Like many other modern technologies, voice recognition – and the power to use the technology for web searches – has come a long way in a relatively brief period of time. Voice search didn’t hit the scene until 2004, when Google rolled out a half-baked experiment from its labs called “Google Voice.” The convoluted approach involved calling a phone number, speaking your search query, and then opening a web browser to see the results. Predictably, the novel search tactic only occasionally worked and failed to seize the public imagination.
Fast forward a little more than a decade, however, and voice recognition has become one of the hottest trends in the internet search space. Tech giants Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google have all thrown their hat in the voice search ring, employing sophisticated algorithms to power voice-activated digital assistants – Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant, respectively – that now handle an ever-growing share of all internet search activity. For online marketers, this shift toward voice control and digital assistants raises some interesting issues: how does this change alter the traditional approach to SEO, and how might this technology be leveraged to reach an even broader and better-targeted audience?
Understanding Voice Search
In years past, voice search was probably better known for its high incidence of recognition and transcription errors – sometimes amusing, often frustrating – than for its real-world usefulness. Technological advances have radically reduced those mistakes, however, and today nearly half of all adults say they use voice-control devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker on a regular basis. Their growing popularity makes understanding voice search all the more important to marketers.
While few analytic tools exist that are specifically tailored to voice searches, traditional paid search campaign tools can still elicit plenty of useful information. The data they provide makes it easy to single out searches that originate from mobile devices, and the way search queries are phrased often differentiates voice versus text searches. Where traditional text searches often use brief, specific keywords – “best pizza Chicago” or “fastest smartphone,” for instance” – voice search tends to be more conversational in nature. Full-sentence queries are the norm, and local searches are particularly common among voice users. Knowing these differences, it’s often easy to roughly approximate which searches are done via voice and which are made through text.
Optimizing for Speech
The broad fundamentals of content marketing are unlikely to change as we move progressively toward mobile and voice-based search, but new strategies are still needed to optimize marketing campaigns for this new reality. The biggest change is the evolution toward conversational, full-sentence searches. Since voice search often takes place in the context of a digital assistant, it’s important to recognize and account for the fact that many such queries come in the form of direct questions. Perhaps the best way to take advantage of this is by utilizing FAQ pages, taking the most commonly searched questions relevant to your content, and supplying concise, actionable answers.
Similarly, because so many voice searches are local, on-the-go, and conducted via mobile devices, marketers who optimize for these uses will be well-positioned to stay ahead of the game. Websites for physical businesses should always display addresses, phone numbers, and directions from major interstates or points of interest in text format, and a strong presence on review directories and social networks like Yelp, Facebook, and Google Local Guides is invaluable for driving foot traffic. As speech recognition and AI assistant technologies continue to improve and mature, voice search will continue to take on a larger share of overall search traffic. In fact, analysts expect that voice searches may account for more than half of all search queries by the year 2020, making it an essential tool for any savvy content marketing team.
Driven by the progressive march toward smarter, more interactive, more mobile technology, the online search space is clearly changing. Digital assistants have already begun to alter the way we interact with and think about search platforms, and that trend shows no signs of slowing down. It’s on content marketers to learn how best to utilize these new technologies, and those who can do so quickly and effectively will be well-positioned to succeed both now and in the future.