Voice search is the latest hot topic in digital marketing, and could soon play a big role in your content strategy. But what is it and why should you care?

Remember trying to use your mobile’s voice function to open the camera and accidentally calling your mum instead? Or attempting to dictate a text and ending up with jibberish?

Not any more.

The error rate for voice search is falling continuously – it dropped from 8.5% to 4.9% between July 2016 and May 2017 alone. This is slowly giving people more confidence in the technology, and now almost a quarter of the American population (75.5 million people) are forecast to be using voice assistants by 2019 (source: eMarketer).

As a result, voice search has now become one of the hottest topics in digital marketing. Savvy brands and marketers alike are beginning to develop an understanding of how it might be relevant for their audience. So, what does this mean for your brand? Here’s everything you need to know about the next major way of engaging your customers.

MAN’S NEW BEST FRIEND

A growing range of smart devices feature AI digital assistants – with friendly names like Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Bixby, and the less glamorous Google Assistant – that allow you to dictate voice commands.

Your assistant then responds to the request by pulling information from the internet, turning on music, making a phone call, or anything else that might be required.

THE GENERATION GAME

Millennials make up 43.5% of the total user demographic for voice search, with this percentage expected to grow in the next few years (source: eMarketer). But they’re by no means the only ones – uptake among older generations has also grown significantly.

Interestingly, age is also a factor in determining how people use voice search. Younger users tend to shop, turn on music or make calls, whereas older users see it more as a source of information.

CLOSE TO HOME

In recent years, voice-enabled speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo have become synonymous with voice search. Worldwide, the number of speakers installed in homes is expected to grow from 6 million in 2016 to 59 million in 2020 (source: eMarketer), which in itself will act as a significant driver for voice search.

But speakers are not the only device to feature the technology. Watches, TVs, cars, smartphones and laptops all either come loaded or are compatible with a digital assistant. Smartphones in particular are used several times a week for voice searches, although computers have not been as successful in this area – likely due to the ready availability of a keyboard and Google.

In all cases, voice search is used primarily for simple tasks like playing music or finding out news, while more complex features are snubbed. However, product research and purchasing is also becoming increasingly common.

Almost 50% of people now use voice search when researching products (source: Social Media Today), while a quarter of shoppers used voice assistants during the 2017 holiday season (source: CTA). These figures are set to grow, which means that now is the time to start actively looking into how the technology could benefit your company – especially as attempts are underway to monetize the technology.

GOING GLOBAL

Despite being the home of Silicon Valley and a well-known hotbed of technological innovation, surprisingly, the US is not the world leader in voice search.

That honour goes to China, where in 2016, 63% of smartphone owners were reported to use a virtual assistant (source: Kantar WorldPanel). That figure will only keep growing thanks to the advanced range of voice-enabled speakers on the market – including Alibaba’s Tmall Genie and LingLong DingDong.

AI technology is still in its nascent stages, so voice search technology remains language- and culture-specific. And as China, the US, and the “big 5” European countries have seen the most development in this area, their uptake has understandably been higher than in other countries. Areas like Scandinavia have seen comparably less focus and as a result have had lower uptake. Here, the technology is simply not speaking the right language.

That being said, efforts are underway to plug the linguistic gaps. Google Assistant can now understand select Hindi queries, with Russian expected to follow suit. As voice search becomes increasingly accessible, cross-border competition is expected to grow – and with it, global usage. So for future-proof success, any burgeoning voice search strategy should be easily localizable and ready to replicate into other cultures.

THE FUTURE OF SEARCH

The explosive growth in voice search uptake is in itself enough reason to take notice of this growing technology. Its position at the cutting-edge of AI, technology and interconnectivity mean that capitalizing on it could allow you to position your company as forward-thinking and at the vanguard of the drive into the future.

But there’s more to voice search than just PR spin.

The prevalence of voice-enabled speakers – and the opportunities they offer for a truly connected smart home – offer unprecedented access into customers’ homes and ways of thinking. Through voice search data, you’ll be able to target their needs more effectively, whether that’s by becoming a fount of knowledge or by coming up with a novel use for the technology.

The outlook also bodes well for the future. Two of the main obstacles to uptake at the moment are cost and security concerns. But as the cost drops and consumers become more used to the idea of digital assistants, these concerns will be overtaken by a desire not to be left behind.

Creating a viable voice search strategy will therefore breed success not only among the early adopters, but also among the majority who, however begrudgingly, take up the technology in years to come.

Next time, we’ll look at how you can develop a future-proof content strategy that’s optimized for voice search. But if you’d like to discuss what all of this means for your company, please get in touch – I’d be happy to help.

ABOUT Gary Reilly

Originally from Sydney, I'm an international digital marketer with over seven years' experience. I help global brands achieve their goals with integrated digital solutions. And I'm passionate about deciphering user intent to create relevant content that's accessible, visible and delivers ROI.

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