We’ve heard many predictions around voice search over the past few years, many of which heralded 2020 as the year of mass adoption for voice. Comscore forecast that by 2020, 50% of online searches would be performed by voice. That was the point at which we reached the peak of inflated expectations, but as we head towards the trough of disillusionment, it’s not looking likely that this will necessarily come to fruition next year – while adoption has been steady, it’s not a category that is about to reach mass adoption.
This is perhaps another example of Amara’s law, overestimating the effect of technology in the short term and underestimating the effect in the long term. In the short term, brands that aren’t doing voice are not being left behind, but, like any other hype, how long will that stay true for? At what point does voice need to become a fundamental part of organic and paid search strategy for brands that want to stay competitive?
Firstly, it’s important that we don’t confuse voice search with voice assistants. Voice assistants are a growth area – in the UK in 2019, more than 20% of households own a smart speaker. They are becoming widely accepted for task-based operations, such as playing music, and setting timers and alarms. What they are still arguably not so good at is voice search. The reason that voice search would hit the mainstream is the tipping point in which the speed and accuracy of a voice search exceeds that of a text-based search, and the precision arguably is not yet there.
However, for those that are considering a slow shift towards voice search - or are at least ensuring they cater to this behavior in addition to their existing strategy - it’s important to remember that voice search is generally used for open-tail questions, rather than product searches. These longtail search terms are the questions starting with how, what, where, who, when and why. Below illustrates the difference in search across text and voice.
Make sure your brand is discoverable for these longtail voice queries. Develop a content strategy that answers the questions that people are asking. Featured snippets are a good way to answer questions directly. Also, ensure that the content you create is mobile-optimised, as this is likely the device that prospective customers will be using for any voice search.
Secondly, look at your technical setup, such that your content will be discoverable for voice search. Local is central to voice search, and we have seen 150% growth in the search phrase “near me now” and a 900% growth in “near me today”. Ensure that your contact information is all up to date, including geo-listings, consider listing your business on Google My Business, and use a proper schema markup.
For anyone that believes the hype around voice shopping, reported to jump to $40bn in 2022 from $2bn in 2018, now could be a good time to implement and fine-tune inventory feeds that will ensure you are able to deliver accurate product information in real-time. When thinking about paid search, one consideration is going to be channels – which search engine is used by each smart speaker, Alexa uses Bing for example.
While it only takes one new technological advancement to potentially move the dial towards mass adoption, the fact remains that for voice to fully take off and reach the mainstream, it needs to become a fast and frictionless experience. That’s not to say that it isn’t a good time to start thinking about how your content strategy and paid search approach would evolve to incorporate voice if or when it does reach stronger adoption levels, so that you are not left behind the competition.