[This post originally featured on Linkdex] The growing adoption of voice search is fundamentally changing the consumer journey. For many brands, responding to this shift in behaviour is going to demand a far more mobile and local strategy to engage customers. So what do you need to know?
What is voice search?
Voice search is when users utilise voice recognition software to conduct their search queries, either via smartphones and desktop computers which provide a digital personal assistant, or via an entry point (or hub) that uses voice such as Google’s microphone or Amazon’s Echo. In most cases, if you’re using a personal assistant and activating these devices with your voice, you’re doing some kind of voice search.
Who is using it and what for?
Google commissioned a study in 2014, conducted by Northstar Research, to understand who, when, and where people use voice search. The study surveyed 1,400 Americans across all ages. As you can see, as early as eighteen months ago both teens and adults were already using voice search in a wide range of their daily activities. So as the technology develops, dramatically improving accuracy and we all begin to feel less awkward using voice commands, it appears that we are rushing to embrace the convenience of these digital personal assistants. And according to a survey conducted in October 2015 by MindMeld, adoption rates are moving fast, with 41.6% of us starting to use voice search and voice commands within the last 6 months.
So, a lot! Combine these statistics with the overall forecast for mobile phone search (eMarketer estimates that in 2015 there will be 81.8 billion annual mobile phone search queries in the US) and the size of the prize – or the penalty for missing out – becomes clear.
But Text? Voice? Isn’t it all ‘just’ search?
No. We unconsciously change our behaviour when using voice search. When we are searching for a restaurant a desktop or phone, we might type in “best lunch in Highgate.” But when we use voice search we change your behaviour and ask a question, like “What restaurant has the best Sunday lunch in Highgate?” or “What restaurants are open for lunch right now?” As a result, voice search queries are longer than their text counterparts – they tend to be three-to-five keywords in length, and they tend to explicitly ask a question, characterized by words like who, how, what, where, why and when, with the expectation that the search engines will provide an answer back.
Voice search shows true intent
But that is great news for businesses, as this ‘natural language’ shows you the real intent of the consumer. If I were to search for “digital camera,” a brand would have no idea whether I wanted to buy one, have one repaired, or was simply looking for stock images of cameras. Here’s where the natural language usage within conversational search changes everything.The type of voice search question asked can reveal the degree of intent: Of course this has real consequences on bidding strategy. I can bid higher for question phrases with the highest likelihood of action, e.g. “Where’s my nearest Shuh store?” vs. “What brands does the Shuh store sell?” By understanding and designing bid strategies around this intent, voice search will allows brands with more limited budgets to compete with larger, heavy spending brands because they can choose when to compete for custom, and focus their more limited budgets at exactly this moment when the user shows their specific intent.
Voice search is local
Data shows that mobile voice search is three times more likely to be local-based than text search. This is largely due to the fact that most smartphone searches are local, as they’re carried out while on the move. If you’re a business with a local physical presence, or a multi-location business, it’s important to be considering the implications. Think carefully about the keywords that would be relevant to a local searcher, and the natural language they might use to describe the area. If you haven’t already, create a landing page for each individual location, building in location-based keywords. These could include local places of interest, landmarks, popular schools and sports centres, etc. So if a voice searcher enquires, “what’s the nearest coffee shop to Duncombe School in Hertford”, you’ll be prepared for that and ready to appear with a relevant SERP listing. And just as a footnote, Bing search in this case was way more granular & helpful than Google search. So get smart with keywords relevant to your local searcher:
- Are there landmarks you need to call out, such as “in old city” or the stadiums or anything else significant that will be a cue for your searcher?
- What are the local places of interest that matter to your company?
- How do folks describe your neighbourhood in natural speak?
Voice search gets quick answers
Voice search triggers more quick answers in the SERPs. This is because question words are closely related to local searches. For example, “Where is the best Thai food near me?” and “Where can I rent a car today?” These are distinctly local searches and they trigger ads in the SERP that allow the user to act without going to a web page. You can see reviews, a phone call button, and a “book now” button. Users don’t have to come to your website to complete their intention. This will have a strong impact on crowd-sourced sites, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, where it’s your company’s responsibility to update hours and phone info, as well as to monitor and respond appropriately to customer reviews. Make it a priority to keep your local listing, your business listing, and your crowd-sourced sites updated and active. These sites have a great deal of power when the search doesn’t leave the SERP. For example, is your address correct? What about your hours and your phone number? Are there customer reviews you need to manage?
Take Local Seriously
Local and smaller retail brands spend more time on their local footprint (they don’t have as many). They understand their local audiences better and build better connections with them. Big retail brands are going to have to work harder to engage these customers at the hyper local level to prevent further disruption to their business model. As a final small example, see the local search result below for a ‘pharmacy in Hertford’. What other media channel could 3 sole traders be the only visible presence? Where are the big pharmacy chains? Brands, it is time to get serious & local about voice search.