March 6, 2018

Investigating Voice Search

Figaro Digital caught up with John Campbell, Head of SEO at ROAST, who recently released a Voice Search Ranking Report investigating Google Home devices. Their tool enables them to report back on which websites are being referenced in answers given by the voice search assistant. According to Campbell, “Many brands are in the dark about how their websites perform on voice search. We have developed Voice Search Ranking reports to help our clients have a better understanding of the landscape and their opportunities with voice search.”

When voice search first hit the digital marketing scene, no one was sure how quickly it would take off, if at all. Now, voice search and personal assistant devices have exploded into the mainstream.

Google Home usage was nine times larger this festive period compared to last year, with Google reporting that they sold more than one Home device every second since October 2017. Amazon Echo Dot was the number one top-selling product across all categories on Amazon over the festive period, and the Amazon Alexa ad ‘Alexa Loses Her Voice’ was dubbed the most popular Super Bowl commercial by the New York Post.

With the recent surge of personal assistant devices at the end of last year, it’s more important than ever for businesses to properly understand their visibility within voice search technology.

ROAST Report Speaks Volumes

“Many brands are in the dark about how their websites perform on voice search. We have developed Voice Search Ranking reports to help our clients have a better understanding of the landscape and their opportunities with voice search,” Campbell tells us.

“There was a bit of an assumption in the industry that when you had an answer box on web searches, that’s exactly the same information that a Google home device would read out, but what we’ve found out is that the two sets of results are very different.” In fact, 26 per cent of searches in the example report turned up a different result to the answer box on a web search.

As Campbell says, “A company could be doing really well on web but their performance could be totally different on a voice speaker.” Realising this, and adapting your content to ensure it is selected by personal assistant devices, could become a vital part of your marketing strategy if voice search continues to rise.

The report also established the different types of answer a voice search will prompt: a standard answer, location result, action prompt, definition, flight search, and similar question. It determined that for visibility in any local related searches, Google My Business is key.

Filling The Reporting Void

Despite being an increasingly popular method of search, there have only been a few investigations into the demographic makeup of voice searchers, and ROAST are the first to conduct a report on the rankings of different phrases. “There’s no real reporting out there officially from Google or Amazon, so this is why we’ve resorted to trying to be a bit innovative and create our own kind of reporting product, because there’s nothing out there at the moment,” explains Campbell.

He attributes this to two potential reasons, one being that “Google and Amazon want to keep this data and information to themselves, at this moment in time, while the product is growing. If they were giving out data and the amount of people searching and interacting on these voice devices wasn’t as high as assumed, then there could be a bit of a kickback in the market.

“The other side of things could be it’s just two different departments in Google. You’ve got Google Smart Speaker devices which is more hardware led, and then traditionally there’s the team that looks after reporting on Search Console and AdWords, which are more of a data marketing team. It might be the case that those two teams haven’t really managed to get collaboration with each other or link the two products together.”

This lack of support from the market leaders is waning. “We know that there is something coming in the future, because Google is asking website owners and marketers what they would like to see in reporting metrics for voice search,” says Campbell, suggesting voice search-related assistance from Google is on the horizon.

Should You Track Your Voice Search Performance?

As voice search becomes more popular, businesses may be inclined to start tracking their performance just as they do for web searches. However, as Campbell explains, investing in voice search optimisation might not be worthwhile for everyone. Take a company like Skyscanner, for example. “Voice search isn’t going to be great for them because Google is referring to their own flight search.”

Similarly, “Google has their own database of medical questions, so even though you could have an answer box opportunity on the web, when you’re going via voice search Google is circumnavigating those answer boxes and they’re using their own databases.”

Campbell believes that continual tests are needed to establish the different key phrases that cause Google to avoid answer boxes, and use their own database. Then marketers will be able to see whether devoting time and money to their voice search ranking is actually worth it.

Adapting Your Strategy

Voice search clearly works in a different way to traditional web searches, and changes will need to be made marketing strategies to accommodate for these differences.

“Obviously users will hear the answers audibly, so the type of copy that we’ll use, and the language, may change. We’ve also started to notice some nuances like if we use full stops or commas in our content, then the voice search will stop, so it’s important to try and think about how we structure our sentences.”

Off the back of their report, ROAST’s clients are interested in creating Actions for Google Home, which are things people can ask the Google Assistant to do, to interact with their content.

What Does The Future Hold?

ROAST are currently working on expanding their research into Google Home devices. “We’re going to be running reports on different verticals…on a weekly or monthly basis, so we can track the trends over time.” They will run reports based on key phrase sets including finance, travel, retail, property, and FMCG.

In the long term, ROAST are also developing the same report for Amazon Alexa, which is powered by Bing. It will certainly be interesting to compare the difference between the two market leaders.

Campbell predicts the future of voice search reporting will involve attribution modelling, to find out “If somebody asks a question related to your brand, do they then come back later on to purchase from you, or visit your website, or visit your physical store location…if I was a business owner, that’s what I would be interested in.”