The Growing Popularity of Voice Search & Voice-Enabled Devices, and Their Effect on SEO

Young businessman using voice search on his smartphone

Due to a combination of advancing technology, growing affordability, and increasing ease-of-use, the number of people using voice-enabled devices has been firmly on the rise. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of millennials using voice-enabled digital assistants increased 28%. That number is expected to increase another 31% in the next two years2.

It’s not only younger generations who are getting cozy with voice-enabled assistants either. An average of 15.6 million Gen Xers and 9.7 million Baby Boomers used voice-enabled digital assistants at least once a month in 20172.

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The fact that users across various demographics are adopting new voice-enabled devices means the technology is viewed as accessible, and the usefulness is clear to them. A June 2017 survey shows that almost half of consumers interviewed (46%) said they thought searching and ordering products using voice recognition technology was “cool,” compared with just 22.3% who found it “creepy”, and the rest were indifferent1. These results made voice search both the “coolest” and the least-creepy type of emerging technology included in the survey, especially compared to other technologies such as facial recognition and robot guides in stores. It’s clear that consumers view voice-enabled technology as beneficial, and if consumers are comfortable with the technology, they will buy it. At the end of Thanksgiving Weekend 2017, three of the four top-selling items in Amazon’s electronics category were various Echo models3.

A major cause of this fast adoption by many different demographics is the rapid increase of voice-enabled products on the market. Since Siri was introduced as a feature of the iPhone 4S in October 2011, voice-enabled intelligent digital assistants have become synonymous with new device releases. Nearly every smartphone on the market today has a digital personal assistant of some sort, such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Google Assistant. Even more recently, in-home voice-activated assistants have hit the market and received increasing popularity. These smart speaker devices, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, serve as home automation hubs as well as internet-connected search vehicles.

The rising popularity of these voice-activated assistants is important for businesses because online searching is the most common activity performed by people using voice-enabled technology. Products like Google Home and Alexa have become another way for your company to be found. 53% of people using voice-enabled technology use it to find information on a product that their interested in1. This means that a growing segment is becoming used to speaking any question they have, instead of typing it out on their device. Industry leaders have dubbed this action “voice searching”. This separates the action from standard searching, which involves typing a query on desktop, tablet, or mobile keyboard. As voice-enabled products continue to grow in popularity among all demographics, voice search and its spoken queries should be treated differently than other search methods.

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So, what are the implications of voice search and its growing popularity?

In order for businesses to capture consumers who are using voice-enabled products, they will need to take advantage of targeted strategies. To ignore voice search would be to miss out on a growing segment of online users. Since voice search involves an organic query given by a user, businesses can develop voice search tactics within their greater SEO strategy. Almost all voice-enabled devices use either Google or Bing as their default search engine, which means that a standard SEO strategy may capture voice searchers on its own. However, the following recommendations will help target voice search queries more precisely than a broader SEO strategy.

There are three key factors to working voice search into your SEO strategy:

  1. Voice-enabled technology affects the way users search for things. Natural speech patterns often differ from the way people type a query. There’s something to be said for major technology companies giving their personal digital assistants human names, such as Siri and Alexa. It feels more natural to speak to your device like a person. When consumers use their voice to search, they tend to automatically use a query that sounds like conversational speech rather than a short phrase of keywords. For example, a person who’s typing is more likely to search “weather Boston”, but if they’re speaking to a digital assistant they might ask “What’s the weather like in Boston today?”.

 

Voice searchers may also be looking for a direct answer, rather than the ability to browse through different website offerings. Most assistants aim to provide a single answer before providing further search results, which gives websites a stronger motivation to be the top answer. Google Assistant and Google Home pull from “position 0,” otherwise known as featured snippets or the answer box for any given query. This means that informative, timely content continues to be an important factor for search, especially when voice-activated. Ensuring your website content provides direct answers and comprehensive content that displays your expertise, can increase your chances of being the top source pulled by a digital assistant. To take advantage of voice-originated queries and provide the answers your audience is looking for, longer queries will become increasingly important to target

  1. This brings us to the second strategy for targeting voice searches: employing long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are very specific, long-form queries that tend to get less search traffic, but usually have a higher conversion value. Informational queries, beginning with question modifiers such as who, what, how etc. are an example of long tail queries. They have been a factor in SEO since contextual search took over exact match type queries, but the importance of a strong long tail optimization strategy is growing.

 

When we ask questions to each other we usually begin with an interrogative word, and the same goes when we use voice search since we treat it as a person. This means the number of informational queries and other long tail queries will rise as voice search becomes more popular. Queries like, “How do I change the light bulb in a ceiling fan,” might seem specific, but if you can create the most informative piece of content around it, you can increase your chances as being the go-to answer that voice-assistant provides to its user.  Targeting long tail keywords requires a widespread strategy that may include an updated FAQ page, blog posts, individualized location pages, and more.

  1. Since most voice search is still happening on smartphones, making mobile a major part of your SEO plan will be vital. Your website’s mobile experience should already be a priority since Google announced it’s Mobile-First index last year, but capturing voice searchers is yet another reason to ensure it’s mobile-friendly. When you ask Siri or Google Assistant a question on your smartphone, in many cases the assistant will generate a primary answer followed by several search results. When a user clicks to your website through the assistant, they will be visiting your website on mobile. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, or it has a poor user experience, the user may bounce and choose another result.

 

These voice-specific strategies don’t go against any long-standing SEO strategies, instead they’re additional ways to target and capture your audience. Voice-enabled digital assistants are not the latest tech gimmick. According to a 2017 survey on US Connected Home data, the smart speaker category has hit a “critical adoption threshold”, and in 2018 there will be an estimated 45.5 million smart speaker users in the U.S.4 This is on top of the millions of users who use voice search on their smartphones every day. Judging by the growth they’ve seen in the past few years and the positive forecasts for adoption in the future, intelligent digital assistants (and by default, voice search) should be treated as an important component to your digital marketing 2018 plan.

 

Works Cited

  1. “Search Marketing 2017: Marketers Seek Out Consumer Intent as Device Habits Evolve” http://totalaccess.emarketer.com/reports/viewer.aspx?r=2002119
  1. “US Voice-Enabled Digital Assistant Users, by Generation, 2016-2019 (millions)” http://www.emarketer.com/Chart/US-Voice-Enabled-Digital-Assistant-Users-by-Generation-2016-2019-millions/207532
  1. “Amazon Revealed Its Best-Selling Black Friday Item That Helped It Dominate Sales Online” http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-alexa-devices-bestselling-black-friday-2017-11
  1. “Digital Voice Assistants Prove They Are Not Just Gimmicks” http://totalaccess.emarketer.com/article.aspx?r=1016799

Melissa Sciorra

Melissa Sciorra, SEO Director. Follow her @mel_arroics!

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