How Voice Search Changes Local Search

June 28, 2016

Voice search is becoming an integral part of our virtual lives–at least, it is for a fast-growing number of us who prefer this communication shortcut to typing, touching and clicking our search queries. The trend is being explored in articles across multiple media outlets, each one packed with research for digital marketers and business owners who want their products and services found first.

Why is voice search growing?

Personal assistant devices are the main source of growth, and the vast majority of voice searches are done from a mobile device–both factors that point toward a strong local slant. Between 20 and 25 percent of searches are now initiated using voice tools, from Siri to Google Voice and most recently, Amazon’s Echo (the voice-activated speaker device that connects to Alexa), among others. Experts believe the improving quality of search devices, together with the growing dominance of mobile, are key reasons behind the trend.

How fast is voice growing–when will it dominate search?

It will happen when voice quality reaches the needed level, or 99 percent accuracy, according to Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu. That’s when analysts predict a tipping point will be reached, leading to explosive growth in voice search, as the frustration of getting wrong information or a misheard request becomes a rare event (see this SEL article for a funny example of just how wrong Siri can be).

Who are the players?

They’re the usual suspects, Google and Apple. However, it will be interesting to watch Amazon in this space, as their Echo platform uses voice exclusively. Echo relies on “skills” (their term for “apps”) to draw in response data, relying largely on Yelp as its local source, or defaulting to Bing. Writer Wesley Young, in his comprehensive article on Search Engine Land, advises that SMBs and locals turn to vertical sites with apps in order to remain competitive in the Amazon voice search arena.

Implications for keyword search

It all comes down to language. We’ll need to answer different questions. How we use words in natural speech is quite different from the way we phrase keyword terms in a search box. Speech allows us to quickly describe more detail, to be more specific. The resulting search terms in voice tend to expand “the ask,” going beyond a request for basic info to requesting action, a potential boon to home services and restaurant delivery businesses, for example.

The implications are huge. If the way we search in voice is different, the results will be different, and this fact opens up a whole new field of competition, particularly among local businesses and SMBs of all varieties. Once source predicts that voice searches will make up no fewer than 50 percent of total searches by the year 2020.

How should marketers respond/prepare?

Knowing that organic rankings, paid search and adjacent listings may be overtaken by new approaches could leave SMBs struggling for space amid powerful global brands that can develop specialized apps. Local search success for small businesses will require a leg up from affordable agency solutions, like those offered at National Positions. Keep a watchful eye on changing search patterns and related technology, and know that agile, responsive marketing strategies are, as usual, the best way to stay on top of the game.

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