Personalized news valets might have plateaued, but the popularity of audio persists — and voice assistants, in particular, are making a comeback as a quick, hands-free way of accessing search engines.
Oberlo reports 50% of the U.S. population utilizes voice search tools on a daily basis and “71% of consumers prefer to conduct queries by voice instead of typing,” while Statista predicts there will be 8 billion voice assistants in use by 2024.
How are these voice assistants being used? What’s driving this recent surge in growth? And how can news publishers leverage the mounting popularity of voice search?
The rise of voice assistants
The first voice assistant boom was driven by the popularity of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Oberlo reports that in 2018, 72% of U.S. consumers used voice search through Siri, Alexa, and their peers.
But voice search isn’t just limited to smart speakers. These days, voice assistants can be found on virtually any device, including smartphones, wearables, TVs, gaming platforms, and even certain cars.
The pandemic also played a role in the rise of voice search. Finances Online reports “as people looked for other forms of communication during the pandemic, usage of voice assistants grew by 7% worldwide.” Unsurprisingly, some of the most popular voice search queries during this period were “about illness symptoms as well as to ask about medical information.”
Another contributing factor to the increased prevalence of voice search is the accelerated deployment of AI and machine learning in the quest to improve the accuracy and quality of the answers provided by digital assistants. With the advancements in natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning techniques, voice assistants can now recognize and interpret complex speech patterns, accents, and dialects, making it easier for users to interact with them using their voice.
How people are using voice assistants
Voice search is most commonly used for convenience, especially when traveling or otherwise engaged. According to Finances Online, the most popular occasions to utilize a voice assistant are when driving, doing an activity, watching TV, working, or cooking. The most common uses for voice search are to ask for directions, send texts or place calls, check the time, or play music. The main reason for choosing a voice assistant over other methods of search is that voice technology feels “natural” and “because it is simple and faster than typing.”
Finances Online also reports “voice search users are increasingly searching for local results. Just last year, 58% of consumers used voice search to find local businesses.”
The key takeaway here is that people using voice assistants are often otherwise occupied and looking for quick answers. Herein lies a possible explanation for why voice search is so popular, but interactive news has struggled to take off. People aren’t looking for a long-form article to be read to them; they want a restaurant recommendation, the weekend weather forecast, or a quick summary of the latest breaking news.
Best practices for incorporating voice search
Publishers looking to leverage the burgeoning popularity of voice assistants must ensure content is easily accessible and optimized for the unique nature of voice search. Here are four best practices to keep in mind:
- Don’t neglect long-tail (uncommon) keywords. Long-tail keywords might see a lower search volume than shorter phrases for written search, but people typically use their normal speaking voice when using a voice assistant — which is often much wordier and more conversational than how they’d type the same query. “Voice search optimization requires a deep understanding of natural language processing, which is the key to unlocking voice search queries,” Mediatool explains. “Marketers should use long-tail keywords, include structured data in their content, and optimize for featured snippets in voice search results.”
- Optimize for speakable answers. More often than not, people using voice search are expecting voice answers. To help meet this demand, Google has recently released a new speakable markup schema. “The new schema SEO is useful when asking for specific topics and news related to a particular brand or happening. The returned results are then read back by Google Assistant with speakable texts,” reports Search Engine Watch. “Google’s new feature is currently intended to provide users with a summary of a story’s key points but has a later possibility for expansion.”
- Keep it conversational. As Search Engine Journal notes, “the stuffy ‘business tone’ isn’t how most people use their Google Assistant or Amazon Echo” — so it’s important to adopt a conversational tone that accurately reflects the cadence of your target audience.
- Combat privacy concerns. Insider Intelligence reports that Amazon has seen “15% to 25% of Alexa users drop off about two weeks after activating their device. Amazon has cited consumers’ privacy concerns as one of the main reasons that retention is falling.” Get ahead of privacy concerns by being upfront and transparent about how your organization collects and uses search data.
A voice-searchable future
Unlike interactive news, voice search has managed to capture the attention of users through quick answers to their most pressing questions. The Digital Marketing Institute observes: "Clearly, this is a growing industry and there’s huge scope for customer engagement and advertising opportunities."
Savvy publishers and marketers will keep this in mind and start optimizing content for voice search now, or risk missing out on critical traffic and engagement in the not too distant future.