What is Voice Marketing? Voice vs. Voice Search 101

It seems we can’t go a day without bumping into an article about Voice. Voice this, voice that.

I can read articles all day long about new(ish) technical topics, but when it comes to making advice actionable, I often need to have the content brought down to a 101 level. If the concept of Voice Marketing versus Voice Search keeps you scratching your head, then this introductory article is for you.

8 Foundational Voice Q&As

For the longest time, whenever I heard the term “Voice,” I thought of it synonymously with “Voice Search.” I have an unfortunate habit of trying to turn everything into an SEO issue.

How is Voice Marketing Different than Voice Search?

While there is some overlap, Voice as a marketing channel stands on its own. When we say “Voice,” we may be referring to the trend of spoken commands or queries, or devices like smart speakers, home devices, or digital assistants. When you hear “Voice Search,” that most often refers to the SEO sub-discipline of targeting the coveted SERP result that gets read aloud. Often (but not always) this is the page’s featured snippet, AKA “Position 0.”

How are Voice and Voice Search Similar?

There are some similarities, including:

  • Shifts in Consumer Search Habits: Both Voice and Voice Search represent new trends and shifts in consumer search habits as we move beyond the screen or search bar.
  • Frictionless experience: This is the big marketing concept for the year: predict what our users want, stay one step ahead of them, and give them a frictionless experience while doing so. How consumers use both Voice/Voice Search represent desires to reduce friction and make common tasks that much easier.
  • Natural Language usage: with Voice, it’s natural that longer, conversational queries will be utilized. In 2013, Google brought Hummingbird to the table. Hummingbird was an overhaul of their algorithm, designed to meet more semantic needs and to understand queries in context.
  • Device usage: Voice is used in conjunction with some sort of a device: a speaker, a phone, a computer, a car, a smart appliance, etc.

What is Voice Search?

Voice Search is really just “voice optimization for virtual assistants” and has been around for a number of years. Currently, any Voice Search budget goes mostly towards optimizing content for SEO and featured snippets (also called Position 0). When you say, “Hey Google,” it’s actually doing a google search. I recently tested out the same informational query on both Google Home and Amazon Echo. I asked both devices, “what is the best plugin for WordPress.” Google read me a snippet from WPBeginner, while Alexa responded with, “The jury is still out.” I also asked Google “what are the top private schools in Atlanta,” and it read me the names of several independent schools. When I asked Alexa, she said, “I don’t know the answer to that one.”

What are some Voice Search Statistics and Predictions?

It’s not new news that spoken searches and questions have been trending.

  • Mary Meeker predicts that by 2020, there will be 200 billion voice search queries per month.
  • 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020, per comScore
  • About 30% of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020, per Gartner.

How to Rank in Voice Search?

In Voice Search (or Voice SEO as some call it), the goal for marketers is that our company/organization/brand comes up to the top. To win in Voice Search, there are several things that have to come together:

  1. Follow standard SEO best practices. Ranking on the first page is critical, so you must nail your foundational SEO execution on a one-time and ongoing basis: E-A-T (expertise, authority, trust), links, history, content, site speed, technical, etc.
  2. Target queries that return rich results. What are rich results, you ask? Experiences on Google that go beyond the standard blue link, such as features snippets or carousels. While I’ve seen rich results generated without structured markup, you do want to be purposeful not leave it up to chance. Cover your bases by implementing structured markup Schema on your site
  3. Write Q&A style content: you must literally include the question in the copy, and answer the question in a clear, direct manner with content structured and formatted on the page (sub-heads, table HTML, numbered lists, etc.). Also, “what,” “how,” and “best” keyword are prime keyword target candidates.

To start getting a feel for how your brand is already getting more conversational query traffic, go to your Google Search Console report and start looking at queries that are longer tail, or have more natural language.

What is Voice Marketing?

Voice Marketing is a screenless discipline that helps brands be more discoverable and own their share of content on smart speakers and home devices. By 2032, more than half of homes will have a voice device in their home. These Voice Assistants are quickly becoming our trusted advisors, and many consumers own multiple devices. (We have 3 in our home. Don’t ask). The earlier marketers can begin dipping a toe into the water to understand how their brand can be part of this ecosystem, the better. Voice marketing includes activities like creating Google Actions, Alexa Skills and Alexa Flash Briefings. FYI, here’s how I think of it:

Skill = Phone App (Alexa is not smart out of the box; it becomes more useful once you add skills; same with a phone. Your phone becomes useful once you add apps)

Flash Briefing = Mini Podcast

How do people use Digital Assistants?

Mostly, digital assistants like Alexa and Google Home are used to give commands: “Alexa, play a song.” “Alexa, tell me a joke.” “Hey Google, what is the weather today?” “Hey Google, what are my appointments today?” “Hey Google, turn on my front yard sprinklers.” This is evolving constantly as the technology continues to improve.

What are Top Voice Marketing Tips for Brands?

Last month, I attended two fantastic events on Search. One was with Voice expert Caroline Dunn, and the other was with a panel of Voice industry leaders. Here are 3 excellent tips I took away from the events:

  • Create your Flash Briefing ASAP: these tools have become like daily, quick bites of news. There is not a feeding frenzy here yet, so there is plenty of time to get established. FYI, the best ones are 2 minutes or shorter.
  • For many brands, Voice success will be dependent on integrations with other tech. For example, how cars now come with Voice Assistants built into them. If your brand is related to what someone needs while driving, make sure you’re compatible with voice auto.
  • The jury is still out about how transactions and ecommerce are going to happen on Voice platforms; this is one we’ll be watching closely, but we know Google’s and Amazon’s quest to monetize is always present. For example, on my Alexa Look, I get “pairing ideas based on my look.” In other words, Amazon looks at my outfits and suggests “similar” items to what I’m wearing. Based on what I star, Amazon automatically adds those clothing items to a custom Amazon shopping list. Pretty clever. (Damn you, Amazon)

At the End of the Day

The reason why SEO will never die is because at its core, Search/SEO is about discovery and continuing to generate brand awareness in the face of shifting consumer trends. Both Voice and Voice Search are poised to help marketers and brands do just that.

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.

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