Voice Search and Smart Speakers are Changing how People Search

Read how voice search and smart speakers are changing how people search.


In 2016, when Google introduced its Google Home smart speaker, CEO Sundar Pichai noted that 20% of mobile searches were voice-based. By 2020, up to 50% of searches could be voice-based. Whether it’s via a search engine or a smart speaker, voice search is too big to ignore.

How is Voice Search Different?

Back in 2014, when voice search was somewhat new, 55% of teens and 40% of adults were already using Google voice search on a daily basis. Those figures are even higher now that most adults and teens have smartphones. The use of voice search has increased along with smartphone ownership, just because it’s so much easier to use voice search than it is to type on a mobile device.

For businesses that want to capture their share of web traffic, understanding how people use voice search is vital. Why? Because people don’t talk the way they type, especially when it comes to using search engines. When people use a text-based search engine, they’re more likely to type in a few relevant words. When they use voice search, their query is more conversational. Voice searchers tend to ask questions, rather than use keywords.

For instance, if you want to look up how to fix a leaking tap, a text-based searcher might type, “fix leaking tap”. A voice searcher is more likely to say, “how do I fix a leaking tap?” It doesn’t look like it should make a significant difference, but to a search engine it does matter.

What do Voice Users Think?

In a 2017 survey of smartphone users in the UK, US, and other locations, JWT Intelligence came up with some interesting statistics.

  • 72% of people who use voice search regularly think brands should have their own unique voices and personalities.
  • 55% of smartphone users think technology would be easier to use if it could speak back to them.
  • 43% think that voice technology will make it easier to use their smartphone, and make them less dependent on their mobile devices.
  • Consumers who ask a brand a question, rather than typing it, record twice the amount of emotional brain activity. If voice searches evoke heightened emotional responses, they might be more likely to result in purchase-related activity than text-based searches.

Voice Search: Pros and Cons

Voice search for search engines

There is one significant advantage to optimising for voice search: everyone’s using it. That’s the only advantage that matters, because the statistics show that voice search is the mode of choice for mobile users. Most mobile users find it easier, faster, and more convenient.

There are some disadvantages to voice search, however. For instance, while some demographics have been eager to use voice, there’s still a solid contingent of smartphone users who say they just don’t see the point in voice search. In the JWT study, 29% of respondents who didn’t use voice search gave this reason for avoiding it.

Smart speakers

Smart speakers are not as widely-used as mobile devices, but the gap is closing steadily. Sales of these devices doubled in 2017, in the US alone, 16% of people own a smart speaker. More significantly, 22% of Google Home and Amazon Echo owners use them for shopping.

Smart speakers do have their share of disadvantages, the most obvious one being that they’re not portable like smartphones are. That’s not likely to be a problem for long, of course, considering the rate at which the tech is being adopted.

And people do love the tech, once they start to use it. However, there are limitations to the current smart speakers. When Google surveyed Google Home customers in 2017, 57% of respondents said that they’d use voice search more if the unit responded to more complex commands. And, 58% of people highlighted the fact that Google Home—and smart speakers in general—aren’t great at providing detailed search results.

Do You Need to Optimise for Voice Search?

As long as people use computers to go online, text-based search will still have its place. Even so, the statistics prove that voice search is important both to ecommerce retailers, and to offline businesses that have an online presence. If your business has a website, it should be optimised for voice search as well as traditional text-based searching.

Because people perform voice searches by asking questions, the simplest way to optimise content for voice search is to ensure it contains both a question and an answer. Ideally, the question and answer should be contained within two short snippets of information that are located near the start of the content piece, and are also located in the same or consecutive paragraphs.

Voice-optimised content should also make good use of long-tail keywords—meaning targeted phrases as well as single words—to create a conversational writing style where key phrases are scattered naturally throughout the text.

When optimising for voice, don’t forget that it’s just one part of an integrated SEO approach. Don’t optimise for voice search at the expense of text-based search—make sure your other SEO components are in place first.