Voice Search as a new concept, was making content-marketing solopreneurs like me imagine all kinds of mythical things. I thought voice search would be completely different from typed search in Google, and I’d have to change my whole strategy of content marketing to keep up. In the end, voice search isn’t so very different from regular search after all. The only thing is that it’s going to be a darned sight more difficult to rank on Google, because we (all zillions of us, online) now have to fight for something called “Position 0”.
What is voice search, anyway? Is it another passing fad in the ever-evolving world of Content Technologies & Trends, or is it here to stay as the de facto search mode of the future? Wikipedia (the Lord of Online) declares: “Google Voice Search or Search by Voice is a Google product that allows users to use Google Search by speaking on a mobile phone or computer, i.e. have the device search for data upon entering information on what to search into the device by speaking.” Since big businesses have sunk a lot of money into voice-search already, I guess it may here to stay at least for a reasonably long while. We’d better be ready to optimize for voice search using some slightly different tactics.
How far have we all come with voice search … and what’s happening around us?
There’s so much of cross-talk on the subject of “voice search” and its implications for content marketers, that it’s hard to separate truth from fiction. But some research reports are more reliable than others, and the one I trust most of all is Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report.
Some of the findings in this report suggest that voice searches increased more than 35-fold between 2008 and 2016. (That’s a long period of growth, isn’t it? Back in 2008, I wan’t even aware of what voice search was, and had no inkling it would become what it has.)
See this graph from the KPCB/Mary Meeker study that says it all.
Image courtesy: KPCB/Mary Meeker
According to another research study by Location World, more than 40 percent of adults used voice-based search on a daily basis in 2016. Further, some predictions by ComScore estimate that more than 50 percent of searches will be voice-based by 2020.
How has voice search grown so much and what is its fascination for people and marketers? There are a few strong motivating factors. For one, voice search is pretty sophisticated already in its voice-recognition systems. For example, Microsoft’s voice recognition software now has an error rate of just 5.1 percent (that’s almost human!). Secondly, “digital assistants” are also making voice searching easier, and the adoption rate is therefore growing by leaps and bounds. The more people start using voice search, the more it becomes the new normal, and adoption of the new practice then grows exponentially.
The voice search revolution has been galvanized by the increase of “smart speakers”. Although, as the Mary Meeker report suggests, the technology has been around for years, there has been a spurt around 2017 in the production of several smart speakers that have now become household names. Who hasn’t heard of Google Home and Amazon Echo?
If you’ve seen the ads for these products, you’ll notice that they seem simple enough to look at, but react to voice commands of people. They seem to have the objective to help people search for the information they want in a hurry, resolve their questions, and even become “little assistants” to whom you can give some tasks like playing your favorite music, or adding stuff to your shopping list, or giving you reminder alerts on time, and so on.
Some things to be prepared for, as we all head into the future of voice search …
If we try to extrapolate from where we are to where we may be headed, here are at least 5 things that may change in our lives and businesses – and our content marketing – as we hit new highs in the voice search world.
1. Searches may provide more and more local results than text-based search now does. From the way we’ve seen people ask queries of smart speakers or their voice apps on mobiles, the queries seem to be more local-oriented.
For example, it seems unlikely that someone would ask a smart speaker “What’s the weather like in Iceland today?” unless they were planning an imminent trip. On the other hand, it’s more probable they may ask queries like “What’s the nearest 24-hour drugstore near me?” (for which they may get a location-based, geo-targeted answer).
Since contextually relevant information may be more asked, most experts believe that the skew for searches by voice would be more local in nature. Correspondingly, it’s likely search engines like Google are also going to serve up more localized replies on higher priority in their search results.
2. Voice-based searches aren’t appropriate for long-term search sessions, so we may have shorter interactions. Unlike textual searches, where we are willing to look up a lot of URL’s to get our answers, our interactions through voice search are likely to be much shorter as sessions of interaction.
For marketers, as user interactions grow shorter, we’ll all have shorter opportunities to make an impression on our audiences. Our marketing therefore has to become crisp and short. What will happen to brand recall factors if interactions become shorter, is something we’ll have to wait and see. Brand recall by nature requires frequency of contact and length of interactions to make any impact, as we all know.
3. We could be heading for an audio-only interface, so what happens to images and videos? If more people can quickly get what they need to know from an audio-only question-and-answer session with a device, what about our ability to communicate without any visuals, or deep explanations, or videos? The value of visual mediums, including our websites, could slide downwards.
We’ll all have to seriously re-strategize about how we can and should present information to audiences, who just want to hear speed-replies and not visually check out anything. What would happen to ecommerce as we know it, if everything now may be bought on the “word” of the smart speakers?
4. While interactions get shorter, it’s also probable that queries will get more complex in voice search. For one thing, writing a few keywords in a Google search box is far simpler actually, than asking by voice. Try it.
For example, if you want to know more about something you already know a bit about, you can ask a straightforward and clear question. Let’s say, I already know about “marketing automation” as a concept. I can easily ask a query like “Tell me the names of three good marketing automation tools that will cost under $99 per month …”
But if I didn’t know the words “marketing automation” and was groping for “something that would put my marketing on autopilot” I may end up humming and hawing.
I may asking a query like: “Well, what are some good tools, under $99 per month, that can help me capture my site visitors details, and then be able to sell them my products, through following them on buying journeys … and I don’t want something I have to do myself, I’d prefer if it was all on autopilot, sort of … ?”
Now how will voice search decipher that query?
Chances are that if you were in a textual search mode, you’d give yourself the time to try a few different search angles till you spot the words “marketing automation” somewhere – and realize that thing you were looking for has a name. Then your query would become more specific, right?
The first stage of any consumer’s buying journey is getting familiar with the conceptual nomenclature of what he is looking for, because he only knows his needs but doesn’t yet know what would fulfil that need.
Try asking a vague question to a smart speaker and you’ll get a standard “I don’t know what you asking about”. Or worse, it may go all tangential on you, and offer suggestions like “Are you looking to outsource workers. I can help you with people from the Phillippines …” or “Are you wanting an autoresponder. You can choose from Mailchimp, Constant Contact or AWeber.” But if you knew to ask clearly “Tell me about marketing automation tools …” it would vomit out three of the best.
To an extent Google believes its RankBrain (plus some other algorithm changes) can now ““understand complex user queries and condense them to something that’s easier to search”. But the jury is out on this one for me …
5. There’s going to be a mad rush to get the topmost position on Google search – Position 0 – because that’s the only answer voice search is going to return. These digital voice-search assistants are programmed to only relay information from the top-position entry of any search. Think what this is going to do to SEO and competition? I foresee at least a gazillion “expert articles” on why Position 0 is likely to resemble a marketer’s graveyard, and whether its worth dying to get there!
How can content marketers optimize SEO for voice search – what kinds of changes are needed?
When you’re optimizing your website and marketing for voice search, you need to think about SEO a bit differently. For instance, voice search queries are longer than their textual queries. Experts believe they tend to be three to five (or more) keywords in length. This means your keyword research must focus a lot on longer-tail keywords. See the graph below …
Image courtesy: Bing
Another noticeable fact is that people ask lots of “question words” in their search queries – like who, how, what, where, best, where, why and when. So you too have to be sure to use these words in your content.
Apart from all this, your site has to have all the best SEO practices normally recommended. These include things like: optimizing your webpages for page speed and mobile compliance; including great content that answers people’s questions and solves problems; using natural language; optimizing local pages through Google My Business; having a well-structured site hierarchy; building content-based site authority; having an XML sitemap and easy navigation; being sure to give all your images a good alt tag; securing your website with SSL; and having a good schema markup.
A few other important steps to take in your content optimization strategy would be these:
- Take a thorough audit of your current SEO strategy. See what you are doing, and see how many of your keywords are long-tail. See where your SEO strategy could use more voice search focus, and how best to gradually re-orient this focus.
- Research and add more long-tail keywords to target. Brainstorm and beef up your lists of new keywords to target that will be more useful to voice searchers.
- Consider fighting harder for top spots for a handful of key SERPs at start. Don’t try to do too much all at once. Get a feel of what’s working (or not working) so you can plan more wisely. Haste makes waste. Make only incremental tweaks in your SEO approach and test before further progress.
- If your business has a more local bias, go for more local keywords by all means. You will be among those who can gain most from voice search, so get a move on it.
- Prepare for a lot more changes in the near future, because we haven’t seen the full impact of voice search yet. We still don’t know exactly how this whole voice search revolution will finally manifest, so it’s best to stay open-minded, to adapt to evolving trends and changes. Be on the ball.
The massive voice search importance of Google Featured Snippets … read this many times!
Many of us may have noticed that when we search via text on Google, there are some search results lucky enough to be featured right at the top of the search results pages in a “Featured Snippet” box. These top-position featured snippets are often referred to as “Position 0” … because in most cases, the featured snippet result appears above all the ads.
Now, the value of the box has gone up 100000x or more after voice search. Why? Because voice search gives only one answer to anyone’s query, and that answer is invariably the same as the one in the Featured Snippet box for that query!
Here’s what a featured snippet looks like when you do a search for “how do you change a tire”:
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of aspiring digital solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Technologies & Trends”:
- Real Truths On Artificial Intelligence For Content Marketer Solopreneurs!
- How To Craft Your Campaign For Multi-Screen Content Marketing!
- Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality And Gains For Content Marketers!
- Are Content Marketers Ready For This New Internet Of Things?
- Location-Based Content Marketing: SoLoMo Factor For Solopreneurs!