“Google, what kind of lawn mower should I buy?”

“Siri, where is the closest car mechanic?”

Voice search isn’t a traditional search executed on a mobile or voice-activated device. This increasingly popular format impacts the way we structure queries and our search intent.

For marketers, it impacts content creation, optimization and the appearance of search engine results pages. Search engine optimizers are accustomed to an ever-changing algorithm and evolving search behaviors.

Today those behaviors are changing in part because of a plethora of devices on which users are looking for information. When we think of voice search, we typically think of queries like, “Mexican restaurants near me” and “Alexa, order more toilet paper.”

But today, voice search is leading to an increase in more complex and nuanced questions like, “Am I saving enough for retirement” and “Where should I live?”

Research indicates that not only is voice search on the rise, but personalized search also is growing, too. We already know that consumers trust the advice and experiences of friends and family, and that reviews are a critical component of the purchase process.

But as devices that strive to meet our every need become more prolific — think Alexa, Siri and Google Home — so does the belief that all search results should be relevant and tailored to us.

According to Google, mobile searches with the phrase “__ for me” have increased 60 percent in the past two years, and mobile searches with the phrase “__ should I __” have increased 80 percent in the same time period. Questions like “How many credit cards should I have,” or “how much is my car worth” are becoming more common.

This change represents a shift in how we approach search, and the content and context we expect to be delivered in a SERP. This has significant implications for marketers, especially at a time when more than half of professionals believe that they lack the technical know-how to harness big data. Users understand that their online habits are being monitored, and in exchange they expect to see that user data translated into relevant and frictionless digital experiences.

Voice search by the numbers

Sales of voice-activated search devices continue to grow. Alexa and Google Home dominate the market with 95 percent market share. As more users bring these devices into their homes, we’ll likely see other evolutions to search habits.

1. More than 20 percent of searches on Google’s mobile app are voice searches.

2. According to a tweet from Purna Virji, more than 25 percent of Windows 10 desktop taskbar searches are voice search.

3. 43 percent of mobile voice searchers choose voice search because it’s “easier than going to a website or app.”

The last stat is particularly interesting. And while it might concern content creators and marketers alike, it simply represents the need to shift the way you optimize content. Common sense tells us that searchers looking for detailed, in-depth content to help them make business decisions likely aren’t using Siri or Alexa to read them technical content.

But like many other past B2C trends, the habits we use in our life tend to bleed into the professional space, creating foundational shifts in the way we communicate and do business.

Tips for voice search

So how do we — as content creators, SEOs and marketers — ensure our content is evolving as search trends evolve?

• Look at your data. What does mobile traffic to your website look like — is it the predominant device, or is its share increasing over time? How do you rank in mobile versus desktop, and what do your click-through rates look like from each device? If you monitor your website’s rank for critical keywords, look to see if you’re dropping, maintaining or increasing in rank. Use a tool like Moz or SEMrush to get a handle on the SERP features present in the results of your priority keywords. This will help you determine those keywords where you have the best opportunity to rank for position zero, or the featured snippet in a result.

• Look beyond Google. Yes, it’s the number one search engine on the planet. But many popular virtual assistants pull their results from other search engines. Siri provides Bing results, while Alexa uses a combination of Bing and your Amazon search and purchase history. And of course, Google Home uses Google data.

• Using your customer profiles, hone in on the challenges your audience faces. Could these be translated into personalized searches? Perhaps that’s not the case, but this trend in personalization reminds us that we need to understand the wants and needs of our audiences. What drives them to consider new products or technologies, or to invest in new equipment? In addition to lowering costs or improving productivity, we need to help our audience understand how our products and services make their lives easier.

• Don’t have customer profiles? Think about the demographics of your audience and the devices they might be using in their daily lives. For example, CMI reports that young people generally are better at voice search. Adults tend to use truncated queries — think “women’s running shoes” — and younger users lean on natural phrasing, like “what’s the best running shoe for marathon training.” Try to put yourself in your audiences’ shoes when optimizing content for a search.

We know that as voice search grows in popularity, it leads to an increase in natural language and long-tail search terms, and it changes the way we optimize content. But it also creates an expectation of relevancy that requires a deep understanding of your audience, their wants and needs and their consumption habits.

While mining your customer data for this information can be cumbersome, it will lead to quality content, better user experiences and ultimately, increased conversions.

Hillary Ferry is digital marketing director at Two Rivers Marketing, a division of Woodward Communications Inc., parent company of Telegraph Herald.

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