Adapting to the World of Voice Search

Imagine yourself as a caveman or cavewoman. You’re craving a particular type of antelope, but you’ve forgotten where this animal likes to graze. How would you get the information you need? Chances are, you’d rely on grunts and rudimentary language to communicate–and that’s about it. There’s no telling whether the information you’re receiving is reliable – after all, if you ask Ugga the caveman, he might try to mislead you, so he can have all the antelope to himself.

Now, consider how easy it is to get the knowledge you need today. If you’re curious how antelopes behave in the wild, it only takes a few clicks and keystrokes to visit Google, and a few more to get the facts you need. There is a trend here – as time goes on, information becomes easier to acquire. That doesn’t mean we should write off the caveman’s approach just yet – voice is an intuitive way to gather information, and when paired with modern technology, an incredibly powerful one.

 

How Voice Search Works

siri voice search

Creating software that can listen to voices, understand the meaning of language and return useful answers is trickier than you might think. The combination of several technologies, developed before voice search went mainstream, make it all possible. Natural Language Processing (NLP) gives computers the power to decipher the way humans speak, and assign meaning to phrases, and advances in text to speech (TTS) technology have made artificial computer voices sound more human than ever. Finally, Google’s machine learning search signal, RankBrain, is giving the search engine the ability to understand context beyond simple keywords and links. The industry is constantly trying to improve on voice recognition, and Google is at the forefront.

 

Voice Assistants Change Behavior

voice query results
When Apple acquired the digital voice assistant startup Siri back in 2010, industry analysts wondered about the reasoning behind the move. Could voice really be an easier way to interact with our phones? The software’s debut on iOS popularized an entirely new type of interface: the voice user interface (VUI). Human interaction with machines suddenly relied less on visual cues and more on language, and making these interactions seem natural was going to be a challenge. Siri certainly had context-related growing pains in its first few months. The software improved, and soon after Siri’s success, other virtual assistants began to emerge. Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Now platforms entered the landscape, and suddenly millions of people could access mountains of information without lifting a finger. Today, one fifth of Google’s mobile searches are conducted with voice. (2)

 

Voice Comes Home

amazon echo
Voice search on smartphones made accessing information easy, but voice search at home is bound to take that simplicity a step further. At Google’s 2016 I/O event for developers, one thing was clear: search is no longer limited to screens. The company revealed a new device, named Google Home, that it hopes will become a voice-activated hub to power the Internet of Things (IOT). Similar to Amazon’s Echo device, Home is an interactive speaker with access to a massive database of information. The device uses a new service called Google assistant – a form of artificial intelligence that’s meant to solve real world problems. Users can ask Home to provide weather forecasts, suggest services, stream music and purchase items using complex, natural-language queries. In the near future, the thought of antelopes may cross your mind, and all it will take to learn more about them is the courage to speak up. The software is always ready to respond to commands, and has the ability to learn from a user’s daily habits. As futuristic as it sounds, home voice assistants have the potential to change our daily lives in the next few years.

 

How Marketers Should Adapt

google io 2016

After a century of moving away from person-to-person interaction to find information, it seems that search is once again becoming more conversational. Currently, there is no voice-specific markup to put in your website code that will optimize it for voice search, but schema markup is helping to make voice (and text!) search more accurate. What you can do now, is think about how people would search for your business using only their voice. Put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers, and try completing a voice search for your company.

If you’re having trouble finding your company, there are a few things you can do to optimize for voice search:

  • Make your content read more conversationally
  • Utilize Schema markup as much as possible
  • Shift your focus to long tail keywords
  • Offer clear answers without marketing fluff (FAQ section)
  • Provide location data – 40% of adults use voice for directions
  • Research and optimize for semantic searches

By far, the most important thing to do is listen to how your customers speak. What are some of the questions they commonly ask, and more importantly, what words do they use to ask them? You can conduct interviews to get a feel for the voice of your customers, and incorporate that same type of language into your content.

 

Where We’re Headed

wearable device

Voice search still has a long way to go before it takes over our lives. Until people ditch the standard white search bar, traditional SEO tactics will reign supreme. After all, it feels a little weird talking to Siri, Alexa, Cortana or Google in a public place when strangers surround you. For now, people are still learning how voice search fits into their lives, and how to make it useful. Marketers are on the same quest and are continuously exploring the possibilities that come with vocal search queries.

Voice search has entered our pockets and homes, but in the future, it will be everywhere. From wearables to smart vehicles, odds are that your vocal chords will help you navigate a digital world. Expect Google’s search engine guidelines to evolve and become more voice-friendly in the future. The company may even create analytics tools specifically designed to make sense of voice search data. Keep your eyes open for new tools and applications that will help you get the most out of your voice search marketing. The keyboard isn’t obsolete quite yet, but it might not be such a necessity in the years to come.