The Call of Voice Search and How to Answer It

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“How can I keep my dog from opening up cabinets and closets?” This was a question I recently asked Google using my smartphone’s voice search feature.

I could have typed it in to the actual search bar, but at the time, I was busy collecting all the items that Mellie, my adorable and oh-so-curious pitbull/boxer mix, drug out from most of the cabinets and closets in my apartment.

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So my hands were full – literally.

Being able to search while driving in your car, on the go, multi-tasking or, like me, picking up toiletries that were strewn half-way down the hall, can be incredibly convenient. In addition to convenience, there are three other reasons why voice search usage is on the rise.

  1. Speed – Humans speak 150 words per minute, on average, but they only type about 40 words per minute.
  2. Context-driven personalization – Voice search technology has the ability to understand a wide context of questions based on prior questions/locations/semantics/and other interactions.
  3. Accuracy – While not 100 percent, voice search speech recognition accuracy is improving rapidly. Right now, it’s around 90 percent accurate, according to Google. When it gets to 99 percent, voice search will be a game changer.

65 percent of smartphone owners used voice search in 2015, according to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2016. This is up from 56 percent in 2014. In fact, in May 2016, 1 in 5 US searches on mobile were voice searches. In June of 2016, the iPhone’s personal assistant, Siri, handled more than 1 billion voice search requests per week.

Synthesize your Voice Search Strategy

In a very short time, voice search is predicted to be used above and beyond smartphones. Advanced “digital assistant” devices are even being developed that will allow us to readily use voice search in our homes, cars and wherever else we might be.

For example, at Google I/O 2016, the company announced a new home assistant called Google Home. The Google Home device is essentially a small speaker that integrates Google’s new AI personal assistant technology and has the ability to control all of your smart devices in your home. It’s designed to respond to your commands, answer your questions, check the weather and even help you find and buy products online. More specifically, a Google-commissioned study found that 40 percent of adults use voice search to get directions.

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(Google Home. Looks a bit like an air freshener, doesn’t it?)

Emerging digital assistant technology is collectively training people to search using their voices and to become more “conversational” with search and mobile devices.

With voice search on the rise and new technology being developed to support it, what does all this mean for organic and paid search?

1.  Focus on the meaning behind a query rather than a set of query keywords. To optimize your organic and paid search for voice, give careful thought to natural phrases and sentences someone would use as opposed to just a keyword.

For example, in a search, I might have used “dog proofing.” But in voice, I used longer-tail keywords in my question, “How can I keep my dog from opening up cabinets and closets?”

Voice-activated search tends to be much more conversational, so think about using terms that we often use at the beginning of search queries, such as “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how.”

For organic and paid search, optimize your category pages, product pages, landing pages and blog pages to account for question-based phrases.

For paid search specifically, you’d be wise to optimize your landing pages and ad copy to account for conversational search phrases. It’s also important to adjust your PPC bids based on degree of intent.

2.  Take into account variations in pronunciation. Hubspot actually did a fun infographic of 30 famous brand names many of us pronounce wrong. For example, many people mispronounce Porche. They say “porsh” when “por-cha” is the correct pronunciation. Hermes is another one. Many say “her-meez” when it’s “air-mez.”

So if you’re a brand with an often mispronounced name or product, take that into consideration as it can affect search results. As a best practice, research misspellings that can result from common mispronunciations of your brand name, product name or key search terms. Then, add them to your keyword optimization strategy and test them.

3.  Give your site’s FAQs a boost. Since voice search queries frequently contain question words and phrases, your FAQ content can play a crucial role in helping the search engines identify quick answers for popular requests or questions. Although these questions tend to address top-of-funnel queries, high-value FAQ content can help your brand strengthen its awareness, affinity and engagement levels with consumers.

Find your Voice

If 2015 was the year everyone was talking about mobile, then 2016 and well in to 2017 will likely be voice search’s time to shine.  Google and other technology platforms are not wasting any time. They are investing in devices that will make voice search even more compatible with our devices and daily life. What’s more is that Google is already adjusting their algorithms to give preference to voice search optimized sites and demoting sites that are not mobile-friendly in organic search.  And while paid search is more about how much you pay, if the site that people are directed to when they click on an ad isn’t optimized, you’re likely wasting ad dollars.

The clarion call is that now is the time to be having conversations within your company about how you can adopt these approaches to voice search in your overall online marketing strategy. This may mean reassessing your keyword search terms, revising your ad copy or working with partners to optimize your SEO and paid search marketing strategies.

To discover how to integrate voice search strategies into your organic and paid marketing, reach out to our Digital Strategy team.

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