Voice Search – Currently a Big Deal?

Sep 8, 2020SEO

SEJ recently published a “study” of voice search ranking factors. It’s interesting, but as with most marketing articles related to voice search, there’s a ton of questionable premise. Here’s what I’m talking about.

The first thing is maybe a minor quibble, but at the top of the article they show this graphic:

2020 Local Voice Search Ranking Factors [STUDY]

So maybe I’m looking too much into it, but the post only shows the market share for each assistant. That’s useful in the context of which service to focus on, but not useful in the context of whether you should focus on voice period. In the digital marketing world we’ve been hounded with hype about voice search for years now. So, should we care?

The study they link to at the end says this:

Each year, voice search increasingly becomes a more dominant force to reckon with. 20% of the global online population is already using voice search, and 58% of voice users employ it to run a local business search.

(bold added by me for emphasis)

20% sounds like a lot. So I clicked deeper. I found these notes.

It is believed that today, two in five adults now use voice search at least once per day, and by 2020 it is estimated by many experts that half of all searches will have shifted from the keyboard to the microphone.

Google revealed that 20% of searches through the Android Google App are now voice searches

(Again, bold added for emphasis)

On the 2nd bullet, that only applies to either navigating to the “Google” app on your phone, holding the home screen button (or similar gesture) to open assistant, or saying “hey google”. They don’t say what % of people do that vs searching in a browser.

On the 1st bullet, they link to this study as a source: https://seoexpertbrad.com/voice-search-statistics/ – here’s the summary from it:

  • 58% of consumers have used voice search to find local business information within the last year.
  • 46% of voice search users look for a local business daily.
  • 27% visit the website of a local business after conducting a voice search.
  • 76% of smart home speaker users conduct local searches at least  once a week—with 53% performing daily searches. Source: BrightLocal Study1 in 5 adults uses mobile voice search at least one time a month, according to Global Web Index.
  • 22% of smart home speaker owners have made a purchase using their device. (Edison Research)
  • 2 of 5 adults perform a voice search at least once a day. (Location World)

(Again, bold added for emphasis)

1 in 5 do voice search on their phone at least once a month, but 2 in 5 people (among the online population) use it on any device daily? Here’s the study they’re referencing for the 1 in 5 number. https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-day/1-in-5-using-voice-search-on-mobile/ – it’s older but I don’t see any other recent data available.

Also in that report, is this:

Source: https://seoexpertbrad.com/voice-search-statistics/

In case you think your mind is playing tricks on you, yes, 2 in 5 = 40%. So if essentially 60% of all people 18-24, 25-49 and 50+ are using voice search daily… how do we get the 40% number? There’s literally no “adult” demographic missing in this graphic. It just makes me very suspect of what’s being sold to us.

They also say

Google has stated that 20% of all searches are voice related.

The actual quote they’re citing is:

20 percent of all searches have voice intent

source: https://www.iprospect.com/en/us/news-and-views/news/google-home-accelerating-voice-search-growth/#:~:text=Google%20announced%20at%20I%2FO,voice%20search%20results%20in%20Google.

That was from 2016, prior to Google Home being a thing. Intent does not mean the searches were done via voice. It means they were conversational or question based queries that easily would translate to voice.

I’m pointing all of this out because this hype has consequences. Clients are going to pressure SEO teams about their voice strategy. SEOs are going to optimize at the expense of other work. There’s certainly going to be some money spent on tools for voice research/optimization. And we don’t seem to have a good handle on what the opportunity is we’re chasing. Is there a potential payoff in dedicating time toward voice search in place of traditional search (if you’re getting additional budget for voice and continuing your old work as usual, good for you)?

There might be real numbers out there on what % of searches are done by voice. I haven’t found them. It might be a big number. It’s probably growing. But for years now we’ve gotten this super murky data or straight up lies about how big a deal voice search is. Before this it was mobile (which it wasn’t hard to imagine would become a real big deal). It will be something else next. It always happens. Stop the hype, look into the numbers, question everything.

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