Microphones are integrated into all manner of modern everyday devices: mobile phones, smart speakers, and even our cars. The ability to talk to our devices has fundamentally changed the way that many people communicate and interact with online services. Why fumble at a keypad when you can use voice search to ask your query out loud in a fraction of the time?
Studies estimate that 35% of the US population owns a smart speaker in 2022 and 85% of Americans own a smartphone. Sales of smart speakers were immense between 2017 and 2019 before eventually slowing down, but sales conducted using voice search are still steadily increasing. A study by Juniper Research posits that e-commerce transaction values via voice assistants will rise from $4.6 billion in 2021 to $19.4 billion by 2023. It’s estimated that 62% of American adults use voice technology on their smartphones and smart speakers, with 58% of them using voice commands daily. More and more people are transitioning from simply asking Google to find an address to using voice search to buy everyday items.
How Is Voice Search Different than Traditional Search?
The complexities of voice search differ depending on what type of device you are using. Many apps on your phone will allow you to simply speak into the microphone and your voice will be instantly transcribed, letting you find a nearby gas station hands-free while you are driving or quickly translate a phrase while traveling in a foreign country.
When using a smart speaker equipped with a digital assistant, like an Amazon Echo with Alexa, the voice search function becomes a bit more of a conversation. There are myriad ways to interact with a digital assistant, including asking questions (“Alexa, what is the state flower of Washington?”), simple commands (“Alexa, play Beyoncé on Spotify.”), or shopping (“Alexa, reorder dishwasher detergent from Amazon.”). When you ask your digital assistant questions, it responds to you as a human would, using full sentences.
While Amazon is happy to let you use their digital assistant to amass trivial knowledge about state flowers, what they really want is for you to use their smart speaker to buy products. About a third of “avid online shoppers” use voice functions to buy something at least once a month, and those who do spend an average of $136 more monthly than people who shop online the old-fashioned way with pointing and clicking.
What Are Shoppers Buying with Voice Search?
The top category that consumers purchase with voice search is groceries, with 48% of those shopping with digital assistants using voice commands to restock their fridges and pantries. Other popular categories for voice shoppers are toiletries and beauty at 38%, home essentials at 36%, clothing at 30%, and pet supplies at 24%.
Unsurprisingly, the top items that customers feel comfortable ordering with voice commands are largely items that they have already purchased in the past and are simply buying again. Especially in situations where a digital assistant like Alexa is directly linked to an Amazon account, reordering everyday items using voice commands is practically effortless.
Voice search is also very popular for researching new products. Asking a digital assistant questions about an item is on some level similar to visiting a brick-and-mortar store and striking up a conversation with a sales associate, with the added bonus of not having to leave your house. But many shoppers are still simply not comfortable enough to complete a transaction for a new product entirely with a smart speaker, and will use a digital assistant merely to learn about an item before completing the purchase on a different device with a screen.
How Should Brands Adjust Ad Campaigns and Content Keywords for Voice Search?
Figuring out how to make the sales process as seamless as possible between voice search and conversion is a big task for e-commerce brands. The goal is to ensure that voice assistant platforms create a user experience so seamless that transactions are carried out via the voice platforms themselves rather than requiring additional devices.
Understanding how voice search users speak to digital assistants in comparison to traditional text search is essential. Usually, voice searchers speak to their digital assistant in proper sentences, whereas they may only type in a few vital words while searching with a keyboard. Brands looking up voice search keywords need to use conversational language in order to contend for the top voice search spots. The majority of voice searches are conversational, so voice search keywords need to sound as if a human is saying them.
Similarly, long-tail keywords are significantly more important in voice search than they are in traditional text search. Long-tail keywords consist of three or more words in a search term, while short-tail keywords are only one or two. Long-tail keywords target broader concepts and user intents, like asking for ways to cook with and take care of a cast iron pan instead of simply seeking to purchase one. Because they are more nuanced than short-tail keywords, long-tail keywords generally have a lower search volume, competition rate, and cost-per-click.
Since the majority of voice search is the asking of a simple question, these words become essential to long-tail keyword strategies:
- Who, what, when, where, why, how, which
- Can, could, should, would
- Is, are, was, will
- Do, does, have
So, if your company sells scour pads that clean cast iron pans, you would definitely want to focus on long-tail keyword phrases like, “How do I clean a cast iron pan?”
Understanding all the ways potential customers might search for your products using simple questions and conversational language is the key to discoverability with voice search. When combined with negative keywords and smart, targeted ad copy, you can be sure potential customers are finding your products no matter how they search. And while many customers may not yet be comfortable enough using their smart speaker to finish the sale, a strategic omnichannel approach that allows them to begin the process on one device and finish seamlessly with another is key to adapting to current trends.