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Episode Overview: Voice search is one of the most intriguing innovations in mobile technology as more Google Homes and Alexas find their way into consumer livingrooms, kitchens and bedrooms worldwide. The devices have proven themselves useful for automating home processes but are lacking in processing actual search queries effectively compared to text queries. Join host Ben as he interviews Courtney Wakefield, co-author of “Voice Search: The New Search Engine,” on why developments in voice search have stalled and why local search queries are the key to driving innovation in voice search.

Summary

  • “Over the last year, year and a half, we’ve been in this denial/anger phase where we realized it’s not going to change everything … But I think we’re moving into a period where we’re in more of that discoverability or exploration phase of the change management curve. And we’re starting to finally be more productive with it.” – Wakefield on the current state of voice search.
  • “In terms of really innovating and really taking a shot at trying new things, Alexa is leading the pack … They’re already selling devices that integrate with your home stereos more seamlessly. They’ve got the Alexa or Echo Auto that’s working in people’s cars and connecting with your smartphone.” – Wakefield on who is leading in voice search.
  • “Local continues to dominate when it comes from a voice search query perspective. When someone is searching on voice, it’s three times more likely to be a local query than when someone is searching on text … We can really focus in on making sure that our local listings, that our local data is accessible and optimized for voice so that, when people are making those queries, they’re finding our locations, they’re finding our services, and that they’re able to get the information that they need at the time that they need it.” – Wakefield describing why local is the source of growth for voice search.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome to SEO predictions month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro. And this month we’re looking into the crystal ball to tell you SEOs and content marketers what you can expect in 2020.

Ben:                 Joining us today is a friend of the Voices of Search podcast, Courtney Cox Wakefield. She is the co-author of Voice Search: The New Search Engine book. And, outside of being a prominent author and speaker in the Voice Search community, Courtney is also the head of consumer digital marketing at Children’s Health Hospital, which is one of the top care facilities in the United States. And today, Courtney and I are going to talk about her predictions for Voice Search in 2020. Okay. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, coauthor of Voice Search: The New Search Engine. Courtney, welcome to the Voices of Search podcast.

Courtney:         Thanks for having me, Ben.

Ben:                 Excited to have you here. Excited to have you as part of our predictions month. Excited to talk a little bit about voice search. It’s a hot topic amongst SEOs. And so far, with the predictions that we’ve had, I’ve heard a lot of, “Hey, voice search is not going to be a bigger deal this year than it was last year.” It seems like the general thought for the SEO community is the voice search taking over regular text-based searches is not quite happening. Talk to me about your view of the landscape. And what do you think is going to happen in 2020?

Courtney:         Yeah. I never really bought into the idea that it was going to take over. I really thought it’s going to be more, and. Right? So, we’re always going to continue having our standard text based searches that we’ve always done. But now, when we’re on the move, when we’re not able to do searches that we normally would have done, instead of thinking, “Oh, I need to search that later, we’ll search it now.” We’ll be able to do it via voice.

Courtney:         I do think that there’s a little bit of a change management curve thing going on here. Right? Before, at the very beginning, we were very excited about voice as an industry. We said, “Okay. There’s this new technology. There’s new things that we can do. It’s going to change everything. Everything is going to be different. It’s going to be so great.” And, over the last year, year and a half, we’ve been in this denial/anger phase where we realized it’s not going to change everything. It’s not going to be the magic bullet that a lot of people were talking about. We started to recognize a lot of the flaws in the technology.

Courtney:         And all of those things have made the search industry overall sort of angry or disappointed with voice. But I think we’re moving into a period where we’re in more of that discoverability or exploration phase of the change management curve. And we’re starting to finally be more productive with it.

Courtney:         So, I do agree with you, right? I don’t think we’re at the 50% usage that it was predicted. On mobile devices, it’s somewhere between 27% of people do voice searches. That’s Google’s number. So, that’s not even the total percentage of voice searches. So, it’s considerably lower than I think people predicted. But the opportunity, as new voice technologies come out, continues to grow.

Ben:                 Yeah. I totally agree with you. And I was never onboard with voice search is taking over and we’re not going to use keyboards anymore. I think that there was a lot of excitement about voice search. It has such a high capacity for change. And I think that, within the SEO community, people were excited about the technology and were expecting sort of an exponential increase in how it was used. And maybe what we’re seeing is more linear growth.

Ben:                 And, to me, a lot of the times when you have something that is a potentially disruptive technology, it takes time for people to change their behaviors. We talked in the last couple of times that you’ve come on the show about who some of the dominant players are, Alexa, Google, and sort of Siri, and Apple holding up the rear. Talk to me about how you see what the platforms are doing. Where is their head at? What are they focusing on?

Courtney:         Yeah. You’ve kind of seen Apple and Google. They’re still investing in voice. There’s certainly a certain amount of them keeping an eye on it. But, in terms of really innovating and really taking a shot at trying new things, Alexa is leading the pack, or Amazon is leading the pack. There’s no question about that. They’ve got all these new technologies coming out. They’re already selling devices that integrate with your home stereos more seamlessly. They’ve got the Alexa or Echo Auto that’s working in people’s cars and connecting with your smartphone. You’ve got the Echo Loop, which I think is one of the more recent ones, which is basically a ring thing that you wear and can trigger Alexa through your ring on your hand. You’ve got the Echo Buds.

Courtney:         They’re really investing in these new devices, because I think what they’ve seen, I think what we’ve all seen is, it’s great to have Alexa in your home or at your desk even for some people. But most of us are not tethered to our Alexa devices all day. We’re moving around. So, they’ve really been investing in sort of this like mobility of voice devices, which I think is interesting and definitely will kind of influence the way that people use these devices moving forward.

Ben:                 It’s funny how … and you’re not the first person to say this, but people think of Alexa and Amazon as being the innovator in the voice search space. And they absolutely are in some capacity. But the idea of, well, Amazon is getting into your car, and getting into your ears, and it has a device that follows you around. And I’m sitting here thinking … and maybe I’m the only person on the planet that uses a HomePod. But I’m sitting here thinking, Apple has CarPlay.

Courtney:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                 Apple had the Air Buds first. Apple had the Apple Watch. Like integrating Alexa into these devices, it feels very me too, as opposed to innovative. Where I think that Alexa and Amazon is cutting edge is how well their voice search product works.

Courtney:         That’s right.

Ben:                 But, even then, I think of Google as being the most useful for me because you can actually search for information, not just do home automation. And, to me, that’s where … like, at our home, we have a HomePod, which does all of our home automations. And then, we have a Google Home device for when we have questions.

Courtney:         Yeah. My perfect world, like if I could combine the three, would be the audio quality of the Apple devices, the quality of results of Google’s devices, and the quality of understanding me of my Alexa devices. I wish I had a hybrid.

Ben:                 Yeah. I agree. And honestly, what I would like … and I don’t mean to turn this into an Apple puff piece, but when you have an ecosystem that you’re using, I actually think that the Apple device is underrated in terms of the home automation and its ability to understand what you mean when you’re trying to operate some of the internet of things, home technologies. And I’ve found that Google and Alexa haven’t been as resourceful and as useful trying to get things to work the way that I want them to at home. I actually think Apple did a nice job of-

Courtney:         Sure.

Ben:                 Thinking about the home for the device. Now, don’t get me wrong, Siri is a pain in the butt. But, when it comes to, turn on X, Y, and Z devices, I think Apple did a nice job.

Ben:                 That said, home is one place where the results are happening and people are using voice search primarily for, tell me the weather, maybe play some music, and turn on a timer. And I think that’s where there’s a disconnect with what’s the future of voice search where everyone thinks, I’m going to do the equivalent of my text based searches through voice. That doesn’t seem like it’s happening or maybe it’s just happening in specific verticals. Tell me what you’re seeing. And are there places where more traditional text-based searches are going to become voice searches?

Courtney:         Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. We’ve been experimenting a lot with this at home. I have a one year old now. And so, you can imagine our hands are full a lot. So, one of the examples that I’ve been talking about for probably two years now is the idea of being able to say to Alexa or whatever voice device you’re talking to, “Hey, Alexa. How do I do CPR on an infant?” Because you could think of how useful that is to be hands-free, right? And, when I ask Alexa this, I’ve been asking her it consistently for the last two years, she doesn’t have an answer. She says, I don’t know about that. Or she has some other confused answer. Right?

Courtney:         So, that’s a really clear use case, something that’s obviously needed to be hands free. And yet, there’s not a solution for it or a good answer from Alexa. But, if you typed that in on Google or you typed it out on YouTube, you would get a really clear answer and something that’s useful. So, it’s not that the content is not out there. It’s just that Alexa or Amazon are not doing a good job of connecting the user to that content.

Courtney:         I do think that that’s a challenge for SEOs, right, those normal text based questions that we would ask. The quality of the results from a device like Alexa are so inconsistent that usage will drop because you don’t want to waste your time trying to alter your query in a way that’s going to get an answer from Alexa. You would just go straight to doing a text based search. So, I do think that’s a challenge and something that really is not as much on SEOs to solve but really is a function of the folks that are providing this technology to make sure that they get right. Because the content for that kind of stuff is out there. And it is optimized in a way that they could be used for voice.

Ben:                 So, talk to me about some of the places where you are seeing an increase in people relying on voice search. If it’s not your traditional question and answer based query, and honestly I think that, if you’re a Google Home user, you’re probably sitting here saying, I ask Google questions all the time. But, if you’re an Alexa or a HomePod, an Apple or Siri user, you’re not asking a lot of questions because you know the responses aren’t going to be great. Across the three platforms, where are you seeing more voice search commands?

Courtney:         So, local continues to dominate when it comes from a voice search query perspective. When someone is searching on voice, it’s three times more likely to be a local query than when someone is searching on text. So, because we know that, we can say, okay great. We can really focus in on making sure that our local listings, that our local data is accessible and optimized for voice so that, when people are making those queries, they’re finding our locations, they’re finding our services, and that they’re able to get the information that they need at the time that they need it.

Ben:                 I’m going to give some examples of queries. And don’t worry, everyone listening, I know that we’ve said the magic a word a few times. So, if your home devices are going off, I apologize. I’m going to use other words instead of the actual device names. You’re talking about Ashmexa, what time does the pizza place down the block open? Hey Shmoogle, what time does my haircut place open? Or what’s the directions to it? Is that what you mean by local search?

Courtney:         Or, what’s the nearest barbershop?

Ben:                 Right. Okay. So, these are all sort of directional and business operations. This kind of gets into the like Google My Business type data.

Courtney:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                 Other than optimizing your local listings, what can SEOs do to take advantage of the increase in local focused searches on voice search?

Courtney:         Yeah. So, local can’t be set it and forget. It used to be kind of that way where you would fill out your Google My Business listing, you might fill out your Bing Business, or Microsoft Business profile, and then you’d kind of say, “Okay. It’s built out. I’ll come back and look at it to see if anything has changed later.” If you follow Joy Hawkins at all, she’s constantly publishing about all of the different changes that are happening on Google My Business. I see something from her on a weekly basis that has changed on Google My Business. So, it’s no longer kind of set it and forget it.

Courtney:         One thing that happens all the time that can definitely affect your performance overall, but especially on voice where queries are limited, is the category changes. So, if you say, “What’s a barber shop near me?” When you search on voice, you’re limited to sort of that local data and what’s in Google My Business. And so, if you don’t have your business listing categorized in the right category for barber, and those categories change all the time, you might have a category get removed, a category get added. And they make hundreds of changes a year to that list, sometimes in bulk, sometimes one at a time. Then, when you’re getting that one answer from voice, you’re missing out.

Courtney:         On text, it’s slightly different, right? If you type in, barber shop near me, or barbershop in Dallas, or wherever you are, you’re going to get the local listings. And maybe you won’t show up there, but you have an opportunity to show up in the rest of the organic results. That’s not the case in voice. And so, it’s really super critical that you make sure your Google My Business listings are kept up to date. And the category is an example, but there are other areas that they’re constantly updating.

Ben:                 Yeah. So, I think the big takeaway here is that, when you’re thinking about what’s coming in 2020 for voice search and as it relates to the SEO industry, an understanding that most of the searches that are happening that are non-operational searches-

Courtney:         Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                 Not turning on the alarm, or the house lights, or something like that are, going to be local. So, optimizing your local listings for voice is obviously very important.

Ben:                 Courtney, there’s another place we’re also seeing a lift in voice search being useful. And we’re going to come back and actually spin off another one of these episodes where you’re going to tell us how voice search is going to make an impact in business for tomorrow’s episode.

Ben:                 So, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, coauthor of Voice Search: The New Search Engine. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So, if you’re interested in contacting Courtney, you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact her on Twitter where her handle is Courte Wakefield, C-O-U-R-T-E, W-A-K-E-F-I-E-L-D. Or you can visit her personal website which is CWAKE.digital. That’s C-W-A-K-E.digital.

Ben:                 Just one link in our show notes that I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to VoicesofSearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes, the contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. Or you could apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search Podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter. And my personal handle is BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And, if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing knowledge in your podcast feed, in addition to part two of our conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, coauthor of Voice Search: The New Search Engine book, we’re going to publish episodes multiple times a week. So, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. And we’ll be back in your feed soon.

Ben:     All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

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