Want to view photos from a recent trip? Android users can ask Google to show them their vacation pics. Researching flights? Just ask Google on your phone, and don’t hesitate to offer follow-up questions to filter nonstop flights or early morning departures. Need a wake-up call? Tell Google to wake you up at 7:00 a.m.
Google will even snap your selfie at your simple command: “Take a selfie.”
“Talk to the Google app as naturally as you would if it were human—it’s designed to understand conversation that way,” says Steve Cheng, Google’s director of product management.
Although we’ve been able to talk to Siri, Google, and any number of other devices for years, this increasingly human-like interaction is striking. Smarter speech recognition makes life easier for users; instead of typing or tapping our search queries, it’s quicker to use our voices in natural, conversational language.
But for content marketers, voice search presents a tectonic shift in how people search for and discover content. As more and more people use the feature, marketers will have to do a serious rethink on how they optimize content.
More people than you’d think talk to their phones regularly. More than half of teens use voice search daily; 41 percent of adults talk to their phones every day, Google reports. By 2019, the voice recognition market will be a $601 million industry, according to a report from Technavio.
It helps that speech recognition has improved vastly in a short time. Google reported word error rates of just 8 percent in April 2015, down from 25 percent a few years prior, USA Today reported.
The shift to voice search has also led to changes in how Google displays search results. Google voice searches on mobile devices are more likely to generate direct answers—larger, more noticeable text displayed directly on top of search results listings. As a bonus, the source and text is read aloud to the user.
There’s a reason for this. Presumably, people executing a voice search on a mobile phone want to get information faster, without having to click on links to learn more. Content that delivers the answers users want in the fastest way possible is the winner on mobile.
The rise of voice search means the SEO game is changing. Searchers will still use keywords as part of their searches, but those keywords will be embedded in more natural language. Instead of typing “content marketing trends,” a user might use voice search to ask, “What are the 2016 top content marketing trends?”
So, instead of structuring content around keywords, content marketers must start structuring content around the natural-language questions users might be asking their devices—particularly questions that begin with who, what, where, why or how. According to a nifty analysis on Search Engine Watch, search queries with those open-ended question words are on the rise:
As brands brainstorm the open-ended questions driving users to their content, they should also think more deeply about user intent throughout the search journey. What types of questions are potential consumers asking about the industry? Do different buyer profiles ask different questions? What other tools can marketers draw upon to better understand their audience—and how they search?
With that understanding in place, content marketers can begin to think about structuring their content in a way that’s clear and concise and easily digestible on a mobile device.
Finally, companies must be sure that their localized content is optimized, too. Common Google voice searches begin with “where” or end with “near me.” Companies need to make sure their local information structured appropriately on their own site as well as portrayed accurately on other business review sites like Yelp. If Google can’t connect your business with the user’s local context, it won’t make it to the search results.
As voice and speech recognition improve, expect users to convert search methods that don’t require typing or tapping. The more that brands can think naturally, and consider content in context of natural speech and intent, the more nimbly they can adapt to this changing context.
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