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New Data on Voice Assistant SEO is a Wake-up Call for Brands

  • 58% of online adults have used voice search and 33% were using it monthly in early 2019, up from just over 25% monthly reported use in September 2018.
  • Market data from eConsultancy and SEO Tribunal suggest there were a quarter of a trillion voice searches in 2018 and Voicebot data show nearly 24% of U.S. consumers are using voice search for product and brand-related queries.
  • Google Assistant far outperformed rival voice assistants Alexa, Bixby, and Siri for voice search queries related to product categories and brands, but brand information is largely sourced from third-parties and not the brands themselves.
  • Voice apps developed by brands such as Alexa skills and Google Actions were not offered as results to search queries that included the brand name.
  • Search “expert” advice for voice SEO is not helping brands rank for results today based on an analysis of 38 articles from the past year and comparing the recommendations to the actual search results.

U.S. consumers are increasing their use of voice search and one estimate from eConsultancy suggests that over 250 billion voice searches were conducted worldwide last year. Voice search may be nowhere near 50% of all search and comScore denies ever saying it even though many internet denizens like to attribute that prediction to the research firm. However, at an estimated 13% of all search volume of two trillion 2018 Google searches, it is a very large figure that consumer brands need to consider. When brand marketers do look at their voice search performance, they are very likely to be disappointed. Following the advice of search experts for voice SEO strategy has left most of them empty-handed with either no answer to basic questions posed to voice assistants about brands or a third-party information aggregator controlling the message.

These are core findings of the Voice Assistant SEO Report for Brands published today as a collaboration between Voicebot.ai and Magic + Co. The 40-page report includes 25 charts and tables in addition to in-depth analysis and was developed based on a survey of over 1,000 U.S. adults, asking more than 4,000 questions to leading consumer voice assistants, and assessing recommendations from nearly 40 articles on voice search optimization. The report is organized into five sections:

  • An Introduction to Voice Search Today
  • Consumer Adoption Trends
  • Voice Search Results Analysis
  • Grading the “Experts”
  • Practical Voice Assistant SEO Strategies
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In addition, Voicebot and Magic+Company will be hosting a webinar discussing the results in detail and answering questions on Tuesday, July 16th at 1:00 pm EDT / 10:00 am PDT. You can register for the webinar through the button below.

Register for Webinar

Voice Search Consumer Adoption

Two key findings from the report is that a lot of U.S. consumers are employing voice search today and the frequency is rising. Over 58% of online U.S. adults (52.1% of all U.S. adults) say they have used voice search and 33% indicate they are doing it at least monthly. That monthly use figure is up from just over 25% in September 2018.

In addition, 47.2% of voice search users said they expect to increase their voice search frequency in 2019. The numbers are even higher for smart speaker owners with nearly 89% saying they use voice search and over 61% saying they intend to increase usage this year.

Voice Search for Brands Fail Often and Rely on Third Parties

Consumers report using a lot of voice search and 23.5% say they are searching for product-related information. That means there are consequences for brands when consumers are asking voice assistants about their product categories or brand names specifically. Voicebot researchers asked over 4,000 questions to four voice assistants across five different device surfaces. Google Assistant showed up twice so we could compare results from Google Home smart speakers with Google Assistant on smartphones.

Unsurprisingly, across all queries, Google Assistant performed best. However, the difference between Google Assistant its rivals Alexa, Bixby, and Siri, was far greater than previous voice search studies we have reviewed. Voicebot researchers attribute the difference to the more difficult task of identifying brand names correctly compared with other common consumer queries. The report goes into depth around product category questions as well as specific questions related to brands about how to contact them, where to purchase their products, and other basic information.

Notably, voice apps such as Alexa skills and Google Actions were not employed to answer consumer questions about brands. This was true even when the brands had voice apps designed for use with the voice assistant. In over 4,000 questions, a voice app of some sort was activated only twice. Three-quarters of the 200 brands evaluated did not have a voice app of any kind. However, with about 25% having a voice app for Alexa or Google Assistant, you would think that they would have been consulted more often for a voice search answer. Is this a failing of the branded voice app developers not including appropriate information or is it the voice assistants routing basic questions to other data sources? Our conclusion is that both factors contribute to the current results and this reality should inform voice assistant SEO strategy.

Search Expert Advice Not Helpful

After analyzing the voice search result data, we also wanted to assess whether the copious volume of search expert commentary on voice search optimization was actually helpful. The data suggests that few of the 27 different recommendations from search “experts” about voice SEO have any impact on helping brands surface their information for common questions about products or specifically about the brand. Wikipedia and Yelp optimization can help along with some common Google SEO strategies. Ben Fisher, CEO of Magic +Co., commented on the findings by saying:

Brands looking to take control of the conversation require an experienced and specialized partner. The old rules do not apply and all the algorithms are different on these platforms.

There seems to be an assumption that voice search will be similar to text-based search on the web among search professionals. However, voice search today is not often going through browsers. Instead, it is increasingly being routed through voice assistants which are optimized for speech recognition and natural language understanding. These assistants also happen to be the most convenient voice search tool since they are readily available on over two billion devices and often require only a wake word utterance or button push to activate. Voice assistant search query algorithms are different than traditional search which is likely leading to a disconnect between the “expert” advice and the reality on the ground.

The report breaks down the “expert” advice and based on the current data, offers 10 specific recommendations for voice assistant SEO today and going forward. We hope the report helps dispel a few myths around voice search and assists brand marketers in positioning for success when relevant queries are posed to voice assistants.

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