How the Rise of Voice Search Will Impact Paid Search Advertising

There are close to 420 million voice searches conducted every day, and that figure is expected to more than double by 2020.  

The rise in voice searches will change how you package your paid search advertising campaigns. To discount voice search now would mean missing out on volumes of traffic. And we’ll tell you why.

What Is Voice Search and What Does the Future Hold?  

“Ok Google, where can I purchase an affordable home near Pasadena?” “Where are the best K-8 schools located in Orange County?” “Where’s the best place to get brunch in Downtown Los Angeles?”

This is voice search in action, and consumers are relying on it every day to help fulfill their needs.

Voice search combines natural language processing (NLP) with text-to-speech technology to understand a user’s search query. This query is then processed through a database that attempts to match the query with an answer.

With every search, the NLP gets smarter, looking to past query histories and applying meaning to the context behind the phrase. Functioning near maximum capacity at 95% accuracy, it has come a long way from 2011 when Google and Apple introduced voice search-enabled digital assistants--neither Siri nor OK Google had surpassed 75% accuracy, and for users who anticipated more, they were less than impressed.

But with the technology advancing and users requiring more immediacy to get multiple tasks accomplished, there is demand for these voice assistants.   

According to VoiceLabs’ 2017 Voice Report, 1.7 million voice-first devices were shipped in 2015, compared to 2016 when 6.5 million of these devices were shipped.

VoiceLabs now estimates there will be 24.5 million voice-first devices shipped in 2017 alone, which will lead to “a total device footprint of 33 million voice-first devices in circulation”.

How Are Consumers Speaking to Their Phones?

To understand how consumers are speaking to and using their digital assistants, it behooves us to make a comparison between text-only searches and voice search.

With text-only search, users have learned to express their intent and “wants” in around 1-3 words. For instance, someone may type “PPC campaign strategies” or “best PPC strategies”. Other than the contact that comes from their fingers touching the keyboard, there is no “real” human interaction.

Thus the appeal of voice search. It is not just convenient and useful when you’re in a pinch, it allows for a certain amount of intimacy and personalization.

Consumers, in every way, want to connect with the digital footprints and touch points they make. The paradigm shift has been occurring since the introduction and adaptation of the internet, which is why every message and piece of contact you send to consumers today has to be personalized--from your email marketing campaigns and content marketing to your social media platforms and paid search advertising.

How do you explain this shift to be anything other than it being human nature to evolve? As technology advances, so do the possibilities in terms of what we can do and how connected we can become.

Voice search-enabled digital assistants, with their ability to mimic a human voice, have become real to users. Like a friend, they listen and respond according to what they’ve interpreted from that conversation, as well as past conversations. Over repeated exchanges, they learn your habits and interests so they can speak to you in a meaningful way.  

This is insightful, but let’s look at how we humans speak to one another as this will help you understand how users are speaking to their friend (digital assistant)--and then we’ll bring it all together to understand how you can incorporate this into your paid search advertising campaign.

As you would with a comrade, you speak not in bite-sized keywords, but in longer, developed sentences—on average 5 words of more. And during your conversation, you might pose the 5W’s and H (who, what, when, where, why, how).

Using our example earlier in this section, you may say something like this: “Siri, what are the best PPC strategies for a small business?”

You’ve referred to your digital assistant by name and have asked her a poignant question, using a full sentence.

Siri will now process this sentence through a database and she will attempt to match your query with an answer.

How Voice Search Will Change Paid Search Advertising--And Tips to Adapt

From what you’ve read, it should be clear how the rise of voice search will change paid search advertising: more than ever you will have to pay close attention to the user’s intent and ensure your landing pages and keywords/keyword groups align with that intent across all platforms by providing answers to their questions. Put in another way, the rise of voice search will mean phrase optimization.

Taking actionable steps now may mean the difference between improving your traffic and conversions, or not.  Here are some tips for cutting your teeth on voice search and paid search advertising.

1. Answer the questions consumers are asking

Search Engine Watch examined how many times question keywords appeared in search queries, and what they found was a 61 percent growth in question-based search queries every year.

Before producing a landing page and targeting your keywords for your paid search ad campaign, you will need to answer questions more deeply and return to the 5 W’s and H.

Pulling consumer data and analyzing consumer surveys will prove useful and will help you develop landing pages that target the intent of the voice search user.

For example, if you find in your consumer surveys that consumers think your product or service is hard to understand, sending them to a landing page that answers the question of how your product or service works could be the way to go. And on this landing have a demonstration video.  

So start brainstorming about what naturally spoken questions consumers ask or may ask about your business, product, or service. To get you started with the brainstorming process, try, StoryBase or Question Samurai. They will give you natural language keyword phrases you can incorporate into your landing page or paid search ad.

2. Pay closer attention to long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are more specific than a standard search, and better show the user’s intent. For instance, a standard search might be “paid search advertising,” but a long-tail search might be “How to get started with paid search advertising.”

The intent between both users is quite different: one is in the research/awareness phase, while the other is actively looking to start a paid search advertising campaign.  

3. Ensure your landing page has a conversational tone

When doing a voice search, users use natural language, and this means fully-developed sentences that are often question-based.

Prior to restructuring, brands would compete for terms with high search volume; they would, optimize landing pages for the most searched keywords. Now, however, Google’s syntactic grouping of search terms and ability to sift out more informational search, has caused search engines to prioritize intent-based copy instead. By doing this, the user hopefully gets exactly what they were looking for on the search engine results page (SERP).

That said, you will need to move from truncated keyword searches to conversational queries, like the long-tail example in tip 2.

4. Do your homework

When you were in school, to make the grade, you had to do your homework. You will need to do the same here. It will be more important than ever to study how personal assistant tools like Siri, Cortana, and Alexa select instant answers to serve to users. You’ll also need to examine how Google’s own voice search functionality picks the results used to answer a user’s query.

But since we know that most voice searches are question-based, it would be useful to optimize informational content by putting it in a Q&A format. This may persuade Google to pull these pieces of content through, much like it does with answer box results in SERPs.   

One trick is to look at Google’s Search Console reports, which show you the queries that are bringing people to your site. You won’t be able to tell if the query was a voice search or text-only search, but you will have a better idea of the questions people are asking about your business and your product or service.

5. Use ad extensions

Ad extensions offer additional information to your targeted consumers, including product or service details, your location, and contact.

Start Testing Voice Search Via Paid Search Advertising

As intimidating as voice search may sound, you don’t have to commit and go hog wild. You can easily get started with the process by testing voice search through your paid search advertising. By doing so you will get more detailed reporting across multiple platforms.

As to not throw money to the wayside, it is recommended that you use a small portion of your paid search advertising budget, say $50 or less, and put it toward a voice search test.

1. Search Query Reports (SQRs) and Excel

For this step, you’ll need to determine what voice-related activity exists for you by identifying assumed voice queries. This will help you identify how your consumers are currently using voice to interact with you.

  • Download your search term report, or commonly referred to as search query report, from within your Google AdWords or Bing Ads account. Go back 30-60 days, depending on volume.
  • Open the doc in Excel to start sorting.
  • Sort the columns, focusing on just the essentials like the search term or number of impressions.
  • Sort by query length to segment the search queries that are five or more keywords in length.
  • To find the assumed voice query searches with the most impressions, calculate and sort, first by query length and then by impressions.

Note: Until there is more research to confirm one way or another, it should be noted that when performing this step of the test you will be making the assumption that if the query is of a certain length, it was performed via voice search. It is possible that they are not all voice searches, and that they are simply people who are typing in more involved queries.

That said, continuing with the test has its benefits, as successful paid search advertising campaigns are founded on a deep understanding of user intent. Pulling these queries will give you insight into the questions your consumers are asking, so you can build campaigns that effectively answer them.

2. Keyword Tools and Excel

The purpose of this step is to find additional keywords that could be missing and arrange the list based on motivation.

Now that you have your assumed voice query searches, you’ll have some intuition into your customer’s intent--what they are searching for and what they are not searching for.

But with that, we’ll need to expand this list of keywords to find potential queries with high value that we can add to our list. Moz Keyword Explorer and Answer the Public are helpful tools you can use to accomplish this.

We chose to work in Moz Keyword Explorer to do the following:

  • Go to your keyword search tool and type in a phrase, such as “buy a home.” You’ll receive keyword suggestions and a SERP analysis.
  • Click to get the full SERP analysis. You’ll see the top organic search results.
  • Check out what exists in question form. Note: Moz Keyword Explorer is a useful tool, but we’d recommend you use it in addition to Answer the Public, as it will give you a wider range of questions/queries, showing the 5 W’s and H that actually display users’ motivational intent.
  • Sort these questions by degree of intent, with the highest being those questions that  signal consumers are ready to purchase and the lowest being those that appear to be for background information or comparison shopping purposes.
    • Knowing the phase of the buyer’s journey can help you make educated suggestions, because you can identify core themes and sort by intent.
    • If you’re a real estate agent in los angeles and you use our example from above, questions of the highest degree of intent would be:
    • Where to buy a home in Los Angeles, but you’d also want to pay close attention to the “how”, “are”, and “when” categories.

Tip: If you prepare a chart with these sortings, you are better able to visualize the groupings.

4. Analytics and Excel

It makes no sense to throw money at a voice search-intended paid ad if you’re not going to pull data to see how it performs. The performance of your ad campaign will help you determine the next steps.

Note: It may take multiple weeks to extract enough data to run reports that hold meaningful insight.

  • Before you actually pull data, you need to take time to determine your Key Performance Indicators.
    • Research-type queries, for example, will be gauged by micro-conversions and varying KPIs like form fills, leads generated, etc.
  • Pull the following reports:
    • Keyword performance report: This will show you the clicks, impressions, quality score, conversions, click-through rates, and other pertinent details about each keyword within your campaign. You will use this report to find out which keywords are activating your ads, resulting in clicks, and causing conversions. You can also pinpoint keywords that are low performers and decide whether to remove them.
    • Ad performance reports: Pull the number of impressions, spend, clicks, and conversions for each ad and use this information to determine which ads are leading to the most clicks and conversions, and which are not.
    • Device and demographics reports: These insights are extremely actionable as it relates to bid modifications and creating highly-targeted ad copy. This coupling tells you what devices are being used the most and who exactly is converting.
    • Create a campaign report: Look at your PLA performance. Do tweaks or major overhauls to close gaps versus your expectations.

Don’t Be Afraid of Voice Search...Embrace It!

It seems just when you think that you are getting a handle on paid search advertising, you get thrown a curveball like voice search. But there is a silver lining.

Google is aware of the growing number of voice searches and has responded by broadening exact match queries by ignoring function words. This means marketers and advertisers can cast their nets wider to capture relevant searches that show similar intent, allowing paid search advertising to become more voice-search friendly.

In fact, Amazon, which is threatening Google’s search hegemony, hinted earlier this year about bringing paid voice search to Alexa.

Additionally, algorithm updates like Panda and Possum are set to open the door for less authoritative sites, as they will be given a chance to better compete for long-tail queries if their content is high quality and intent-led.

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