From the perfect opening notes of a timeless ballad and the fiery dispatches of a passionate speech to the tiniest whispers of laying a baby down to sleep, our voices have developed into powerful instruments of communication.
In the coming years, those same voices are going to power a revolution of how we acquire information, make purchases, and get things accomplished.
All simply by using them to search the internet.
Voice search is here, and it’s the next big thing.
The most common stat in regards to voice search is the oft-cited benchmark that, by 2020, half of all searches will be voice-based.
That means in fewer than 12 months, a staggering 50% of what we search for online will be at the command of our voice.
Whether or not that exact prediction comes true remains to be seen. But you don’t have to be Nostradamus to know that voice is making genuine inroads in our day to day lives.
In fact, one in five adults performs a voice search using a mobile device at least once per day.
With an outlook that reflects nothing but growth, there is a lot to be optimistic about with voice, both for consumers and the digital marketers who hope to capture them.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a massive shift in how you do business, but just like manual searches, voice has its own set of rules to adjust to.
Although we still are some time away from voice being the go-to search method of choice, savvy marketers should start preparing now.
Of course, there will be a few obstacles along the way, but over time voice search stands to become a powerful disruptor in the billion-dollar e-commerce industry and beyond.
Let’s explore where voice search is today, why it’s set to take off, some pitfalls that might be holding it back, and how you can prepare for it all in 2019.
Voice Search Today
Voice search is not a new concept. It’s been intertwined with our tech for quite some time.
We’ve been using Siri for the better part of a decade.
Amazon’s Alexa has taken over home after home, giving people a direct link to the retail giant, among other things.
Google, for its part, continues to push ahead with both its Assistant and something that could prove even more revolutionary.
Beyond digital assistants, voice search is set to profoundly change how we seek out data and information.
First, it is considerably faster than typing in an inquiry. Of course, that’s not surprising considering the average person speaks between 120 and 150 words per minute but only types around 40 wpm.
Next, for many people, voice search is an incredible convenience – no flipping open a laptop or double thumbing the tiny keyboard on a smartphone. It ends up just a simple, “Hey Siri, where’s the nearest gas station to me?”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the freedom and mobility that voice search provides. From the smartphone to the smart speaker, not having to stop and search is a big deal. It’s the ultimate promise of tech – making lives easier.
It’s hard to argue against something as simple as speaking a question versus typing out keywords. Voice search enhances the user experience by simplifying it.
Over the course of the next few years, expect more individuals to migrate to voice as their preferred method of search.
Everything is Local
Aside from the inherent convenience, voice search is bringing change to an area of search long overlooked – the local search.
According to a 2018 survey conducted by BrightLocal, 58% of consumers used voice for a local search during the prior 12-month period.
Another 46% used voice daily when looking for a local business.
Impressive numbers to be sure, but what drives home the point of how voice searches and local information fit together is the ubiquitous “near me” search (as in, “Siri, is there a Starbucks near me?”).
According to Google, “near me now” searches have increased over 150% over the course of the past two years.
On top of that were even more impressive increases in “near me today/tonight” (900%) and “open now near me” (200%) searches.
Those are just basic inquiries, though.
The continuing evolution of how we use voice is reflected when we move beyond the obvious.
More users are using voice search for other inquiries – seeking out headlines or sports scores, accessing movie showtimes, finding a recipe, or getting the weather.
That may be the most telling aspect of where the future growth of voice is – in the ordinary and mundane tasks of everyday life.
The Limitations of Voice
For all of its upside, voice search is still very much an emerging technology. Heading into 2019, there are a few factors that continue to hold its further development at bay.
Upon its initial release, some of the most meaningful interactions with Apple’s Siri were oddball questions often played for laughs. Even as the AI gets smarter, to this day, there remains that novelty aspect to the capabilities of the digital assistant.
This is particularly true with smart speakers.
Right now, playing music is the number one activity performed on smart speakers. One of the ultimate goals for the purveyors of voice is to move past the obvious and start generating sales with users making voice-based purchases.
It’s no coincidence that some newer speaker models have screens attached to them.
As with most new technologies, it takes time for individuals to adjust to and trust what they are using. With voice, there remains that barrier that it’s great to have, but users don’t place much trust in it except for only the simplest of tasks.
To that end, voice search is also limited in its functionality, which may indirectly add to the trust issues.
Sure you can use voice search to find goods and services and any relevant deals all day long. What if you need to compare two or more products or businesses? Or require a more complicated answer to questions that go beyond the basic “near me” inquiries?
Voice search isn’t replacing more traditional methods of e-commerce just yet. Though, as both the technology improves and the consumer trust builds, this will be a definite growth area over the next few years.
Preparing for Voice Search
Even with those minor concerns, voice search continues to expand its reach across all user bases.
Least shocking of all is that millennials are prominent users of voice search, but older generations are also using verbal queries much more.
For a marketer to connect with either, voice search is a discipline that demands you know how your audience communicates.
Now, it’s something of a given that any business should be familiar with who their ideal client is and the best methods to reach them. When looking at the evolution of technology, however, successful companies are those who dig deeper.
Voice search, unsurprisingly, is very much about language. For your business to capture those inquiries, your web content will need to reflect the verbal cues of those searching.
In other words, you need to know the words and phrases they use. How they speak. What they say.
The words used within the search make the most significant impact, with question-based, long-tail phrases taking over the heavy lifting from the traditional short-tail keywords.
The other aspect of wording is making sure your content is scannable. On average, a typical voice search response is 29 words. This is where snippets – short, succinct summaries to web content or answers to questions – play a role in catching Google’s eye.
Creating content that feeds this new approach is also vital. FAQs help answer questions that your clients would ask in a concise, straightforward manner. You can also generate blog posts to serve a similar purpose while focusing solely on one topic.
Much like traditional search, long-form content on your website also works well for voice search. Again, whatever material you produce should be simple and easy for Google and digital assistants to skim.
The build of your website also factors into success at the voice search level. The standard housekeeping issues of responsive design and fast load times are critical.
Finally, make sure to prioritize the local aspect of voice search.
Your first step is claiming your Google My Business listing. This is a free listing where Google gives you plenty of control over content and is also where digital assistants tend to search first.
You also want to structure your data with schema markup. By providing context to the content of your website, you’ll ensure better indexing of your site. This, in turn, will return a better result to the users performing the search.
Although 50% search equity with manual searches in the next year is lofty, voice search is a technology that is here to stay.
That is why now is the time to optimize your business for voice. Getting ahead of your competitors will put you on the front lines when we finally achieve the 2020 search equilibrium.
Consumers will continue to shape its growth. Businesses that hope to appeal to those consumers must invest the time and effort to make sure that when a voice search occurs, they can answer the call.