Voice search is changing the way we interact with computers. This article looks at the impact of voice search on B2B marketing and what you can do to keep up.
"Alexa, what’s the weather today?"
Every day, tens of thousands of people around the world will ask their smart device - phone, speaker, and even mirror - this question.
In fact, “tens of thousands” might be an understatement. After all, there are over 119 million smart speakers in circulation in the US with sales growing by 78 percent in 2018.
Add in smartphone users and you’re looking at billions of devices capable of following voice commands, be it Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, or even Cortana.
How is this smart assistant explosion changing search and discovery? How will it affect B2B businesses - if at all? And what can your agency do about it?
Let’s find out the answers below.
The State of Voice Search
A computer that obeys your voice has been a fixture of science fiction since the days of Star Trek. And for decades, it remained just that - science fiction. Voice recognition algorithms were too inaccurate and computers too slow to bring this version of fiction to life.
Then something changed around a decade ago. Smartphones suddenly became ubiquitous. Then came smart assistants. Thanks to massive volumes of voice data and machine learning, speech recognition algorithms started improving.
For instance, the accuracy of Google’s algorithm increased from barely 75% to 95% - as accurate as a human - in under five years.
Thanks to this improved accuracy and easy availability, more and more people are turning to voice search. In Google’s app, 20% of all searches are now by voice. The impact is even stronger among younger people who are more likely to adopt voice technology.
All of this has a real impact on the way people shop and consume. eMarketer estimates that by the end of 2019, 32.5% of smart speaker users in the US will use their devices to buy something online - that’s 22.7M potential shoppers.
I can roll off a ton of additional statistics. I can tell you that there are more than a billion voice searches every month, that 41% of adults use voice search at least once a day, or that a third of smartphone users use their voice-activated assistants regularly.
The point is clear: as long as there is a smartphone in your pocket and a smart speaker in your living room, voice search will continue to grow.
Voice Search and B2B Marketing
This brings us to the real question: How exactly is voice search affecting B2B marketing?
B2B marketing, for the most part, is more resilient to changes in technology than its consumer counterpart. So much of B2B selling still happens over traditional mediums that technologies that sweep the consumer landscape barely make a blip on business commerce.
TikTok might have 500M users globally, but you aren’t going to find a lot of industrial suppliers making deals on it.
But voice search is different for several reasons:
1. People are already using voice search at work
When asked where they use voice search, a surprising percentage of people in a survey - over 40% - said that they use it in the office when alone.
Even more surprising: more than 20% of respondents used voice search in the presence of colleagues.
It’s easy to see how this plays out. You’re in a meeting when a contentious issue comes up. Maybe you can’t agree on the difference between program and project management. Or maybe you can’t decide whether you should hire an account manager or a project manager.
So you do what you’ve always done: you turn to Google. But instead of searching on the phone and showing the screen to everyone, you simply ask Google.
Google speaks the answer out loud, saving you the trouble of sharing it with everyone one-by-one.
In other words, your business customers are already using voice search in their offices and meetings. You just have to make sure that they find you on it - and not a competitor.
2. Voice search is platform independent
Well, almost platform independent.
All voice assistants, be it Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or ‘OK Google’, use either Bing or Google as their default search engines. While specific results will vary, a website that has strong rankings on Google will invariably also perform well on Bing.
If you want to do well on social media in 2019, you have to maintain an active presence on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, among others.
But if you want to do well on voice search, you can use the same website that you’ve always been using (albeit with some modifications). There is no voice-specific platform; it’s just your regular search engine wrapped in a voice-friendly interface.
This makes it much easier for businesses - and the people who buy from them - to create an active presence on voice search.
3. Voice search queries are conversational in nature
Did you ever have a conversation that started off about one thing and ended up as something completely different?
Voice searches aren’t very different.
Voice searches, by their very nature, are conversational. People don’t ask Siri for keywords; they ask questions - “What’s the height of the Empire State building?", not “Empire State building height”.
These conversations often turn voice searches into “discovery” searches. A user might start by asking about a seemingly non-B2B topic. But the answer to that question can lead her to a path where she ends up searching for a B2B keyword.
In traditional search, the path to discovering your content is fairly straightforward. But in voice search, this process is often long and circuitous. This opens up a whole new world of content (and discovery) opportunities for businesses.
Beyond Voice Search: Voice-Enabled Apps
While voice search is certainly important, focusing on it too much ignores another massive opportunity: voice-enabled apps.
AI assistants powered by voice can be a game changer for businesses, opening up entirely new avenues of interaction. Think of a chatbot you can talk to to share your email (instead of typing it into a lead box). Or an app that tells you your most important business information via voice.
Salesforce’s Einstein Voice is a great example. This app makes a number of Salesforce features accessible by voice. For instance, instead of typing out notes, a sales rep can simply speak them into the app and it will automatically transcribe and add them to the right contact.
Voice also opens up new opportunities for content marketing. Republishing your content as an Alexa skill, for instance, can bring you a whole new set of listeners. In fact, if you look at the best reviewed ‘Business & Finance’ skills on Alexa store right now, you’ll see content-focused skills dominate the list.
The point is that voice goes beyond search. While your goal should definitely be to show up in the top results for voice queries, be prepared to look beyond search as well.
This is particularly true for agencies. By adding voice-enabled apps and experiences to your list of services, you can offer substantial value to your clients.
How to Leverage Voice Search in B2B Marketing
It’s clear that voice is changing not just the way we interact with search engines, but with computers in general. The impact might not be as pronounced in B2B as it is in B2C, but it is substantial enough that you need to pay attention.
Simply put, no future-focused business can choose to ignore the voice phenomenon.
The question now is: how can you take advantage of it? What can you do to tap into the opportunities presented by the rise of voice search in B2B marketing?
I’ll share some answers below.
4 Ways to Gear-up for Voice Search
If you want to take advantage of voice search, there are a few changes you need to adopt:
1. Align Your Voice and Mobile Strategies
Voice search and mobile are intrinsically linked. Outside of smart speaker queries, nearly all spoken searches happen on mobile phones.
If you - or your clients - don’t have a mobile presence, or if your site isn’t mobile-ready, there is no way you will show up for voice queries.
So the first step in gearing up for a voice search future is to have a clear mobile strategy. A mobile-friendly website is the bare minimum requirement. It won’t just make you eligible for voice search, but will also help your rankings after Google’s switch to mobile-first indexing.
Beyond that, you should also think about your customers’ mobile experience. Are you showing them content that is suitable for consumption on mobiles? Do your pages load quickly? Do you have specific pages that answer mobile-focused queries?
The stronger your presence on mobile, the easier you will find to compete on voice search queries.
2. Create Voice Search Friendly Content
Voice search marks a big shift in the way people interact with search engines. While conventional search gives users an option to choose from one of ten (or more) results, voice search gives over control to the search assistant.
The search assistant uses the featured snippet at the top of the page to answer the query. Everything else gets completely ignored.
In this winner-take-all world, the only way to show up is to show up in the featured snippet. This requires completely changing the way you create content.
Try adopting these tactics to create more voice search friendly content:
- Focus on long form, conversational content. Write the way people talk, not the way they type. Use plenty of questions and adopt a conversational style in your writing.
- Offer quick answers to specific questions. Any time a specific question or definition shows up in the content (such as the definition of “scope creep”), be prepared to give a clear, easy to find answer.
- Use question-based headings. Ditch keyword-focused headings and use question-focused headings instead. This will make it much easier to show up when someone asks similar questions via voice search.
- Make your content simpler. Write at a 5-7 grade level (use Hemingway to calculate it). Complex writing is less accessible, and thus, harder to rank in the featured snippet.
3. Target Voice Search Queries
People don’t ask their voice assistants just about anything. There is a narrow band of queries that are routinely directed at Alexa and Siri.
These queries are usually:
- Asking for specific information (“What is Amazon’s stock price?”)
- Related to specific locations (“What are the best Thai restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia?”)
- Related to specific time frames (“What is the weather tomorrow?”)
Try to reorient your content to focus on more such queries. Add a location element to keywords or target keywords that answer specific questions.
A good approach is to take a broad keyword and divide it into multiple narrow keywords that answer specific queries. For instance, our guide to program management tackles a broad keyword - “program management” - but also answers questions related to several specific queries such as:
- What is program management?
- Program manager vs project manager
- Benefits of program management
- Program manager roles and responsibilities
This allows us to hit several voice search-focused queries with the same content, while also providing substantial value to regular search users.
4. Focus on Bing Rankings
Most SEOs tend to focus almost exclusively on Google. And rightly so - Google dominates the search engine market.
But voice search is a little different. Different voice assistants get their data from different search engines. Amazon’s Alexa uses Bing, as does Microsoft’s Cortana. If you want to show in voice search results on these platforms, you will have to make sure that you have a strong presence on Bing.
So if you’ve ignored Bing for years in your SEO, right now is the perfect time to dust-off your Bing search playbook.
How Agencies Can Benefit from Voice Search
This all brings us to the last and perhaps most important question: How can your agency take advantage of this shift to voice search?
Right now, B2B businesses are mostly unsure of the impact of voice search on their operations. You can help them by bringing them clarity on this phenomenon and how it stands to affect their business.
Show them the data. More importantly, show them how people interact with voice-enabled assistants. Speaking into a phone and having it answer even complicated business queries is an experience that can’t be explained by data alone.
Frame voice search as an investment in the future, not a panacea to immediate traffic or lead woes. Even the data shows that younger people are more likely to patronize voice search.
Voice search also brings up several opportunities to sell additional services. You can:
- Sell clients revamped content packages that focus on voice search
- Offer expanded content marketing services that also factor in voice queries
- Offer content that is easier to consume on voice-enabled assistants, such as podcasts
- Offer development services for voice-enabled apps, Alexa skills, etc.
Another way to tap into this phenomenon is to position yourself as a voice-search agency. These are early days in this market. Do it right and you (or rather, your agency’s sub-brand) can dominate the voice search industry.
Regardless of how you approach voice search, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it’s going to change the way we interact with computers. Just as we’ve gone from keyboard to touch, we might one day go from touch to the spoken word.
And while this change will come with many challenges, it will also offer plenty of opportunities to enterprising businesses.