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Will 2018 be the year voice search comes to fruition?

As popularity in voice-operated devices grows, so too does the use of voice search. Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Siri and Microsoft Cortana are all paving the way for new voice-centric strategies within the world of marketing.

In this blog, we look at what voice search could mean to SEO copywriters and content marketers, before exploring ways to prepare for the potential impacts of voice search.

What do we know about voice search so far?

Well, we know that popularity in voice-activated devices is growing at a rapid rate. In a report from Technavio via Skyword, it is estimated that “by 2019, the voice recognition market will be a $601 million industry”.

According to Google Trends via Search Engine Watch, “Google voice search queries in 2016 were up 35 times over 2008”. And in 2016 alone, eMarketer recorded a sizeable increase in voice search of 128.9%.

Research and estimates concerning this area largely point to the same assumption – voice search is gaining popularity with considerable speed.

voice search graphic

Surely with these figures in mind, we can assume it’s safe to invest in voice-search strategies?

This is an obvious assumption to make, but no one can say for sure the extent to which marketers will be able to capitalise on voice search. However, what smaller studies and industry insiders have indicated is that a key element of the voice search revolution is user intent.

Google’s 2013 Hummingbird update brought with it a bigger focus on the implied meaning of search queries. So Google is already pretty good at dealing with voice search queries through the introduction of natural language processing technology across its products and verticals. That’s before we even consider the advent of Google’s machine learning AI, RankBrain.

One of the biggest things that SEO strategists can do right now is to make sure content is natural, mirroring voice search behaviours, and provides answers to specific search questions. As an added bonus, if you optimise your content for voice search you’re also optimising it for featured snippets. Featured snippets could increase your chances of being the chosen answer for that query when it’s searched for using voice.

Here’s how you can fit voice search into your content and SEO strategy now.

Differences between voice search and text search

Text searches

Text-based searches evolved as a way of getting answers quickly through basic search terms, so can be compact and omit grammatical constructs. We’ve become accustomed to searching in this less natural way in order to get and refine our search results. Likewise, over the years Google has adapted to get better at understanding the meaning or intent behind generic, even if they’re one-word search queries:

Short-tail keywords

  • “Sushi”

If we search for “Sushi”, Google knows we might want restaurants, recipes or just information. Therefore, it will bring up a map with local sushi places to eat, as well as a definition and, further down the results, some recipes.

Long-tail keywords

  • “Sushi restaurants London”

Long-tail keywords are also used in text searches, when the searcher wishes to obtain more specific search results. Therefore, they’ll include more search terms, however grammatical constructs and elements of natural language pattern are still generally omitted with text searches.

question queries

Voice searches

In contrast, voice searches are a more natural way of searching, as the user feels as though they’re talking to a real assistant. Voice searches are more focused on semantics, more conversational and usually more detailed. They use both long-tail keywords as well as short-tail queries, but generally voice searches include more interrogative terms such as “who”, “what”, “where”, “why” and “when”. Campaign reported a 61% year-on-year growth in consumers making longer question queries that start with these words.

Short-tail keywords

  • “What’s sushi?”

A searcher might ask an voice-activated assistant “What’s sushi”, using a question term. Google knows that they require a definition.

Long-tail keywords

  •  “What is the best Sushi restaurant in London?”

When further keywords are added in, such as a qualitative terms like “best”, Google attempts to rank the restaurants. And the local search term “London” gives Google an indicator to bring up results only in this area.

Impacts of voice search on the marketing sector

SEO and content marketing is already being impacted by the growing popularity of voice search. Estimates via Social Media Today suggest 50% of people are now using voice search when researching products, whereas SEO strategies largely remain tailored to text searches favouring short-tail keywords.

As they put it, marketers need to: “Think less about keyword stuffing and meta tags and more about full sentences and conversational copy.” Answering search queries with quality content should already be the backbone of any content strategy, but the change is to a more natural tone that reflects spoken language.

voice search impact

Key steps to take

Other steps to take in order to accommodate voice-search requirements into your strategy include:

  • Think about local

Does your strategy focus on local SEO? Chitika’s research director Dan Ruby stated mobile voice-related searches are three times more likely to be local-based than text, so now’s the time to consider incorporating voice-search-relevant local SEO into your strategy.

  • Focus on keyword intent, not the keyword itself

Due to the more conversational tone of voice search, the focus in your marketing strategy needs to be based on user intent behind a search term. This is because a user journey might start with a short-tail keyword such as “Where’s my local chip shop?”, before moving on to a more specific question with long-tail keywords, such as “Is there a Norwich chip shop that’s open on Monday lunchtime?”

Keeping your content as comprehensive as possible will mean that it targets primary terms as topics and includes all relevant topics and sub-topics. You can do this by analysing a particular user journey and focusing on creating pages with a purpose that matches the intent of traffic to the page. So, whatever someone wants to know about chip shops, you have the answer on a particular page of your website, from location to opening times, in a way that’s technically optimised.

  • Marketing strategy

Review your preferred marketing approach – could your current strategy be fitted more astutely to voice search requirements? Carrying out a content audit will allow you to see how users currently interact with your content. And now you know how voice search is changing that to a more question-based natural form of search, you can integrate content elements that fit more closely with it.

To sum up…

While it’s certainly a challenge to prepare for an impending trend as huge as voice search without that much clear-cut data out there to go by, it’s crucial for SEO and content marketing specialists to get to grips with the nuances of voice search and be prepared. Voice is here, and evolving all the time, just as the SEO landscape evolves with it.

WooContent is well versed in helping clients stay one step ahead of SEO trends and incorporating them into your content plan. Get in touch with us today to see how we can best support you.