Not just another voice search opinion piece

It’s been a year since Google Home launched in Australia. What’s changed? Wavemaker's Miki Clarke has got the information you need to know (and which data you can ignore).

Not another article on how to optimise for voice search, I hear you say. But hear me out.

I’m not going to reel off a bunch of stats, as so many other articles do. Why? Because there aren’t any official ones. Google still doesn’t divulge the split between typed and voice activated searches, even for paid search advertisers.

Instead, I’m going to focus on the latest developments that may have gone under your radar – unless, like me, you live and breathe this stuff – and look at what brands need to start doing to stay in the conversation.

It’s been a year since Google Home launched in Australia. What’s changed?

On the face of it, not a lot. The most prominent features remain streaming (film, music, radio, news and audio books), asking for the weather, directions, recipes, and any question where there is a definitive answer (conversions, translations, simple maths calculations and definitions).

Of course, there is the ability to control your smart home, for those us lucky enough to have smart appliances fitted. While you can ask Google Home anything, when it ventures outside of these, more often than not the answer is: “Sorry, I can’t help with that yet.” Note the word “yet”.

Over the past three months, we’ve seen a raft of interesting updates that demonstrate Google’s intentions to grow voice search.

May 2018: Google launched the first voice-specific recipe schema markup, allowing site owners to mark up recipe instructions and ingredients so that voice assistants can now read out instruction steps sentence by sentence, and read out ingredients lists.

July 2018: Google introduced a new speakable markup for news publishers. So far restricted to select publishers in the US, it enables publishers to mark up sections of a news article that are most relevant to be read aloud by the Google Assistant.

In the US, Google also launched Home assistants with screens. Makes sense really, as this will enable Google to present users with multiple search results to choose from, which may help pave the way for monetising voice search.

August 2018: Google announced new streaming partner integrations with Pandora Premium and Deezer, ending the dominance of Spotify, YouTube and Google Play.

I’ve chosen to focus on Google, but it’s also worth noting GoGet’s integration with Amazon Echo back in June, allowing users to book a GoGet car through Alexa. While it’s unlikely they’ve generated the ROI needed to cover the development cost, the resulting PR may have given their organic search rankings a nice boost. This also goes to show that integrations can be much wider reaching than would appear on the face of things.

Google has also been working hard on building an Actions Directory site, which encourages site owners to start developing integrations with voice assistants and to claim their Actions Directory listings.

What to expect from Google Home in the future

It doesn’t look like Google will share data on what users are searching for on their home assistants any time soon. Instead, Google is prompting site owners to map out conversations they want to be having with customers and letting brands promote these new features themselves, either to existing customers or tech-hungry new customers.

Google will continue to launch general functionality that leverages existing information to help users navigate the real world, to discover places, brands and content that is most relevant to them. We already know that Google is monitoring peak times at local places and star ratings to determine surface results in normal search, so it makes sense to do this with voice results. Since all home assistants require a Google login, a natural next step will be to personalise results according to individuals.

Many transactions that take place online may eventually be hands free – just like the demo of Google Assistant making a hairdressing appointment back in May.

In the longer term, I expect to see home assistants morph into robots and eventually driverless cars. “Hey Google” will become a universally accepted method of accessing your world. We just better hope the voice recognition technology is robust enough to withstand identity fraud.

So what should brands be doing in the voice search space?

Ultimately, you may need to decide which horse to bet on: Google or Amazon. For the vast majority it will be Google, unless you’re in the categories that Amazon currently operates in, such as clothing, beauty, books, movies, games and electronics, in which case you may want to consider exploring the Amazon developer capabilities currently on offer.

For the many remaining industries, particularly those with physical locations, you should:

Establish how your brand is currently featuring in voice results. While Google doesn’t give us such data, it’s possible to determine how many structured snippet results you currently enjoy and also review your organic keywords via Google Search Console to spot any obvious voice or conversational terms;

Start mapping out the kinds of conversations that you are currently having with your customers, whether that be over the phone or on your website. For example, this is what it may look like within the insurance category, in ascending order of complexity:

Start prioritising the quick wins, and conduct market research to better understand which features matter the most to your target audience:

Start to look for developers who have voice assistant coding capabilities, or encourage your existing developers to upskill in this area:

Increase investment as you start to see adoption increase, and ultimately avoid getting left behind by the competition.

While voice search is currently in its infancy, it presents endless opportunities to streamline cumbersome processes and ultimately save time, which is always music to customers’ ears.

Stay on top of the latest trends and developments and start taking the baby steps now to incorporate voice technology. By doing so, you’ll ensure your business remains relevant in this increasingly hands free world.

Miki Clarke is national head of SEO and CRO at Wavemaker Australia.


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