Voice search has come a long way since its inception. When It was first introduced, it was nothing more than a novelty concept without much day-to-day use.
Nowadays, it is widely used and continues to grow as an essential tool for consumers of all ages; the worldwide number of voice assistants in use in 2020 was 4.2 billion and this figure is projected to reach 8.4 billion in 2024. In addition, 1 in 4 adults in the U.S already have a smart speaker device in their homes and the global smart speaker market is projected to exceed $30 billion by 2024.
These data points explain why so many brands are taking note and optimising their digital marketing strategy to accommodate this behavioural shift. This article provides a closer look at the future of voice search and offers suggestions on how digital marketing strategies can take advantage of this evolution in user behaviour.
What is Voice Search?
‘Voice search’ refers to any search query initiated by voice rather than by typing keywords into a search bar. Statistics from Google show us that voice search is used by 27% of the global online population on mobile, and that 62% of users interacting with voice activated speakers are likely to make a purchase through their voice device in the next month. Brands that adapt to the way users are initiating searches will have a distinct advantage over those that do not.
Voice search allows users to interact with brands in a personalised way. As opposed to typing keywords, users can easily add their own personal touch to a query by including details like their location, the time of day, or even certain events that are happening nearby.
For example, if a customer was visiting Orlando and wanted to know when the next basketball game featuring the Magic team is, they can simply ask their voice assistant of choice “When is the next Orlando Magic game?” They can even add “I would like to buy tickets” to instantly purchase seats.
Another advantage of voice search is its utility for the visually impaired. It also benefits people who are driving or tending to tasks that keep their hands occupied, as well as those who are looking for services while on-the-go, such as nearby restaurants.
How Does Voice Search Differ from Text Searches?
Voice search differs from traditional keyword searches in a number of ways. The most obvious difference is the conversational nature of the interactions. Since users are navigating content through spoken word, they will phrase things in a way which is natural to them within their normal manner of speech, and the algorithms will have a different way of processing that language.
Search intent is another way in which voice search can differ from traditional searches. In a traditional search, users type the specific terms they are looking for but with voice search, users are often interested in broader topics. Some users may not know exactly what they are looking for in the first place and ask more general questions, reflecting more spur-of-the-moment ponderings. This makes voice search more exploratory.
Where is Voice Search Heading?
It is important to take an agile approach to voice search in order to identify novel ways to provide value ahead of the competition. Businesses that optimise content for voice search as well as integrate voice assistive technology into their own platforms will gain the edge. Due to SERP features, Google can read answers back to users within seconds so it is important to ensure content is highly relevant in order to rank well for voice searches.
Voice SEO is a growing practice as more businesses are starting to incorporate voice search strategy into their content. Succeeding with voice optimisation include using natural, conversational language to answer customer questions, with some businesses creating more detailed FAQ pages that are written in a casual manner to match voice commands. Other method are focusing on local and contextual optimization and ensuring schema markup is utilised.
It is becoming easier for developers to integrate voice search into applications and the requirement for specialists in voice interface design will increase as voice becomes the primary means of interacting with the digital world.
As mentioned, the popularity of intelligent virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are expected to rise and become more common in our everyday lives. Several other projected voice search trends are as follows:
- Increased accuracy and contextual understanding: As speech recognition and Natural Language Processing progresses, the technology will be able to handle conversational search terms more accurately, making interactions more fluid. The ability for search engines to understand contextual information will also continue to improve, making search results more relevant than ever.
- Mobile apps: Voice search will see continued integration into mobile apps, simplifying the experience of navigation.
- Personalisation: The capacity for personalisation will also increase as voice assistance improve at learning to recognise the distinct voices of individuals. This ability will help them to learn user preferences and deliver highly relevant results.
- Voice chatbots: The current text-based chatbots will not be enough for the consumers of the near-future. Voice-enabled chatbots that take voice commands as input and also provide voice output are growing in popularity and are expected to be highly disruptive.
- Hyperlocal searches: In recent years, 58% of consumers have been using voice search for local searches in order to find nearby services; businesses seeking to gain local traffic will therefore be at an advantage by optimising for voice search.
- Voice-activated advertisements (VAAs): A VAA is an ad that users interact with through their voice. The ad speaks to them, proposers offers (which can be personalised) and invites a response, offering a highly engaging experience. In fact, some sources state engagement rates of 12-19%. With such a response, marketers can expect to see this form of advertising gain traction, especially when comparing it to the average text-based CTRs. In addition, VAAs are perceived by some as less intrusive since they ask the listener if they want to hear more information, improving customer experience.
Challenges Associated with Voice Search
Voice Recognition Accuracy Issues
While we have become accustomed to the convenience of voice search, there are still several improvements needed, including accuracy. With voice recognition, there is a discrepancy between different languages, dialects, and locales. Other issues include mispronunciation, accents, grammar, slang, and background noise.
While accuracy is currently high (greater than 95%) from Google and other providers, it is not perfect yet. In order to serve the greatest number of customers, aiming for ever-greater accuracy is a necessity.
Cybersecurity and Privacy Concerns
Despite the rising popularity of voice search, some consumers remain skeptical about the privacy implications. Voice recognition is categorised as a form of biometric technology and is therefore subject to various privacy regulations. In the EU, for example, data subjects have the right to access and delete voice data (among other rights) and processers of that data must also adhere to regulations.
Despite the fact that voice data is protected in this way, 45% of smart speaker users have concerns about their privacy and that’s not surprising considering the security issues that were present when Siri first launched. Anyone able to access a locked iPhone could launch Siri via the home button and use voice commands to gain access to user accounts and sensitive data.
Of course, security and privacy has improved greatly since then. For example, Google and other providers have introduced privacy controls such as giving users the option to opt-in to having their voice data stored.
However, the security involved is still far from perfect, especially regarding voice data stored in the cloud. Users may be concerned about their voice data being used to impersonate them, since it is a form of biometric identification, as well as the risks of eavesdropping.
As with any technological innovation, the attack surface increases (especially when IoT is involved) and hackers develop new ways to break into systems and access sensitive personal and corporate data. New security measures will need to be developed accordingly.
Despite these concerns, users are not deterred from voice search on the whole; organisations must simply ensure their privacy practices extend to voice data.
Voice search has brought about a significant shift in how consumers interact with their devices and the internet and brands must be prepared to respond. This shift is significant because it allows for a more natural and in-the-moment interaction between the user and their device, making it easier for them to find what they are looking for, and for the right brands to find them. Voice search also allows for a more personalised and contextual interaction since the user will use natural language and not specific keywords.
As it continues to evolve and occupy an increasingly prominent role in the world of technology, voice search will change the way brands engage with their audiences forever, and businesses will need to start making voice optimization a priority.
Despite any current challenges and drawbacks, this technology does and will continue to improve, changing the way users, devices and brands exchange with one another forever.
To discover how we’re helping businesses worldwide develop leading marketing strategies, contact us – we would be delighted to assist.