Written by Josh Westerman
Ground Control to Major Tom / You’re off your course
Direction’s wrong / Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom? / Can you hear me, Major Tom?
In 1999, the late great David Bowie was interviewed by Newsnight’s flagship presenter Jeremy Paxman around the boom of the internet and how it would impact society:
“I don’t think we’ve seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.”
21 years later, The Thin White Duke’s comments couldn’t ring truer. We’ve moved through the gears of the worldwide web and how we access this astounding bank of information and data.
The latest incarnation of internet searching to rise to serious prominence doesn’t even involve us mere humans doing anything apart speaking a question – voice search. It’s a sci-fi phenomenon which Ziggy Stardust himself would be proud of, but did Bowie’s 1969 hit “Space Oddity” predict we’d be speaking to machines to get the answers we need?
Can you hear me, Major Dot? / Can you hear me, Google Home?*
(*Tenuous, I know. But let’s just flow with it.)
Amazon Echo, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and the-often-forgotten-about Microsoft Cortana have simplified how users get answers and actions from the internet through using voice search.
To avoid not getting too techy, the systems operate using a dialogue system – a computer set-up which has been designed have dialogue with humans. Whatever the questions, our mobile personal assistants have the answer.
For example, you could be prepping some food, your hands are covered in sticky substances and all of sudden a barrage of questions could enter your mind:
With voice search you can just call out the question and the voice-activated smart device will give you the answer you want, meaning you can just carry on marinating those chicken wings or kneading that dough. It’s pretty in-Jean-Genie-ous.
Voice search is becoming increasingly popular. Reports suggest that over the next three years, voice searches from digital voice assistants will rise by almost four billion, and 30 per cent of searches this year will be done without a screen, so ensuring your content is optimised for voice searching is key.
The simple answer? It’s a faster way of searching. Research by the stat boffins at Statista found that 43 per cent of users opt for voice search as it’s quicker than loading up a web browser or using an app, whilst 38 per cent say it’s easier.
Bizarrely, 38 per cent of those surveyed said voice search was more ‘fun’ than other types of searching. If you’re ranking how you search by how fun it is, you need to take a long look in the mirror.
To give you a helping hand, here are three ways you can help optimise your content for voice search:
A key aspect of voice search is the use of conversational language – at the end of the day, you’re more likely to ask a question using the language you’d utter down the local pub rather than the more algorithmic robot patter.
A good rule of thumb to follow is the more natural language included in your copy, the more likely it is to get picked up by a voice search-enable device. It’s key to understand the intent on the searches and compare them to what users may search if they were typing it out in a search engine.
For example, using a desktop you might search: “Bowie Low release date”. But for voice research, you might go: “Hey Google/Alexa, when was David Bowie’s Low album first released?”
(The answer is January 14, 1977 for those interested)
The desktop search is much more direct and to the point – it’s clear what you want to know. But no (Aladdin) sane person would ever speak like that when asking a question. So, for voice searches, it must be more conversational, which allows me to move seamlessly onto…
According to research by Moz, searches which have had text input usually contain around 1-3 words, whereas voice queries tend to be longer. The search gurus pulled together this simply graphic to showcase it:
If you’re going to optimise your content to help win in the voice search battle, make sure the keywords/terms you’re using will give the direct answer to a longer query someone might have. For example:
To successfully optimise for voice search, you need to look more carefully at the words you’re using when compared to traditional text search.
You need to focus on using the Five Ws and One H – identifying these gives you the intent to go after and win those user searches with the best answer. Also, including filler words (i.e. for, is the, to the) can help with ranking, as these are associated with spoken language. Back on the Starman theme:
As Bowie predicted, the internet has changed our lives – the majority would say for the better. But with a move towards voice search becoming more prominent, brands must ensure their content is optimised for this way of searching.