This very well may be remembered as the year of voice.
Over the past twelve months voice search, voice assistants, and voice-powered devices have quickly shifted from being futuristic predictions to becoming relatively mainstream technologies: According to a PwC survey, some 90% of US adults say they are now familiar with voice-enabled tech products and services. One in 5 Americans now have a smart speaker in the household, according to a ComScore report.
What does this evolution mean for publishers? How are voice-enabled technologies being utilized? Who is using them? How popular are specific products and services? What should organizations be doing to adjust their strategies for voice?
Here's what digital news publishers need to know:
How Are Voice-Enabled Technologies Are Being Utilized?
The most visible voice-enabled products currently on the market are the smart speakers from major tech companies, such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod.
While these smart speakers have indeed spiked in popularity over the past year, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to voice-enabled tech. Voice-assistants and/or voice-control have been added to a wide-range of products, including thermostats, ceiling fans, and racing eyewear.
These products aren't just for early adopters: Comcast, the largest cable TV provider in the US, has already made voice-control integral to its standard Xfinity remote control and Amazon has done the same with its range of Fire streaming devices.
The most important and widespread voice integration is one that sometimes get overlooked: mobile devices. Some 77% of US adults have a smartphone, and nearly all of these have either the Apple Siri or Google Assistant built-in. On top of that are all the tablets, as well as traditional computers, which also incorporate Apple and Google's smart assistants (or similar ones, such as Microsoft's Cortana).
How Popular Are Voice-Enabled Technologies?
According to a survey conducted by PwC, some 72% of American adults say they have used a voice assistant.
The most popular method of voice interaction is smartphones: 57% of US adults polled say have utilized the smart assistant on their phone. Some 29% of respondents say they have issued voice commands to a tablet or laptop, 27% to a smart speaker, 21% to a TV remote, 20% to a car navigation system, and 14% to a wearable device.
Estimating ownership levels is difficult given the wide-range of products and services that now incorporate smart assistants/voice-commands. To give a sense of the speed and scale of adoption, smart speaker ownership alone has doubled in the US in the past year (from 10% of households to 20%).
In other words, voice tech is becoming very popular, very quickly.
What Are People Using Voice to Do?
What are consumers utilizing voice technologies to accomplish?
The PwC survey found the most popular uses are to search, to ask quick questions, to check weather/news, to play music, to set timers/reminders, to send texts and emails, and to check traffic/navigate.
The big story here, and the one that is vitally important for publishers to pay attention to, is search.
According to Google, more than 20% of searches in its app are already conducted by voice. As voice-enabled tech proliferates, that share is expected to jump: it is forecast that half of all searches will be conducted via voice in 2020.
Who Is Using Voice-Enabled Technologies?
PwC found that although younger consumers are (not surprisingly) adopting voice technologies at the fastest rate, they are in fact not the most devoted users.
Among adults who speak to their devices, those age 25-49 are the heaviest users (e.g., they utilize the technology at least once a day).
What's interesting to note is that across all age groups, more than half of those who speak to their devices describe themselves as heavy users of the technology. This indicates that once consumers start interacting with their devices via voice — and increasing numbers are starting to — they enjoy the experience and dive in deeper.
What Does All This Mean for Publishers?
So, why does the rise of voice-enabled technologies matter to publishers?
Impact of Voice-enabled tech on News Findability
As mentioned earlier, the biggest dimension of impact right now is in search engine optimization for news publishers. That's because spoken searches are fundamentally different from typed searches and this impact audience development plans at media houses significantly. As this analysis by More Visibility found, voice queries tend to be:
- Longer: Text searches tend to be between 1-3 words whereas voice searches tend to be 7+ words.
- Natural-language based: When speaking a search query people tend to use the sames words and sentence constructions as they do when speaking to a person (e.g., by asking a full questions).
- Local/location-based: Because voice searches are often conducted on smartphones, they often are location-based: mobile voice searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text searches.
Given all that, in the short term publishers will need to increasingly think about voice when crafting their search strategies. This could include making voice-query targeted adjustments, such as crafting content pieces targeted to natural-language questions and local intent. It could also mean optimizing for things like Google's featured snippets, which tend to get surfaced more prominently in voice results.
Impact of Voice-enabled tech on News Delivery
Several small-time developers as well as large news corporations have already built apps or services that work on Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri to deliver a news roundup from selected source. These tools effectively use a text to speech processor to read out news stories that a user is likely to want to hear most. The challenge to publishers now becomes one of measuring traffic and engagement, since there is usually a middle layer of voice synthesis involved.
In a seeming throwback to the old days of news on the radio - this service becomes a news-reader where you can pick and choose news sources and topics and is served on demand. For news publishers, and journalists this implies a rethink in how they write their stories since the content now needs to make sense when a personal assistant reads it out - with complete sentences and possibly without images or charts to back the story up.
Some news companies such as the Washington Post already include a daily digest function in their news app and have a voice function as well. This is certainly an indication of the direction the industry is headed in and digital publishers would do well to innovate and make the user experience much more meaningful.
In the long term, publishers will need to craft broad strategies that incorporate voice-enabled products and services. Because voice is a fundamentally different method of interacting with technology compared with typing, it is certain to draw audiences to different types of pieces — such as audio stories and spoken news/weather/traffic updates. It also has a downside that it makes it easier to multi-task while consuming news in a voice-enabled fashion. The implications for publishers that rely on banner advertisements for monetization are significant too, with possible opportunities for radio / podcast style ads emerging and the option to skip those with paid subscriptions!
Ultimately, to capitalize on the shift towards voice, publishers will need to craft entirely new content strategies, user experiences and distribution plans, not just tweak existing ones.