We’ve all heard the prediction that by 2020 50% of all searches will be voice searches. But what does this mean for eCommerce? It’s fair to say that voice search is changing online shopping. In fact a recent report by OC&C Strategy Consultants states that voice commerce sales reached $1.8 million in 2017 and this figure is set to increase year-on-year, and will hit 40 billion by 2022. We’re strong believers that if you’re not evolving you’ll get left behind, so if you run an eCommerce business it’s time to ride the voice search wave. Keep reading if you want to learn what voice search is, how it works, its advantages and disadvantages, and how you can optimise your website for voice search.
What is Voice Search?
Put simply, voice search offers an alternative way of purchasing products that doesn’t require a keyboard and mouse. Voice search is slowly becoming the norm, in the same way that for today’s children touch screen mobiles are the norm.
There are two main forms: smart devices and smart speakers. Nowadays, Apple and Android smart devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, offer voice search by default through Siri and Google Assistant. More than 5 billion people carry around smartphones so this category accounts for a lot of people! With regard to smart speakers, however, the market is pretty much dominated by Amazon’s Echo devices, with more than 6.3 million being sold during the third quarter of 2018 alone. Other alternatives include Google Home, Apple HomePod, Alibaba Tmall Genie and Microsoft Cortana.
How Does Voice Search Work?
Most devices work using the Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system, which consists of three stages. Firstly, the device or speaker listens to somebody speaker by filtering their voice from other background noises. This voice signal is then translated into text, this stage is called digitizing. Lastly, the text query compared to other queries in the database and is submitted to the search engine. This process enables Google’s speech recognition to become more and more accurate, as the technology becomes acclimatised to different accents, intonations and other individual speech differences. This explains why Google’s speech recognition error rates stood at 20% in 2014 but have since dropped to under 5%.
On Amazon this process is slightly different – the technology works the same way but Alexa only searches Amazon. Firstly it will check a shoppers stored buying history and suggest products based on past user data. If there are no similar previous requests then Amazon selects Amazon Choice products. Alexa will announce the product price and ask if the shopper would like to buy. So it’s easy to understand why these large establishments are jumping on the voice search trend, because it’s a good way of increasing sales.
Advantages of Voice Search
There has to be a reason why voice search has boomed in the past couple of years. Here’s just some advantages of the technology:
- It’s hands-free – Amazons voice technology is activated by using the command ‘Alexa’ and Google’s alternative goes by ‘Hey Google’ which means, unlike using a mobile phone or desktop computer, there’s no need for physical contact. This is beneficial to lots of people in lots of situations – for instance those with physical disabilities, drivers and busy parents who are constantly on-the-go to name but a few.
- It’s speedy – which is quicker: picking up your phone, unlocking it, opening your web browser, typing and entering a query, waiting for the results to load, selecting the most relevant result, waiting for that page to load and then reading the page to find your answer OR saying “hey google, what’s the weather like today?” and getting an answer within 5 seconds? This one speaks for itself. For answers with a definitive, relatively straightforward answer voice search is always going to come out on top.
- It’s good for commodity products – for repeat purchases, or products that don’t require prior research voice search offers a quick solution. Run out of dishwasher tablets? Ask Alexa to order some more and if you’re a prime member it could be at your house within an hour. So it makes sense why statistics show that 20% of voice search purchases are grocery items.
- It can enhance security – voice search enables people to checkout their shopping using just their voice. As well as being completely unique, a person’s voiceprint is almost impossible to hack, so this biometric can be used as an online payment verification method.
- They enable personalisation – as users increasingly use voice assistants, their digital footprint will expand. The upshot of this is that the algorithm will gather valuable data about the user such as gender, age and location which can then be used to increase the relevance of future communication.
Disadvantages of Voice Search
It’s not all sunshines and rainbows though. As with most technologies there is a percentage of people who refuse to integrate voice search into their lives. For this reason it’s important that you don’t focus all of your efforts on marketing for voice technology, rather it should be one component of the marketing mix. Other disadvantages include:
- Inaccuracy – voice search is still in its infancy and still has a long way to go. Although it works well in English, the same cannot be said for other languages. Some languages are unsupported, or not comprehensive enough to be usable in an eCommerce scenario. However, the rising popularity has prompted Google to add more languages, including Swahili and Amharic, which are two of the most popular African languages.
- User skepticism – there is a growing body of people who believe that voice activated devices are constantly switched on and listening to us. I like to think of this as the Black Mirror effect. These people believe they are used by higher authorities such as the government to spy on us and keep us in check. Research suggests that 36% of people are worried about voice search, which means that approximately 1/3rd of the population are likely to be unreceptive to the technology.
- Lack of security – since voice technology is constantly growing and trying to become more accurate, it constantly stores and saves users data. Whilst this is probably harmless, if you’re worried about your data being sold commercially then maybe voice technology isn’t the best option for you.
- Not suitable for certain industries – if a user is about to spend a large amount of money on an item they are unlikely to simply trust Alexa’s recommendation. For complex and expensive items users want more information than just the name, price and how quickly it will arrive. What’s more if users are having to conduct their own research they will use a mobile or computer to do this. Once they’ve done their research they aren’t going to move back to their voice activated devices to order the product, they are probably just going to add it to their basket and crack on with it.
How to Optimise Your eCommerce Website for Voice Search
If you’ve got this far and decided to embrace voice search there’s a few ways you can go about optimising your website. Here are our top tips:
- Encrypt your website – Google prioritises secure websites so you’ll appear higher in search results if you move your website to HTTPS. To do this all you need to do is purchase an SSL certificate. If your website is built on WordPress this process is made easy using the Super Simple SSL plugin, which we wrote about in this blog post.
- Page Speed – Upon receiving a voice query devices are looking for a quick answer to relay to users. If your website is slow to load then the AI system will just move on to a different website. Website speed can be improved by compressing images, minimising HTTP addresses and choosing suitable hosting. Did you know that 70.4% of Google Home result pages are secured with HTTPS?
- Featured Snippets – most of the time voice technology will use featured snippets of websites to answer queries. Featured Snippets are those that appear at the top of the SERPs and around 30% of Google search queries contain one. Therefore, it’s a good idea to focus on making content that is high enough quality to be featured.
- Keyword research – put simply, voice searches are different to standard typed web searches. This is because people use natural language patterns so whilst it may be tempting to use sophisticated language that sounds all professional, in reality this probably isn’t going to get you far. Voice searches tend to have more words than normal searches, so a 3 or 4 word query is likely to become ‘Where is the cheapest Italian restaurant in Manchester?’ for instance.
- Local Searches – The Internet Trends Report 2016 found that 22% of people use voice search to find local information so it’s worth adding ‘near me’ to your title tags and meta description. Likewise, setting up a Google My Business page will help customers to locate you.
- Focus on your content strategy – since most voice searches are questions, we recommend using a resource such as answerthepublic.com to find the top “where”, “how”, “why”, and “what” questions related to your industry. These can then be turned into long-form content such as blog posts, infographics and guides. You might even want to include them in an FAQ page on your website. To put this into perspective, research shows that the average word count of a voice search page is 2,312 words.
- Be active on social media – there’s two reasons behind this. Firstly, the average voice search result has 1,199 Facebook shares and 44 Tweets which shows that content with high levels of social engagement tends to perform better with voice search. Secondly, if your industry is over-saturated getting found within voice search results will be difficult. As you become less Googleable, being more active on social can fill this void and generate more custom.
- Custom commands – if you want to expand the capabilities of your customers voice assistants in order to specifically benefit your website and content, you might want to consider creating custom actions/skills for Google and Amazon Alexa devices. Content-based actions work best, consider linking your visitors to your latest blog post, or podcast series?
How to Optimise Amazon Listings for Voice Search
As we’ve already discussed, Alexa solely searches Amazon for product recommendations. Beyond this, most of Alexa’s suggestions are Amazon Choice products. There’s not much insight into how Amazon selects choice products, but it’s fair to assume that product ratings, sales volume and shipping speed are all influencing factors. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to sell more on Amazon, watch our webinar with Prabhat Shah.
If you’ve got this far and are still interested in optimising your eCommerce website for voice search but you’re unsure on where to start, get in touch! This is something we’d love to help you with.