Voice Search for marketers - here today, here to stay

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Voice Search for marketers - here today, here to stay


Search, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the RocketMill team in their ongoing mission to explore exciting new platforms and to seek out new opportunities for brands like yours. To boldly go where no marketer has ever gone before.

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to my talk, which is called: ‘Voice Search for Marketers: here today and here to stay’. Obviously, I’ve opened with a nod to Star Trek, a television series which started in 1966, the height of the space race, and yet it’s still capturing the imagination today.

I’m not much of a trekkie, but as a child, I did have a model of NCC-1701, the USS Starship Enterprise, dangling from my bedroom ceiling. That was as close as I ever came to bringing the world I’d seen on screen to life. I wasn’t the only person to want to do so, because quite a few people from a company you might have heard of [Google] have also been trying to recreate Star Trek for years.

Don’t just take my word for it, I’ve got a clip now of Amit Singh, who was formerly Head of Search at Google. He’s in conversation with Silicon Valley legend, Guy Kawasaki, at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference back in 2013.

Google back in 2013. I’ve got another great quote from Google on Voice Search, which is: “Captain Kirk never pulled out the keyboard to ask a question.” Voice Search is here, and is here to stay.

Google aren’t the only major industry player to be trialling Voice Search, you’ve got the likes of Amazon, and Microsoft, and Apple all in the space, the biggest tech giants in the known universe. I’ll give you some stats on this. According to DigiTimes 10 million Echo speakers from Amazon, they’re going to be shipped in 2017, and that’s in no small part due to a 50% reduction in the price of the Amazon Echo Dot, making these much more accessible than they were before. Furthermore, at its Build 2017 conference, Microsoft announced that HP and Intel were building Cortana powered Connected Home Smart speakers. That’s in addition to the 400 million Windows 10 laptops and PC’s which have got Cortana baked in straight out of the box. And, of course, Apple will have, in time for Christmas, HomePod, their go at a smart speaker. Launching in December 2017, you’re going to have hands-free access to Siri, to Apple music, to the Apple ecosystem, and indeed your smart home accessories.

Hopefully, that’s wet your whistle. Let’s have a natter and answer some of the most common questions about voice search.

What is voice search?

Firstly, what is voice search? Quite simply, it’s searching the web by speaking aloud to a compatible device. Most modern smartphones will have some kind of voice search probably baked in or available via an App.

Android has OK Google built in straight out the box, you’ve got Windows Mobile which has Cortana, you’ve got Apple which has Siri and, of course, you can install the Google App and then you get access to the search engine with voice search.

What’s more? If you tether these up to your proprietary data, so your flight info that you might have in your emails, in your inbox, or appointment info that you have in your calendar, you get an even more enhanced experience, these are virtual assistants which will help you with your lives.

And now you have smart speakers, like Amazon Echo, like HomePod, like these new technologies coming along from HP and Intel using Cortana, if you like Google Home of course. Smart speakers are at the heart of the home.

How many people are using voice search?

How many people are using voice search? How many people are you talking to? Well, I’ve got some 2017 data from Business Insider saying that 35.6 million U.S. citizens will be using smart speakers at least once per month. I suspect that’s more than one user per device. In terms of device split, at the moment, you’re looking about 71% using Amazon Echo, about 24% using Google Home. I expect that to shift over time, obviously Amazon were first in market on this, Google are going to lift off because I think they have a better product.

They don’t give as much data Google. Our Paid Media team will know only too well that they can be quite elusive. But in 2014, they did give us some stats about voice search, so they’re a little bit old. We know that, at that point in time, 55% of teenagers were using voice search every single day, and indeed 41% of adults were using it daily. Couple of years later, they updated that to show the growth of voice search, whereby 20% of mobile searches were conducted by voice not by typing. By 2020, analysts are predicting that 30 to 50% of all searches will be conducted by voice, they’ll be spoken aloud rather than typed.

Indeed, I think the speeds that this is growing at has actually slightly caught Google on the hop. So here is a screenshot of a tweet by the marketer John Lincoln, who spotted ‘OK Google’, the trigger word for voice search on Android and in the Google App, amongst the suggested bids in the AdWords Keyword Planner, you can see it’s growing so quickly even Google are getting slightly caught out by this.

How do voice queries differ from traditional keywords?

How to voice queries differ from traditional keywords? Firstly, they are more likely to be questions and to use a more natural form of language. Once upon a time you had to think about what you wanted to ask and modify it slightly to fit within a search field. You might have asked for: ‘Australian travel guide’, ‘Australian holiday guide’. But now you can straight up ask: ‘Do I need a travel visa to visit Australia?’ It’s much more conversational.

Furthermore, because this is generally conducted on portable devices, so mobile phones, it increases the likelihood of a local intent, you’re more likely to be out and about and to ask something like: ‘restaurants near me’. And again, you can see how inferred aspects of the search are more important than before, so location, your previous searches, near me, even just aspects like information it might have picked up from an email, this is all going to influence the results you get because they’re much more personal than before.

Furthermore, users with voice search are generally seeking ‘the’ answer not ‘an’ answer. When you have a screen in front of you, you’re happy to pass through the information provided to find the most relevant stuff for you. If you’re dealing with voice search you might well be doing this while preoccupied, it might be your mobile phone that’s attached your hands-free kit in your car, it might be a voice search speaker in your kitchen, and so you just want ‘an’ answer, and you just want the right answer read aloud.

Why is voice search growing?

Why is it growing as quickly as it is? Well I’ve kind of touched upon it there, you can search in many new situations than you could before, you can search while you’re preoccupied by driving or cooking, you don’t need to be looking at the screen.

Information can be pushed to you not just pulled. I was thinking earlier today about the early days of email, where, I mean if you wanted to, you could log into AOL, and you got that: ‘You got mail message’, and it told you that while you’ve been away a message had come through. Nowadays, we expect our phones to just tell us when we have a new email, and then we go: ‘Oh, great! There’s a new email there, I will go and look at it.’ Information is pushed to you when it’s relevant, not necessarily needing to be pulled in by you.

Voice search is facilitating the same thing, if a Google Home speaker recognises that you need to know traffic information there and then or you are going to be late for an appointment, it tells you that, it doesn’t wait for you to ask. It’s, therefore, deeply personalised and because of the style of presentation it’s inherently natural, it’s much more natural than a search field.

Finally, as I guess I tend to prove once a month during our meetings, speaking aloud is much faster than typing or texting. To give you some stats on this, a typical audiobook, you’re looking at about 150 to 160 words per minute of information being conveyed. In this presentation, I’m going to try to speak a little more slowly, so maybe 120 words per minute being conveyed. Even the fastest professional typist is unlikely to go much above say 80 words a minute. Interestingly enough, Google actually trialled this, so I think Google at a recent conference, they put the world record fastest rapper up against the world record fastest texter. Let’s see how they go along.

You can also see how accurate voice recognition is with modern voice search. Early adopters might have struggled, they might have found themselves being misheard, nowadays it’s actually very good.

How do I optimise my pages for voice search?

Okay, so you’re convinced. You want to get in this game, and you want to optimise your pages for Voice Search. How do you do that? How do you make your website optimised for voice searches on Google? Well, firstly, my best practise SEO advice, that I always go back to, build landing pages for topics not keywords. The old days of trying to rank for a particular term are over, you need to be thinking about topics and making sure you are the authority in that space.

Furthermore, you should be answering questions throughout your content. So don’t just have an FAQs page which you treat like a content cupboard, where you take things that come through on the odd email to your customer service team, each item on the FAQ page to die. No, put those questions into your highest converting most important landing pages. I mean incidentally, the structure of this deck, is not coincidence. I’m answering questions throughout because I know that’s how voice search works.

Watch out for featured snippets in your traditional desktop search results. Google reads aloud from featured snippets, and if you are on the first page of results, alongside a featured snippet, but you don’t have that space, then that is an opportunity for you to optimise your content to better answer the question, than whatever is in the feature snippet at that moment in time. That way you can leap in front of the pack and potentially without even being the traditional number-one-ten-blue-link-organic, you can actually go above the organic rankings, and you can have position zero as is kind of informally known. You can be the authority. Not only will that make you the voice search answer, it means you’ll massively improve your click through rate on desktop devices.

Also watch out for the ‘people also ask’ box. I’ll give you an example of that in a moment but it’s another feature of traditional desktop results which will help you to optimise for voice search.

Finally, here’s a top tip, filter your Search Console query. Some of the best data you have to optimise for voice search is already at your fingertips. If you haven’t already set up Google Search Console for your domain, what are you doing? Google is giving you information for free, that once upon a time they might have given you through Analytics, you know that list of keywords? Nowadays, it’s just all ‘not provided’.

Nowadays the best you can do is to go to Search Console. Sometimes, me and Dan, from the Technical SEO team will argue about how accurate the data in Search Console is, maybe it’s not as good as we once got through Analytics. Nonetheless, what it does give you is a list of queries where you have been amongst the results. If you filter that by the five W’s – who, what, where, when, why – and the one H – how – you will find questions for which you are amongst the results. That’s so powerful for optimising the content of Voice Search.

Let’s have a couple of little screen shots to get a feel for what I’m talking about. Here we have a couple of desktop search results for the term: ‘how to change a decimal to a fraction’. You can see how Google has reformatted the landing page from Maths is Fun into a numbered list in order to create a featured snippet. That is what would be likely read aloud all a voice search for this term. However, what’s quite interesting is that’s not quite true. When you modify it slightly, and you go: ‘How do you change a fraction to a decimal?’ very similar.

You can see how you get a very different result for a very similar query, goes to show that actually in the space, I guess none of these pages are really being written with voice search in mind, and so none are really dominating. It’s kind of basing it on the individual query, and which one’s got the closest reference to what’s in the actual question at that time. I can see a great space here for optimisation for voice.

Also have a look at ‘people also ask’ box. So, you can see that someone who searched for: ‘how to change a fraction of a decimal?’ In the previous screenshot you saw how to convert between decimal and percentage. You can see how covering off different ways of approaching the same topic is more likely to make rank amongst voice search results.

Furthermore, here’s a little screenshot of RocketMill’s Google Search Console. These are questions where Google thinks we’re relevant and where we rank amongst the results. Just ordered by the most impressions. Immediately, I can see great videos we could make, or great blog post we could write, where we have a chance to be the authority for voice search. If you layer on click-through-rate data, so you have the lowest clicks for the highest impressions and you can see where you’ve got the greatest opportunity, where either you have lots of impressions but not too many clicks, or not many impressions quite a few clicks. You can kind of prioritise your content optimisation.

Further reading and watching          

By the further reading and watching on this. I recommend Jon Norris’ talk, our Head of Content from a couple of months ago where he talked about how to optimise the Thales Learning and Development site for users and for voice search.

Furthermore, keep an eye on the RocketMill website and our blog and our YouTube channel. We are dedicating around one day a week to research and development, to stay abreast of changes in voice search. You can expect lots more presentations like this one and articles about making your website voice friendly. Because ultimately, we need to stop treating voice search as if it’s science fiction, when really it’s science fact and it’s here today.

The mobile phone is a computer, which you probably have in your pocket that knows where you are and it probably knows what you’re doing. You probably are smart speaker in your home which you can activate without touching it or even looking at.

In conclusion, I started this talk by highlighting Google’s desire to replicate the Star Trek computer. As a little tribute, with voice search, we know that Google have become closer than ever before to getting things right and building Star Trek. Almost all of you in the audience have this technology on your person, some of you have it in your homes. Don’t forget to optimise for voice search if you want your business to live long and prosper on the web.