Voice search is, as I’m sure you know by now, the topic that has raised the most eyebrows in recent time for SEOs.

Because of its rapid progression, it’s become less of a ‘when it happens’ and more of a ‘it’s happening now and you either react to it or become a distant memory forgotten by the world of search’.

It’s a reality echoed throughout the industry.

But, with change, comes opportunity. Opportunity to close the gap between businesses and consumers in a natural, conversational way that aims to satisfy user intent with greater efficiency which has never before been achieved.

The aim of this blog post is to explore how industries can cater for this shift in landscape, but to also offer an insight into largely saturated industries who we believe will benefit the most, in a world where voice is king.

How has voice search changed consumer behaviour?

Five years ago, the answer to this question would have been very different.

Search was predominantly ruled by desktop traffic. Users would interact with search results in awareness phases: I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go moments.

However, consumer behaviour is now very much in-the-moment thanks to the growth in mobile traffic. At Zazzle, our State of Voice Search 2018 survey indicated that ‘search for answers’ is one of the top uses of voice search. So, users who now search with voice are showing a much stronger indication of intent which doesn’t fall into the standard awareness stage remit.

For example, a desktop user may search for ‘carpet cleaners’, leaving Google to interpret what they’re looking for. However, a mobile user asking a voice assistant ‘where can I find reliable carpet cleaners near me?’ or ‘what is the best home carpet cleaner?’, naturally eliminates a level of ambiguity within search.

But, greater intent means sites now have to be proactive enough with their research, to capture the potential dialogue between voice assistant and user.

Are brands reacting to voice search properly?

The short answer is: not really.

Sure, there are brands who have reacted to the revolution and developed specifically purposed Alexa skills to at least capture a small percentage of this new user behaviour.

But… as voice search can be with and without a visual interface, you need to consider UI in a completely new dimension, as well as your usual interface.

If the shift really is moving towards a world where interactions are made without users needing to touch a screen, brands need to consider how they can create a voice user interface which offers a truly personal and uninterrupted experience.

Just like landing pages are designed to encourage users to click-through, voice search needs to become more of a reliable friend than an assistant.

To successfully achieve this, there needs to be a clear understanding of where users are likely to interact with brands as they progress through their journey.

Brands will now need to focus on:

  • Keywords (or phrases) which are likely to lead to an interaction (where can I, tell me where, tell me how, how can I find, what is).
  • Considerations of what question the user may ask next.
  • Potential dialogues which the user and voice assistant may engage in. This helps imagine how a back-and-forth interaction may play out.

Closing the knowledge gap is how industries will succeed

When you think of complex and information rich industries, you may naturally think of subjects related to finance; mortgages, loans, banks. It’s never black and white and, if it is, then it’s often too good to be true. But what if, with voice search, these complicated (and often saturated) markets could actually encourage brand loyalty by catering to what users often seek the most: simplicity.

what people want to use voice for

If a user’s questions about mortgages were being consistently answered by, let’s say, Halifax, which then led to that user becoming a customer of theirs, did voice search do its job?

I think so.

And this is where a ‘human-and-tech’ bond will be the most effective.

By replicating the experience one would receive by dealing with a human either face-to-face, or over the phone, it creates a sense of comfort that buyers are, by nature, more comfortable with.

What opportunity is there for brands in these industries?

It’s a well-known fact that structuring your content intelligently, underpinned by Schema mark-up, allows Google to better understand what your page is about.

An introduction to schema.org markup for voice

In this respect, text search is no different than voice search. Brands still need to provide answers which are concise and accurate.

To get a taste of what this looks like, we asked Google, using voice search on a mobile, a number of industry-specific questions to see what results were returned.

Here’s what I got after asking “what is the best mortgage rate for a first-time buyer?”:

voice search results about mortgage rates

And another, for “how does financing a car work?”:

how-does-financing-a-car-work

Well, it’s no surprise. The results all have a very consistent, and predictable, theme: featured snippets. So whether a user is using voice search from their phone (where further interaction will be needed, and a mobile interface approach will need to be taken) or a voice assistant with no interface, that’s an extremely advantageous position for a brand to be in.

Here are two great outcomes:

  • Voice assistants (standalone device) = brand awareness
  • Voice assistants (phone specific) = the clicks are yours

Let’s take a look at the available clicks, total search volume and number of featured snippets for the finance industry.

Firstly, number of keywords which return a featured snippet:

keywords-with-featured-snippet

Here’s the number of searches and estimated clicks for those terms which populate a featured snippet:

search-volume-and-clicks-for-featured-snippets
Graph shows total volume and total clicks based on industry related terms

And, finally, we take the total search volume and total clicks, to establish an estimated CTR:

ctr-featured-snippets-by-industry

This graph is explicit in what it reveals: the current state of the finances industry does not successfully cater for voice search.

The click-through rate is extremely high.

If a user needs to click (on a mobile) or ask another question to their assistant, then you aren’t answering their questions (or you aren’t answering enough questions) to fully provide an incredible VUI (voice user interface). In the world of loans and mortgages, producing content specifically aimed to this type of user behaviour could be revolutionary in de-mystifying the entire industry.

How do other industries compare?

To make the observation of opportunity fair, we took four more popular search topics to establish a detailed comparison.

The key data points to keep in mind are the volume of featured snippets, and the associated search volumes.

featured-snippets-by-industry

Unsurprisingly, the fashion industry does not show huge amounts of opportunity. The reason? Users are unlikely to ask questions about clothing.

While people can now order clothes from Amazon through Alexa, shopping for clothes online is (and should be) a visual experience. Though voice search shopping has been touted as the next big thing, and valued in the millions, a recent study found that no one they surveyed would have purchased an item over £50 through a voice assistant (including mobile assistants).

But, sport as an industry returns huge amounts of opportunity for sites to answer questions like:

  • When is the next Premier League game?
  • What time can I watch UFC 229?
  • What is the touchdown rule in NFL football?

Simple questions returned with a simple answer.

Perfect for voice search.

Now, let’s see how these industries compare for volume and clicks:

volume-featured-snippets-and-clicks

See what I mean about sport?

It shows that nearly 35% of users don’t need any more information. The snippet has successfully served their intent.

Again, fashion shows the least amount of opportunity for voice. But, this should help brands in the fashion industry focus their search efforts in a more refined way (I’m thinking Google shopping results).

After all, voice search isn’t for everyone.

ctr-featured-snippets-by-industry

The outstanding winner (or loser) in the chart above is the insurance industry.

This high CTR shows that users are unhappy with the returned snippet or they haven’t understood the answer and need to then navigate into the website to find out more. This shouldn’t be taken as a negative, but more so a driving factor in the content marketing efforts of brands within the finance industry.

Challenge the ‘human-and-assistant’ dynamic

Voice search offers brands an opportunity to build a real connection with their users. By thinking Schema and dialogue first, brands can immerse themselves in a world driven by new user behaviour.

Users will no longer think about ‘a search result’ but, instead, ‘a voice experience’ from brands they can trust.

There needs to be a much deeper understanding of search behaviour than there currently is if we’re truly to evolve as an industry. It’s time for these saturated industries to regain control of the information which is available to users.

Voice assistants will evolve; therefore the way brands approach their content will also need to change to fit these industry changes. But, whether or not brands can evolve with the tech, is dependent on them.