Voice Search in 2020

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Many of us own smart speakers, but often our interaction doesn’t go much beyond asking “what’s the weather like this week”. Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase in the use of smart speakers and similar technology to find answers to our questions, and it’s set to get even more widespread in 2020 and beyond.

What is Voice Search?

In a nutshell, Voice Search is using the power of speech recognition to search the web.

Web search at its core is designed to help people find what they are looking for. Traditionally, this has been focused on surfacing web pages to give people answers and further information. The rate of change in technology is evolving the way that we interact with it, and mobile was the first big shift. We now expect to get our answers very quickly, and often to consume content anywhere.

Smart devices aren’t the only technology driving an increase in voice searches. Mobile devices are now increasingly promoting interaction through voice, as a way to make searching fast and natural for the user.

Search itself has also changed to favour the need for quick answers over the past few years. Focussing much more on the intent related to a search query, search engines try to surface the exact answers rather than entire web pages. Voice search heavily relies on this, as the response is often expected to be a quick short answer that directly relates to the search itself.

What’s Behind the Predictions?

Google revealed that 20% of all searches are done with voice technologies. This was mainly from mobile devices, but the increase of in-home devices are expected to provide an ever-ready method of facilitating search.

Teens are now growing up with this technology as it becomes commonplace, and their interaction with it is based upon a different mindset than many of us have come to learn. They are used to using technology in this way and are learning to expect it as a preferable way of finding answers to their questions.

Voice has many benefits over other forms of search, which give it a strong position to be utilised in the coming years. Some of these benefits are:

  1. It allows users to more easily multitask. This is especially true when working with mobile devices, where context switching can be difficult due to the restricted screen sizes.
  2. The speed of searching by voice is generally much faster than from other devices. As technology improves, and people begin to talk to devices in a more natural way than asking specific keywords, this will begin to get even faster.
  3. Using voice over other interaction methods can fit into a daily routine much easier. As smart speaker technology becomes more embedded in the home, there will always be a device ready to answer questions within “earshot”.

Privacy concerns are one potential reason behind the relatively slow uptake of voice search to date, but these problems are now being directly addressed by the larger companies. Privacy-first design is at the forefront of many consumer devices now, and technologies such as on-device AI allow for voice data to remain solely on a private device. Trust needs to be regained in this space, but companies now seem to be taking it seriously.

As digital assistants continue to become a key part of people’s daily routines and a core part of mobile devices, this will also begin to drive more interaction and search through voice.

It’s believed that about half of all online searches in 2020 will be through voice. As we move from some of the early learning and adjustment with voice search technology and placement, it’s now becoming a core part of our lives. It’s also increasingly becoming a key factor in many organisation’s digital strategies, which is also helping to create more focussed content for good voice search results.

Improvements in Technology

Voice Search relies on a few core technologies, and it all starts with speech recognition. Over the past few years, the accuracy of speech recognition has drastically improved thanks for increased research and development in this area. Along with this, there has been a move to help the technology to identify a specific user by their voice, aiding with personalised results.

There is still much work being done in understanding voices, especially for those people with speech impediments. Google’s Project Euphonia is aiming to create personalised models to better understand an individual, which is a key part of helping the speech recognition algorithms work for those with speech disorders.

As the speed of mobile networks, the increase of on-device processing, and better algorithms continue to be developed, quick and timely results are becoming the norm. Instant results are now demanded from search of any kind, and especially with voice search where an almost conversational-like speed is expected.

An Opportunity For Companies

As voice search continues to develop, there is a fantastic opportunity for companies to be surfacing their brands, information and services through voice search. Many of the larger companies are starting to adopt good practices which allow their content to be promoted through voice. Responses to questions about “where to buy shoes”, or “what coffee shops are close buy” are often limited to either a short spoken sentence or a limited list on a small display. Customers may find your competitors more easily if you don’t adopt good voice search principles.

As voice searches continue to grow in popularity, it’s important for all businesses to consider it as part of their digital marketing strategy. There are plenty of opportunities for companies to think about when leaning on voice search. For more audible responses, it’s a great way to promote your branding through carefully considered tone-of-voice and language. Voice has a great way of bringing a human-like element to your information and can be personalised to a degree by the content itself.

Voice search is also often supported by supporting technologies to give context to a search. Location is a basic element of most searches through Google and helps to provide meaningful results for specific queries. This makes it an especially good opportunity for smaller local businesses to get noticed through voice search.

How To Optimise For Voice Search

SEO is ever-changing, and in particular for voice search, it is starting to turn more traditional techniques on their head. For quick answers, surfacing very specific pieces of information over long-form content can often be the key. It’s estimated that about 30% of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020, which will force companies to begin understanding exactly what their customers are searching for, and structuring specific answers around that. Of course, combining this with good content for other types of consumption is also a great way to ensure a crucial multifaceted approach.

Focus on page speed, content for local results, adding structured data, and other best practices already established for more traditional SEO purposes is still an effective approach that will benefit search of all kinds. The key focus still remains true for voice search along with any other type: provide good, engaging content that’s well understood by both your users and search engines.

Beyond simple search, more focussed organisations may see benefit from integrating with more complex digital flows. Digital speakers and assistants now allow users to order a pizza from Domino’s or hail an Uber ride. This technology is available for everyone to make use of, and whilst in its infancy, it’s a great time to be experimenting.

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