Voice search will be the next digital obsession, says James Murray, EMEA Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft Bing.

In an interview with Laura Hampton of Impression, Murray explains that voice is big, not just for Bing, but for our industry as a whole, drawing parallels with the rise of mobile in recent years.

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“Anyone who went to a digital conference for probably the last decade will have heard presentations about 2007 being the year of mobile, 2008 the year of mobile, 2010 the year of mobile – it’s only been recently, perhaps the last year or so, that we’ve got to a point where it was a given that mobile was an entity that we had to take seriously and that it wasn’t The Year of Mobile or the year that the device made its big break,” says Murray.

“Voice is very much going to be like that. At the moment, we’re starting to see people just playing at the edges of what voice can achieve, but I would fully expect that for 2017 and beyond, if you go to conferences, you’re going to hear at least one presentation saying 2018 will be the year of voice. It’s one of those things that’s a compelling trend that people haven’t quite figured out yet but we know is going to be very important.”

The Mary Meeker internet trends report of 2016 suggested that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice – showing the need for marketers to take the platform seriously in the coming months and years.

For SEOs, Murray has the following advice:

“We’ve bent ourselves as users to conform to the way that search engines behave, resulting in a very robotic style of search – such as ‘cheap holiday Tenerife’. Voice search is much more conversational, with much more natural language intent – such as ‘where can I find a cheap holiday to Tenerife’.

“As marketers, we therefore need to think about how we prepare for this new set of queries that will become more and more prominent within the overall search mix. That means thinking about the way people talk, rather than the way they type.”

From an SEO perspective, that means writing in natural language and avoiding any form of keyword stuffing. The other thing you can start to do is to think about the ways you can markup your content to fit to natural language queries. One example Murray gave was FAQs; rather than making them very functional, think about the way people actually voice those queries and write much more conversationally to meet those needs.

The nature of search means also that voice will expose brands for terms that might not be directly related to a sale. Someone might be making a query such as ‘what’s the typical amount of sunshine in Tenerife’ might not then book a holiday straight away, but if your brand can answer those questions now, it will be in the mind of the user when it comes to conversion time.

From a PPC perspective, it means looking more at things like question keywords – what, why when – so if you’re not taking those queries into account in your campaigns, you could be missing out on traffic, says Murray.

It’s also going to be necessary to invest more and more in broad match. This is likely to worry many in the industry, who crave the tighter control of campaigns derived from exact match. But Murray’s argument is that you can’t possibly think of all the ways people are going to search – meaning broad match is the only way to get wider visibility in the SERPs.

Brands who are taking advantage of these opportunities now are the ones who, according to Murray, will be the ones who are testing and learning now and as voice volumes ramp up, it will be those brands who are able to take advantage.

So what does this mean for digital marketers?

As an industry, we’ve long been aware of the need to create content for humans, not search engines – and taking that natural language approach is common best practice, so not too much change there.

What we are finding is that Google in particular is surfacing more content formats, such as ‘people also ask’ boxes, which we believe exist, at least in part, to encourage webmasters to create that question driven content that will be so important in voice search. As SEOs, we must continue to be focused on the user experience, and as brands, it’s important to be aware of your area of expertise and to create content that communicates that expertise at all points of the sales funnel.

Liam Wade, PPC manager at Impression, gave his thoughts on voice and, in particular, Murray’s argument that broad match will become important. He said: “It’s inevitable that broad match will become more prevalent, as advertisers fight to deal with more unpredictable queries. The younger generations don’t use voice search in the way they use a search bar; they speak to search engines and AIs as if they are human.”

Laura Hampton spoke to James Murray about a range of topics relevant to search and paid advertising. The full Bing interview can be found at www.impression.co.uk/bing-interview

Laura Hampton

Digital Marketing Manager

Digital marketer @impressiontalk specialising in user-centred SEO, PR, content marketing, social media and digital strategy. In my spare time, I jump out of planes.