There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Voice Search, an emerging trend that has marketers climbing walls upside down.

What’s all the fuss, and is there any substance to this trend?

Yes, it’s true that more people are getting comfortable with using voice assistants to perform tasks like searching the web. A report published by National Public Media says that there are more than 40M+ smart speaker users in the U.S. alone.

how many people own a smart speaker
Source: 2018 Infinite Dial, Edison Research and Triton Digital

And this number is expected to grow, not only in the U.S. but also Worldwide.

Nevertheless, it seems as though there are a lot of misconceptions about the growth of smart speakers and voice search usage in particular. With some “studies,” saying that by 2020, more than 50% of all searches will be done using voice. Afaik that number is 20% at the moment.

Now, take a moment to reflect on that 30% jump in only one year. Sounds a little out of this world, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. At most, we can expect for voice search usage to even out, and then see slight increments in new adaptation over the coming few years.

smart speaker adoption
Source: national public media

But, marketers love to market ideas, and perhaps in the case of voice search, rightfully so.

Getting a head start on adapting for this technology is going to give you a solid business edge for many years to come. And if anything, voice assistant technology is only going to get smarter and more capable.

For the uninitiated: What is Voice Search?

Voice search lets you talk to your smart devices rather than having you type search queries manually. You can be in your kitchen cooking dinner, and look up any missing ingredients without having to distract yourself from the process.

Even though the buzz for voice search seems to be emerging more frequently now, it has been around for several years.

E.g., Apple’s Siri has been growing steadily since 2011. Likewise, Google’s voice tech and Amazon’s Alexa are prime examples of products that integrate high-end voice capabilities.

Why does voice search matter?

It’s clear as day that smart speaker popularity is on the rise, as is the use of mobile apps that provide voice search capabilities.

In Q2 2018, Google and Amazon-shipped a total of 10M units for their Google Home and Amazon Echo product lines. And if you count in units sold by Alibaba and Xiaomi — that’s a total of 17M units shipped in a single quarter.

As the worldwide smart speaker market rapidly evolves, use cases for smart speakers are extending beyond just the smart home. “Many players, including Amazon, are integrating smart speakers into verticals, such as hotels, retail, hospitals and other business establishments,” said Jason Low, Senior Analyst at Canalys.

smart assistant growth rate
Source: Canalys

So, there are many good reasons to pay attention to voice-related technology. But, even more so if you’re someone who’s actively optimizing for better exposure on search engines. Despite what analysts might say about the voice search growth over the coming years — the number of people feeling comfortable to use voice for their searches is on the rise.

What are the top voice search devices going to be?

The Western market for smart speaker devices is relatively linear at the moment, with brands such as Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google dominating the landscape. As far as voice search is concerned, most devices are more than equipped to provide straightforward speech-to-text capabilities.

top voice search devices in 2019

Though, it might be helpful to study each product in-depth to gain a better understanding of unique features and possibilities.

E.g., Google Home Hub is providing a screen attachment, which can further improve the user experience of searching for recipes while cooking. But also let people watch the news and other shows without having to shuffle between television or the computer.

Here’s the full list:

  • Amazon Echo
  • Google Home
  • Google Assistant
  • Microsoft Cortana
  • Apple Siri
  • Android Voice Search

Just hot off the press, we have an announcement that Amazon Echo has sold more than 100M+ devices. That should give you the scope for smart speaker tech popularity, and since voice searching is so simple to use — “Alexa, how to …?” — there’s no reason why people wouldn’t want to try at least voice searching for a while.

ECommerce: Shopping with voice-assisted devices, unlikely.

Suman Bhattacharyya from Digiday thinks that this concept isn’t going to see much traction any time soon.

Though Amazon reportedly had a 65 percent share of the U.S. smart speaker market as of September 2018, according to a recent report from The Information, only 2 percent of people who own Alexa-equipped devices made a purchase with it.

This has to do with many user-based factors.

For example, it’s foolish to think that you can shop for a new winter coat with nothing but your voice. There has to be some visual exchange, some element of research. Blindly purchasing products by merely uttering a few words isn’t something that appeals to most consumers.

amazon echo illustration

At the same time, we’re going to see an increased number of users who use voice devices to shop for domestic items:

  1. Toilet paper,
  2. Utensils,
  3. Cleaning liquids,
  4. Housekeeping items,
  5. And general household appliances.

You know, products from brands that you can trust. Simple household items that you would need to get anyway. But nothing further than that, at least not for the time being.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start optimizing your eCommerce sites for voice search users. Getting ahead of the curve before everyone else will give you a competitive edge over your closest rivals. It’s also beneficial to look into any upcoming case studies so that you can better prepare your store for voice search when the trend rises above the surface level.

Do you know what your brand sounds like?

More or less, brands are always following the money. And that means avoiding voice search won’t be feasible for very long. As voice search penetrates the search index, algorithms will be looking for user-friendly and easygoing answers to give back to the user.

Writing SEO-friendly copy is one thing, but making sure that copy also sounds good is something completely different. For brands, the growth of voice search means finding a true brand voice — a balance between insightful content and easily spoken answers.

School Safety Platform Kidio
Kidio’s landing page showcases the usage of a heading and subheading. As you can see, with the heading alone, it’s hard to depict what the startup is about, whereas the sub-heading provides a clear and conversational answer.

The majority of products are advertising in 3rd person, especially startups who plaster their landing pages with third-party jargon. The new marketing hustle is going to be the optimization of copy so that it sounds good when spoken by a smart speaker.

Expect there to be a lot more development in this field.

Marketing: Food for thought

Marketing with smart speakers? How hard can it be? For the most part, no one can tell where voice search is headed shortly.

But even then, marketers are bracing themselves for some significant changes in the field. When you take out the visual aspect from regular searches, how are you going to foster user engagement beyond the 3second interaction when a user is asking a question? All those hours of hard work (and money!) that have gone into designing websites are all this going to waste?

voice search marketing

The New York Times ran a piece pondering this very question.

These are still early days for marketing on voice devices. Ms. Reubenstein compared it to when brands began making apps for mobile devices. But over time, she said, voice interactions will begin to replace many of the activities that people are conducting on screens.

If you think about the context for voice searches, a simple question can rely on a single answer. As a result, the SERP’s get completely rearranged as voice devices favor singular sites for their concise answers.

You also have to think about getting your company in front of voice users. But it’s too early to say anything. Companies who own the smart tech will themselves want to dictate a lot of the direction. That’s something we can be sure of.

Best practices: How to optimize for voice search

If you’re new to voice search optimization, then this checklist should give you a clear idea of what you’re up against.

Keep insisting that your writers adapt to conversational tones and easy to understand paragraph structures.

  • Add your business information to local SEO directories and them updated.
  • Learn about ‘skills’ such as the Alexa Flash Briefing. Skills can help users to get the content they like more quickly.
  • Continue implementing AMP pages for your site, and start using the ‘Speakable‘ attribute from Schema. Speakable (BETA) lets you mark pieces of content that are appropriate for easy voice output.
  • Go back and optimize your images with appropriate tags and titles. There are tens of millions of Google Home users, and they all want to see some awesome photos.
  • Work on polishing your brand presence online. E.g., Get listed on review sites but also keep up regular appearances. Use clear language when responding to any good or bad reviews.
  • Stick with using lists and snippets that Google and other search engines can pick up as featured content pieces.

On a strict SEO side of things, keep focusing on long-tail keywords, and writing with clear intent. What do you intend for readers to learn from your content? What’s your message?

Everything else follows the same traditional rules; performance, usability, etc.

Closing statement

Voice search is going to get interesting. It’s likely to be the first year when a lot more marketing people come together to do experiments and other exciting things. A market with 100’s of millions of users will not be left untapped.

Keep an eye out for major developments by Google and Amazon, as both companies will want to keep pushing for ways to monetize this phenomenon, no doubt.

And if you haven’t already, get yourself a smart speaking device and run some real experiments yourself. Nothing will give you better insight than tinkering with the thing directly.