Car driving up and down sound waves and title overlay 'Navigating Voice Search for Your Brand'

Navigating Voice Search for Your Brand

During the 1970s, the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment confirmed something most could’ve predicted—children tend to prefer instant gratification (and marshmallows) over delayed gratification. The experiment placed kids in a room with one marshmallow and two options: enjoy just one marshmallow now, or have two in 15 minutes. Most chose one marshmallow—now.

As adults, shoppers can purchase and consume as many marshmallows as they desire. To no surprise, they still prefer instant gratification—from one-day shipping to freaky fast food to 5G data. Information gathering is no different. Many people have found the quickest avenue to information is employing their own personal voice assistant. Her name is Alexa. Or Cortana. Or Siri. And she knows, well, everything.

Today, an increasing number of people are using these voice assistants in their day-to-day lives. However, unlike online searches, there are no points for second or third place, there’s only one winner. So, how does your brand become the answer consumers are asking for? To answer this, you must first answer these three questions.

Who is searching?

By 2020, it is estimated that 50% of all searches will be made using voice—whether it be made on a smartphone, a smart TV, a wearable or a smart speaker. Each day, 40% of adults use their voice to seek out information, from recipes to directions. Who is using voice search?

  • 59% of 18-24-year-olds use voice search
  • 65% of 25-49-year-olds use voice search
  • 57% of 50+ year-olds use voice search

From boomers to Gen Z, these users are seeking information at a moment's notice. And though they may not have a lot in common, the way they are searching can be very similar.

What are they expecting?

People are expecting quick and relevant information. Part of the appeal of voice search is the convenience. Consumers no longer need to grab their phones, open their laptops or even (get this) crack open a book to get the information they need. In fact, it’s projected that 30% of web browsing will be screenless by 2020. That said, voice devices aren’t only limited to screenless, smart speakers. Wearables and smart TVs also have voice search capabilities. In the next five years, smart TV usage is predicted to increase by 121%, making this technology all the more familiar with users.

To make sure your content can be found with or without a screen, marketers should optimize information to appear in featured snippets. These featured snippets (example below) are the answers that our dear voice assistants provide to consumers 71% of the time—and, they are not necessarily the #1 search result. The search algorithm selects the information that answers the searched question with the most relevance.

Google search example



An example of a featured snippet from a search made on a computer.

Ultimately, this is where brands should want to be in Google search results. It’s the highest position on the search engine results page (SERP), even above that #1 organic spot everyone is after. When a featured snippet is displayed, it receives 8.6% of clicks. The top organic search result receives 19.6% of these clicks. However, when it comes to voice search, there is no second place.

How are voice searches different from lexical (typed) searches?

When it comes to voice search, consumers speak conversationally as they would to another person, such as a friend or a neighbor. This means that they phrase their searches differently than they would if they were typing it into a search bar. For example, someone looking to make some nice, marshmallow-y Rice Krispie treats may type into Google ‘rice krispie treat recipe’ while someone using voice search may ask Alexa ‘what is the best rice krispie treat recipe? These two searches will likely come back with different results and different featured snippets.  

In general, all searches boil down to three main types of search intent:

Three Types of Search Intent Infographic

Transactional searchers are often looking to convert, but so are navigational searchers. Research shows 50% of all ‘near me’ searches via smartphone result in a store visit. Keywords like ‘near me’ and ‘nearby’ are important for voice searchers—and they’re even more important for brick and mortars who are looking to increase foot traffic. To capitalize on this, marketers need to make sure to include geographical keywords when creating and publishing content online.

iPhone search using Siri


Example of a similar search made using voice search on an iPhone (Siri)

For marketers, it’s also important to uncover the questions users may have and how these relate to their brands. Marketers can find ideas for these search queries by researching brand and product-specific keywords using SEO tools like Moz or Answer the Public. Marketers should pay close attention to the questions consumers ask on other channels like social media, reviews, customer care or even on online forums, too. By providing answers to these questions on your site using a FAQ page or in a piece of content on a landing page, you are providing your friends Alexa, Siri and Cortana with an exact (or darn close to) match to consumer search queries.

So, to win the voice search game, brands not only need to know how people phrase their voice searches but why as well. When you understand why consumers are searching for something, you can better deliver the what that they are expecting to find (product, service, information, answer, etc.). This means building a better understanding of search semantics, or in other words, supporting keywords and phrases.

To be successful at voice search, brands should already be embracing a strategic digital search strategy. With a few tweaks and the addition of some digital content, these brands can win the desktop, mobile and voice search game, too.

Searching for more consumer insights? No need to ask Alexa. Hoffman York is a full-service advertising and marketing communications agency with experience identifying and reaching target audiences. HY provides clients with award-winning creative solutions, digital, paid media, earned and social media, as well as research and analytics. To learn more about how HY can help your brand succeed, contact us at [email protected]. Or, click here to view our past work.


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