Voice Search 101: Understanding & Optimizing for Voice Search

What exactly is voice search? And how can advertisers benefit from it? Catalyst’s Abe Bellini tackles these questions and more.

Alexa. Siri. Cortana. Google Assistant. The voices of these digital assistants have become commonplace in many of our lives. It’s hard to imagine a time when we couldn’t replenish household supplies or check traffic conditions with a simple voice command.

But, believe it or not, these digital assistants are still quite new. Google Assistant has only been with us since 2011 and we’ve only known Alexa since 2014. Yet during this short-time, we’ve witnessed extraordinary improvements to the AI powering our voice-activated devices. And, the technology will only continue to advance.

This has led to a tremendous interest in voice-activated search. Voice-activated search has become its own niche within the technology sector, with advertisers racing to understand and capitalize on voice search as a marketing opportunity. Many brands are working to deliver voice compatible content to help consumers find the products and services.

To help advertisers better understand this trend and size up the opportunity, let’s cover off on some of the need-to-know voice search basics.

How Does Voice Search Work?

Voice activated software listens when a person speaks and attempts to understand the user’s intent before searching the Internet. The system works by linking speech recognition software to natural language and AI processing systems.

And, don’t forget about Google.

The Google Hummingbird update influenced and created an emphasis on semantic search, or the “implied meaning” of search queries.

Who’s Using Voice Search?

More and more consumers are using voice search for a multitude of reasons. One in four shoppers used voice assistants for holiday shopping during the 2017 season.

We can also expect these numbers to grow since 39.3% of millennials will use voice-enabled digital assistants in 2019, according to Ee-marketer. Not to mention, voice search revenue is expected to reach a whopping $40 billion by 2022.

Not convinced? Here are some other interesting stats that speak to voice search’s tremendous growth in recent years:

  • The global market for voice-activated devices grew 187% in the second quarter of 2018.
  • One in six Americans are using a smart speaker
  • 40% of Americans are using a voice search at least once every day
  • Google’s AI has read over 2.5k romance novels to improve conversation speech abilities
  • Voice search led to $1.8 billion in retail sales in 2017 in the US
  • 20% of mobile queries come from voice search
  • 72% of people who own a voice-activated device use voice search at least once a day
  • 41% of people who own a voice-activated device say it feels like talking to another person
  • Google Home and Google Home mini devices were the top-selling smart speakers in Q1 2018 as they shipped 5.4 million models.

Why Do Consumers Use Voice Search?

So, why has voice search become so popular? The following are just a few reasons why voice search has taken off:

  1. It allows people to multitask efficiently. You can ask your smart speaker to schedule a meeting, set an alarm, call some someone, or answer simple questions without breaking concentration from your computer screen.
  2. It helps people to get answers quickly. Whether you need to solve a math equation or want to know the age of your favorite movie star, smartbots have you covered.
  3. It helps shed time off daily routine tasks. You can add items to your shopping list, pay bills, and receive hands-free guidance for your favorite recipe.
  4. It brings people together. NPR/Edison Research surveyed of over 1000 smart speaker owners and discovered a majority of people are using the device with others.

How Can You Begin Optimizing for Voice Search?

Creating content for voice search is all about understanding how voice search is designed to make lives more comfortable.

Consider Content-Length: Voice-related queries are often longer than text queries and Google is trying to identify short, and relevant pieces of content to answer questions for users who need to be hands-free, or want information quickly.

voice search queries

Keep It Conversational: Some of the most attractive keywords for voice search are conversational. Therefore, advertisers’ content should reflect natural language.

Write the Way People Speak: This means that we should think about the questions that your customers have about our products and begin to understand the language and synonyms that they use. Take a look at the QA section on your product pages to get a better understanding of the buyer’s journey. This should help you focus on conversational search terms.

FAQs for Voice Search: Creating strategic FAQ content is an excellent way to optimize for voice search and Google Snippets because searches are often long-tail, and answers are often concise. FAQs are great because they allow consumers to learn about your products, they remove doubt from the decision-making process, and naturally improve the consumer’s experience.

Since Google’s Answer Box results are most often formatted as Paragraphs, Lists, and Tables, it’s a sound recommendation to use this technique for voice search. Consider creating strong FAQ pages that answer a multitude of questions surrounding a specific topic. Become the trusted resource for consumer seeking advice around a product category.

Google Answer Box results

Schema for Voice Search

Schema markup isn’t a ranking factor, but it does improve the look and feel of search results. This improvement can increase the CTR to your site and enhance the user experience. So, why does it matter for voice search?

Microdata markup is relevant for voice because this type of code helps Google understand more information about your business such as store hours, location, and contact information. This type of information could be important for users who are driving and are in need of your product or service.

Not to mention, Google is Beta testing “speakable properties,” which identify sections within an article or webpage that are appropriate for audio playback using text-to-speech (TTS). Google explains that “web pages with speakable structured data can use the Google Assistant to distribute the content through new channels and reach a wider base of users.”

Looking Forward

At the end of the day, voice search is an important service that enables people to accomplish more in less time, and it helps people find solutions to their problems while remaining hands-free. Given this, the future of voice search is promising and will not be slowing down anytime soon. And, as voice search evolves, so will opportunities for brands and advertisers to reach their audience in new and effective ways.

Other Search & Social Industry Trends

Voice search is not the only digital trend impacting search and social advertising. Head to Catalyst’s digital marketing webinar hub to discover other ways that you can maximize business results through innovative search and social marketing.

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