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‘Hey Cortana’: The meteoric rise of voice search technology

 ‘Hey Cortana’: The meteoric rise of voice search technology
While voice-initiated search currently makes up about 20% of mobile queries — most of which include directions, locations, news and weather — research shows that it’s a technology set to skyrocket over the next five years, ultimately becoming as normal as sending a text message. With giants like Burger King, Domino’s and Esteé Lauder having already claimed an early stake in the space with innovative marketing campaigns, a growing number of brands are now looking to also align themselves with the public by upping their own creative ante and taking full advantage of the rise in voice assistant tech.

The rise and rise of voice

Because, increasingly, it’s where the consumers are. According to a 2019 whitepaper from BrandContent, over 22% of UK adults use voice search between three to five times a day and, interestingly, it is the older generation leading the way. “More than two-thirds of adults aged 45-54 understand what voice search is, while less than half (44%) aged 18-24 know what it is,” the report states. Additionally, 41% reported spending at least half an hour a day using voice search, with two-fifths searching for local restaurants, one in five checking the news and weather, and a third of the over-65 age group planning traffic routes.

Leaders of the pack

But while the research presents interesting facts and figures, it doesn’t really reveal any new insights, according to Nikki Lam of Power Digital Marketing. In fact, the rise of voice assistants has only confirmed what marketers knew all along — consumers want access to high quality products and services as quickly and as easily as possible. “Whether it's restocking their laundry detergent, finding healthy recipes, or comparing pricing on shoes, consumers are favouring brands that nail speed, convenience and quality experiences.” And the fast food industry was one of the first to take notice of it.
 
Launching its first skill in 2017, Domino’s allowed users with Dot and Echo devices to interact with the brand’s mascot named ‘Dom’ who responded to questions in fun and interesting ways to help establish a connection between the customer and the digital assistant. And all at the push of a button, from the comfort of one’s sofa. Fellow fast-food restaurant Burger King were hot on Domino’s trail that same year, thanks to a viral campaign caused by Google Home’s inability to tell the difference between a consumer’s voice and the television audio. When the voice in the advert said ‘Okay Google, what is the Whopper Burger?,’ the clever marketing stunt activated Google Home devices to tell listeners about Burger King’s Whopper burger.
 
The pet food industry also got onboard, with Purina leading the way with its ‘Ask Purina’ Alexa skill. While asking questions like ‘Tell me about dogs that are hypoallergenic,’ Purina is “getting involved in people’s lives at the point when they’re deciding which type of dog to adopt, solidifying itself as the de facto provider of pet food and supplies before families have had an opportunity to consider any other brands,” writes Stephanie Miles on digital commerce site StreetFight. Likewise, LEGO’s Alexa skill ‘Duplo Stories’ provides interactive storytelling experiences to children aged 3-5, forming a strong consumer bond early on while teaching kids skills like building, exploring, numbers, colours and speech.
 
Global makeup and skincare company Esteé Lauder also joins the ranks of brands taking an innovative approach to voice search with its expert assistant ‘Liv’ who answers beauty-related and skincare routine-based questions. Instead of sifting through thousands of traditional web search results, Liv provides consumers with a single targeted answer and frequently suggests relevant Esteé Lauder products. Similarly, Johnnie Walker uses an Alexa skill to personalise the consumer experience by explaining its signature beverage and enabling users to find the right whiskey for their taste. After asking a list of questions about the customer’s preferences, Johnnie Walker recommends a suitable, tailored blend.
 
But it’s not just about engaging with existing customers — some brands are using voice search to acquire future clientele too. Financial company UKMortgages have developed an Alexa skill that poses a few short questions to consumers to establish the amount of money they want to borrow, the value of the property they want to purchase and whether they’re a first-time buyer or looking to re-mortgage. The skill then provides search results of 10,000 mortgages, tailored individual products and contact details of local mortgage brokers to help with applications. “A virtual door has opened,” says Lam. “These voice interactions are moulding branding into a set of interactive experiences that consumers are happily opting into.”

If you build it (right), they will come   

But first you’ve got to nail the basics. According to SEO expert Brian Dean of Backlinko, “Many factors for performance in text and voice are consistent — strong domains, fast sites and long-form content.” Having identified the key voice search ranking factors in a study of 10,000 Google Home results, Dean found that Google, for example, “prefers short, concise answers to voice search queries. The typical voice search result is only 29 words in length. Appearing in a featured snippet may help you rank in voice search as 40.7% of all voice search answers came from a featured snippet.”
 
Using natural language is also advised because voice queries are typically longer than text queries, therefore, aligning with normal language patterns creates a tighter match between a voice query and page contents. “Simple, easy-to-read content may help with voice search SEO — the average voice search result is written at a ninth grade level.” Research shows that page speed plays a huge role, too. “The average voice search result page loads in 4.6 seconds, 52% faster than the average page.” Content with high levels of social engagement also tends to perform better in voice search, with the average result having 1,199 Facebook shares and 44 Tweets.

The future is now

According to comScore, 50 percent of all searches will be done by voice by 2020, and if that’s still not convincing of things to come, current sales figures of voice assistants speak volumes of the growing consumer interest in these devices. Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa totalled at around £3.5 billion in 2017, with sales forecast to continue skyrocketing to over £23 billion by 2024, according to BrandContent. Alexa, Siri and Cortana are set to become the main gateway between customers and brands in the next few years — the ball is now in our court to take full advantage of one of the greatest opportunities in digital marketing.