Understanding voice search: What are the implications for marketers?


Last week, Amazon added their voice search product “Alexa” to their iPhone app.

This is yet another signal in the continuing avalanche of signals that voice search is a major part of every major tech company’s strategy. One report by VoiceLabs predicts that voice device growth will quadruple this year. In last year’s Google IO conference Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that 20% of search queries were coming from voice search.

What data can help us to understand the impact of voice search when it isn’t yet a reporting field that is provided by most publishers? Also, what are the implications for search marketers?

What data do we have to potentially understand voice search?

Without specifically understanding voice search data provided by search engines we have to rely on other indicators. I like to use query keywords (who, what, where, when, why, how) as a way to understand how consumers may be using voice search. While not perfect, I think it helps give some insight into how consumer behavior is shifting.

People expect questions to be answered via voice search. I took a look at our data from this year vs. the same period in 2016. This data shows some interesting trends. Overall, query search term use as a percentage of total impressions was up 47% year over year.

This shows that as voice search becomes more mainstream and search engines get better and better at providing answers, people are changing the phrases they use to search.

Breaking this down by the specific query used I think gives an exact picture of what types of expectations consumers have when asking questions. In just the last year, queries containing ‘Where’ and ‘When’ have risen by almost 300%.

These two questions lead the way due the local nature of many voice search queries, and the high likelihood of a receiving direct answer. While a term like ‘how’ is also up 13% year over year, it is still difficult to get answers to ‘how’ to do something via a voice query. However, saying “OK Google, where is the closest burger restaurant?” elicits a fairly specific response.

The implications of voice search for marketers

For me there are two key strategic impacts from the growth of voice search, both on mobile and from in-home devices. For each of these, there are several questions you can ask yourself to determine how voice search might affect your brand, and how you can best optimize for it.

1. How are my consumers finding my brand?

  • Do you need to create more localized content? If ‘where’ and ‘when’ queries continue their growth, there is an opportunity to dominate these queries with both paid and organic rankings.
  • What data is available through my search term report in AdWords? Search term performance in the dimension’s report is a great way to update and optimize your keyword list in general, and to understand the types of questions consumers are asking.
  • Do you need to create more query-driven content to rank in answer boxes?

2. Consider keyword experiences when question-style queries are asked. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What ad copy and landing pages are being used for question searches? If someone is searching for “where” or “when”, do you give them the same landing page that every other query gets? Is this the correct experience, or would a unique landing page and ad copy be more appropriate?
  • Is my location data current and accurate? The local pack is showing up more and more, especially via mobile devices, so making sure your data is correct in this space is critical.
  • Do I have the proper location extensions and product inventory available? There are ways to help consumers get the proper answers via paid ads. Making sure this content is eligible and aligned to your AdWords campaigns is key.

If you can think through the consumer experience when these question-style queries are asked, you will understand the gaps in your voice search offering, and the opportunities to provide a better experience.

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