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The Evolution and Importance of Voice Search

You’ve heard it before: voice search is the way of the future. We even included it in our rundown of the top  digital marketing trends for 2019 and we discuss how to optimize for it in our digital marketing predictions for 2020. But will it actually be a massive revolution in the way we search and the way marketers market? I personally think visual search will catch on in the near future but for now let’s see just how and why voice search is being heralded.

The evolution of voice search

Taking a step back, let’s define voice search. Voice search is a form of mobile searching. It’s speech recognition technology that lets users say terms out loud, rather than type them into search fields.

Just a few years ago, voice search was a new phenomenon. Siri wasn’t a practical function on your iPhone but rather a silly and fun feature, not to be taken seriously. That’s because the technology wasn’t quite there yet and people didn’t see the need for a hands-free search option. AI couldn’t pick up on the language very well. But over time, the use of mobile searches has increased and the desire for consumer convenience has risen. So the tech got better.

A brief history:

Inventors have been fascinated with language and technology since the 1700s. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that a machine created by Bell Labs, was built that could recognize speech. Until the 1990s, successful systems were still very simple and had to have ideal parameters (e.g. no background noise, slow speech) to be accurate.

Here’s a video on the world’s first “continuous speech recognizer” software.

In 2008, the Google Voice Search app for iPhone was launched. Thanks to breakthroughs with machine learning, Google was able to combine the latest tech with cloud-based computing to improve accuracy. With the huge amounts of training data now available to them, Google could build on the Voice Search app and introduce personalization elements and developed the Hummingbird algorithm. All this combined to form the Google Assistant which is now in over 50% of all smartphones.

Then came Siri, Apple’s contribution to the market. Then Microsoft launched Cortana, Amazon gave us Alexa, and all the tech giants were in the game. Clearly, this isn’t a detailed history of voice recognition technology but you see how quickly things have grown.

The current landscape and why voice search is important

Personal digital assistant have become increasingly popular and voice assistance is clearly shaping consumer behavior. People are fascinated with machines and communicating with technology via voice has become natural. And, it’s moved beyond just smartphones, obviously. People are keeping speakers like Amazon Echo Dots and Google Home Minis in rooms throughout their homes.

Earlier this year, Google reported that 72% of people who own a voice-activated speaker use it as part of their daily routine; 62% of those voice-activated speaker owners said they were likely to buy something through said speaker.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) and IoT devices have continued to explode in the past two years we’ve seen everyone from Facebook and Apple enter the voice game, while Amazon and Google have continued to grow. It doesn’t matter your choice – Alexa, Siri, Cortana – the fact is that voice search has gone mainstream.

We’ve seen how companies in all industries (like L’Oreal) have gone all in on digital in the past decade. And it’s easy to see how similarly future-facing brands will be utilizing voice search. Want to buy the best mascara available on the market for you? Ask your voice assistant.

And as people’s relationship to technology shifts, marketers must shift their strategies.

How to handle voice search in your business

When consumers turn to their voice assistants with an all-important question, or search for local business while on the go, is your brand ready?

In order to leverage voice search for your business, you need to fully understand the “what.” What are people looking for? Deals, promotions, discounts, and business info, that’s what.

Simply put, for marketers, voice search has a huge impact on SEO and content marketing and voice search optimization is a hot topic. As AI has developed, voice search accuracy has greatly improved which means marketers need to up their game and adapt for the tech.

Understand the intent behind question-based queries:

User intent has changed and is more specified. Voice search trends are also changing. “Where is the best reuben sandwich near me?” is great and all but we’re also seeing more and more queries such as “How much money can I save at Nordstrom next week?”

How can you and the search engine deliver the best results based on anticipated text? Expand your PPC work to include longer tail keyword phrases and questions. Consider tutorial-type queries, the ‘how to’ and ‘how can’ type searches. Think about seasonality and, as always, keep in mind where in the buyer journey a user is. Try out variations to address all these concerns.

Adapt your content to be natural and answer a question:

In order to optimize content for voice savvy marketers must write content that is conversational in nature. Keep it natural and answer the questions your consumers are asking. It’s not all about keywords but rather semantic search and creating content around answering a question.

There are tools, like Answer the Public, that allow you to type in a keyword and see what the most popular questions related to it are. That’s a good place to start to be sure you’re answering relevant customer queries. More recently in 2020, Google is in the midst of rolling out Google Questions Hub, a new informational platform that connects content creators with specific questions Google searchers asked about their industry. By leveraging Google Question Hub, you can create new content or optimize old content that answers specific questions from your community.

Producing content that answers these questions builds your authority and helps optimize for voice search.

Prepare for local voice search:

Did you know that mobile voice searches are three times more likely to be location-specific than their text search counterparts?

Voice search and local search go hand in hand. Marketers should thus update their local SEO. Is the information in your listings (e.g. Google My Business) up to date? Accurate and comprehensive information is crucial to being visible in local searches. Do a directory audit and check that your business name and contact info is correct across the web.

Between Apple and Amazon, consumers expect to be able to shout into the void and get their needs answered, on a local level. “Where’s the best reuben sandwich near me?” (This may have been my lunch order today….) People are embracing the machine and are quite comfortable using this new type of search query application.

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I hate using the word “disrupt” to describe every little technological advancement but voice (and now visual) search has the potential to be a huge disruption to marketing. There are some grand predictions ( in 2020, 58% of U.S. consumers had done a local business search by voice on a smartphone) but even still, executed the right way, voice search could be revolutionary. Traditional search is breaking down as voice search options grow.

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