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Voice search is growing fast, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. This is an exciting development for marketers since the advent of voice search could alter the SEO landscape, but there is a lot to learn about this technology, and everything could change in just a few years. The more you can get up to speed and get involved now, the better you will be positioned for what the future holds.
Voice Search: The Next Frontier for Search Marketers
Voice search is becoming more popular and prevalent all the time. The SEMrush blog even called it back in 2016. Voice-powered digital assistants like Siri and Cortana are constantly improving, and smart devices entirely powered by voice – like Amazon Echo and Google Home – are enjoying a surge of popularity right now.
Why are tech users starting to shift away from text and towards voice? There are several factors that explain the rise of voice search.
- Voice search is fast. Most people speak much more quickly than they type.
- Voice search is hands-free, so users can get information when they are driving, cooking, or otherwise occupied with something else.
- For people on a mobile device, asking a question out loud is usually easier than typing on a tiny screen.
- It is getting easier and more convenient to use voice search. As more and more people get smartphones, it is natural that most will try out the built-in voice capabilities.
- Voice search is still a fun novelty for many people.
This slide below from Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends report illustrates some of the major reasons people use voice search:
At this point, it is clear that voice is going to play a big role in future search technology. But since voice search is still relatively new, there are lots of ways it could develop, and it isn’t obvious which companies will rule the field in ten years.
5 Things Marketers Need to Know About Voice Search and Bing
Google is currently top dog in most aspects of search, but when it comes to voice, Google might not have much of an edge over its competitors. Microsoft is also a major player in the field of voice technology, and its search engine, Bing, may be poised to dominate voice search in the future. Here is what you should know about Bing and voice search as voice technology goes mainstream.
Voice Search is Here for the Long Haul
In 2017, many people still think of voice search as a novelty or a toy. This perception isn’t going to last much longer. An October 2015 study by artificial intelligence platform MindMeld found that the growth of voice search is happening strikingly fast: 40% of voice search users had only adopted the technology in the last six months, and 60% had adopted it in the last year.
The sharp growth of voice technology is expected to continue through 2017 and beyond. In 2016, there were between 8 million and 9 million voice-first devices like Amazon Echo in use. A report by voice Analytics Company VoiceLabs predicts that, by the end of 2017, that number will grow to 33 million.
As voice search continues to grow, it could rival or even overtake text search. ComScore predicts that by 2020, half of all searches will be voice searches.
A Quarter or More of Bing Searches are Voice-Based
For Bing, voice searches may become the norm sooner rather than later. Search Engine Land reports that in May 2016, Bing representatives revealed that 25% of all searches conducted through the Windows 10 taskbar were voice-based. The percentage may be even greater now, considering voice search’s increasing popularity.
Google hasn’t gone fully public with its numbers on voice searches, but it is probably not far behind Bing. During the same month, Sundar Pichai of Google announced that one out of five Google searches conducted on a mobile device are voice searches. A lot can change in a year, so it will be interesting to see what kind of voice search statistics surface next.
Bing Powers More Voice Technology than Google Does
It might seem surprising that Bing had an edge over Google for voice search in 2016, but there’s a good reason for that. Three of the four major virtual assistants on the market – Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa – use Bing for their searches. Google, of course, powers its own Google Assistant.
Virtual Assistant Technology Still Has Some Improving to Do
Voice technology has gotten much better over the last few decades, but tech companies are still working on perfecting it. There is a lot at stake in this race. Andrew Ng, former chief scientist at Baidu, has said that voice search will really take off when accuracy gets to 99% or better. None of the four major virtual assistants has reached that level of accuracy yet, but all of them are getting close.
Just for fun, below is a cool study by Stone Temple Consulting that compares the different voice search options:
The Time to Optimize for Voice Search is Now
Whether you advertise on Google, Bing, or both, you should think about setting up your site and your paid campaigns to snag voice searchers as well as keyboard searchers. If you start working on this now, you will have a leg up on people who wait to optimize until voice searches overtake text-based searches.
Not sure how to optimize for voice searches? The last section of this article will give you a crash course on how to make it happen (it is simpler than you might think!).
How to Optimize Your Site for Voice Queries in Bing and Google
Voice search and text search are fundamentally different, even though they are ostensibly performing the same function. People usually phrase voice searches like they would if they were talking to another person. For instance, you might say, “Siri, where can I find a dry cleaner that’s open late?” If you were going to do the same search on a keyboard, you would be more likely to type something like, “dry cleaner open late.”
Because they use more natural language, voice searches are likely to involve connecting words (and, to, or, etc.) and to be phrased as a question. Text searches, on the other hand, are likely to be a string of keywords with extra words removed. Unsurprisingly, this means voice searches are usually longer than text searches.
This data from Microsoft shows that Cortana voice searches tend to be significantly longer than text searches. You can learn more about optimizing for voice search here.
Unfortunately, neither Bing nor Google lets you separate voice searches from text searches in your analytics yet. But since voice queries look different from keyboard queries, it is not hard to identify them manually. To start optimizing for voice searches, look at your analytics and find the searches that look like natural language. Compile them into a list and look for patterns. Which questions are people asking to find your site?
After that, pick some natural-language, long-tail keywords that will help voice searchers find your site more easily. Make sure they reflect the way people actually talk. For instance, you would want to use the keyword “hire a piano mover in Boise,” not “piano mover Boise.”
If you need help with this step, try using Answer the Public. This free tool generates questions and phrases related to any topic you feed it. Here’s an example of what it shows when you type in “fountain pens”:
Another way to get on voice searchers’ radar is to include questions and answers on your website. After all, many voice searchers are asking their digital assistants questions, so you will be more likely to rank in the results if you anticipate those questions and answer them. At the very least for Q&A, you should have a FAQ page. If you are creative, you can probably find natural ways to build questions and answers into your other pages, too.
Finally, make sure all your business’ information is easy to find. Searchers should be able to find your location, hours, and phone number on your website as well as in search engines’ databases of business information. If you haven’t done so yet, claim your Places for Business listing on Bing and your My Business listing on Google.
Why is this so important? Many mobile and voice search users ask questions like, “Where can I find a coffee shop near me?” The search engine then uses the person’s location information to find nearby businesses. If the search engine doesn’t have any information about your business, you won’t show up in their list of results.
Voice search is going to change the landscape of digital marketing over the next few years, but no one knows exactly how yet. One thing is for sure, though: this technology is only going to get bigger, so it is important to start learning about it now. By keeping yourself up-to-date on new developments and optimizing your site for voice search sooner rather than later, you will gain an advantage over marketers who are slower to adapt.
How do you predict voice search will change the SEO world? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!