How brands need to get to grips with voice search – before the opportunity disappears

James has a passion for how technologies influence business and has several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

Voice-enabled search is here – and if your organisation is not up to speed yet, there may be trouble ahead.

That’s the key finding from a new report by marketing agency BrandContent. The report, which combined analysis with a survey of more than 2,000 consumers, found that while men (28%) are significantly more likely than women (13%) to utilise voice search frequently, more than two in three polled had access to either search or a voice-activated assistant.

When it came to practical applications of the technology, two in five said they would use it to scour local restaurants, while one in five aged 45-54 checked the news or weather with it, and one in three (32%) over 65s would use it for traffic planning.

The report argues that as users become more confident with the capabilities of voice search, brands need to step up and provide more of an experience. “Brands need to be mindful of the differences in how people search traditionally and how they search with their voice and optimising their content for more conversational language,” said Siobhan Cosgrave, head of SEO at BrandContent. “There are going to be a whole new range of keywords and topics generating more and more search volume and brands need to make sure they are there.”

One of the key features of the report is how brands can not only engage their existing customers, but attract new ones. For instance, UKMortgages has put together an Alexa Skill which asks site visitors a variety of questions, from the amount of money looking to be borrowed to the ballpark price they are looking for, to whether they are a first-time buyer.

The report also explores the new capabilities being opened up. Automotive manufacturers, for instance, are working with the tech behemoths to allow drivers to conduct searches safely whilst driving – if a warning light came on, for instance – without the driver having to pull over.

Naturally, this continued rise has led many in the industry to muse on the marketing use cases to come about. Writing for this publication back in August, Andy McCaul, director at creative agency The Bigger Boat, cited a statistic from Internet Retailing that more than half of CMOs would be investing in voice search over the coming 12 months.

“Will [voice search] spill over into the B2B space? Perhaps not,” McCaul wrote. “It may be a handy way to order team pizzas at lunchtime, but the application is probably a bit too ‘public’ for a business query that someone may pose in the office with colleagues around.”

Voice search capabilities are increasingly being tied to industry-specific solutions. Alexa for Hospitality, for instance, encourages hotel guests to speak up and use a ‘virtual butler’. In July, Jon Buss, MD for UK and Northern Europe at Yext, explained how this was an ‘innovative new chapter’ in the story of Alexa.

“We’ll see the service evolve to not only provide local dining suggestions, but also book guests a table, secure them a place on the best experience days and packages, and provide an easy way to feed back to the hotel on their service,” added Buss. “The possibilities are almost endless.”

“What is really exciting, is how far voice-controlled searches are starting to go in their capabilities,” McCaul added, citing the demonstration at Google I/O around booking a hairdresser appointment – albeit a demo which garnered scepticism in some quarters. “There is no denying that this is an extremely agile and exciting space. But what does voice innovation mean for search marketing? Quite simply, the profession needs to just keep doing a decent job.”

You can read the full report here (email required).

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