The goal of digital marketing is to get someone the information they want or something they need in a place where they will find it. There are many ways to do this, from creating an infographic that goes viral on social media, to getting one of your blog posts featured on a popular website, to optimizing your site for specific search engine queries so people use Google or Bing to find you when they’re looking for background information about your product or industry.
But what if people don’t have to type anything? Voice search is different from typical text-based searches because instead of typing “things I need,” you speak them into your phone and can immediately see those results. Voice search has already become increasingly common in mobile devices such as Android phones, iPhones, and iPads. People can ask things like “What time does my flight leave from Pittsburgh?” and immediately have the answer (if they have enabled location services on their device). That means voice search can quickly bring up information that is relevant both to users’ immediate needs and long-term goals — information such as whether a product is available in stores or online, how much it costs when an event is happening, what your competitors charge for this service or that product…and so on.
This might sound pretty straightforward—people just asking questions of their phone. But really, it could herald the biggest shift in digital marketing since the creation of web browsers: Voice search is a technology that lets people type with their voice.
How will this change how digital marketers operate? For the better, first of all because it gives them another (more natural) way to connect with customers. The next time you’re in an urgent situation, try talking to your phone instead of typing: “Where can I find someone who does arborist work near me right now?” Or try asking Google what time your favorite restaurant will be open tomorrow — and see if they tell you! Or maybe you won’t even have to ask at all; as Forbes noted last year, the major benefits of voice search lie not only in its speed but also in the fact that it has “the potential for encouraging higher-value behaviors.”
The reality is that most people don’t like to read online (and if you’re one of the rare ones who does, good for you). People want their information to come to them quickly and easily; they want to be able to access the data they need in a way that’s comfortable; they don’t want to have to sort through irrelevant material. Voice search offers all these features. It can even help people feel more confident with themselves since it works as an opportunity for instant feedback (when we ask questions out loud, we get answers back from ourselves—a process that can increase self-esteem), which then leads us to trust technology more. In fact, some researchers believe voice search will change how human beings interact with computers forever.
And of course, voice search offers a range of benefits to digital marketers as well; it can help them build better relationships with potential customers who are more likely to trust and interact with businesses that they think will answer their questions quickly and accurately without using up all their time. (Pew Research reported last fall that nearly two-thirds of smartphone owners use the technology to get information “whenever they want it.”) Voice search also provides an opportunity for companies to provide instant answers, which is something consumers expect from brands in 2016. At the same time, though, natural language processing is still extremely difficult for machines — so if you’re planning on taking advantage of this trend yourself right away, your content should be easily understandable by humans first.
Indeed, voice search could lead to some pretty big changes in the way companies of all sizes advertise their products. Experts predict that this technology will shift how consumers think about advertising; they’ll be more likely to trust brands that use voice search because it gives them quick answers when they need them most. Interactive voice response is already used by many businesses to build brand loyalty and provide customer support—but now it’s becoming clear that it could also impact how digital advertisers connect with their customers. Voice search ads might take a variety of forms: Some might be recordings of a brand’s phone answering service, while others could offer coupons or send users directly to local stores. But whatever form they take, the ads are likely to come up in two ways: When users search for specific brands, and when their devices interact with smart speakers.