Is voice search the future?

Yet another revolution is taking place in the world of searching. The sales of smart speakers tripled in 2017. Digital assistants such as Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Amazon Alexa and new kid on the block Google Assistant means that voice search is rapidly becoming the new go-to search mode.

Voice search increased more than 35-fold between 2008 and 2016, with over 40% of adults now using voice-based search on a daily basis. ComScore predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.

It is easy to see why voice search is becoming so popular. It enables you to remain online and productive even when you are doing something else in parallel such as driving, walking, exercising, doing household chores or operating machinery.

Moreover, voice search has the potential to become more intelligent and intuitive as voice search devices are increasingly powered by AI data gathered from different platforms across the Internet of Things, rather than being largely tethered to mobile devices and applications. This will enable voice search to understand intent and predict the searcher’s upcoming needs.

So what implications does this have for marketers?

Ultimately, marketers will need to develop search and content strategies that will satisfy both voice search and screen search requirements. Let’s take a look at some of the ways we can do this.

How to succeed in voice search

Be conversational

Voice search is more conversational than screen search. Searchers are more likely to search in full sentences rather than blunter keyword-based statements. So you need to write content in a natural, conversational style that will answer the questions you predict that your consumers are asking. This means building up a broader awareness of user intent to better understand the types of questions they are likely to be asking.

Understand speech patterns

There are also an increasing number of voice query research tools, for example Rank Tracker. This tool lets you type in keywords with wildcards to help you develop language that better reflects the natural speech patterns of voice search users.

You should also consider your online content in the context of voice search. To boost your search rankings, it’s important that you incorporate natural speech in your content. Consider using a more conversational tone to pick up on the nuances of everyday language.

Use schema markup

Schema is a new way of optimising your website that gives search engines a fuller explanation of what your data means, rather than just what it says. Schema provides a collection of shared vocabularies that can be understood by the major search engines: Google, Microsoft, Yandex and Yahoo! It is a powerful tool for all search mechanisms, but is particularly valuable for voice search because it structures your data which strengthens the direct answers required for voices search results. Find out more at Schema.org.

Use long-tail keywords

To boost search rankings for voice search, it’s important for a marketer or SEO agency to make more use of long-tail keywords. You need to think conversationally and include the kind of phrases that would be used by people genuinely interested in the specifics of your product or service. So make sure you include keywords that describe your product or service in as much detail as possible, using conversational phrases and sentences that reflect what your potential customers are going to be looking for.

You need increasingly to develop the skill of understanding the intent behind a query and develop content using phrases that appeal to this intent, and answer questions related to it. This will enable the search engine to deliver more accurate results appropriate to the context in which questions are being asked.

Prioritise mobile

With an increasing number of screen-based searches coming from mobile, most digital marketing strategies now focus on mobile before desktop. This is even more important for voice search, as many voice searches are done on-the-go via smartphones. So it is essential that your content is optimised for mobile devices to appear higher in voice search rankings. If you are not sure, you can take Google’s mobile-friendly test to see where you stand and what you need to do to improve.

But don’t give up on traditional search

Despite the rise of voice search, don’t give up on traditional screen-based search. It is likely to be around for quite a while yet. Some of the reasons for this are:

  • People enjoy browsing and taking their time researching.
  • Sometimes you want a range of information not just one immediate answer.
  • Some searches are more effective if they involve visual content.
  • Some searchers may not feel comfortable using voice search and/or may not want their search results to be heard by others.

So, however fast the pace of voice search, it is unlikely to mean the demise of screen-based search for some considerable time to come.

The challenge for marketers is to analyse and develop a greater understanding of which types of search are likely to be used most for which products and services and then develop an appropriate strategy for each. It is not a case of either/or, but more a case of “which?”.