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Hey GPO: Tell Me About Voice Search in 2020 (and 2021)

  • CATEGORY: SEO

Voice search used to be extremely popular — like animating PowerPoint slides, or voting for American Idol. People were passionate! There was even talk that voice search would overtake all other search methods when it first came on the scene. But has the technology fizzled? Or has it reached a new level of fandom with advancement in the voice-capabilities of cars and homes? We revisit what voice search is, how it’s being used, and how your brand might be able to leverage it in the coming year.

Voice Search 101

Voice search allows you to search the Web by speaking to a smartphone, speaker, or another voice-enabled device instead of typing on a keyboard.

Because of the nature of how we speak vs. type, voice searches are different from traditional searches. While you might type “leather couches for sale” into Google (and 6,600 people do each month), you wouldn’t use those same words if you were talking to a voice assistant. Instead, you’d ask, “Where can I buy a leather couch,” or “Who sells leather couches near me?”

Voice searches are more conversational than typed searches, more likely to include question words, and also longer. Text searches average 1-3 words, while spoken searches fall into the 7- to 10-word range.

Voice Search Usage

In 2019, Emarketer reported that about one-third of the U.S. population uses voice search features.

The number of voice assistant users in the United States is expected to grow, though slowly, from 117.7 million in 2020 to 122.7 million users in 2021.

Who’s contributing to these statistics? Looking at U.S. voice assistant users by age, individuals 25-34 make up the majority (23%), followed by the 35-44 year-olds (18.7%).

What are people doing with their voice-enabled devices? Because the majority of searches are performed on smartphones, we’re going to focus our attention there.

Adobe released survey data in July 2019 that found 48% of consumers are using voice for “general web searches.” A majority of survey respondents (85%) reported using voice to control their smartphones, with 39% using voice on smart speakers.

According to Adobe, the top-use cases for voice usage include:

  1. Directions while driving – 52%
  2. Making a phone call – 51%
  3. Sending a text – 50%
  4. Checking the weather – 49%
  5. Playing music – 49%

Microsoft echoed Adobe’s findings but got a little more specific. Microsoft identified the following as the top-use cases for voice:

  1. Searching for a quick fact – 68%
  2. Asking for directions – 65%
  3. Searching for a business – 47%
  4. Researching a product or service – 44%
  5. Making a shopping list – 39%

Voice Search Devices

Not all voice-enabled devices are created equal, and not all of them pull from the same data sources.

SEMRush released a study in August 2020 that examined factors influencing voice search rankings, specifically local search. Their study found that Google Assistant (on Android smartphone) and Siri had the lowest percentage of unanswered questions (2%), while Alexa couldn’t answer 23% of questions.

Also, “given that various voice assistants rely on different sources of information when picking answers, they mostly return different results for the same questions,” explains SEMRush’s Olga Andrienko.

Google pulls information for local queries from Google My Business and the local pack. Siri mostly pulls from Yelp. Alexa turns to Bing, Yelp, and Yext.

Voice Search “SEO”

There’s no secret sauce for being found through voice search. Implementing SEO best practices will mean that you perform relatively well in voice results.

“If you were paying attention to actually writing for your users instead of machines,” says Google’s Gary Illyes, “then I strongly believe that you are already optimized for voice search.”

Writing for users means understanding a user’s intent, too. You can create content for each phase of their intent, from research to action.

Different questions signal different user stages, Neil Patel points out. “What” and “who” questions are more likely to be asked by people in the research phase. “When” and “where” questions signal that someone is getting ready to buy. Create content around your products and services that targets every phase in the process.

Also, if you know specific information about your customers’ preferences or your business vertical, you can narrow your efforts to optimize for certain platforms. For instance, if a majority of your customers come to you through Google, optimize for Google. Focus on GMB, use structured data, and create conversational content that answers common user questions about your products and services. Or, if you know your customers are big fans of Alexa and Siri, focus on your Apple Maps and Yelp presence.

As you look toward 2021 and beyond, focus on implementing best-in-class technical SEO and creating valuable content — not carving out time and energy specifically for voice search optimizations. Optimize for search and you’ll be optimizing for voice search. The two go hand in hand.

“Creating the right content for customers and prospects — while paying attention to listings and review management best practices — will probably satisfy the voice SEO gods,” Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land adds.

Need support? For help creating the right content and curating your business listings, reach out to GPO.

Feature image credit: Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

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