The Growth of AI and Voice Search

And how to optimise for Voice Search in 2017


Christmas is over and 2017 is well under way. “A New Year a New Me” and all that jazz. What isn’t new though is the growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Voice Search. It's big news. And here's how to optimise for Voice Search in 2017.

It’s estimated that by 2020, 50% of search will be voice activated and, going into 2017, there’s no sign of the impact of AI and Voice Search slowing down. Growth has only been boosted by the increase in sales of AI personal assistants such as Amazon’s Echo – Alexa, Google Home, Siri and Cortana. Consumers are noticing the improvements in voice recognition devices and although in the past it tended to be frustrating for the consumer, it looks like the perception of these products has now changed. These devices are now seen as a helpful and efficient way for people to not only make calls and text, but to search as well. 

The more voice recognition devices are sold, the more importance optimising for it will become. Voice search share on Google already sits at 20%, and 25% of Windows 10 task bar searches are now voice based. The likes of Alexa, Google home and Siri are bringing a new way of how consumers discover and receive information. As a result, they are changing how we as marketers seek to optimise and advertise successfully, taking a consumer from discovery to consideration through to conversion. While in the past we could be sure we will appear in front of the customer on a SERP through tried and tested techniques, AI assistants give us less control, satisfying customers with one answer results to questions such as: “Where is the nearest hairdressers?”, “Where can I buy a coffee in London?”, “Who sells the best burger in Glasgow?” How is this done though?

The increasing popularity of voice search

These devices are able to provide quick answers through complex algorithms enabling AI assistants to understand the user’s intent and decide between “who”, “what” and “where” in relation to their search. The assistants are also able to base answers on a mix of user preferences and adapt to their behaviour and actions. Research shows that people are warming to these devices more and more and are willing to rely on them to give them the correct information to what they have asked, so much so that they want less results and more straight to the point answers.

A survey of 900 smart phone users, conducted in America, shows the demand for more answers and less search results with 60% of voice users wanting an instant answer to their queries without having to visit a website or an app. Although this could reduce the amount of choice a consumer has to choose from, it’s quick, easy and saves the hassle of having to go in and out of search results to find the answer or place they are looking for. If you’re reading this and thinking this is a problem for marketers….well you’re not wrong. It brings us back to that question again.

Preparing for increased use of voice search

As the giants try to perfect AI and voice, it’s important for us to try and perfect search, keeping the user's experience at the forefront of our minds. One way of doing this is through structured data. Structured data refers to data with a high level of organisation which search engines can effectively organise and display in creative ways. This helps brands in their quest to rank number one for specific keywords and attributes. There is little room for error when it comes to this - if the answer provided by AI assistants is wrong, customers are more inclined to blame the business over the device or search engine. Research shows that 8 in 10 UK consumers encounter incorrect location information online and 49% blame the business for inaccuracies.

Expectations from consumers are so high these days and not providing accurate information will cause negative brand perception and increase customer frustration. On the other hand, quick, relevant and accurate information will go a long way to brand satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.

Local friendly, relevant information

AI relies on rich, accurate and real time data to provide to customers and businesses must look to optimise as much as possible for local searches to increase the chances of appearing high in results and chances of being that single reply to the consumer. This is also done through the use of structured data, highlighting business information but also by creating local friendly pages so that search and customers will find them. As well as local friendly pages, it’s best practice to create Q&A and FAQ pages to answer questions that people will be asking that relate to your business. Make these pages more conversational in tone and focus on phrases that your target audience use. This approach will resonate more with the person using the AI device to search.

And what about Paid Search?

Although we have focused on AI and Voice in terms of SEO, from a paid search marketing point of view, it will be more of a test exercise in 2017, as to how it will be best to target voice search users. This year, it’s anticipated that shopping campaigns and local search, like we have already discussed, will kick off campaigns for voice search. But for the time being it could be a case of Paid Search marketers not being as targeted and focused on keywords as search queries become more focused on long tail phrases. We would recommend opening up searches with broad match modifier, keeping an eye on performance - looking at what consumers are searching for and looking for opportunities for our ads to appear.

Belt and braces approach

Below we have listed a number of tasks for you, if you haven’t already, to action as the world of AI and Voice continues to grow:

  • Submit your sitemap to Google and Bing and start to incorporate structured data and rich snippets
  • Set up Google MyBusiness and Bing Places as searches with “near me” are not likely to take into account on-site optimisation and instead focus on the user’s location, pulling up listings on online directories like Google MyBusiness and Bing Places.
  • Analyse search query reports on Google Search Console and see what is bringing traffic to your website.
  • Brainstorm which questions customers will be asking about your product or service – here are a few to help get you started: Answerthepublic.comStoryBase or Question Samurai.
  • Finally, Voice Searches are made via mobile devices so if your site isn’t responsive or mobile friendly, then it’s likely the searcher will bounce off the site quickly due to an unsatisfied experience.

It is important to remember we are only at the start of this new age in search. Although there is an increase in voice searches, the traditional way of searching still leads the way via mobile and desktop, through search engines. Voice search is more likely when people are alone at home or at work - people are much less likely to talk to their devices in public. Especially when targeting shoppers, mobile and optimising for text searches is vitally important, with 3 in 4 who find local information in search being more likely to visit bricks and mortar stores.

Implementing the above will only help you to stay ahead of the competition, benefit your SEO, local search and ultimately lay the foundations for optimising for AI and Voice.

So there we have it, the things I believe you should know for Voice Search for 2017 and how you can start to put a search marketing strategy together to harness the opportunity and avoid any pitfalls. Voice and AI isn’t going to go away. It’s here to stay and although the last few years have all been about mobile, as we work to perfect our mobile strategies it’s time to start thinking about the future and how we develop an effective strategy for AI and Voice search.

We would love to hear your thoughts on Voice Search and AI so feel free to get in touch. For more on Voice Search check out recent survey results on what people are wanting from Voice Search in the future here.