All signs point to 2018 being the breakout year for voice search.
It’s more than a novelty. Voice search is an evolution in the way we use search engines, and search engine giants like Google and Bing are already changing their search engine algorithms to adapt.
So, what does this mean for your business? To understand how voice search will impact your search engine optimization strategy, let’s look at the core differences between voice search and text search.
How Does Voice Search Work?
Voice search lets you use a search engine app by speaking to a device rather than typing the query on a keyboard or touchpad. The app uses voice recognition software to transcribe the spoken words into written text. Then the search engine algorithm strives to deliver the best possible results.
Voice search has been around in various forms since at least 2002 when Google launched the first incarnation of its voice-enabled search function. Believe it or not, there was a time when users dialled a phone number and received Google search results via text message! It was a far cry from the instant answers voice search delivers today.
Differences Between Voice Search and Text Search
Just as with a text-based search, the search engine algorithm aims to deliver results are as useful and relevant to the voice searcher’s query as possible. But the differences between voice search and text search can have a big impact on what those results look like — and how the algorithm goes about finding them.
1. Device (and Search Engine) of Choice
According to Google, more than 60% of all searches now come from mobile devices. A sizable 20% of those mobile searches are of the spoken variety. But not all voice searches are made on-the-go; more and more voice searches come from voice-enabled smart speakers.
The year 2017 saw an explosion in the number of smart speakers in homes across North America. Amazon, the frontrunner in the market, sold millions of Alexa-enabled devices on Black Friday alone.
Why does this matter? Not only does the device of choice impact how people search, but which search engine they use.
Although Google remains the search engine of choice for most people, Amazon’s Alexa uses Bing by default. So does Microsoft’s Cortana. Together, Alexa and Cortana represent over half of all smart assistant use, meaning the majority of voice searches from smart speakers actually use Bing, not Google.
If smart speakers continue to proliferate, and Amazon stays on top, Bing will become increasingly important to businesses who want to rank among voice searchers.
2. What People Search For
Voice search is more accurate and functional than ever. The more we use it, the better the voice recognition software behind the app becomes. However, Google’s own research shows people still avoid using voice search for certain subjects.
People are most willing to raise their voices on quick queries in the moment. They use voice search to find the nearest restaurant, ask how late it’s open, and check its star-rating on Yelp. That’s why local SEO is huge when it comes to voice search.
But when it comes to so-called ‘sensitive’ subjects, like healthcare, people prefer to search the old-fashioned way. Not surprisingly, the same goes for anything you could classify as ‘adults-only’. What is surprising is that social media is still largely taboo for voice search as well. Perhaps that’s because 63% of Internet users worry about voice-enabled technology spying on them.
Though this gap could decrease over time, not all types of content will necessarily benefit from optimizing for voice search today.
3. How People Search
The biggest difference between voice search and text search? Tone, phrasing, and word choice. To optimize their site for voice search, businesses will have to turn an ear to how their customers talk.
When people use a voice search app, they’re more likely to phrase the query as a question. They use natural language, choosing words that reflect a conversational tone. They expect quick answers to specific questions.
Ranking for voice search queries will require businesses to focus not only on long-tail keywords that come up in these queries, but on direct answers to users’ most common questions.
Search engine algorithms are increasingly able to precisely detect user intent. If your site can deliver, you can leverage voice search to climb the rankings and reach customers who know exactly what they’re looking for.