Listen Up: It’s Time to Adapt Your PPC Strategy for Voice Search

Today’s consumers use voice recognition technologies all the time, from asking a personal device about the temperature to inquiring about the score of the latest baseball game. We live in a connected world where talking to our devices is commonplace, and this has impacted consumer search behavior. Real-time answers are now at our fingertips.  So if you work in PPC, understanding how to adapt your campaigns for voice search in order to stay on the leading edge and engage your audience in a meaningful way is crucial.

What is Voice Search?

Companies including Apple (Siri), Microsoft (Cortana), Amazon (Echo/Alexa), Google (Google Now) and Facebook (Facebook M, currently in the testing phase) have all invested in connecting their voice-driven search technologies and virtual assistants with the search engines in order to provide the best user experience possible. Voice search also exists directly on the engines where it consists of consumers speaking into their devices rather than typing their queries into a search field. Ads from voice searches are displayed the same way as they would be for a traditional text search.

How Did Voice Search Emerge?

Voice search was made possible by recent major improvements in speech recognition technology. Voice Search technology progressed from being able to recognize single syllables to distinguishing words and phrases and, finally, being capable of answering questions and responding to commands.

The science of ‘Speech Perception’ dates back to 1952, when researchers from Bell Laboratories built a single-speaker digit recognition system called ‘Audrey.’[1] By the mid-1980s IBM had created Tangora, a voice-activated typewriter that could handle a 20,000 word vocabulary[2].

It wasn’t until the 1990s, though, that speech recognition systems became available for commercial use. Products cost as much as $695 and required that the user undergo program training for 45 minutes. Even then, the technology could only understand 100 words.

The first company to incorporate voice recognition systems in mobile devices was Google, with the launch of the Google Voice Search app for Blackberry, Nokia and the iPhone in 2008[3] and for Android devices in 2009[4]. This allowed users to conduct a Google web search using only their voice. Since then, speech recognition technology has only improved, and will most likely continue to advance given that voice control systems are now present in the majority of smartphones.

Why is Voice Search Important?

Fundamentally, it is changing the way that people use search engines to find what they are looking for. The year of mobile has come and gone, with mobile and tablet devices now accounting for 60% of all online traffic. It’s time to get excited about new trends. Did you know that 71% of millennials in the U.S. are using personal assistants for questions like who, what, when and where5? Media Experts internal reporting indicates that question searches are up 20% year over year, with more people asking their devices for help as they navigate the world.

Voice searches continue to rise and currently represent 24% of the total search queries on Bing5. Google is reporting that the number of voice searches has doubled in the past year. That said, its growth potential is still enormous: an increasing number of users find it easier – and faster – to speak to their phones rather than to type on them, as  typing on a small, touch-screen keyboards is neither comfortable nor convenient – especially for users on-the-go. Furthermore, mistakes and misinterpretations are less likely to occur with the development of new virtual assistants.

How is Voice Search Different Than Text Search?

How searchers behave when using their voice differs greatly from when they use text. In most cases, voice searches have a more conversational tone. For example, someone who is searching for a good coffee shop in Toronto might ask: “Where is the best coffee shop in downtown Toronto?” If the same query were to be conducted via text search, the search phrase might read, “best coffee shop Toronto”.

The variations between the two approaches can be summarized in the following way: 

  1. Voice searches satisfy an immediate need for a product or service. The searcher is typically on the go and doesn’t have the time to type the query. Text searches, meanwhile, are more “top of funnel” and indicate that the searcher is in the research phase of their purchasing process.
  1. Expect long-tail search terms in voice searches, which average 6 to 7 words per query. Text searches are comprised of shorter tail queries, averaging 1 to 3 terms per search. 5

How Can You Leverage Voice Search From a PPC perspective?

Given the growth of voice search, adapting your PPC campaigns to drive performance will become more vital than ever as questions and longer tail queries arise in search query reports. It’s important to choose the right search engine when developing a PPC strategy around voice searchers. The majority of voice searching applications are powered by Bing, and many devices (such as iPhone and Android) have exclusive contracts with BING for their voice applications.

Voice Searching Apps

Default Search Engine

Google Now






Amazon Echo (Alexa)




Developing high quality content aligned with the typical questions (what, when, how, why) will ensure a better user experience along with an improved quality score, therefore improving performance on the PPC side. Developing a PPC strategy aligned with the top questions can be useful to guide searchers into a funnel, and ensure a brand presence from point A to point Z by providing contextual content from the awareness phase all the way through to purchase.

To drive performance, we recommend exploring the following PPC tactics:

  1. Launch dedicated question campaigns/ad groups while bidding on question-based keywords to drive to intent.
  1. Negative question terms if they don’t apply to your product/service.
  1. Since many long tail search queries are classified as low traffic volume, make sure to include top 3 question keywords (e.g. coffee shop Toronto vs. where is the closest coffee shop Toronto) in your keyword sets to capture more voice queries.
  1. Craft customized ad copy that answers questions while also driving traffic to relevant/contextual landing pages and creating a gateway into the conversion funnel.

As they’re designed to improve quality scores, increase CTRs and decrease CPCs, these tactics will help drive PPC efficiency. So get ahead of the competition and adapt your PPC campaigns for voice search now, while everyone else is still talking about “the year of the mobile.”

What are your thoughts on how voice search will impact PPC? Maybe in a few years, we’ll be recording our audio ads instead of writing them out!