Voice search holds a great deal of promise for the future of eCommerce. In an already-rapidly evolving industry, voice search technology has added yet another development for eCommerce leaders to get excited about — or be confounded by.
In this guide, we hope to separate the hype from the actionable insight.
The Rapid Growth of Voice Search
A study from NPR and Edison Report shows that already 21 percent of Americans own at least one smart speaker. Heather Pemberton Levy at Gartner forecasts that 30 percent of web browsing sessions will occur without a screen by 2020.
At an industry level, this translates to some impressive numbers: The voice search market is expected to jump from $2 billion in 2018 to $40 billion in 2022, according to management consultancy OC&C Strategy.
Voice search is here to stay, and for good reason. Voice search is all about improving the UX for the customer. Writing at Econsultancy, tech enthusiast Rebecca Sentance points out that we expect machines to respond like humans and get frustrated when they don’t. Making voice search a seamless part of your store is a great way to meet — and exceed — customer expectations.
Voice search is heralded as the future of eCommerce, Sentance writes, because speaking is intuitively easier than typing. That’s why Advantix Digital COO Amine Bentahar writes that voice search “can make online shopping easier and more personalized by curating recommendations and search results more easily to the individual user.”
But what can eCommerce brands do to meet that future?
Optimizing Your Store for Voice: It’s All About Content
We cannot talk about optimizing for voice without talking SEO.
Derek Gleason, content lead at ConversionXL, points out that like Google’s Featured Snippets, voice search is often a “winner-take-all scenario.” Nearly half of the time, search responses from voice assistants mirror the Featured Snippet content that comes back on mobile and desktop results. Seventy-five percent of the time, responses to voice search queries are taken from the first three search results.
The voice search’s “emphasis on featured snippets suggests a narrowing of opportunity,” Gleason concludes. “Only the top result reaches consumers for two of every five queries, and few outside the top five ever earn airtime.”
Know What Your Customers Are Looking For
With that in mind, eCommerce managers would do well to double down on their SEO efforts if they intend to make voice search a key traffic source. More specifically, aim to get your content recognized as Featured Snippets. Danny Sullivan, public liaison for search at Google, puts it in straightforward terms: Featured Snippets are “especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.”
With those efforts, your content marketing efforts should go toward creating relevant, informative content. It’s unlikely that call-to-action-oriented copy on your landing page will translate into a useful answer to a potential customer’s query. Instead, eCommerce stores should consider expanding their content strategy to include niche guides, longform blog posts and similarly substantial pieces of content.
Turn Keywords Into Questions
Let’s put this into practice. Answer the Public has a nice tool that turns a single search term into dozens of relevant questions. Enter “jewelry,” and the tool spits out 195 question-oriented long tail keywords to form your content around:
- Why jewelry turns green
- How to clean jewelry
- What jewelry is popular now
With those literal queries in mind, a jewelry brand could begin to create fresh content that speaks directly to shopper intents.
And don’t get too hung up on optimizing for specific keywords when creating a voice search optimization strategy, warns Andrea Volpini, CEO of WordLift. “The competition is no longer on targeting a specific keyword but rather becomes about being relevant for a specific topic,” Volpini writes.
In other words, creating high-quality content around topics is just as important as targeting specific keywords as far as voice search is concerned.
Keep It Natural
Bringing this level of natural language and contextualization may be the most important element of voice search for eCommerce — and the least intuitive for many marketers.
“For years, digital and search has forced copywriters to evolve from pithy, show stopping copy from old-school print ads to more conversation, plainspeak that’s become more common online,” content strategist Alex Sheehan tells Scalefast.
“This is only getting more important with voice search. This move towards practicality means copywriters must get more creative — not necessarily in terms of outside-the-box thinking, but in terms of contextual thinking. How can I string together words that make sense both online and heard through an audio device? The creativity comes from understanding how to accommodate all mediums simultaneously, without sacrificing the user experience or the message.”
The takeaway here: Optimizing your store for voice search is less about technical prowess or newfangled tools, and more about meeting customers where (and how) they are searching.
The Global Implications of Voice for eCommerce
Conversations about natural language processing and semantic voice search bring up an important question for brands that sell internationally: How well does this scale across different languages and countries? As Nico Hoeijmans at Cross-Border Magazine points out, “User behaviour and search intent differs significantly across culture, country, language and now voice.”
For starters, it’s a matter of knowing where to focus your efforts. Nicola Winters, head of international SEO at Search Laboratory, goes into detail about how Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple Homepod perform in a handful of European markets (most where English isn’t users’ first language). Google Home leads the way both for market penetration and accuracy for local search. “Google Assistant appears to be the most reliable across all markets, but the problems lie in shopping and local queries,” Winters writes.
In other words, her findings support the notion of focusing on topics and questions over product keywords for Google’s SERPs — at least until Bing (the search engine that powers both Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana) catches up to the complexities of other languages.
Tailoring your content for international markets is then a matter of understanding user intent and keeping the conversational tone for your content in other languages.
In their report on international voice search, Moravia’s Ed Hartigan and Oban International’s Emily Mace confirm much of this insight: “Apart from Alexa ordering from Amazon, eCommerce isn’t there yet.”
In other words, don’t try to optimize your product pages for international voice search. Not yet, anyway. Instead, focus on creating conversational content in the local language. Hartigan and Mace write that it’s better to focus on “naturally written local language content” than to focus on short-tail, product-oriented keywords.
Voice Search: Now and in the Future
Objections to voice search for eCommerce abound. For example, Alexa and her medium, the Echo, only offer product listings on (surprise) the Amazon platform. But that doesn’t mean voice search leaves eCommerce without opportunity. Voice search is a great medium for eCommerce brands to explore new ways of connecting with customers.
Meghan Burton, director of SEO at Epiphany, puts it more specifically: “Look at the user journey customers are taking – what search queries are they using early and late in the purchase process, and what content is helping them answer these queries?” If voice search is about improving UX, you want to be at the bleeding edge.
Outside of this content approach, what is there to do? “Be prepared and keep your ear to the ground,” writes Colm O’Sullivan at Agora Integrated Marketing. “For now this benefit may seem secondary, but as Voice Search becomes more prominent, you’ll be glad that you acted with some foresight.”
Think about where mobile was in 2010. And now think about where it is today. Voice search could follow a similar trajectory — but at a much higher velocity. Make sure you’re on board.