Digital Innovation Digital Publishing Top Stories
4 mins read

Have you started thinking about voice search yet?

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Search is back.

Ever since Facebook put down publishers in favour of friends and family, social traffic has been on the decline. Publishers, already frustrated by the lack of revenue coming from social platforms, have been looking again at search for their traffic.

For operations geared to social distribution, re-building search traffic means rediscovering search optimisation strategy and increasingly that means thinking about voice too.

Voice search is growing fast

One stat that leads almost every report describing the growth of voice search: According to Comscore, in 2020, half of all searches will be voice searches. If you need more numbers, here are my favourites from SEO Tribunal’s bumper list of 106 Quick and Fascinating Voice Search Facts & Stats:

  • 600 million people already use voice-activated assistants at least once a week
  • 40% of adults now use voice search once per day
  • 52.8% use voice search when driving
  • 20% to 25% of mobile queries are voice searches
  • 39.3% of voice search users are millennials

The technology to support voice search is now all but ubiquitous, from desktop and tablet to smartphone and smart speakers. As access to the tech has spread, the range of voice-first activities has developed an increasing consumer familiarity with voice interfaces, from straight-forward search to remote device control or calling a cab.

Alongside accessibility, the biggest driver for the expansion in voice search is the incredible improvement in voice recognition performance.

As a Scottish native I am all too familiar with the frustration of poor voice recognition. But from Siri’s introduction in 2011 to Google’s current accuracy rates of 95%, even those of us viewed as ‘accent impaired’ are getting on better with voice technology.

Voice search is changing SEO

“As consumers, we’re all just looking for the easiest, most efficient route to go from searching to doing,” says Purna Virji, senior manager of global engagement at Microsoft and a judge on The Drum Search Awards USA.

And, now that the technology works, voice search is faster easier and quicker than typing – 150 words per minute vs 40 words per minute.

People talk to digital assistants like they talk to other people and voice searches, unlike text, are more commonly conducted in natural language. Where we might truncate a text search to ‘plug wiring how-to’ a typical voice search will simply be ‘How do I wire a plug?’.

The secret to good voice SEO is to think of your keywords in terms of how they feature in answer to who, what, where, when and why questions. FAQ content is particularly well suited for voice search.

You still need to deliver detail on linked pages to maintain search ranking, but voice search users also want concise, useful answers.

More than ever, brevity, context and relevance are essential says the Search Engine Journal. They advise creating pages with headlines that ask common questions, with a succinct answer or definition to the question provided immediately after the headline. The detail can appear below.

They say: “The genius of this strategy is that the rich, robust webpage ultimately appeals to Google’s ranking algorithm, while the short-and-sweet information at the top of the page is optimized for voice search and might even become a featured snippet.”

Featured snippets appear in the prized ‘position zero’ spot at the top of search results pages. But even  if you don’t make it to one of the featured slots short text is more likely to be spoken back to searchers or make it into Google’s Answer Box.

Page speed is important throughout search, but more so when optimising for voice. Google sees the high proportion of voice searches conducted on mobile devices and doesn’t want users held up waiting for pages to load over mobile networks. You can check your load speed and get suggestions for cross-device optimisation using Google’s PageSpeed Tools. Creating AMP versions of your content will also help.

Voice search could change advertising

Still not convinced that usage of voice search will match the hype?

Then consider this, Google itself is manoeuvring to counter the potential threat posed to its display ad revenues from voice search. At its annual Google I/O event in California in May Google execs spent time trying to convince developers that a “visual-first” version of its Assistant is a better bet than standard smart speakers.

While acknowledging the growth of voice speakers and other assistants, Google told developers: “It’s not just about voice, adding rich visuals to supplement a conversational interface makes it far more engaging and delightful for your users.”

Cynics might see that as a bid to protect the display advertising that Google’s success was built on.

“Without human-mediated searches on Google, there is no pay-per-click,” said Pay Finders founder Brian Roemmele on SEJ. “Without a scan of the headlines at your favorite news site, there is no banner advertising. Advertising as we know it will not exist primarily because we would not tolerate commercial intrusions and interruptions in our dialogues.”

It’s for that reason that Amazon, currently dominant in the voice market, has effectively banned third-party ads on Alexa voice aps, aware that intrusive advertising could kill usage.

What comes next in terms of screenless, voice-first advertising is anyone’s guess. But as 2020 gets closer, now might be a good time to start thinking about it.




Photo by Kyle Johnston on Unsplash