According to ComScore, voice search will account for 50% of all searches by 2020. However, when it comes to international voice search, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how businesses should optimise for it and how reliable the search functionality is on various devices. At Translation Laboratory, we are always looking to test new technology to allow us to optimise our clients’ websites for international success during the localisation process – voice search is no different.

In this piece of research, we discuss:

  • The international market share of voice hubs and which to optimise for
  • The search engines different voice hubs use and how this impacts on SEO strategy
  • The accuracy and user experience of voice search in different markets
  • Voice search optimisation recommendations for international businesses.

For the purpose of this content, we looked at six markets. These were chosen based on their high online spend and internet usage.

  • UK (UK English)
  • US (US English)
  • Germany (German)
  • Spain (Spanish)
  • France (French)
  • Italy (Italian)

international market share

On a global scale, searches for Google Home devices appear to be dominating search worldwide. However, businesses need to be aware of which technologies dominate in different markets. We have looked at this at a country-level for more specific insights. Firstly, we have looked at the availability of each product in each market and then looked at search volume to give an indicator of device popularity.

Products available in each country

Amazon Echo Apple Home Pod  Google Home
UK Yes Yes Yes
US Yes Yes Yes
France Yes No Yes
Germany Yes No Yes
Italy No No Yes
Spain No No Yes

 

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo is only available in countries that rely on English, German or Japanese language skills, selling on .com, .co.uk and .de platforms*. However, Amazon has announced that they are expanding internationally to offer Echo in an additional 80 countries, including Italy by the end of summer 2018, with Spain set to follow in late October.

*At the time of research, Amazon Echo wasn’t available in France, but it has launched this month (June).

Apple HomePod

Apple HomePod is only available in English speaking markets (US, UK and Australia). Whilst they plan to launch in Germany and France this year, we’ve seen no evidence to suggest they will launch in other markets in 2018.

Google Home

Google Home is available in all six of our chosen markets, as well as Japan, Singapore, Australia and Canada. Google announced at the start of the year that their Assistant was available on over 400 million devices, including smartphones and TVs.

Search Trends by Voice Hub

We looked at the search volume for the three devices in each market to give us an idea of the popularity of each hub by country. We discovered that Google Home currently dominates across all the markets we looked at, but Amazon Echo is not far behind in both the UK and Germany. Although at the time of testing Amazon Echo wasn’t available in France, the device has just been launched this month (June) and search volume has spiked to nearly the same level as that of Google Home.

Our findings are in line with that of Strategy Analytics, who found that Amazon and Google accounts for 94% of all smart speakers in use.

Optimising for Google Home should be a priority for businesses targeting any of the six markets we looked at, but Amazon Echo should remain a very close second for the UK and Germany in particular. Those targeting France, Spain and Italy should also consider their strategy for Amazon Echo as it begins launching in those markets.

Which search engine should you optimise for in each market?

Being able to identify the most popular voice hubs in your target market allows you to know which search engines to optimise for voice search.

Google Home uses Google for voice search. When asked questions through voice search, Google often uses the quick answer box to deliver responses. There are ways brands can structure their content onsite to have a chance of appearing in the answer box and we’ve seen a rise in the number of featured snippets appearing in international SERPs. This shows a huge opportunity for brands in Europe to spot the gaps and exploit them to increase traffic.

Amazon Echo and the Apple HomePod use Bing as their default search engine. Bing doesn’t use featured snippets and this can cause some inconsistencies in results when using multiple apps or hubs for voice search.

For any companies selling on Amazon, Amazon optimisation may be key for appearing for voice search results on the Echo. Currently Amazon Echo only allows users to either reorder previous orders or search for Choice items. Amazon defines Amazon Choice as recommending ‘highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately’. Low returns rates and high conversions for the specific search term also seem to impact on whether a product becomes an Amazon Choice product. Optimising your Amazon listings will help with both traffic and conversions, which will help you appear as an Amazon Choice option.

Based on device search volume, Google dominates in all of the six markets we have researched making Google, and therefore optimising for featured snippets, a priority. However, search volume for Amazon Echo is not far behind in the UK and Germany. The device has now been released in France and will also shortly be released in Italy and Spain. Therefore, optimising for voice search for Bing and Amazon Choice should also be high on the agenda for those markets.

which voice search apps deliver accurate results?

We tested voice search apps on smartphones (in-country), looking at Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa app and the Bing app. We wanted to look at the accuracy of results, language limitations and overall user experience. We employed mother-tongue speakers for the testing process to ensure the correct terminology was used to mimic a local searcher.

NOTE: The Amazon Echo app is not currently available in Italy and Spain, and was not available in France at the time of testing.

We split our questions for the apps into four categories:

  • Local queries
  • Shopping
  • Research
  • Factual

Overall Results

Looking at the difference in accuracy across Bing and Google we can see that Bing is consistently low across all languages compared to Google. Google is more accurate for German and English searches than for Italian, Spanish and French, showing there are some improvements to be made. Alexa performed similarly to Bing for English but the worst out of all three for German.

We will now look at the results in more detail for each one to see which queries are causing the most errors in the SERPs.

Google

Incorrect Results

We found local results for the UK to be less accurate than those for the US. In particular, Google struggled with producing correct results for compound questions, which is when a follow up question is asked based on the answer to the first question. For example, when asking the Google App in the UK for “Italian restaurants near me” it shows the correct listing; these restaurants are nearby and Italian. However, when asking “which is the best one?”, interestingly it changed the query. It recognised that it’s still referring to Italian restaurants, but it’s changed the listings. The problem is Google now displays that Giorgio’s is the ‘best’ however, they have fewer reviews and fewer stars than Gusto – the original listing.

When looking into the reason why, it appears that Giorgio’s was chosen because it has the word ‘best’ in the reviews. The means, in theory, it could be easy to manipulate the SERPs for voice search.

Another example of incorrect listings was found when testing the Google app in Spanish. When asking the app “which is the best one?” it showed other Italian restaurants in a nearby city and not in the right order.

Compound Questions

During our testing, we also found that compound questions, such as the example above, work consistently on Google apps across the US and Germany. However, the French test did not support compound questions and there were numerous instances where there was a need to re-write the query.

For example, when asking “show me the menu” in French, Google did not answer the question at all. The results came from a language learning software company and a fast food restaurant in France, which is not Italian, asking you to make your food selection.

Bing

We found Bing to be consistently low in terms of accuracy across all languages. The most notable of difficulties is that of compound questions – Bing does not support this. It also does not support featured snippets, so when asking specifics such as “what is the ideal broadband speed?”, it returns broadband company selling pages.

Language Complexity

In Germany, the factual questions were correct 100% of the time, but only after numerous searches. When testing local queries in German, we found that questions needed to be re-phrased to have fewer words to achieve results. Long words and complex sentence structures are characteristic of the German language and we saw Bing struggle at times with this.

When we asked Bing in German for “directions to the nearest store” after browsing products, it automatically changed the query and added the word “reggae” – for no apparent reason – and gave irrelevant results.

 

We asked another compound question, “what is the flight time to New York?”, followed by, “what time is it over there?”, which was supported in every other language except Spanish. As you can see below it confuses ‘there’ (‘allí’ in Spanish) with a diet supplement:

Alexa

Alexa was, by far, the most inconsistent when it came to all languages. Alexa also uses Bing but displays on a different platform. The main issues were regarding local and factual queries. When asking Alexa “what is the speed limit on UK motorways?” we get:

Surprisingly, this result came from Wikipedia, which is strange because there is another Wikipedia page that answers this question correctly, but this wasn’t served to the user. Alexa is designed to work with apps that do voice commands (music, TV, heating etc.) but it has a long way to go before people can replace their smartphones or laptops.

What does this mean for international businesses?

Overall, Google Assistant appears to be the most popular device across all markets and also the most reliable, however problems lie in shopping and local queries. Bing displays Amazon listings for shopping queries which helps to improve the overall experience, however the inability to understand compound questions is a problem. For markets, Germany, US and UK are leading the way in terms of functionality and results. As voice usage rises, we would hope that the consistency and accuracy of results also improve. Ensuring your website and product listings are optimised now will put you ahead of the curve.

For your business to be prepared for the inevitable rise in voice search product availability and usage, focus needs to be on:

  • Optimising your Amazon listings for Amazon Choice to give your products more chance of appearing in Amazon Echo searches
  • Understanding user intent and consistently supporting compound questions in multiple languages through building out content pages on your website
  • Targeting the right phrases for each country, rather than translations of English content, to ensure you are appearing for the right search terms
  • Including conversational longer-tail keywords in website content to better reflect how users search with voice
  • Spotting opportunities to rank in Google’s Answer Box for relevant queries and incorporating these into your international SEO strategy

Like all aspects of SEO, voice search optimisation should be considered during content creation and localisation processes rather than afterwards. This leaves you in the best position to dominate the SERPs in your target market.

If you would like to find out more about optimising your website internationally, please contact one of our experts.