Voice search is one of the biggest topics in digital marketing right now. But it’s also one of the most misunderstood.
Today, over 40% of U.S. adults perform at least one voice search each month. And according to Google, 20% of searches on mobile devices are now conducted by voice. What’s more, there are over 40 million U.S. homes with smart speakers, a number that’s rapidly growing.
In short, there’s a huge market for voice search — and that market is getting larger every year.
But in spite of this growth, voice search hasn’t had the game-changing impact on search engine marketing that many people were predicting two or three years ago. Weirdly enough, voice search remains something of an afterthought for most brands.
The fact is, voice search plays a big role in modern search and search marketing. So it’s worth understanding how voice search functions, why it’s so popular, and how brands should react as the market for voice search gets bigger and bigger.
Voice Search Is Growing at a Rapid Rate
Over the past decade or so, voice search has grown at a mind-boggling rate. In the period of 2008 to 2016, voice search volumes grew by a factor of 35! And that number’s still growing.
To understand voice search and how it fits into the digital marketing landscape, you need to understand what’s driving this growth. That means looking at the devices used for voice search, as well as the demographics using these devices.
Recent Growth Driven by Smart Speakers
Much of the growth in voice search over the past few years has come from smart speakers, like Google Home or Amazon Echo.
Today, roughly 20% of American households contain a smart speaker, and they remain a hot button item. In fact, Amazon says that it sold more units of the Amazon Echo than any other product during the 2018 holiday season.
While some households are hesitant to adopt smart speakers, their owners rarely look back. Roughly two-thirds of Google Home and Amazon Echo owners can’t imagine life without these devices.
How quickly will smart speaker usage grow over the next few years? According to one study, more than half of all U.S. households could have a smart speaker by as early as 2022.
Sandy Nichols, Sr. Web Manager at Qiigo says,
“Qiigo has a new team member named Alexa! Having a device like this in the office helps our teams test theories, measure results, and understand the impact of different content optimization methods. Our clients already benefit from our local marketing efforts, so adding voice search optimization is a natural addition to the Qiigo family of services.“
Voice Search Usage Highest with Younger Users
Another sign that voice search is due for continued growth? Its popularity among younger users. Millennials use digital assistants at more than 2x the rate of Gen Xers and more than 3x the rate of Baby Boomers.
What’s more, voice search is growing even faster among Generation Z. In one survey, more than 50% of teenagers report regular use of voice search technologies.
Voice Search Is Changing the Way We Search
Voice search isn’t just making up a larger share of the search market. It’s literally changing the way that people search.
When you compare voice queries to text queries, there’s a noticeable difference in the way people search. This means that as voice search increases, we’re seeing different types of queries and keywords take over.
We’re also seeing people switch the way that they conduct certain types of searches. Voice search has had an outsized impact on local search habits in particular, and it’s reshaping the e-commerce landscape.
The more popular voice search becomes, the more conversational search queries become.
Let’s say you’re looking for a fast-casual restaurant. Using text search, you’re typing something like “best cheap restaurant near me” into Google. But with voice search, that query will sound something like this: “Okay, Google. What’s the best restaurant nearby if I want something cheap?”
This example shows a few of the ways that voice search has changed the kinds of queries searchers use.
- Natural Speech. When people use text search, they modify their queries, reducing them to basic keywords. But when people use voice search, they tend to adopt a more conversational tone, using more elements of natural speech.
- Longer Queries. Voice search queries tend to run longer than queries that use text search. That’s partly due to more natural speech, which can change a one-word keyword like “cheap” into a conditional phrase like “if I want something cheap”?
- Question Formats. Most text queries break Jeopardy’s golden rule: they don’t use the form of a question. Yet when people use voice search, more than 15% of queries contain one of the words “how,” “what,” “where, “when,” “why,” or “who.”
In addition to changing search queries, voice search is also changing search results.
One side-effect of increased voice search has been a greater emphasis on Google’s Knowledge Graph and Featured Snippets. When users ask queries in the form of a question, Google is more likely to return a Knowledge Graph or Featured Snippet result.
Another side-effect has been more of a winner-take-all approach. When users conduct a text search, they receive a list of search results. But when they conduct a voice query, search engines typically return only one result. Second and third ranking slots, which remain valuable on text search, offer negligible value on voice search.
Voice search is much more common on mobile devices than desktop. Likewise, mobile users are more likely than desktop users to conduct local searches. So it’s only natural that voice search has a high rate of local queries.
What’s surprising is how high this rate actually is. According to Google, voice queries on Android devices are 3x as likely to have local intent. As a result, voice search is playing a bigger and bigger role in local search and local SEO.
Another area where voice search has had a big impact is e-commerce. One projection says that, by 2022, voice search e-commerce will be a $40B market. A lot of this market will be driven by Amazon devices, which integrate seamlessly with the retail giant’s e-commerce platform.
Yet as important as voice search will be to e-commerce, it’s not going to dominate the market for online sales. In 2018, e-commerce sales exceeded $500B. By 2022, voice search sales are projected to reach $40B which might only represent 5% of the total e-commerce market.
Voice Search Is Changing SEO (But Not as Much as You’d Think)
Over the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk about how voice search will change SEO. After all, voice search changes the type of queries that people make. It also changes the type of search results they see. Doesn’t that mean you need a different type of SEO?
Thankfully, voice search hasn’t been the SEO game-changer that some people thought it would be. That can be chalked up to a number of factors, including:
- Google updated its search algorithm to RankBrain. RankBrain determines the intent behind a query, regardless of how the query is phrased.
- Despite the rising popularity of voice search, a number of experts overestimated the pace and rate of adoption.
- Currently, best practices for voice search optimization are similar — and often identical — to best practices for organic SEO and local SEO.
That said, if you run a local business or see a lot of organic traffic from voice search, you’ll need to incorporate voice search to your overall SEO strategy. Let Qiigo help you navigate through the importance of voice search for SEO. Contact us today to learn more.