Voice search is not a new thing. In fact, voice activated technology has been around for decades, only really going mainstream in October 2011, when Apple introduced Siri to the world.
Until recently, though, voice search has been more of a novelty, rather than a viable tool. It started out as clumsy, and not particularly adaptive to different situations, or even different accents.
However, in the last five years, voice search has advanced at an incredible rate, with search accuracy up to 92%. This is because voice assistants like Amazon Echo (aka Alexa), Google Home, Cortana, and of course, Siri, are constantly evolving, adapting and dare I say, ‘learning’. It’s in fact evolving so quickly that it’s leaving many marketers asking one of the biggest questions of the year: How can I make voice search work for me and my brand?
What’s happening worldwide?
Globally, voice search is on the rise. Capabilities have expanded to include TV, music, and lyrics searches, online shopping, and personal organisation. According to Google, 20% of daily searches via its mobile app and on Android devices are done by voice, with that number expected to grow to 30% by 2018 and up to 50% by 2020.
That’s why it’s imperative that brands should optimise the SEO capabilities of their sites, if they haven’t done so already. Long tail keywords are a must, given that voice search uses naturalised language patterns. This also means updating the FAQ pages and optimising micro data and XML sitemaps, so the site in question is easily discoverable.
Voice search is also eliminating the need for screen time, which is ideal for a generation of people who are always on the move. It’s predicted that by 2020, 30% of all browsing will be done without a screen, with 50% of searches done by voice. This will most likely be down to voice assistants becoming more commonplace in homes, and not just seen as nice-to-have ‘tech toys’, which is currently the case.
What about South Africa?
Despite seeing the voice search trend growing rapidly in the US, it still seems like an impractical concept in South Africa. I myself still find Siri cumbersome to use, and its answers always seem broad and basic, and not particularly localised. Doing a quick bit of research, and looking at current Google Trends in the country, I was amazed to discover very little interest in voice search in the South African market.
In South Africa, 60% of all mobile users are operating on a smartphone, and average nearly three hours a day surfing the internet on a mobile device. There are more mobile phones in South Africa than taxis, televisions and radios combined. So considering the rise in popularity around the world, and factoring in South Africa’s access to mobile, should local marketers not be looking at optimising for voice search right now? How can they get ahead before the trend really arrives here?
What does the future hold?
While we wait patiently for the voice trend to reach our shores, the next question I’m really interested in, is how can voice search and voice assistants be integrated into other areas in order to enhance the human experience?
Just recently Isobar and iProspect, part of the Dentsu Aegis Network, worked in partnership with Amazon and Diageo to host an immersive voice experience at the Cannes Lions Festival last month, where Amazon’s Alexa played bartender for the day. With the use of taste and contextual triggers, Alexa was able to provide recommendations, suggest drink combinations and assist patrons with their orders.
Guests then received their drinks at their tables without having to leave the table or interrupt conversations.
The entire experience aimed to explore the possibilities of using voice technology to provide a heightened human experience. Most current data on voice search is based on searches done in the home, of course thanks to the trusty voice assistants from Google and Amazon. It is, however, yet to be seen how voice search can be used by marketers beyond the home. I feel there are many possibilities waiting to be explored. Can voice assistants help with public transport? Could your phone act as a virtual shopping assistant while you’re in store? What about voice assistants in an airport, at the gym, or in fast food restaurants? The potential is vast.
Forbes labelled 2017 as the year of voice search, and there’s no denying they’re definitely on to something. It will be interesting to see how the trend progresses in the coming years, and I’m looking forward to when it becomes more commonplace right here in South Africa. There are many questions still to be answered, and many avenues still to explore, but I have no doubt that the advancement of voice technology and voice search will a fascinating one.
Teagan van Rooyen is copywriter and content manager for Isobar SA
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