If you're having trouble finding your voice, use smart speakers, or voice assistants, to boost your business and personal productivity.
At a glance
- As voice search usage grows, it is important to start optimising your website for voice search.
- Website content may also need optimising because audio answers to voice queries tend to be short.
- The key is understanding how people use voice searches and working out the trends that are specific and important for your industry and business.
The smart speaker market is going from strength to strength, having jumped from an installed base of 33.2 million units in 2017 to 114 million in 2018. It is forecast to reach 200 million by the end of 2019, according to research firm Canalys.
That’s just the start. As we saw in INTHEBLACK’s April 2019 issue, the voice-activated intelligent assistants that drive smart speakers are becoming commonplace in other devices. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are now found in table-top touchscreen devices, as well as in TVs, cars, clocks, mirrors and even toilets. Just about every modern smartphone has either Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri, and every new Windows computer has Microsoft’s Cortana pre-installed.
While the US tech giants dominate the global market in voice-activated devices, much of the recent growth has come from Asia through Alibaba’s Tmall Genie, Xiaomi’s XiaoAI and devices running Baidu’s DuerOS.
Juniper Research predicts eight billion voice assistants will be in use by 2023; this has huge potential implications for businesses.
Optimising websites for voice search
Voice search is becoming increasingly important. Regular search engine optimisation (SEO) will remain vital to ensure your website appears as high as possible in Google searches. However, it is worth at least planning how to optimise your website for voice search.
This means considering what queries people ask voice assistants that might return a response to help your business in some way.
Of course, there are significant differences between how people talk and write, and how they use different devices. For example, people tend to use more words for a voice search than they do for a text search. Keywords could also differ significantly.
Website content may also need to be optimised because audio answers to voice queries tend to be short. One strategy is to try to take advantage of Google’s “featured snippets” – short text boxes that appear at the top of search results answering a particular question. That might involve restructuring articles on your website with the short Q&A format of featured snippets in mind.
Understanding how customers use voice assistants
It is important to understand how people use voice assistants. Most consumers use smart speakers for basic reasons, such as playing music (70 per cent) and answering fun questions (53 per cent), according to a US survey by Adobe. However, 30 per cent also use them for shopping.
Supporting these functions requires further development of your website or mobile app. To add the ability for customers to make purchases with Google Assistant, for example, you would need to build transaction “actions” for your site or app.
Most consumers use smart speakers for basic reasons, such as playing music (70 per cent) and answering fun questions (53 per cent), according to a US survey by Adobe. However, 30 per cent also use them for shopping.
Voice searches on smartphones are significantly different. They are often used for pragmatic reasons, such as requesting navigation while driving. They also tend to have a local purpose such as “find a Thai restaurant near me”, so optimising your website for local search is increasingly important.
These are general trends, of course. The key is to work out the trends that are specific and important for your industry and business.
Using voice assistants for business
Voice assistants are also being increasingly used for business. This can range from using the voice assistant to make calls on your phone to using your smart speaker as a virtual assistant in the office.
Google Assistant offers hundreds of “actions” to help save you time. Amazon has a huge range of similar “skills” available for Alexa devices. In fact, it has rolled out Alexa for Business in the US. This enterprise-grade management system for Alexa devices adds voice commands to business applications and even helps manage meeting rooms.
Amazon and Google also offer platforms – Alexa for Business Blueprints and Google Assistant Template Actions, respectively – that allow businesses to create their own voice assistant powered applications without having to write code.
Using digital assistants involves a privacy trade-off: you need to share your data with some of the world’s biggest tech companies – and trust those companies in how they use audio from your home or office. However, the productivity benefits are potentially significant. To give you an idea, here are some commands that you can use to become more productive with your Android phone or Google Home – or both.
You can ask Google Assistant to:
- create Google Calendar appointments and find out about your next meeting or tomorrow’s agenda
- read out your Outlook appointments
- send Gmail messages and read out details from emails such as reservations
- add tasks to project management app Asana
- set timers, alarms and reminders
- make complex calculations
- make and search for voice notes
- create and keep track of your to-dos and ideas
- read out stock prices and information on global markets
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