Voice Search Won't Take Over by 2020 - But You Still Need to Optimise for It

It's hard to read an article about the future of search without being presented with the headline-grabbing statistic that 50% of all search queries are going to be conducted via voice by 2020.

That forecast, often incorrectly attributed to comScore, has been quietly debunked, with the figure likely to be closer to 13% in 2019 by some estimations. That effectively means that 1.3 billion more voice queries per day would have to be carried out by next year for that number to become a reality.

However, while the oft-quoted 50% may be a tad on the high side, a recent study suggests that the future is still very bright indeed for voice search.

Adobe survey finds that 48% of consumers use voice search

A survey by software giant Adobe of US consumers, as detailed by Search Engine Land, has found that 48% of adults use voice technology for general web searches, with 44% doing so daily. This is certainly a far cry from the "50% of all searches" misnomer - but it does demonstrate that voice search at least has a foothold amongst a significant proportion of the population.

Source: Search Engine Land / Adobe Voice Technology Survey, July 2019

Perhaps even more significant were the responses consumers gave to the effects of voice search and technology. 92% agreed that voice technology saves them time, while interestingly, 79% confirmed that voice tech actually "improves and contributes to" their quality of life.

On the other hand, 83% of respondents identified voice recognition accuracy and 81% identified privacy concerns as "significant" issues with voice technology – and these two challenges are perhaps the reason why voice search hasn't quite taken off to the levels some predicted.

Smart speakers and phones driving voice search forwards

Nevertheless, as smart speakers and smartphones become increasingly ubiquitous in our lives, as well as the technology seemingly having such a positive impact on consumers' lives, it is undeniable that search via voice will continue to make inroads over the coming years.

In Adobe's study, 85% of respondents said they'd used voice technology on their phones, while 39% said the same for smart speakers. The rapid rise of smartphones over the past decade, and in turn, the success of voice assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant, have undoubtedly driven voice search forwards. To illustrate the reach of Apple and Google's technology, the two products have a combined global installation base of over 1.5 billion devices.

So while phones might dominate voice technology, 39% of all consumers using voice tech on smart speakers is no insignificant figure. Indeed, as connected homes finally become a reality, smart speakers have themselves experienced a meteoric rise. The smart speaker market, which includes Amazon's Echo, Google's Home and Apple's HomePod, has grown from six million unit sales in the US in 2016 to 66 million in 2019.

How important is voice search optimisation?

Considering the current reach of voice technology, and the fact that all the signs point to it continuing to grow, optimising for voice search remains particularly important for website owners and content marketers alike, not least because search engines will likely use voice-search-readiness as a ranking factor in the future. Which raises the following crucial question:

How is voice search optimisation different from 'regular' SEO?

1. People speak differently to how they write

First of all, it's important to consider that people type and speak very differently. Say, for example, you wanted to find out which actor played the Night King in Game of Thrones. If you're using a web browser, you're likely to type in incomplete sentences – "night king game of thrones actor" or similar – whereas, if you were to use your smart speaker to find the same information, you'd probably ask, "Which actor played the Night King in Game of Thrones?"

As a general rule, voice queries tend to be in the form of questions, and are therefore longer than, and structured differently to, browser searches. Accordingly, you should take this into account in your keyword research and subsequent content creation. Which queries related to your article topic are users likely to search for?

2. Users want an immediate answer to their questions

There's a reason why 92% of consumers agree that voice technology saves them time – they're able to get faster, if not immediate, answers to their search queries. Google itself highlights 'micro-moments' that dominate voice and mobile search, with its algorithms constantly evolving to reward publishers who tailor their content to meet this "here and now" demand.

In order to take advantage of this, structuring your content with voice optimisation in mind is vital. On a basic level, presenting questions as subheadings (e.g. H2s or H3s) and immediately answering them in a concise, informative manner can give your content a boost. Google is able to scan your content, find the information it's looking for, and present it as a featured snippet to the user from the results page itself – thus fulfilling the need for immediate answers.

Featured snippets appear in the coveted 'position zero' of search results.

In order to leverage these featured snippets even further, explore the use of structured data (schema markup) for your content. Applying these tags allows search engines to better understand and present your content, and may even result in your content receiving the coveted 'position 0' in the SERPs if it is deemed particularly relevant; that is, the featured snippet that appears directly before the list of the search results.

3. Location-based queries dominate voice search

It's also important to consider that users often have different intentions when using voice search as opposed to a web browser. Research shows that up to 22% of search queries via voice are related to location-based content. That is, local business opening times, whether a business near them offers a particular product or service (and how much it costs), and even whether any local businesses are offering discounts or running promotions.

This means voice search optimisation is even more important for local business owners. According to a study by Uberall, only 4% are considered 'voice-search ready'. If you have a Google My Business listing, ensure all of your information is accurate, up-to-date and as complete as possible, as it will increase your chances of securing a Knowledge Panel feature – which voice assistants will often refer to as they offer immediate answers to users' questions.

A Knowledge Panel listing is essential for all businesses.

Where can I get help with voice search optimisation?

Here at ICS-digital, our team of content and search marketing specialists create content for a wide range of clients with voice search in mind. We can carry out extensive keyword research and a full site audit to inform your SEO strategy and highlight potential opportunities for featured snippets as well as general areas for improvement. Find out more about what we do.