the top uses of voice searches. Even my 4-year old has learnt how to use the microphone on YouTube to request episodes of Peppa Pig!

 

How do I win at voice search (VSEO and AEO) for my business?

There are enormous opportunities for businesses to be early adopters and take advantage of voice search. Here are just a few top tips:

Position zero: On Google, this is the featured snippet with the most authority above the normal 1st place result position. It is this information that is likely to be picked up on a voice search first and foremost, so striving for this place is going to become increasingly more competitive.

 

There are different types of position zero formats, and these include paragraphs of text which make up 63% of featured snippets, but also lists (19%), and tables (16%). These allow the information to be branded, have images, and increase clicks.

 

 

Formatting web pages with SEO in mind can change how information is scooped up by Google, and lead to the coveted position zero which in turn become the key information lifted by voice search.

On-site features: SEO is still about the basics, so here are a few simple but important recommendations:

 

  • Content: Create great content. In spite of all the technical aspects of SEO, it’s still useful, conversational content that has the most impact. Ensure your content is accessible to search engines, make your pages unique and relevant to the user, and make the content popular with readers.
  • Keywords: Although keywords don’t have quite the same status in SEO as they used to due to shifting search algorithms, they are still fundamental. Gone are the days of littering text with keywords for higher rankings (in fact this can be penalised), however getting the right keywords into web pages is still vital for getting picked up in searches online and by voice.
  • Longer-tail keywords: These are longer and more specifickeyword phrases that your audience are likely to use when they’re seeking a particular product or service, and especially used in voice search, i.e. “Best Cornwall Beach Holidays”. Question phrases using Who, What, Where, When and How are also very successful.
  • Digital tools: It’s worth thinking about the type of sentences people might search for, or even use Google autocomplete for the top searches on a keyword. Some excellent sites for finding relevant keywords include:

Off-site features: A few useful things to ask yourself about your website here are:

  • Relevancy – is this content what my audience will be searching for?
  • Links – do I have good reciprocal links to and from my site?
  • Reputation – is it enhancing my business reputation?
  • Reviews – are people reviewing my product or business online to help raise my profile?

 

 

FAQs page: Although it may seem a little “old-school”, creating a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page may also bring with it more traffic to your website. Believe it or not, this can top Google searches, and works really well for voice answer engine optimisation (VAEO, AEO)

 

Schema: A new trend in SEO is to utilise schema mark up. In essence, this is code that can be added to your website that helps search engines return the best results, i.e. adding <h2> header code as a way to draw attention to pertinent information in searches. There are lots of different schema types, such as those linked to reviews, organisations, local business, e-Commerce, events, recipes, jobs, or even news sites. You can read more about these on sites like schema.org.

Incorporate intent: Another simple tip is to spend time understanding the user and incorporate that into your content, so think about location, device, browsing history etc.

Optimise for a local audience: Approximately 22% of all voice search is for local information so remember to capture the “near me” searches by:

  • Creating highly optimised and verified Google business pages and add several images.
  • Getting and giving reviews especially on reputable sites.
  • Adding local-business scheme to your pages.
  • Use local extensions in AdWords.
  • Add local links from your website and try to get some in return.

As more customers accomplish tasks using voice-based queries, now is the perfect time for businesses to think about their online and voice-search strategy, and spend time looking at ways to ready themselves for this search revolution!

 

Even google are open about their “near me” search.

Top voice-search questions

Through the course of my presentation, there were lots of pertinent questions – where is the future going with voice search? How is voice going to integrate with the Internet of Things (IoT) and other displays?  Here are just a few:

Q. When using voice search, which search engine is used?

As a user, it isn’t always possible to know where data is being pulled from as it’s a back-end implementation detail. This could be as simple as information being pulled from a search engine like Google or Bing, or integration with data providers like the Met Office. On some devices, it is possible to voice search by asking to go via specific search engines, although this is still onerous at the moment. I expect some products may allow users to change the setting for a default browser in the future, but others will be tightly controlled and limited to pre-selected providers.

Q. What age groups are using voice search?

There is a large cross section of usage that incorporates a really varied demographic.  However, what differs is how it has been adapted by audiences to suit different times and places. Young people are tending to use voice search to find music, video or even help with homework. We are seeing older people using it for directions in the car or for lifestyle pursuits.

Q. Will different industries use voice search in different ways?

Yes. Consumer-facing sectors such as retail are already streaks ahead in their adoption of voice search. In the finance sector, chatbots are commonplace. As this gains momentum, lots more industries will be catching up.

Q. Will people really want to use voice search for everything in the future, or will a traditional internet search always be more accurate?

There will probably always be certain items that people would prefer to spend time researching traditionally, such as holidays. My instinct is that with time, and as search results improve, more and more people will start to trust the tech and uptake will increase considerably.

I doubt this will ever be subscription-based, but I am almost certain that there will be more ways in which people will start to monetise voice search!

Looking to experiment with voice search? If so have a play with DialogFlow by google!

Also check out:

I will be delivering a further Voice Search seminar during Leeds Business Week in October, so please visit https://leedsbizweek.com for more details as they become available, and to register your interest in attending.

You can download a copy of my slides here:

Leeds digital festival 2018 how will voice search impact your buisiness and how to win from Jonny Ross

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