In 2009 the authors of "The Art of SEO" predicted an increased importance in voice recognition search. Over the past few months, voice search has shown significant improvement and attention:
- Conversational search capability has come to desktop search, allowing searchers to refer seamlessly back to their previous searches.
- Nutrition information became readily available via voice search on mobile.
- Quick answers to personal questions can be answered on the fly via Google Now technology.
Clearly, Google is interested in making voice search work.
As the evolution of voice search continues to advance, it also has increasing international adoption.
- Yahoo launched their first voice search around 2008 and continues to release new versions.
- Bing just released an improved version of voice search available on windows phones.
- Yandex has always been ahead of the curve – it currently has a voice search option within their search engine and has been using their voice technology for other applications.
- Baidu and Sogou recently launched their voice assistant applications this year. People are now utilizing voice search across smartphones, tablets, desktops, as well as the new crop of devices like Google Glass.
As voice technology is refined, the first big question search marketers have to ask is: Is there a difference in voice search vs. text-based searches? The short answer is definitely, "Yes". Based on a study by Chitika, the biggest category for voice search is news at 20 percent, while text-based searches is reference-related topics at 22 percent. Additionally, mobile voice-related searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text.
Since Apple's Siri release and the launch of its competitor, Google Now, search has become more conversational and relative by displaying results based on the user's previous search intent. In addition, the continually expanding knowledge graph provides encyclopedic data to users directly in the SERP – no need for click through, but less shelf space for companies.
Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cuts confirmed in June of this year that at some point we need to change our viewpoint and adapt to the user's conversational query syntax. When users complete a voice search, they typically tend to talk in complete sentences and add more words than a typed search.
In text-based search, this may bring back fewer and less accurate results. However, as voice search algorithms are refined Google and other search engines are delivering not only more, but better results for natural language queries.
Voice Search for the Local Stores
Now that we know voice searchers behave differently, how does that affect local optimization? Let's take a quick dive into a recent voice search example on YouTube using Google Now for Android phones.
If a user searches [where am I], Google will display the user's current location and a map. If the user continues to search [show me things to do there], Google will remember the previous search and give them results for popular local attractions.
Google's previous results would have shown something like this:
If the user continues to search for a particular attraction, in this example the San Diego Zoo, the search results will continue to pull the most updated information mainly through Google Maps. If an action-based term is searched such as [call them], Google will get the phone number from their local places profile if available and immediately make a call.
Prior to recent updates, if you were to perform a similar typed search, let's say [call san diego zoo], the first result would be a link to the company's site:
Similar to other voice search programs, the searcher is able to have a conversation in order to gather all the information they are looking for without ever leaving the program or clicking through to a company's site.
Consequently, it has become ever more important to keep local profiles up to date, displaying the correct address, store hours, and phone numbers. Since the user will get everything they need without leaving the SERP, there may be a potential increase in offline conversions and a decrease in direct traffic to the company's website. Furthermore, it will be essential to analyze impression data from your local profiles to see common customer needs.
Voice Search for Global Enterprises
When it comes to large brands or enterprises that don't necessarily have local stores, we should determine whether they need to modify their search strategies. The main difference between (non-local) voice searches vs. typed searches is elongated search queries.
Let's say, for example, a user searches for a cell phone store location. On a desktop, these searches would most likely be searched as [cell phone shop] (12,100 search per month in US). When a user searches for [cell phone shop] you may not know what their actual intent is, whether that be to buy a new cell phone, speak to someone about cell phone plans, or find the closest cell phone shop for repairs.
Voice search users typically search in more complete sentences or questions. Additionally, the user tends to complete more searches on a faster basis, adding more words around their main query.
A users could search a variety of different queries such as [find a t mobile store near me], [where can i sell my cell phone in san diego]. If a brand has difficulty ranking for all highly competitive terms within their industry, they may have a more successful search campaign if they target these phrases or frequently asked questions.
Brands can optimize for conversational or long-tail queries by deploying a FAQ or Q&A content strategy. A Q&A strategy would not only improve your customer service by answering common questions, but it may increase their search presence by ranking for more long-tail keywords. This strategy may also help the brand become a reference for industry knowledge across the web and may in-turn improve brand reputation.
The number one goal of search engines is to conveniently provide the user with their original search intent. Since voice search can be more convenient, quicker, and continues to gain popularity worldwide, yes, digital marketers may have to yet again adapt some search strategies around another vertical.
Obviously optimizing for mobile devices is very important for voice search. Companies with multiple retail locations can benefit from voice searches by keeping their local profiles up to date, especially Google Maps.
Additionally, by adapting to more conversational/natural search pattern, businesses can construct a content strategy around common searched sentences. This would not only increase their search visibility, but help build their brand awareness by becoming a resource within their industry.
Author's note: Special thanks to Cassandra Gucwa, Sr. SEO Specialist for her research for this article.