voice search - talk to me

Patrick Furse

Voice Search: Speak and you shall find

The rise of voice activated devices such as Amazon Echo, voice search via OK Google and a whole host of voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri -  are clear signs that voice interfaces are becoming mainstream and coming to a home, phone or car near you soon.

Patrick Furse, Director of Digital Experience at Bray Leino explains how voice interfaces are changing the way we search for stuff on the internet and how you can make the most of these changes.

What’s happening?

It’s a combination of more and more devices - smartphones, home assistants and in-car systems, becoming available coupled with an ever-growing rise in the number of people using their voices to search for answers to a wide range of queries.

Data from VoiceLabs shows that, in 2017, approximately 24.5 million ‘voice-first’ devices will be shipped worldwide. This compares to just 1.7 million devices in 2015.

Google announced last year that voice accounts for 20% of all Google searches – so just the 20 billion voice searches per day.

There are a couple of things driving this trend – consumer demand and businesses vying for advantage.

For consumers it’s faster, (depending on thumb-fatness) we can type 40 words a minute but talk 150. It’s easier, no keyboard, in fact very little interface at all. And it’s also, well, just cooler. 22% of voice users admitted to enjoying the ‘Star Trek’ effect of talking and things happen. Make it so. (Source: KPCB 2016 Internet Trends)

The accuracy of voice recognition has improved markedly over the last few years – although the query “Find me Bourne movies” can still deliver unexpected results!

For the internet giants, Amazon, Google and Apple, voice is a battleground on which the prize to be won is access to huge amounts of highly valuable contextual data. Our domestic conversations with home assistant and in-car devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple Voice are a rich seam of contextual data waiting to be mined.

What’s different about voice search

There are a few interesting ways in which voice searches differ from text based searches.

Action oriented
Voice search seems to be more action oriented – what this means simply is that people ask questions that include actions like – “Show me how to make”, “Tell me what the square root of 576 is” “Find me trains going to Paddington tomorrow before 11”. Mariya Moeva of Google states - “We get about 30x more action queries by voice than typing”

When searching by voice people are typically asking Who, What, Where, When and How queries. Voice search queries are almost 3x more likely to start with a question than text search queries. (Source: Jennifer Slegg, SMX)

Mobile & local
20% of all voice searches are initiated by mobile users – there is a high proportion of these who are using voice to search for a local business or service. (Source: Search Engine Watch)

Partial attention
Many voice searches are done when doing something else, you have your hands full or are otherwise occupied – when a device just gets in the way. So, when driving, watching TV, whilst exercising and, yes, in the bath.

Getting your business voice-ready

So, what can you do as a business to get ready for voice and make the most of this rising trend?

Moving from keywords to keyphrases
To improve its conversational search abilities - Google’s AI has been busy reading nearly 3,000 romance novels – don’t worry you don’t need to start reading Jilly Cooper - but do start thinking about how people naturally talk, ask questions and follow each other’s conversational cues. (Source: Click Hub)

Search keywords are no longer just keywords. Keywords in the voice search world are actually keyphrases. Today you type ‘pizza recipes’ tomorrow you say ‘How do I make a thin-crust pizza that stays crusty’

A great free tool to help you get started is Answer the Public. The site will take a keyword and give you a whole heap of question phrases someone may ask based on that keyword. So, for pizza as a keyword the site will return 100s of questions people might ask about pizza…here are just a few. Seems we’re a bit conflicted about pizza.

“why pizza is great, why pizza is unhealthy, why pizza so expensive, why pizza is popular, why pizza is better than tacos, why pizza is delicious”

Create content that answers the Who, What, Where, How questions
Now you’re thinking about the keyphrases you should be creating content online that answers those questions. This content can live in your FAQ pages but also reflected in blog posts, in product pages and descriptions, ‘how-tos’ and Q&Q type content.

‘Q: How do I use Acme Pizza Flour to make a thin, crusty pizza base?’

‘A: Mix 1 3/4 cup Acme Pizza Flour and salt in a large bowl. Pour in yeast mixture; mix well until dough comes together.’

Get local
Mobile voice related searches are 3x more likely to be local-based than a text based search – so make sure your website and online content is optimized to serve these needs. (Source: Search Engine Watch)

Google My Business
If you haven’t already – setting up a Google My Business listing is a great way to make sure your business is more likely to appear in search results – voice or text. Photos, reviews, opening hours and contact details – useful for customers as well as answering some of those who, where, when questions that voice searchers typically make. It’s free too.


Patrick is a fully paid-up geek, who – as well as being versed in arcane computing languages – also studied at the Royal College of Art. In between erecting wonky shelves in his dilapidated shack in the country, he enjoys spending time with his family in Devon. Patrick is Director of Digital Experience at Bray Leino.

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