In 2017 voice search sales via eCommerce reached a staggering $1.8 billion, with predictions of that number rising to $40 billion by 2022.
With numbers like that, it’s easy to understand why everyone is scrambling to get involved. So, with that in mind, we decided to take a closer look at voice search to see where it’s headed, whether it’s just a fad and how businesses like yours can best optimize for it using voice search SEO.
So first of all, what exactly is voice search?
Voice search, in a nutshell, is the ability to perform a search online using just your voice and a smart device. It works by seamlessly converting spoken words and phrases into written text, this text is then used by search engines to perform a search and present you with relevant results.
The end result is a modern convenience that’s allowing people to perform online searches from the comfort of their sofa without lifting a finger. It also means people can search online during everyday activities, such as driving, gaming or cooking, that would have otherwise been impractical.
All of this, of course, is music to the ears of anyone looking to market their products and services to consumers via voice search engines, as it opens up a lot of new opportunities to sell.
So is voice search a new thing?
Voice search has actually been around a lot longer than you think, with some companies, including Google and Apple, using it in their map offerings for some time now.
Modern-day voice search is actually just the latest application of voice recognition technology, a topic that’s been trending for far longer:
In fact, a company known as Dragon launched ‘Dragon Dictate’, the world’s first speech recognition software for consumers way back in 1990 – just two years after Sega released the first Mega Drive!
It’s the evolution of voice recognition technology, combined with the proliferation of “always-on” smartphones and a growing interest in AI that’s led to the development of modern-day voice search.
A lot of the credit for the recent interest in voice search should go to Apple’s Siri, an app that managed to beat Google to the goal of breaking down the social barriers that prevented people from talking to their smartphones – even if it was just to ask Siri if he was planning to take over the world.
Of course, the real game changer for voice search was the arrival of cutting-edge smart home devices such as Amazon Echo (often called Amazon Alexa) and Google Home. Both of which took the convenience of voice search even further by seamlessly integrating its search capabilities into our homes, workplaces and everyday routines.
You may notice the lack of Cortana on this graph. You can thank the Halo video game series and its graph skewing Cortana character for that.
What does the future of voice search look like?
As you might expect, the widespread uptake of voice search from consumers has kickstarted a race among digital marketers and search engine specialists as they attempt to figure out the best ways to optimize their websites for voice-based searches.
A major factor in voice search optimization is understanding the difference in how people type versus the way they speak when using a search engine. For example, if I wanted to find an Italian restaurant in New York City I’d probably type in shorthand like this: “Italian Restaurants NYC”.
However, if I were to make the same request by voice, I’d be more naturally inclined to use complete sentences, such as: “Show me Italian restaurants in New York City”. These types of searches are often referred to as “long tail keywords”.
For digital marketers, this presents the significant challenge of writing content that can cater to both search habits, particularly on a mobile first internet, where the vast majority of voice searches will originate from smartphones.
Fortunately, Google is making this easier for everyone, thanks to RankBrain, an artificial intelligence based learning system that forms part of their Hummingbird search algorithm. In short, both work together to help Google become “smarter” and better able to predict the meaning behind a users search.
So, rather than reacting to the short tail (or shorthand) words and phrases that people are used to typing into Google, the system focuses instead on proactively understanding the wider topic and the intention behind a users interest in it.
Is voice search here to stay?
If you’re wondering if voice search is just a passing trend then the following stats and predictions are definitely food for thought:
- 50% of all internet searches will be voice-based by 2020 according to comScore
- 40% of adults currently use voice search at least once a day according to Location World
- 13% of households in the United States owned a smart speaker in 2017. This is predicted to rise to 55% by 2022 according to OC&C Strategy Consultants
- There were an estimated 1bn monthly voice searches as of January 2018 according to Alpine.AI
And, just for the sake of comparison, here is a how the topic of purchasing a smart home device is trending worldwide:
Again, Cortana is excluded thanks to the selfish antics of the Master Chief.
How can companies optimize for voice search?
As we alluded to earlier, a lot of voice search optimization relates to your content. You should be writing content that flows like a natural conversation with longer tail keywords rather than focusing on specific “shorthand” keywords. There are a number of other things you can do too.
Let’s start with how you describe your products
You might be tempted to write war and peace in your product descriptions, but really the better approach for voice search (and for SEO/User experience in general) is to be concise first, with full detail afterward.
The reason for this is because when prompted, Alexa will read out the product title and price first, before asking the user if they want to hear more. If the user says yes, Alexa will then read out the average rating and the number of reviews.
What follows next is the critical part. Alexa will then search for a list (such as a bullet point list) that can be read aloud within 15-20 seconds. Any longer than that and the user might lose interest. If Alexa is known to focus on lists, then it’s likely that other voice search optimized devices will do the same.
You should aim to include this bullet point list before your full-length product description. This list should focus on benefits first, features after. If you don’t know the difference between features and benefits, it’s well worth finding out.
Optimise for questions and provide the answers
As we mentioned earlier, most voice searches tend to be “long tail” meaning they are more likely to resemble complete sentences. Additionally, in many cases, these sentences are likely to be questions that feature intent based words like “How”, “Best”, “Where” and “Top”.
So for example, rather than writing “Golf equipment” you should be writing longer tail question phrases such as “Where to buy golfing equipment” or “Best places to buy golfing equipment”.
It can be challenging (but not impossible) to integrate long tail keywords into prominent places such as your product titles and bullet points. So a great alternative is to create landing pages, blog posts and FAQ pages that can target questions, provide answers and direct users towards product pages.
Try to earn featured snippets
A featured snippet, sometimes known as an instant answer or position zero, is when Google serves up an answer to your question without you having to leave Google. For example, Googling “How old is Tom Cruise” will give you this result. Which, if I may digress for a moment, will probably make you wonder if you are using the wrong wrinkle cream.
Earning yourself a featured snippet takes a bit of work, but the pay off is that if Google considers you to be the best possible source for an answer to that question, you’re likely to also be the first choice for a voice search too. And even if you’re not, position zero will still earn you a ton of traditional organic traffic.
Use structured data (schema)
Schema, or microdata, is a way of pairing information with a value. This is known as “marking up” information. So for example, you can mark up your product descriptions with product schema to let search engines know that your content is describing a product.
There are many other ways to mark up your content with schema, but the end result is that your content appears “richer” to search engines, which can positively influence your product rankings. In particular, the use of schema is known to help with earning featured snippets.
Back in 2016 Google announced at the annual I/O conference that 20% of voice searches showed intent, meaning that people aren’t just asking their smart home devices to tell them dirty jokes, they are also asking about prices, locations and recommendations.
If you sell locally, then it’s essential that you leverage local SEO to your advantage to get the most out of these intent related searches.
If you’re unfamiliar with local SEO this includes:
- Making sure you have a verified Google My Business profile so you can be found on Google maps and in the Google local pack
- Getting your business listed on free directory websites
- Earning some backlinks to your website
So in conclusion
Voice search is most definitely here to stay and looks set to keep on growing.
If you’re a business that sells services or products online via eCommerce then it should be among your top priorities to optimize for voice-based searches.
Over the coming months we’ll be keeping a close eye on the growth of voice search, so be sure to check back here for the very latest advice for you and your business.