Voice Search Turns Up the Volume

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Voice search is about to move from a whisper to a shout, quickly. The fact that Google Home and Amazon Echo both had a starring roles in this year’s Super Bowl is only the latest of evidence of this fact.

Voice search exploded in 2015, going from “statistical zero” to 10% of all searches globally within the year. By May of 2016, the percent of voice searches doubled to 20%. As voice recognition technology improves, it’s no surprise to see voice search skyrocketing. After all, we can speak a lot faster than we type(we speak at 150 wpm, vs 40 wpm for typing).

Voice queries are different from typed queries. Let’s say you’ve been looking for a new phone company for your small business, and you’re trying to remember the name of the company whose ad you saw on TV the other night. If you’re typing, you’ll probably search for something like “business phone companies.” With voice search, natural language is more common. You might say something like “what’s the name of the business phone company whose TV ads offered $30 per month?” Suddenly, a 3-word query has become a 15-word query, and the intent is much more clear.

A few years ago, longer queries were problematic. Search engines struggled with delivering relevant results for voice searches. Search algorithms were built to expect queries of no more than four to five words. But with the growth of voice search, the algorithms have become much better. Not only are search results relevant, but they’re personalized. While writing this article, I asked Google to show me the nearest Best Buy. The result was so accurate (including a pin on a map for my location) that I don’t want to show the screen shot here! It gave me a map, phone numbers, and hours – all on my mobile screen. It was as if I’d asked the person next to me – only better, with visuals and tappable phone numbers.

In fact, personal digital assistants like OK Google, Cortana, and Siri are almost better than having your own human executive assistant. A digital assistant can schedule an appointment in seconds, placing it on your calendar instantly. You can send a text entirely with voice commands, without ever typing a single letter on a keyboard. You can turn a search question into a task, complete with a calendar reminder and a map with directions. Even complex tasks like planning a trip have become easier: with a few voice commands, you can find and book a flight and hotel, put the trip on your calendar, and get a weather report for your destination. Everything but packing your suitcase can be done via voice.

This holiday season, the Amazon Echo was a popular gift – so much so that it sold out just before Christmas Day. The Echo, along with devices like Google Home, are taking search to the next level. Search has now become ubiquitous. It’s on our phones, and in our home devices. Not only can the Echo play music and turn lights on and off, it can order household items that you’ve run out of. And with 2-hour delivery from Amazon Prime, you needn’t leave your house. It’s easier than a trip to the grocery store.

Search is a major component of home assistants like the Echo. But the Echo orders everything from Amazon. Google Home, on the other hand, serves up results from Google’s search engine. Marketers need to be ready for an influx of voice searches for their products and services from Google Home.

Google is changing the search game for businesses within the Google search results, too. Starting next month, Google is going to automatically include phone numbers in search ads on mobile devices for advertisers who have a prominent phone number on their landing page. Previously, advertisers could add call extensions to their ads, which would incorporate a tappable phone number in their mobile ads.

With the latest change, call extensions aren’t necessary – Google will automatically include a phone number in your ad if you feature one prominently on your landing page, as many businesses do.

Automatically including phone numbers in ads does two things: it acknowledges that mobile advertising is here to stay, and it makes ads more humanly relevant by encouraging phone calls from those with a phone in their hand.

We live in interesting times. As consumers, we have an ever-increasing number of options when it comes to searching for and purchasing goods and services. As advertisers, businesses have more ways than ever before to connect with their audience – but it’s become more complicated. Businesses must think beyond keywords and landing pages, and focus on how their customers and prospects interact with them. Understanding the mindset of the customer is more important than ever. Organizations that can make their experience more humanly relevant will be successful in this new era.

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