Conventional wisdom says if you have structured data on your website, and have claimed your business in local listings – you are good for voice search.  That should be comforting as word on the street is that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020 (comScore).

If you advertise digitally and your business depends on paid search ads – what impact will voice search have on your business?  If you are a digital agency advertising on behalf of your clients, how will voice search impact your commission on search campaigns?

What is voice search?

Voice search is obviously your words being automatically transcribed into a search query.  However, what really matters with voice search is how the search results are returned.  There are 2 fundamental types of voice search results:
  1. Voice search where you are read back search results (usually a single result) audibly.  These are search results from a digital assistant like Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, read back to you over a smart speaker.
  2. Voice search where you view the search results (usually multiple) on a screen (smart display, car screen, TV, laptop, wearable, etc.), potentially – in some cases usually – including paid search ads.

Google will surely monetize audible-only voice search results

As of late 2018, voice search with only audible results (type 1 above) is not monetized with paid advertising.  Google will make that happen soon.   It is a matter of how, not when.

In the meantime, it is important to note that only 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen (Gartner), and mobile voice-related searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text-related searches (Search Engine Watch).  Let’s restate these projections so we can think through their ramifications:

  • 50% of all searches will be voice searches, and
  • Only 30% of browsing sessions will be done without a screen, and
  • Voice searches will be 3-to-1 local-based vs. standard text-related.

If you buy those stats – for 100 searches, 50 will be by voice – but only 30 of those voice searches will get audible-only results.  Of those 30 searches with audible-only results, only 8 (rounded up from 7.5) will be “standard text-related” searches – the other 22 will be searches, for example, to find local businesses / information.

If my math is correct, digital advertisers & their agencies are only going to see about 7.5% of searches where it really matters that they can’t advertise (they will be covered by claimed local listings for local-based audible-only voice search results).  That’s meaningful, but not a huge deal – especially when Google monetizes that final 7.5%.

RLSA and audible-only voice search results

With audible-only voice search results potentially only returning a single result, if & when this type of search result is monetized with ads – RLSA (remarketing lists for search ads) with Google Ads (and like approaches for other ad platforms) will become an even more critical targeting technique.

If you know a user has been to your website, in a scenario where only a single search result is being returned – and that single result can be your paid ad – you will be willing to pay a premium to present your ad depending on the search query.   This potential future makes it even more important to define & build audiences lists now so you are ready to jump on this digital advertising opportunity.

Voice search with non-voice results

You’ve installed the Google app on your iPhone.  You tap to open it up, and then you say out loud, “Ok Google, where’s the nearest Apple store?”.  The Google app transcribes your words into text that drives a standard Google search, and presents the search results on the screen, including paid search ads.  You click the result that seems to best scratch your itch, and you are on your way.

If you are a digital advertiser, in the above example you’ll even see the search query in your Google Ads reporting that starts with “Ok Google…”  For a brief moment you think Google has finally monetized audible-only voice search results, and then you realize the query was simply a voice query driving non-voice search results.

Ok Google, tell me about paid voice search