We all prefer the easiest, most straightforward way to get the information we need. For an increasing number of people, that means getting help by talking into a phone or smart speaker rather than sitting down to type. In fact, 25% of people in the US, UK and Canada believe voice search will become the new standard in the next five years, thanks to a steep rise in voice-activated technology.
But AI-powered “voice assistants” haven’t only taken off in the West. They’re already the standard in emerging markets like China and Africa where younger, mobile-first demographics skipped right over traditional desktop use and have only ever known smart phones.
Naturally, many global companies have been quick to jump on opportunities to optimize their content for voice search for fear of getting left behind. For some businesses, this makes absolute sense, and for others, it depends. You’ll need to assess the latest voice search trends before deciding whether it’s worth your investment.
Let’s explore the voice search landscape, global players and what it all means for your business.
What’s all the hype about?
When smart speakers exploded onto the scene about four years ago, they dominated the West for a time. But last year, something interesting happened: Chinese companies started to catch up fast.
China had zero market share in Q2 2017. By Q2 2018, there was hardly any difference between the US and China in the rate of voice search adoption. In fact, China accounted for 52% of Q2 growth. That’s how fast adoption has spread.
Will other markets adopt as quickly?
Let’s take a look at more data points on the prominence of voice search on assistants and smart speakers. According to Google:
- Almost 70% of requests to Google Assistant are expressed in spoken natural language rather than keywords.
- 53% of people who own a voice-activated speaker said it feels natural talking to it.
- 62% of people who use a smart speaker regularly say they are likely to use it to buy something in the next month.
Notice the trend? It all comes down to what feels natural and convenient to users. And the reason voice search feels natural is that speech recognition actually works. Today, the speech recognition error rate is only 8%—and as it continues to improve, experts predict voice search will only become more popular.
In terms of how consumers interact with voice-activated machines, smart speakers are only the beginning. Voice assistants are increasingly available in cars, household appliances and more devices across the internet of things (IoT), indicating consumers’ increased comfort with the technology.
It can be difficult to keep up with all the latest smart devices people are using, but it’s important to mention the big players because each has a different search engine behind it (either they own one or have partnered with one to deliver the results you hear). You need to know which search engines to optimize for, of course, so I’ll bring you up to speed with the corresponding devices.
The big players in voice-related products
Amazon and Google hold the greatest market share by far for voice-related products, but they aren’t the only ones to watch now that other players have taken their innovations global.
The biggest search engines in the world are Google, Bing (from Microsoft), Yandex (in Russia), Baidu (in China) and Naver (in Korea)—brands that also happen to be leading the way in the voice-activated device space. See the table below for a quick overview of the smart speakers and displays launched so far and the search engines and voice assistants powering them.
|Player||Voice assistant||What’s feeding the voice?||Flagship voice product||Growth|
|Amazon||Alexa||Bing||Amazon Echo||By 2016, Alexa devices became the best-selling products on Amazon.com.|
|Google Assistant||Google Home||Google Assistant is now available on more than 400 million devices across the IoT.|
|Apple||Siri||Google (used to be Bing)||HomePod||By 2017, Siri was available on 375 million devices. This January, Apple Siri devices (including phones and Homepods) topped 500 million.|
|Microsoft||Cortana||Bing||Invoke (in collaboration with Harman Kardon)||Cortana is available on 400 million devices, now including Windows 10 PCs.|
|Baidu||DuerOS||Baidu||Raven H||As of August this year, the DuerOS voice assistant is now installed on 150 million devices, including 100 brands of home appliances.|
|Yandex||Alice||Yandex||Yandex Station||Alice and Yandex Station remain the only voice-activated technologies for the Russian market, with the monopoly over 144 million consumers.|
|Naver||Clova||Naver||Wave||Clova can now translate from Korean to English, Japanese and Chinese, a capability that isn’t available with other Korean voice assistants.|
What does this all mean for your business?
According to RWS Moravia’s International Search SME Hinde Lamrani, before optimizing your content for voice search—in other words, increasing the chances that voice assistants suggest your content to end-users—consider whether voice search fits your vertical and unique brand opportunities. And more specifically, consider these questions:
- Will it suffice to optimize your existing content for voice queries? The voice assistant doesn’t always read out top-ranking information from the search results; it can also recommend a skill or action if it’s relevant to the user’s voice query. This means you might need to create a skill and/or action for your business using developer skills platforms like Alexa Skills Kit. Examples include making appointments or purchasing items from your app or website.
- Does it make sense for your brand? Will it help your customers? Search engines are continuously learning how to better serve results to each user based on what they know about them. Businesses need to use that to their advantage.
For example, one of the most common voice search terms people use is “near me.” Location optimization is a fast path to customers for businesses that offer services in multiple locations (such hotel chains) and for small local businesses (such as restaurants and hairdressers). And the benefits of voice search for B2C companies are clear, considering it’s popular for ordering goods (pizza chain Domino’s pioneered this with its ordering assistant, Dom). Yet there are opportunities to offer voice assistance in B2B too, particularly in customer service.
Of course, the best way to find out if voice search feels natural to your customers is to ask—perhaps through focus groups or online surveys.
If voice assistants can provide your customers a hassle-free experience, it’s clear from all the data above that you need to hop on the train right now. Voice search is growing—and it’s also organic. I’m willing to bet it won’t be long before search engines start pushing ads for voice search like they did for traditional search, and voice assistants suggest ads before content that ranks organically. We might as well take advantage of this opportunity while it’s free.
Earlier this year, we held a webinar that’s worth watching to learn more about how voice search works and how to optimize for it. Check out the recording to get a better sense of where your business fits into the growing voice search landscape—because chances are, you’re already missing out.
(For more, see an extensive list of statistics about voice search here.)