Voice search has come on strong in the past year or so. Bing Ads has been ahead of the pack on voice search, predicting a year ago that it would be big. Purna Virji of Bing Ads talked a lot about voice search in her recent Reddit AMA, as well.
I’ve definitely noticed more obvious voice queries in our clients’ search query reports lately. The much-ballyhooed “near me” searches are showing up in droves in several client accounts. We’re also seeing really long search queries, with 15-20 words not uncommon. Queries that start with “give me the number for” or “can I get the name of” or “what’s the company on First and Main” are prevalent, as well.
Voice search is obviously cool and efficient for the user. It’s so easy to say “OK Google” and start asking a question in natural language. Cars nowadays are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity to mobile phones, giving drivers the opportunity to perform voice searches without taking their eyes off the road. My teenagers almost never type a search query into their phones – they either use OK Google or Siri. It’s the stuff of Star Trek: “Computer! Identify that flying object!”
As search marketers, though, voice search is wreaking a bit of havoc. The search engines, despite their outward support of voice search, seem to have trouble handling lengthy voice queries. Our clients’ ads have shown on some highly irrelevant queries that are obviously voice searches.
The challenge is multiplied if you’re using call-only ads. Call-only ads are great in that they display a nice big “Call” button:
But when call-only ads show on irrelevant voice searches, they tend to generate unqualified phone calls – wasting client call center resources on top of wasted click costs.
Another issue is that the engine’s negative keyword functionality hasn’t kept up with voice search. Negative keywords don’t work when the negative term appears more than 10 words into a search query. So if you have “free” as a negative keyword, and someone voice-searches “what’s the name of the company on fifth and main that offers free haircuts to kids,” your ad will still show – even if you’re not offering free haircuts. This is becoming a bigger and bigger problem for our clients.
Another huge issue is close variants. Close variants have always been a problem, but with voice search, we’re seeing even bigger challenges.
Take the example of “company” vs. “companies.” In theory, search queries with either word should perform the same. A search for “business phone company” should perform the same as “business phone companies.”
The problem is, with voice search, the two are very different. Let’s look at an example.
Consider these two queries:
what’s the name of the business phone company on 5th avenue
business phone companies that can help my small business
The first query is clearly someone who is looking for a specific business. They just can’t remember its name. If you’re that business, you’re in luck. If you’re not, you’re going to get a lot of clicks and/or phone calls from people looking for a competitor! Not cool.
The second query is clearly from a user who is looking for a business phone company. If you’re that advertiser, this is exactly the prospect you want. It’s an obvious lead-generation question that should convert well.
And yet, if you’re bidding on “business phone companies,” your ad will serve for both queries, because of close variants.
I’ve become increasingly frustrated with this as time goes on. There’s no way to keep your ad from showing on irrelevant searches, and the irrelevant searches are becoming more frequent due to voice search – leading to worsening ROI from paid search.
We can only hope that the engines will reconsider their stand on close variants and give us the option to choose to include them once again. Otherwise, I can envision paid search quickly becoming too expensive with too low an ROI for many advertisers.
What do you think? Is voice search helping your PPC performance, or hurting it? Share in the comments!