What Is Voice Search & Why You Need To Plan For It?

What is Voice Search?

It’s fair to say that we (brands, marketers, search engines, voice assistants and searchers) are still very early in the process of understanding what voice search is and its potential to change how we search and behave online.

Brands need to work out how their customers will use voice and where they will fit within that experience. Whether it’s a simple information share or allowing users to take more complex actions via voice, brands must adapt to the changing face of search.

Marketers need to understand the factors that influence voice search and how to best position their content to perform well within it. Developing voice skills and applications on voice assistants provides new opportunity for brand awareness, customer retention and building relationships with your audience. Paddy Power’s early trials with Alexa is an interesting read in discovering their ‘raw chicken’ moment.

Search Engines will aim to turn their market share of voice into advertising revenue at some point in the future – there are already rumblings of it at Amazon and Google won’t be far behind. It feels like Amazon has a much more straightforward path to ecommerce currently, as that is essentially what the company is built on, so it will be interesting to watch how Google works to compete.

Voice Assistants will continue to evolve and provide more value to users experiences as the groups above develop their strategies for voice search growth. The New York Post reported that Amazon and Google both ran at break even, or just below, on their voice assistant products for Christmas ’17 in the battle for market share.

What impact is voice search likely to have on the search landscape?

More and more searchers are embracing voice search – it is estimated that 50% of all searches carried out online by 2020 will be through voice.

If that turns out to be accurate, it will rival the impact of mobile search and the change that represented on the search landscape on the whole.

It is important to acknowledge that mobile search didn’t hugely affect the volume of desktop search – i.e. it was a new dimension, rather than completely obliterating existing channels.

I would expect voice search to have a similar impact – layering a new dimension on top of existing metrics. If it is likely to affect any of the current channels, it is likely to be mobile search given the nature of how users will use voice and in what context (local searches, directions, quick informational questions, etc).

While a new channel / method brings it’s own challenges and learning requirements, it also brings with it a great deal of opportunity. Shifts in search on this scale are rare, so it’s something to embrace for all stakeholders in the search game. If you don’t play the game, you can’t expect to win.

Competition for Google

One interesting aspect of the growth of voice search is the opportunity that it has presented to search engines (namely Bing) to compete with Google.

Google has been running at approximately 90% market share of the entire search market for quite some time. No-one has came even close to challenging or displacing them – they have a monopoly on the market and generate tons of cash from doing so.

However, Amazon’s (Alexa) partnership with Microsoft (Bing) is a genuine opportunity for Bing to challenge Google in the voice assistant market. Amazon’s Alexa is believed to currently hold approximately 60% market share in the voice assistant space.

If initial estimates that half of all searches will be carried out using voice by 2020 are true, that could represent a sizeable chunk for the Amazon and Microsoft partnership to target. However, it’s early days in the voice assistant market and the fact that Google has recently announced that it already has it’s voice enabled services on upwards of 400 million devices (mobiles, tablets, televisions, voice assistants, etc) shows that voice, even in its early days, is going to be a multi-device revolution.

Not forgetting that Apple are planning to release their Homepod device in 2018 to add another major name to the space. They are a little late to the party and Google & Amazon definitely have a good head start on them.

In true Apple fashion, we are likely to see a series of claims about what new features they are bringing to voice with their technology – many of which will already be available in Google and Amazon’s products. They’ve been doing it for years in the mobile phone market but, to be fair, they know how to market their products & brand and have a loyal following.

The Apple Homepod could however suffer on the price front. Coming in somewhere between $300-400, the price war between Amazon and Alexa means that consumers are getting comfortable with relatively cheap voice assistant devices. It could be a tough market to introduce a new product to, especially at the top of the price bracket.

Extra Reading…

Dawn Anderson recently published an incredible article on voice on Search Engine Journal covering challenges in voice search and a deep dive into information retrieval.

Google publishes guidelines it’s quality raters use when rating responses given via voice. This provides a useful insight into the process used to establish the best possible result for different types of queries potential guidance to the type and style of content needed to provide the best format of content for voice search.

Google has also released a new Assistant Directory providing over 1 million voice actions you can try out with your device. As interest in voice continues to grow, I believe efforts like this from Google will really help voice search bed into users every-day lives as they become more aware of their devices capabilities.

Next Up – How To Rank For Voice Search

Over the next few weeks I plan to take a closer look at the type of content that currently performs well in voice search and the factors that can influence it. Should make for a fun few weeks of testing if nothing else. 🙂

I’m out for now…

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