By 2020, as comScore memorably claims, 50% of searches are going to be voice searches. Google alone handles at least two trillion standard searches a year, and half of that is a lot, which leaves us with plenty of voice-searching to do in the next four years if we want to make comScore’s prediction come true.
The data on voice search volumes isn’t in yet, but there are good reasons to suppose this is a real trend. Digital personal assistants including Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now have long since snuck into our lives. Two years ago, Google claimed that more than half of 13-18-year-olds in the US use some form of voice search daily - to call someone, to ask for directions, for help with homework or some other quick query or action.
Amazon’s voice-responsive gadget, Echo, which comes at voice search from a more transactional angle - tying up with more than 1,000 apps or ‘skills’, including Uber, Skyscanner, National Rail, Domino’s and Just Eat, to add to Amazon’s own humble e-commerce offering - has reputedly sold 3.5m units, with 10m projected for next year. The Google equivalent, Google Home, launched this week in the US, amid much excitement. Clearly, we are starting to enjoy barking at devices.
But as Google knows better than anyone, search isn’t just a query and an answer; it’s an immensely lucrative advertising system. So how will the rise of voice search rewire search marketing?
Voice search has clear strengths and weaknesses. Do you shop for a pair of shoes or research a holiday with a voice command to your phone? Probably not, but you might summon up a song, check tomorrow’s weather, ask for a cinema time or book a cab.
Voice search, whether it’s via a digital personal assistant or a web-connected smart device like Echo or Google’s just-launched Google Home, appears to be about brief, factual queries or instant action. The keyboard isn’t dead yet.
The questions get longer and the answers get shorter
People don’t talk in keywords, even when they’re doing a voice search, so for brands to benefit from voice search, their SEO needs to start focusing on matching phrases and sentences, rather than individual words. At the same time, websites that give the sharpest, briefest answers to voice queries will be the ones voice search engines need, so accurate, well-ordered information that goes straight to the point will be the route to success.
Brands need to find new routes to the customer
Supposing Echo becomes the initial standard for voice search, it adds a new layer of mediation to the search experience, as it works only with Amazon-approved skills. The local independent pizza delivery place that always scored well on organic search struggles to get a look-in when Echo’s response to ‘I want a pizza’ is to send you straight to Domino’s, and the same goes for many brands that have carved out a good niche in conventional search.
So another new SEO challenge for brands is to optimise their websites so they can be found by the selected apps or ‘skills’ supported by Amazon’s device. This is a recalibration, not an impossible task. Not everybody wants Domino’s, after all, and voice search will only take off if it lets people find what they actually want.
With Google’s approval
PPC’s role in a system like either Echo or Google Home - which uses voice activation to control music playback and smart home devices, or to answer factual questions - is not yet clear, but rest assured, there will be opportunities in voice search for advertisers. Google, a noted beneficiary of digital advertising budgets, is unlikely to attempt to spring us forward into a world that gives us all the search with none of the marketing. Expect brand opportunities to flower as voice search blooms. And until Google starts shouting about the voice search volumes, assume they’re not quite there yet.
By Ollie Vaughan, paid media director, and Eoin O’Neill, SEO director, at Tug
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