The Funnel

Voice Search: Documenting the Death of the Desktop

Part 2 of our series documenting the future of desktop search. What does the rise of voice search mean for PPC marketers?


It used to be simple.

You had a big wide desktop. A comfortable chair. Maybe even a cup of coffee.

You turn on your computer, open Google, type a search in and wait.

The results come up, you calmly scroll through them, take notes, sip your coffee.

Searching on Google was smooth and predictable.

Fast forward to 2018 and we have chaos.

That big wide desktop has been turned into a small five-inch mobile phone screen.

That comfortable living room chair has become a tiny seat on a crowded metro.

And that Google homepage has now become a bunch of apps sending you notification after notification on your phone as they desperately compete for your attention.

Bad news if you are a business relying on desktop. The switch to mobile has made it that much harder for anyone to pay attention to you.

It's also brought about technological changes.

Whereas before you had to type into a search bar to get information, mobile phones are quickly turning this traditional search model upside down.

Now you can take a picture to search for things.

Now you can use your voice.

You can even use video.

We like to call these the three Vs that will bring about the death of the desktop.

Video, Voice and Visual.

In a previous post, we went through the rise of visual search.

Now we'd like to cover how voice search is changing the industry.

We will cover the relevant trends in voice search technology, who the biggest players are, and how voice search will affect text searches.

We'll also look at how PPC marketers can optimize for voice search in the future.

But before we begin all that, let's first ask ourselves:

What exactly is voice search?

Put simply, voice search uses speech recognition technology to allow people to search for things using their own voice instead of typing into a search bar.

No longer do you have to struggle to type something like 'New York-Washington D.C. buses' into your phone.

Now all you do is say 'Hey Siri, what buses go to Washington DC from New York this Tuesday?'

Admit it, this can be much more convenient. Especially when you are on the move.

And as voice technology improves, the popularity of voice assistants is only set to grow.

eMarketer estimates that voice assistant users in the United States will reach 31.6% of the population by 2020.

Some marketers have gone even further, boldly predicting that 50% of searches will be voice searches by 2020.

What are the top voice search platforms?

There is an active war going on between all of the major tech brands to become your go-to voice search platform. These include tech giants like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, along with online retail giants like Amazon and Alibaba.

Below is an overview of the top voice assistants as of 2018:

Apple's Siri

By now we have all heard of her. Siri was launched in 2011 and is today available worldwide in 15 languages.

Siri can be used on hardware devices like iPhones, HomePod, AirPods, Apple Watch, Mac computers and other Apple devices. She doesn't work for third-party hardware.

Apple has tried to make Siri as close to a living friend as possible. The idea is you talk to her as if she were a real person, and she does everything to help you get things done.

Need to text a friend, order a taxi, make a dinner reservation? Siri is there for you.

Amazon's Alexa

Launched in 2014, Alexa is available in 89 countries and three languages (English, Japanese, German).

The voice assistant works on Amazon Echo devices and other Amazon branded hardware products like the Fire TV Stick, Fire Tablet, Amazon Tap and Dash Wand. Alexa also works on over 12,000 third-party hardware devices.

Alexa is uniqe in that you can add 'skills' to the voice assistant to incorporate different aspects of your daily life you need help with. Skills can include social media, news, sports and entertainment. Skills work like apps on smartphones. You download the ones you need, you ignore the ones you don't.

Alexa is fast becoming the dominant voice assistant for the smart home and works with third-party hardware like Google's Nest, Philip's Hue and WeMo. Connecting Alexa to these smart home products is like giving you access to a personal butler at your service 24/7.

Microsoft's Cortana

Cortana launched in 2014 and is available worldwide in several major languages, including English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. It is available on all Microsoft computers, tablets and devices running Windows 10, Xbox One. It is also available on third-party hardware that runs on Windows 10.

Cortona has not gotten as much attention as Siri and Alexa, and Microsoft's ability to become a dominant player in the voice assistant world is being severly tested by Apple and Amazon.

But Cortona's integration with Windows and Microsoft Office makes it uniquely placed to become the dominant voice assistant of the office workplace.

Google Assistant

Launched in 2016 and available in 52 countries, Google Assistant works with several of the world's major languages including German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Portuguese.

Google Assistant is primarily used on Google Home Devices, Chromebooks and Google smartphones. It's also available as third-party hardware on over 5,000 compatible devices, including Android smartphones and TVs.

Google Assistant has a continued conversation feature that sets it apart from Apple's Siri. You only need to say 'Hey Google' once to activate it, and you do not need to repeat the phrase for a follow-up request. With Siri you always need a trigger phrase to be activated.

In this way, Google is hoping to make its voice assistant as conversational as possible. Crucially, Google Assistant can handle multiple requests at once, setting it apart from other voice assistants which can only handle one command at a time.

Samsung's Bixby

A newcomer to the game, Samsung launched Bixby in 2017. The voice assistant is available worldwide in over 200 countries. Currently the only languages available are English, Korean and Chinese, but there are plans to expand to Spanish in the near future. The voice assistant can be used on Samsung smartphones and electronics, along with Samsung Smart Things home devices and appliances.

Facebook

Facebook does not have a voice assistant yet, but there are expectations the company will launch its own voice search assistant in 2018 or 2019. Stay tuned.

What devices can voice search be used for?

There are four major areas where voice technology is seeing rapid adoption. These are:

  1. Personal mobile devices
  2. Home-based devices (speakers, refrigerators, remote controls)
  3. Vehicles
  4. Workplaces

Here is a map from eMarketer showing which devices are most popular among voice search assistants.

However, studies show that some voice assistants are outperforming others in different areas. A study by Loup Ventures found that in terms of purchases, Google Assistant (77%) outperformed Siri (60%), Alexa (44%) and Cortona (20%).

How to optimize for mobile search?

Mobile-friendly website

Most voice search commands are carried out on mobile phones. So if you want to optimize for voice search, your website better be easy to navigate on a smartphone.

The fact that people are even initiating a voice search over a text-based search means they are in a rush and want to get information as quickly as possible.

That means you should have a fast-loading website on mobile that is easy to navigate.

Location

People take their phones with them everywhere they go. As such, a significant portion of voice searches are to find local business information.

A common question is the 'near me' question. "Are there any bookstores near me?"

Therefore, integrating your website with Google Maps and updating Google My Business listings with several references to location is imperative. Here you can find ten SEO tips to rank well for local listings.

Add schema markup

Schema markup helps Google identify different elements of your website that are relevant to voice searches, such as events, prices, location and more. More importantly, schema markups create featured snippets of texts which can help you rank for voice searches because these are often read out by voice assistants.

Keep it short, really short

We know that we need to keep our texts short on mobile.

Well take the copy you wrote for mobile and make it even shorter for voice.

Remember, when people do voice searches, the answers are read out to them by the voice assistant. That means they can't skim through a block of text to get the gist of what is being talked about. They have to sit through and listen to your answer.

Don't filibuster. Don't ramble. Cut to the chase and don't make them wait too long.

What content should I create for voice search?

Conversational content

If you want your content to be picked up by voice search assistants, you need to create copy that is more conversational.

When people search in Google they use incomplete sentences that don't make any sense when read out loud. You don't have to think about about grammar, flow, structure.

"best coffee new york"
"bike broke how to fix"
"cheap flights new york la"

But with voice, people would search this way:

"Siri, where is the best coffee in New York?"
"Siri, how do I fix my broken bike?"
"Siri, look up the cheapest flight to LA from New York in December."

This means that if you want your content to be picked up by voice assistants, you need copy on your website that matches this more conversational way of searching for things.

FAQ pages

FAQ pages are great sections of your website that you can optimize for voice search. People tend to ask questions when using their voice assistants, so FAQ pages are perfectly tailored to capture voice search traffic.

Make sure to expand your FAQ content to capture every possible question a potential customer could ask about your product. Your copy will be more likely to be picked up during voice searches.

Long-tail keywords, meta data over single terms

Text-based searches are naturally shorter, containing a maximum of three to four words. Voice searches are longer. Therefore, you should create content focused on long-tail keywords and improve the meta data of your pages over single term searches.

What are the problems of voice search?

Low usage

eMarketer cited some compelling data in October showing that daily use of voice assistants is still low. While 70% of respondents said they had used a voice assistant before, only 33% said they use their voice assistants everyday.

Inaccurate results

According to the study, 36% of individuals did not use voice assistant because the answers they get from voice assistants were not accurate. Smart speakers performed best, with 82% accuracy, followed by Smart TVs, game consoles and smartphones at 75%. Tablets performed the worst.

Voice assistants only give one answer in response to a query that is read outloud to the user. This leaves a small room for error. As the technology develops, it's possible that answers will get more accurate, but for now, inaccurate answers are an obstacle to wider use.

Languages

Voice assistants are having issues recognizing searches done across multiple languages. Google and Amazon have the US market covered, but are struggling to expand into countries where the main language is not English. In China, companies like Alibaba and Baidu dominate their market, but have struggled to gain a foothold in the West. A voice search assistant that is truly 'global' has yet to emerge.

People will not listen to ads

People use voice searches when they are on the go and in a rush.

Usually that means they want an answer fast.

This poses a problem for developing ads with voice assistants.

How willing are people going to be to listen to a 15 second ad just to get an answer to their question?

As soon as voice assistants begin pushing ads, they will become less trustworthy.

It remains to be seen how voice search ads will tackle this problem.

No visuals

Pictures speak a thousand words.

But with voice assistants you cannot see the product you are about to purchase.

How willing are people going to be to buy a shirt without seeing a picture of it beforehand?

And since ads tend to push new products or services onto users, this could pose a problem with ads designed for voice search.

In fact, a study by The Information showed that only 2% of consumers who own an Alexa device have ever used it to make a purchase, and 90% of those who have tried said they would not do it again.

So what is the future of voice search?

Voice searches clearly have their advantage over text searches. They are simply faster and more convenient on a mobile phone.

Just think about how many people are sending voice messages on Whatsapp over regular text messages.

The rapid rise of smart speakers are another indication that people are willing to engage with voice assistants.

But problems remain.

How willing are people to listen to an ad if they just want a quick direct answer to something?

How willing are people to make a final purchase without seeing a product?

Until these drawbacks are addressed, it is unlikely we will see the widespread adoption of voice search ads.

Despite this, voice remains a vibrant and fast-changing area of search that PPC marketers should keep their eye on.

This is part two of a series documenting the death of desktop through the three Vs: Voice, Video and Visual. To read Part One on Visual Search, click here.