Is Voice Search All That It’s Cracked Up to Be?

by David Wharram, CEO, Coast Digital

Coast Digital CEO David Wharram talks us through whether or not voice search is a necessary component of an SEO campaign.

Voice search technology has become increasingly popular in the last few years, with research highlighting that by the end of 2020 more than half of all smartphone users will engage with voice technology on their smart device. Additionally, with voice search assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home readily available, more and more consumers are turning to them to find the answers to their questions. As a result, this has led marketers to start thinking about voice search and where it is heading.

Myths and misconceptions

Voice search has regularly been hyped as the future of SEO, however is this really true?

There is a clear difference between voice search and voice assistants, although the lines can get blurred. As such, many statistics are misused and perhaps overinflate the popularity of voice search.  Voice search refers to when you use your voice to ask a query using a search engine. This can be through the voice capability on a mobile phone or using a home voice assistant, and can result in a spoken answer or the search results being displayed on a screen, as with standard search. Voice assistance on the other hand, refers to using devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home to make your life easier, such as requesting a weather update, setting a timer or alarm or adding an item to a shopping list. When you take a closer look at the studies that suggest that 50 per cent of searches would be carried out through voice or images by this year, it is important to note that this figure includes voice assistance.

Another common misconception of voice search is that it is constantly growing and that it will be the next big thing. Although voice search has gained traction, a study which took place last year found that voice search was less popular in 2019 compared to previous years. The study also saw a decrease in usage between 2017 and 2018, with further decline expected in 2020. From an organic point of view, marketers shouldn’t overlook voice search, however it is not something that marketers should technically have to be implementing. With this being said, it is more a case of having a good standard organic strategy in order to rank well for voice. One aspect that can improve the voice aspect is to optimise your content for feature snippets. This way content will be read out. Essentially it is about identifying the right content you are aiming for that you would like to optimise for voice because they are ultimately feature snippets.

Benefits

Although there is a lot to consider with voice search, there are a number of benefits. One of the main ones being that it is great for people on-the-go: simply ask google a question and an answer will be provided within a few seconds. One of the current technology advancements is Speakable Schema which is currently under beta. Speakable is currently being used for news and if it is effective and picked up by enough people it may be rolled out wider. This enables voice assistants to read out an entire section characterised within the markup, therefore you’re not restricted to hearing only the featured snippet.

When it comes to how voice search is utilised differently to traditional search, the main difference is that voice search is used more on-the-go, and its ability to return lots of zero-click search results. Voice search is generally effective across standard SEO, and the only aspect that has really changed is that marketers need to look at the intent of the search: what does the person searching physically expect to get returned to them from Google, eg an answer or a paragraph they would like to click through to in order to continue reading.

The future of voice search

Many are now looking towards the future and wondering how voice technology will evolve, ranging from how sophisticated the voice assisted devices will become, to what the potential for paid voice search will be. Marketers should generally move away from keyword-based content and move towards query-based content, which is essentially answering questions with your content rather than thinking how to shoehorn a keyword within the content numerous times. Marketers that have a good enough answer will usually have already used the relevant keywords.

It will be interesting to see what the future is for voice search. It definitely has its place, and will have a purpose in the future, however whether it will be game changing is questionable. It is important to know what is going on and be aware of the advancements, whilst optimising for your local searches and continue practising basic SEO, such as using structured data, writing clearly, optimising for local searches, and answering questions within the content.