The Rise of Voice-Activated Search and What it Means for Brand Publishers
For what was once a seldom-used novelty feature, voice-activated search has come a long way in its nearly seventy-year history.
Now widely-adopted by consumers moving with Apple, Android, Amazon or Microsoft hardware, undeniably, the sophistication of voice-activated tech has reduced friction and improved the mobile search experience. Crucially, it has effected change in how we engage with digital products and services. Today, most smartphone owners don’t give a second thought to prompting their phones with a “Hey Siri” or “OK Google” to trigger a search.
The rise of voice-activated services, notably in the search vertical, is spurred by advances in voice-recognition technology, consumer demand for convenience (it’s easier than typing) and the evolution of personal voice assistant devices such as Alexa, Echo, Google Home among a multitude of smart-speaker and digital assistant brands.
The often-underappreciated magic of voice search and its thrust as a search tool is pushing marketing and communications pundits to take a closer look at how the technology impacts their customers and how it can support efforts to connect with people. In this post, we’ll contextualise the current trajectory of voice-activated search before discussing a few things brand publishers should consider when integrating voice into their overall strategy.
Voice recognition is better
The marked improvement in voice recognition that we enjoy today is underpinned by leaps forward in natural language processing and machine learning which have powered an intelligent understanding of the subtleties of accents and dialects; the result is a more precise voice search experience that can adapt and scale. In addition, voice assistants have gotten better at understanding context and user intent, so the error rates of the voice-activated services of yesteryear diminish.
It’s more convenient
A September 2018 study of U.S. consumers by Adobe revealed the high retention rate of voice searchers with 44% saying they utilise voice assistants several times a day. Users who adopt voice assistants tend to prefer it to typing as it saves time and offers a hands-free experience when performing simple searches – checking the weather forecast, getting news and finding products – on the go. Instant gratification!
Rise of the machines
Digital voice assistants (DVAs) have entered the mainstream and the consumer market is loaded with standalone digital aids from major tech firms such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung; each promoting their own version of a voice-activated device. Looking to the U.S. as a sign of voice search trends to come globally, smart speaker ownership is a driving force behind voice adoption with 32% of consumers owning a smart speaker in August 2018, compared with 28% in January 2018—a 4% increase in just a few months.
With these underlying factors clarifying why voice search is on the up and up, it’s an opportune time to explore what brands should be doing about it.
“Hey Siri, how can I become voice ready?”
For brand publishers to be voice-ready, there are three fundamental areas to keep up to speed with:
- Site performance
- Optimise for intent
- Location-based optimisation
Brand content that is responsive and loads quickly will be prioritised in search results when a user queries their voice-activated device. As mobile voice loses its share of searches to smart speakers, the competition for voice-activated results visibility will intensify because standalone smart speakers don’t deliver results in a page format, but rather audibly. Sites that are fast and have a favourable domain authority will be trusted and rewarded in the featured snippets of search results.
Unlike text searches, voice search users are inclined to ask longer-format questions as they enter a dialogue with their smart speaker. Thus, consider optimising content for question-based queries – in practice, this could mean revamping or initiating development of FAQ content so that a virtual assistant will answers such queries. Marketers that serve up quality, accurate content to address user intent will fare better than their competitors in audible, sequential search results. There are a range of web tools to help publishers explore natural language phrases that can guide content development.
Just as many voice searchers ask for directions and command calls, as many are conducting “near me” queries. Brands can capitalise on such patterns in voice searches by ensuring their Google My Business listing is complete and accurate as well as by managing their online reputation (responding to customer-generated reviews). Location-based platforms such as Google My Business give publishers more control over content that displays in the search results when someone searches for their brand or reaches them via a keyword + location search.
Voice-activated search is here to stay
As voice-enabled search technology matures and users’ search behaviour aligns, voice interfaces will be integrated into more and more devices. Amazon is a prime example; with 20 000 plus third-party Alexa devices, Amazon enjoyed huge uptake in 2018 as a result of its Alexa Voice Service (AVS) software development kit available to third-parties.
Aside from interoperability, the possibilities of voice as a modern search standard are only starting to be unlocked. As machine intelligence gets better at facilitating smoother and progressively intuitive voice recognition interactions with people, undoubtedly, the marketing challenge of voice search will be rooted in a high-stakes search results environment as machines offer humans the best possible result in the moment, lessening reliance on screen interaction and rich snippets where users select their results from a page of visible, text-based options.
Today, an estimated 600 million people use voice-activated assistants at least once a week globally (Mindshare, 2016). Marketers overlook this adoption at their peril. Don’t channel Siri’s dreaded “Sorry, I don’t understand” line in your response to the rise of voice-activated search.
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