Voice search is booming, but are businesses ready for it?

Daniel Mathew, VP, Uberall, says businesses need to be ready for the advent of the voice search era.

In just under three years, Google Assistant has matched Siri’s share of the voice assistant market, according to a recent report by Microsoft. Google Assistant and Siri are now neck-and-neck, with 36 per cent of respondents having used each platform. According to Microsoft’s report, 69 per cent of respondents have used a digital assistant, and all signs indicate that the move from text search to voice search will only continue to grow in momentum.

Digital voice assistants are already commonplace in the home, with Microsoft reporting that 45 per cent of respondents own a smart speaker, and users relying on the likes of Alexa in their daily lives to switch on the lights, play music and create shopping lists. But voice assistants are even more commonly used on smartphones, with 85 per cent of the UK population owning or accessing smartphones, according to research by Deloitte. People are turning to their smartphone’s digital assistant for online searches, and those out-and-about are using voice technology to search for products and services ‘near me.’

Given the ongoing improvements in voice technology and its convenience, it isn’t surprising that people are turning to them to help with more and more tasks. PwC’s voice assistant survey reports that 65 per cent of 25-49 year olds speak to their voice-enabled devices at least once per day, and Microsoft’s report found that over half of consumers expect their digital assistants to help make retail purchases within the next five years.

Businesses aren’t gearing up for voice search
With a clear trend towards the growth of voice search, what are brands and businesses doing to keep pace? On the whole, not nearly enough. Research by Bing Ads reveals that only 2 per cent of marketing budgets are being spent on voice technology. Whilst some businesses believe voice technology to be a fad, they consequently aren’t preparing themselves on even a basic level for an uptake in voice search.

Businesses need to be prepared for the surge in uptake of voice searches, and although getting it right might seem like a daunting task, businesses should take the first step to ensure they are on the path to voice search optimisation.
The fundamental difference between voice and traditional text searches is the number of results presented. When someone searches for a business ‘near me,’ voice search will usually return only the top one or two search results, compared to a typed query, which returns pages of results. It is especially crucial, therefore, that businesses appear at the top of these voice search results if they are to attract custom.

Managing business listings is key
What can businesses do to become visible to voice search and appear at the top of these search results? The first step is quite basic. Having accurate business listings – address, opening hours, contact details – is the first step to becoming ready for voice search.

A recent Uberall study found that just 3.82 per cent of businesses had correct information in their Google, Yelp and Bing listings, the three most influential directories for voice search results. Not only does this frustrate the consumer and cost the business potential customers – for example, a customer turns up to a shop which was listed as open online, only to find it closed – but these mistakes are detrimental to a business’s rankings in a voice search.

Whilst having missing information or inaccuracies may seem unimportant, business listings cannot be neglected. Online business listing directories such as Google My Business, Yelp and Bing, all cross reference each other and simple mistakes in a business’s information can impact search engine rankings and results in it being dropped from those crucial top results. Furthermore, as well as providing the voice search results for Microsoft’s digital voice assistant Cortana, Bing also feeds other voice search platforms, including Alexa.

Accurate business listings are a simple but effective place to start in a business’s efforts to become voice-search ready. Once mastered, businesses can take the next steps towards voice search readiness, such as emphasising keywords, using simple, voice-friendly language, and improving search engine rankings through rich content and an engaged online presence on social media and reviews.

Especially in the retail arena, with the struggles faced by the UK high street reported daily, businesses can’t afford to rest on their laurels and become invisible to consumers. Voice search is here to stay and businesses need to take steps to ensure they are ready to meet its challenges.