Jul 26 2019
Basis Technologies

How to Optimize your SEM Program for the Next Big Thing: Voice Search


The rapid advancement and proliferation of voice assistant technology are introducing exciting opportunities for companies in consumer-facing industries. The SEM industry is no stranger to this phenomenon. The rise of voice assistants is changing how consumers interact with devices and search engines, so digital marketers need to re-strategize how they approach their SEM optimization efforts to account for this up-and-coming voice commerce. Until the very day AI completely takes over our world, you should proactively leverage current voice search trends to capture the full potential of your SEM program. Before we dive into some methods to optimize for audible search queries, it is important to understand how voice search works and why it is becoming so prevalent.

Voice Search: The Next Big Thing

In our efficiency-obsessed, FOMO (“fear of missing out”) indulging society, these voice-activated smart devices satisfy our thirst for efficiency, instant responses, and multitasking. At its core, voice search machines such as Google Assistant, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Amazon Echo, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple Siri allow you to speak your search terms instead of typing them into your device. Then speech recognition transcribes those human words into text. Next, using natural language processing (NLP), the text is parsed out and analyzed for user intended commands. Once this determines which websites are most suitable for the voice query, it then uses text-to-speech technology to deliver search results verbally.

Given this sophisticated yet user-friendly process, it does not come as a surprise that ComScore forecasts that half of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. And thanks to trademarked algorithms developed by search engines such as Google’s PageRank, search almost always gives us the results pages we are looking for. Better yet, with improvements to machine learning and AI, search is becoming increasingly predictive.

Voice Search is coming for you, retailers!

Based on a study conducted by OC&C Strategy Consultants, last year’s $2 billion voice shopping market is expected to grow to $40 billion in 2022. At the rate at which consumers are adopting voice-activated technologies today, implications for retail businesses as well as local businesses are becoming more apparent. 

Given this massive opportunity (or disruption, depending on how you look at your glass), how do you optimize your SEM program to account for this insurgence of voice search queries?

Areas of Opportunity with Voice Commerce

Voice search queries provide more information on consumer intent

Unlike text queries, voice search queries often contain question words, such as Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. For example, when you are searching for a pet store on your desktop or tablet, you might type in “Affordable Pet Store in Manhattan.” This text query does not reveal whether you need dog food, catnip, or a hamster wheel. However, when you use your voice to articulate using audible search, you might say, “Where can I buy cheap chew toys for dogs?” As such, voice queries tend to be more intent-driven searches that often result in a higher level of bottom-of-the-funnel conversions. Moreover, the type of question asked often reveals the degree of intent. For instance, Who, What, Why, and How can be identified as lower purchase intent question words, whereas, When and Where are indicative of higher purchase intent. Therefore, adjusting for natural language and specificity of audible searches, you may want to raise bids for more relevant, action-oriented keywords.

Focus on long-tail keywords

The above pet store example highlights another key distinction between text and voice search: length of the query. The average text search is only 1-3 words, whereas its voice counterpart typically consists of 3-7 words. Since long-tail keywords often lack data volume, try using broad match modifiers to capture more traffic on voice queries. Bear in mind that voice search is prone to user mispronunciations; therefore, it is important to add in negative keywords of common misspellings and similar-sounding words relevant to your product.

Give some love to top-of-the-funnel

Digital marketers can capitalize on the way we unconsciously modify our query behavior given an opportunity to say it out loud. Aside from the obvious impact on the lower funnel, you can influence the rest of the funnel (i.e. your best marketing leads!) with informational content to drive more traffic to your site and overall engagement with your brand. This can be achieved by optimizing for natural, conversational language query version of the content in your newsletter guide, community forum, or FAQ pages.

Website load speed matters

Often overlooked in search engine optimization is website load speed. As with traditional text search, voice search places a higher priority on websites that load faster. There are plenty of free tools online to help you measure your website’s current load time and provide suggestions to improve the speed.

Be mobile and local friendly

One-fifth of all mobile queries on Google are voice search. Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly. If your web page is not mobile optimized and/or does not load instantly (millennials can smell that delay from miles away!), you are most likely to lose out on leads and conversions. And since mobile voice search is 3 times more likely to be local compared to text search, try adding in mobile ad extensions such as Click to Call, Location, and Offer extensions. This will enable the user to take their desired action without having to conduct further searches.

Key Takeaways

You may think this change is just around the corner. However, it is here now! More and more users are adopting the new technology into their lives and voice search is becoming just another part of their daily routines. Think of this as a tremendous opportunity and put in the effort now to optimize for voice search queries, and you will find yourself ahead of the competition!