Voice Search: Insights and Trends from Google Keyword Research etc - Talk from Brighton SEO (2021)

This is a transcript of my talk from the Brighton SEO 'live' conference in Sept 2021 with insights about the uses of / trends in Voice Search from keyword research using Google Keyword Planner / Trends data, as well as Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana etc.

    Note this is the transcript of the video version of the talk which was recorded (with a sore throat) after the event and includes an omission from the live version of the talk. So if you saw it live and found it of use you may want to watch the video again! I’ve edited it slightly as some of the talk refers to slides which you can’t see in the transcription here: here’s the video of the full talk with slides:

    Launched in 2012 as a feature of Google search in the Google App, voice search has been a part of the Google landscape for a while now.

   It's now part of the Google Assistant which can engage in two-way conversations. Back in 2016 I read an article on thedrum.com with a quote from a local agency here in Brighton that said “no official nor relevant voice search tool exists yet which means that it's impossible to get data from queries that people are voicing with their Google Now” (which was the name of one of the technologies at the time which was the interface for voice search). [You can identify them for yourself!]

  That made me think back to around a year before when I did some keyword research using Google Keyword Planner on those types of queries. In the same year 2016 in the venture capitalist and analyst Mary Meeker's annual Internet Trends report she stated that Google trends implies that queries associated with voice related commands had risen over 35 times since 2008 after the launch of the Iphone and Google voice search based on Google Trends. Her analysis was talking about voice commands such as “navigate home “rather than your typical searches so that's the data she presented she was looking at the commands “navigate home”, “call mom” and “call dad”.

   She was inferring from what is relative popularity data in Google Trends an absolute rise in popularity (which you can only see in Google Keyword Planner) so you've got to understand the tools and check your experts’ thought leadership statistics . A line trending downward or upward in Google Trends means a search term's relative popularity is simply decreasing or increasing . There's various pieces of research which suggests there's certain types of topics which Google voice search is like more likely to be used for, such as entertainment topics such as food, drink, recipes, films, shopping, travel, local business or multimedia information search such as video .

    The research suggests that topics of a more private nature such as health topics are less likely to be searched for using voice search . Around the same time of all that analysis we talked about earlier the Google CEO announced 20% of queries on the mobile app and on Android devices were voice searches so again that's data from certain devices rather than globally on Google. Certain people have questioned this analysis as to whether all those queries are actual searches, or some of them are commands like the ones we talked about earlier . One thing I realized early on is that this: Google voice search / command data (which is being used to control certain Google products) data is available in the Keyword Planner - with old data from 2017 (global Google Keyword Planner data) for the Google Nest product which is a thermostat and all sorts of other home functionality so you can see the temperatures that people are are using the device to set the temperature to. It dawned on me that this sort of data in Google Keyword Planner might be useful to restaurant chains because you've got the month by month data in Google Keyword Planner so you can see on a month by month basis in a certain locality the ambient temperatures people may like .

   In terms of the wider market legacy products we've got the Google Glass . So they stopped selling the Google Glass directly to individual consumers in 2015 so I've got a bit of keyword research here from late 2015 which showed you some of the commands that you were able to do with the Google Glass - it had already flopped and you could see from the data worldwide that it had flopped. It's worth noting that it's not a technology which has died completely - they still sell it and DHL use it in their parcels business.

    It's worth noting that in the legacy keyword research that I've done searches could be triggered by voice “okay Google” & “hey Google” but now with the Google Assistant it's possible to activate it by also touching and hold holding the home button so there's there's manual ways to do it as well . So bear that in mind when you're doing your current keyword research . It's possible to trigger the device with “OK Google” and then do your search or  command and they'll be recorded separately .

   The Google Assistant is integrated into the exercise tracker device Fitbit now - Google bought Fitbit this year and it's worth noting that it's not triggered by voice it's triggered manually.

     It's worth noting that you can you can use the Google Keyword Planner data to look at how people are integrating the voice technologies into their platform. So ASOS in 2018 launched voice shopping by Google Assistant and from the Keyword Planner data from the UK it doesn't look like it's getting much traction from the search data.

    It's also worth noting that there's other voice assistants and platforms and there may be data available elsewhere on the use / popularity on the popularity of these technologies. Cortana (which is Bing's voice assistant) Amazon’s Alexa both use Bing's database for search so my tests show there looks like there's some data from these commands / queries in Bing Keyword Planner ( I don’t know if it’s complete). And also on the subject of Cortana it looks like as as a standalone app it's a failure -  it's been shut down recently on IOS and Android .

 I think the trend is that these voice search functionalities and voice assistants have been integrated into browsers rather than standing alone as in the past.

   Some takeaways:

1. Danny Sullivan from Google has confirmed that feature snippets are used for voice search and to the best of my understanding the featured snippet and the people also ask questions are part of the architecture of the voice search (question and answer) system so that's a fundamental aspect of voice search to the best of my understanding 

2. There's a 2018 study that said 80% of Google Home results come from featured snippets and some other research stated roughly three percent of voice results come from “frequently asked questions” pages

3.  From one piece of research I did there was 20 “people also ask” questions for a search term listed . When I exported them only five of the 20 had any search volume above 10 a month in the UK and to the best of my knowledge it’s pretty much a UK only search term 

4. for keyword research there's lots of free tools that can assist you with your voice search research and optimization . answerthepublic.com to help you get your list of questions, keywordtool.io again to help you get your list of questions to use to get the data from the horse's mouth from Google Keyword Planner. Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (you can filter clients’ rankings and see for what which searches your client is ranking in the featured snippet etc). For competitor analysis there's searchresponse.io . [Some of the free functionality may now be restricted since I gave this talk].


   In summary:  

1. know your tools 

2. check the stats in your experts' thought leadership 

3. trends on Google can also be followed with GOOG Keyword Planner 

4. FAQ schema markup for your question related content to highlighting the types of of queries that people may voice such as questions / answers. It's currently in Beta and it's US only there is a speakable schema property to identify sections within an article that are best suited for audio playback using text to speech. So you're bang up to date at the cutting edge all thanks to me! 

6. Google My Business (aka Google Map) listings are key to any locally related (question / voice) searches  If you do any searches on Google you should know that already under the ads most often it's the Google Map listings. And to repeat myself eighty percent of Google Home results come from featured snippets thus to a certain extent attempting to optimise for the featured snippet may be considered optimising for certain Google voice searches . .