A Voice Assistant Investigation – BrightonSEO September 2018

Stuart Shaw 2 weeks ago

BrightonSEO is one of the largest SEO conferences taking place in the UK's marketing calendar, with a whole host of speakers and sessions on offer for everyone - from the seasoned SEO expert to the beginner.

As Head of Search and Strategy, I held a talk at this year’s September event, around Voice Search (our favourite subject)! Using our unique data from The State of Voice Search, we dove into the details of voice search: the past, the present and the future of the technology, and why it will be so important for brands.

Below you'll find the Slideshare and the transcript to accompany (we are just THAT nice!):

Presentation

Transcript

Welcome to those who have just arrived, and to thank you to those enduring numb bums from staying sat down following the previous talk. My name is Stuart Shaw and I’m the head of Search and Strategy at Zazzle Media. I’ve been kindly invited to talk to you all today about voice search, in a presentation I’ve titled “A Study in Speech” – The Voice Assistant Investigation.Well unsurprisingly this talk is broadly about voice search, it’s growth and how you, the companies you work for, or with can potentially benefit from it’s use…

Just by show of hands, who here has used voice search at least once? Keep your hands up if you use it a few times a week? Lastly keep your hands up if you use it almost everyday?

Now we've check the popularity level in the room, we'll cover the importance of voice, how to research it, optimising for it and some threats to effort. Lastly we’ll look to the future.

Before we kick off I thought I would share a little story with you all. When my son was five he asked me for some grapes, I know it’s a gripping story! Now my son has suspected high functioning autism, he’s no Rainman and in fact lost me a lot of money on blackjack over the years. He tends to simply take things too literally, for my wife and I it means our lives are spent really considering what we’re saying when we’re around him and it’s provided me at least with a real respect for the complexity of language. Anyway, my response to his request for grapes was simply “ you can if you want to” – rather flippant I’ll admit but I like to encourage that independence in him. Stay tuned to find out how that story ends.

Search really has come full circle – Who remembers the infamous Jeeves! I’m old enough to recollect those first commercially available computers, we began searching in near full sentences but over the years developed the ability to trim down these searches into keyword based commands aimed at sculpting the results to our needs. But now we’re moving back towards a more natural search process and intent is handled by the engine itself.

Voice has changed a lot too throughout the years. From Siri to Alexa, Google Assistant to Smart devices in our homes and more recently in our cars.

I’d be surprised if more than 10% of the room have avoided seeing this statistic. By around 2020, 50% of searches will be made with voice – it’s worth caveating that there is a strong likelihood that most of those voice searches will be informational and not commercial.

Some others stats to frame the importance of voice include the fact that 55% of teens and young adults use it on a daily basis. With adults this drops to 41% but it’s still quite high considering the age and limitations of the technology right now. There are over 24,000 registered Alexa Skills and that’s only going to increase. Lastly and one to keep an eye on in the January sales reports is that last Christmas over 16 million smart speakers were bought as presents.

We found the data around voice so intriguing that we conducted our own independent research. The survey was open to anyone with a voice assistant, and we questioned an array of individuals with a focus that naturally formed around young to middle aged adults. Around 45% were in the 25 – 35 age bracket.

80% of the initial responders happened to own a device in one form or another. Those that didn’t were worried about privacy, that they might never use it, some saw it as an unnecessary extravagance whilst others were waiting on a sale. These people who didn't use an assistant were then disqualified from the survey.

Those with assistants began their voice journey as recently as 2017/18, with many suggesting that this was due to the improvements in the technology. We also found a slight spike in 2013 due to the pickup around Siri. Most of the users found the devices to be effective and reliable with only a scant few suggesting it rarely or never worked.

The mobile assistant devices are mostly used in vehicles, kitchens and living rooms. I was ambivalent about 40 odd % car use, especially as someone who has attended vehicle collisions cause by mobile phone use and other distractions, in my days in the police force. But then is a mobile voice assistant any worse than a back seat driver, a child or a friend – one things for sure, the maps & directions are certainly more accurate than my wife.

All the stats and data we gathered, will be released very shortly so stay tuned to our blog for some free data to help you with any potential 2019 voice strategy you may have in the works.

Siloed data is useful but how does or has voice actually influenced Search?

It’s worth stating that whilst Google is a significant player in the voice search, Alexa and so by association – Bing, remains the most popular device.

Google & Bing are fast becoming answer engines and featured snippets are everywhere. They’ve changed the way we search for, and market products, reducing organic clicks by 37%. This is naturally a killer for attribution – how can you show ROI for awareness? It’s not easy.

So where does this leave us? Addicted to click through rate models and vying for traffic against PPC ads. We’ve climbed too high to turn back. To understand our next steps we need to do some simple segmented analysis, we need to understand the how, and the why.

Firstly – why is voice important? Well, conversation is the most natural way for consumers to engage with products. Voice releases the friction of traditional tech interaction, removing that barrier to use. Users are free to interact with your products and services in a more intimate way.

It’s also important because optimising for voice often results in snippets which can drive organic traffic increases beyond that of a regular search result – especially on mobile devices.

Secondly – why is voice so popular, or at least growing in popularity. Technology, accessibility, industry, innovation, ease of use, integration, speed of use. With the average human able to talk at 130words per minute against typing at 40wpm.

Now we’re predominantly using voice to ask questions, request tunes, enquire about the weather and news or use it as a PA for alarms and calendar events.

In retail, making a purchase is massively outweighed by our need to research products and services, adding items to shopping lists or tracking their delivery. We have to weigh this up with the functionality of these devices and perhaps more importantly – security around these purchase.

That’s a good blend of the why, the how and the what but we need to break this down further.

Let’s consider type of voice or as I call it the 3 C’s. Commands, Conversations and C-questions… look if I called it CCQ it wouldn’t have been as catchy – plus the name was already taken by the Commission of Construction in Quebec.

We’ll focus on questions, you as marketeers have to be everything right from amateur to expert. Supporting consumers in their journey for knowledge will mean you’re the top of their list in their purchasing journey too.

Keyword research plays a large part of that and aside from the names on screen there are approximately 12 million more companies offering similar services. If you walk away from today with only one piece of new information or tool it’s answer the public. Jot it down or make a mental note, it’s free and it’s fab. Now it’s by no means comprehensive but none of these tools really are.

To hit the whole room, I don’t want to force you to use a tool or provide you with my preference for paid platforms. Instead I want to focus on something you can scribble down on your notepad, take into work with you on Monday and slap your boss across the face with it. I refer to these as people powered tools. We have, Customer Services, Google’s Search Console and the Search Results themselves.

1. Customer Services - 'How can I help you today?'. That’s got to be the epitome of the search bar in spoken form, no? It’s an open door for users, passing through at times with curses… but always with questions. If it’s being asked in conversation it is, or it will be, searched for. Perhaps it relates to your brand specifically. Regardless, link up with you customer services team and use their precious interaction time with your customers to understand knowledge gaps that you can fill.

2. Search Console - Established brands who have dabbled in informational content will benefit from this approach most. Especially when backed up with queries & filters from Data Studio – there are talks this afternoon on data studio and it’s another free to use piece of kit that’s fantastic and doing what search console can’t (or won’t).

You can filter out blank queries, include just mobile searches and look for queries with more than 7 words as typically spoken searches are slightly more long tail. It’s not surefire, but it can provide some interesting results. We’re lucky enough to work with RAC who have a content hub designed to capture a huge amount of traffic and voice results.

Here’s an example when filtering GSC impressions by mobile search, over 6 words, an informational modifier (the who the what the how), and with the URL being on the drive directory. At the time of writing 6 of these create featured snippets on Google with RAC either ranking in the top 3 or capturing the answer box. In the example on screen for the query “is it illegal to drive barefoot” RAC have the snippet – starting …”here is the law in a nutshell”…

And actually, answering ‘in a nutshell’ is actually a really good way to think about it. You should be succinct, with most snippets and traffic coming from the sweet spot of 40-55 words.

3 Search Results! Lastly but by no means leastly – the search results themselves are a great source of data. Combine your informational seed searches with the extension ‘Keywords Everywhere’ to supercharge your results page. If you can trigger the people also ask box you can have a great time clicking to cause the box to grow and grow with similar searches. Take them all!

I know what some of you might be thinking, aside from the tools…

Isn’t this all informational keyword research? The short answer is Yes. The long answer is Yes – but with a twist, and that twist comes in the structure of content.

Headings for questions short paragraphs for answers is a good start, as can be dropdowns or accordions. Implementing the right schema can also help, as can using anchor links to the different sections of your page to promote a better experience for users and an even better sense of hierarchy for search engines.

It’s important to realise that not all snippets are the same. You can’t simply lob all your informational words together and pray that titles and paragraphs will hit the nail on the head every time.

Categorisation is key. Until videos are more prominently on the scene we have three options. Paragraphs, lists and tables. Certain keywords are likely to have different preference based on the intent of the user and your specific industry – your research should identify this to maximise chances of success.

In this information from GetStat, it’s clear that paragraphs are a pretty safe bet when considering ALL snippets. But for 'best' and 'how to' terms you’d be much safer creating elements that can be easily read as a list. That ‘best’ category is nearly 80% saturated by lists.

I hope that by now, you should now have a pretty good idea (when blended with your current KWR process) of how to find and categorise your voice keywords, not just by topic but also by the strategy you need to employ to ensure success.

It’s worth mentioning a few of the threats to effort. There is nothing worse than pouring energy into something only for an apex website to dominate your efforts. Voice is no different – take the time to assess your market for sites with dominance and box smart not hard. Go niche before you go big whilst you’re finding your feet. Interestingly Wikipedia’s share of snippets has decreased of late, but Quora is still going strong!

As if we didn’t have enough contend with! there is the potential that Apps may have a level of priority: depending on the OS. This isn’t a reason to avoid voice outright – just a consideration we all need to be aware of. Ultimately it’s unlikely that, save for niche subjects, Apps will be able to rival the data that Bing and Google have to hand.

I had a lot of questions when voice started to rear it’s ugly head, I’ve also found gaps in my knowledge that research has had to fill. As such I thought a few proactive answers might help.

Does speed help? Yes, speed is important both for mobile rankings and for voice – typically a voice result will have a TTFB 4 x faster than the webpage average according to Backlinko’s research.

Do I need a separate page for each wording? This is cutting edge technology, for the most part it can work out that you meant specific when you said pacific. In fact in a recent study only 1.71% of voice results had the exact keyword in the title tag.

Do you need to rank first? We’ve been chasing rankings for years and a little box isn’t going to change that… yet. Ranking in the top 5 increases your chances being a snippet. 97% of snippets are from pages with a top 5 organic rank.

We’ve covered a lot today and the talks either side of me will likely do the same. There are hundreds of sites talking about this tech, read and learn as much as you can before formulating that killer strategy.

Right before I leave you. I wanted to discuss the future, some say it’s bleak some say… it’s orange. But what we can be sure of is that it’s coming and with it – a new array of challenges.

AI is bringing us conversations. I hope you’ve all seen the video of the AI booking a reservation for a hair cut? Incredible.

Next, voice results have to be monetised at some point – after all PPC isn’t just going to take a hit – that’s Google & Bings revenue right there!

Lastly there will be more answers, more questions, greater precision. You might be interested to know that over 5,000 people work on voice at Amazon alone.

We saw this slide earlier and the very end is (for me) the most interesting. People use their devices in living rooms and kitchens but also in their vehicles. New models of cars, TV's, fridges etc are all becoming smart. Voice is growing due is accessibility, but for the technoholics out there – they’ll be looking at voice becoming an inescapability. And soon no matter where you go – something is listening.

Before I leave, I suppose it’s only fair if I conclude my story. So, my son has asked (politely) for some grapes to which I have responded – you can have some if you want to. Pop your hand up if you know the answer to this question and to avoid any bias Jennifer from the Brighton team will  pick out the person who is fastest on the draw.

So... hands at the ready... how many grapes did my son come back with?

That’s right. 2. A very literal request. Ah…more for me anyway!

Thank you all for your attention and if you have any extra questions after the next talk I will be milling around near the Zazzle stand downstairs.

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