There are a few trends that we’ve been saying for a long time need to feature in your digital roadmaps and content strategy, such as mobile responsiveness, personalisation and localisation, to name but a few. But with Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends report hot off the press, we’re going to add another consideration to your digital marketing team's burgeoning list: voice.
In the US, 65% of smartphone owners use voice assistants, more than double the number in 2013, with 'improvements in technology' being cited as one of the main reasons for this increase in usage.
Developments in the accuracy of voice recognition are certainly moving in the right direction, with circa 90% of words now recognised ‘per Google’ (albeit in ‘low noise’ environments), up from 70% in 2010. Baidu and Hound Voice Search boast even more impressive figures, with word accuracy pushing over the 95% mark.
Voice across all Baidu products is growing rapidly, due in part to the complexity of typing Mandarin on a phone keypad. Speech recognition and, particularly, text-to-speech has seen a rapid spike in the past three quarters:
What does the future of voice hold?
As Baidu’s Chief Scientist Andrew NG says, “As speech recognition goes from 95% to 99%, all of us in the room will go from barely using it today to using it all the time…99% is a game-changer. No one wants to wait 10 seconds for a response. Accuracy, followed by latency, are the two key metrics for a production speech system.”
Artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning, augmented by contextual information such as location and past user behaviour, will drive the future developments in voice-activated search. So how can you ensure that your website is optimised for voice and, in particular, search?
As consumers use voice search with increasing frequency, the businesses that pay attention to customer conversations will win. In addition, a voice search world will favour marketers who are able to connect their websites with their local presence. For example, Hound App data shows that 22% of voice queries are for local information, demonstrating a clear opportunity for hyperlocalisation. Search engines will also favour sites that provide as much information as possible using structured data.
At this time, it appears that websites do not require any special markup coding to surface in results from voice-activated search. However, it goes without saying that you firstly and foremostly need a mobile responsive site. I’m not going to labour this point, as we’ve been saying it for a long time now as you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of our blog. If you need persuasion, check our Mobilegeddon article.
In order to produce voice-friendly content, you first need to understand your users’ conversational speech. Effective ways to gather this information including asking your frontline team to collect phrases customers use when describing their problems, or interview your customers by telephone, asking them simple questions related to your services and products and encouraging them to respond in their own works. More than likely, long-tail questions will be used and optimising your content to take these into account is one of the best way to ensure you rank for Google Now spoken searches.
This first-hand knowledge can be used by your marketing team to inform your web content, and ensure that not only are you ranking highly in voice-searches, but also serving your users with content which answers their queries in their own language.
Although voice search might be not be there quite yet, it’s only matter of time before it plays a more prominent role in the future of search. Expect to see an evolution of the technology and a greater prevalence with wearable tech; behaviour and pattern recognition; evolution of SERP and more accurate accent and language recognition.
We'll be talking to the SEO experts at our sister agency, Expand Online, to find our their recommendations for optimising for voice, which we'll share with you very soon.