Voice Search: Mapping the Next Frontier for Digital Marketing

It wasn’t that long ago when Siri, a virtual personal assistant built into Apple iPhones, first came out in 2011. Back then, the voice assistant tool was just a cool tool that...

Fiona Gurtiza
Fiona Gurtiza October 15, 2019

It wasn’t that long ago when Siri, a virtual personal assistant built into Apple iPhones, first came out in 2011. Back then, the voice assistant tool was just a cool tool that offered informative—but sometimes ridiculous—answers to voice queries. 

Nobody expected it to turn into a major digital trend. But today, several voice-activated technologies abound, including Cortana, Google Assistant, and Samsung’s Bixby.

So what got us from there to here?

The main reason is that computers are getting better at understanding voice inputs. Mary Meeker’s 2017 Annual Internet Trends report revealed that Google is able to understand human language with 95% accuracy. And the search engine owes it to its machine learning algorithms that can detect speech and respond to it quickly. 

As Google introduces voice recognition into more of its products and the global mobile population continues to use voice search, the world is moving toward a future where users can communicate with machines as seamlessly as talking to a real person. 

And as a content marketer, you’ll need to optimize voice searches to boost your brand’s SEO efforts

What is Voice Search?

Voice search uses the power of speech to search the web. Instead of typing, users can use their voice to search for the things they want to learn more about.

Unlike text-based queries, voice search combines voice recognition technology with search engine keywords to allow users to ask an “intelligent assistant” a question instead of typing them. The software ingests what it hears, queries one or more search engines, then reads back the most relevant answer. 

Speech-based queries are becoming more popular, with millions of users around the world submitting multiple voice queries several times a day. And it’s used to answer everyday questions like the local weather forecast or directions to the nearest coffee shop. 

Voice Search Commands Make Life Easier

Voice assistance is shaping consumer behavior and simplifying the search process with minimal hassle to daily tasks. Some benefits of using speech-based queries include: 

  • Talking to a virtual assistant gives users more flexibility to multitask.
  • Entering voice queries makes users feel more empowered to get instant answers and feedback. 
  • Speech-based queries enable people to perform tasks faster than other devices. 
  • It enables a more intimate relationship with technology. 

Voice Assistants Dissect Search Queries Accurately

In today’s fast-paced world of shrinking attention spans, people would rather conduct a voice search than a standard text-based query. After all, the average person can only type about 40 words per minute but can speak about 150 words per minute. 

Natural language processing technology has also gotten advanced in recent years, allowing voice assistants to make sense out of user queries more accurately. In the early 2000s, word error rates of voice search assistants were between 20-30%, which put off some customers from embracing voice search AI. 

But as of 2017, Google has achieved a 4.9% word error rate—a huge improvement from its 23% word error rate in 2013. 

Why Voice Searches Are Here to Stay

Voice assistants have gained significant mileage because of their convenience and efficiency. It’s already changing the way different industries operate. Consider these examples:

  • Health care – Ambulances in New England have embraced voice-first tech, eliminating unnecessary paperwork.
  • Publishing – Simon & Schuster released a “Stephen King Library” that asks readers questions before recommending what Stephen King novel they should read next.
  • Hospitality – Restaurants like Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks have rolled out voice-activated ordering options for customers. 
  • Gaming After the success of the voice-powered mystery game, “The Wayne Investigation” for DC Comics, Amazon started incentivizing developers who created voice-based games. 

And as voice assistants become more context-driven, in the coming years they’ll be more proactive, rather than just reactive.

Improving User Experience with Semantics

In 2013, Google introduced the Hummingbird algorithm, which some industry experts describe as a complete overhaul of its core algorithm. And Hummingbird made its mark by considering user intent as well as the contextual meaning behind each query. Its overall goal was to match users with the most relevant results. 

One could say that voice searches work the same way.

Voice technology seeks to improve user experience through semantics. It relies on natural language processing to recognize voices, interests, and consumer behavior. 

What Sets Voice Search Queries Apart

Voice search queries have three distinct characteristics that set them apart from their text-only counterparts. These include: 

Long-Tail Searches

When typing from a computer, users often use short-term phrases to find info because it requires less physical effort. Voice queries, on the other hand, sound more like a conversation with a virtual assistant.

A person typing from their computer may input “best restaurants in San Diego,” for instance. But someone using voice search might say, “which restaurant serves dinner now?” In general, voice queries tend to be longer than their text-only counterparts, and are more likely to come in the form of a question.

Local Info

People often use their gadgets while on the go. That’s why it makes sense that those who use voice search are those looking for local information. And this explains why there has been an exponential rise in “near me” searches since 2017, as highlighted in the stats below:

  • Queries with “near me tonight/today” grew by 900% (i.e., “bars near me tonight”)
  • Phrases with “near me now” has seen a 150% increase (i.e., “pizza near me now”)
  • Voice searches that include the phrase “now” + “near me” experienced a 200% growth (i.e., bookstore open near me now”)

Voice searches make these “near me” searches faster and more convenient. 

Personal Assistance

People who use voice searches mainly ask for directions or to make a call. For example, if someone wants to get a haircut, they perform a speech-based query asking for salons. Google returns the nearest salons, along with their address, distance from the user’s location, schedule, and reviews. 

Users always have clear intent when they search for services from a local business. After all, you can’t expect people to visit your website when finding general and local info. 

Optimizing for Voice Search

optimizing content for voice SEO

Now that you understand the power of voice search, it’s time to optimize your content for it. Incorporating voice search into your SEO strategy brings your content closer to human language so you can gain an edge over the competition. 

Conduct Keyword Research

Consider the semantic differences in queries. People often type and speak differently, so you’ll need to optimize your website for long-tail, local-based searches.

Brainstorm what questions people might ask related to your target keywords. Answer The Public is a good place to start. All you need to do is type your main keyword, then it will return a map of frequently asked questions related to that keyword. 

You can also use Google’s “People Also Ask” feature for similar question ideas.

Recall the Customer Journey

Building an effective content strategy for voice search optimization will entail mapping out questions for users at different points of the customer journey. Take note of how each question is different for each stage:

  • Awareness “What’s the best smartphone?”
  • Interest – “Is the Samsung S10 waterproof?”
  • Consideration – “Which is better, Samsung or Apple?”
  • Purchase – “How much is the Samsung S10?”
  • Loyalty – “What products work with the Samsung S10?”

To make sure you’re appealing to your audience at different points of the customer journey, include a mix of informational content (comprehensive guides, how-to’s), transactional content (videos, product info, and comparisons), and navigational content (press releases, customer service info) into your strategy. 

Use Structured Data

Unlike regular search results where search queries attract a lot of valuable traffic, a voice search only returns a single, optimized result. To make sure voice search retrieves your content, make it as relevant and accurate as possible for the specific query. 

Make your website easy for Google to crawl by creating a sitemap and submitting it to Google Search Console. Another way you can help Google bots understand your content is by using structured schema markup. 

Structured data can provide a boost in voice search results because it helps Google feature elements of your content in the search results. Some items on your site that you can mark up with schema include products, places, events, reviews, how-to content, and news articles.

Optimize for Voice 

A large chunk of voice searches come from mobile devices. Optimize your website for voice search by making it mobile-friendly

Page speed, for instance, is a crucial ranking factor because users expect quick results when searching for info. And an analysis from Backlinko shows that voice searches load 52% faster than the average page.

Another way to improve your site’s voice-friendliness is by optimizing your content for local searches. Start by claiming your business listing through Google My Business and developing content that addresses location-based queries. 

Create Informational Blog Posts

After collecting the common questions that your target audience asks, it’s easier to craft relevant content. But don’t limit your content to a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page. A more consistent way of addressing questions users might have about your brand is by publishing informational blog posts. 

Create a list of relevant search terms, then create blog posts that include those keywords. On top of increasing the chances of your site coming up in Google searches, you’ll also provide users with value.

Need help implementing a tailored SEO strategy to optimize your voice search campaign? Let Growth Rocket drive relevant traffic to your site and launch your business to greater heights. Get in touch with us today.

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