2017 is poised to be a turning point for voice. The use of virtual assistants is on the rise, and there’s an explosion in the ways users interact with smartphones and computers. More and more, consumers are choosing to engage with brands through a virtual assistant, voice search or via a phone call.

Voice will be the next channel to gain focus in the marketing world—not as a technology, not as a phone system, but as a marketing channel and mobile communication modality:

  • 42% of US smartphone owners say they have used their phone’s virtual assistant over the past three months.
  • Within four years, 20% of phone interactions will rely on virtual assistants.
  • More than half of US adults said they have used Siri in the last three months, and Google Now was used by 48% of US respondents.

Here’s why marketers need to be prepared to embrace voice in 2017, and tips to optimize for the voice channel.

Consumers Are Talking to Their Devices

Consumers today have more devices with voice interfaces than ever before. Marketers are responding by using technology like click-to-call to drive more customer calls (a smartphone is still a phone, after all) and developing new and innovative ways for consumers to use virtual assistants.

Automated assistants started on smartphones and have evolved to span your entire tech ecosystem. Assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are at your beck and call across your smartphones, tablets, and computers. Amazon’s Echo speaker puts their Alexa assistant in millions of homes and Google is now tapping into their vast information network to power their Google Assistant. These new and rapidly evolving technologies are making it even more enticing to talk to your devices.

When a consumer uses their voice to engage with an automated assistant, it is natural for them to continue their engagement via voice, so while your customer may not be calling from a traditional phone, they will be calling.

More searches are now conducted on mobile devices than desktop. And a number of signs point to voice as the next phase in the future of search. Here are four considerations if you want to drive more conversions from voice search:

  1. Understand What Makes Voice Search Different: Voice search queries tend to be longer. In 2004, most searches were two or three words. Ten years later, search queries could be 27 or more words. Voice searches also tend to be more specific (for example, searching for “find the closest store that sells men’s black leather cowboy boots” instead of just “cowboy boots”).
  2. Analyze Your Longer Tail Keywords to Find Patterns: Since voice searches are usually more natural and conversational, keyword optimization should fit this new long tail landscape. Test variations on how people would naturally explain their needs in a query.
  3. Use Modified Broad Match Keywords: Modified broad match lets you specify that specific broad match keywords or close variants (such as + pizza + Chicago + delivery) must appear to show your search ad. So even if the voice search is 30 words, as long as three of those are “pizza,” “Chicago,” and “delivery” your ad will appear.
  4. Negative Out Keywords That Aren’t Driving Customers: As you test and refine your keyword list for voice search, be sure to negative any words from modified broad match that indicate the searcher is not a potential customer.

How to Embrace the Natural Conversion Path for Voice

As voice continues to become a primary mode of communication for customers with their devices, it naturally leads to increased voice interactions with your brand. Since consumers already using their voice to talk to automated assistants or conduct a voice search, making a phone call is the simplest way to connect with a business. And you get the answers you need faster.

Inbound calls to businesses can account for as much as 49% of your marketing conversions and if you can’t attribute these conversions back to your marketing, you lose the ability to accurately calculate ROI and optimize for the call channel.

Marketers can capitalize on this growing conversion channel by using call attribution technology to track their calls back to the source that drove them, making it possible to optimize for the marketing sources that truly drive the most conversions and revenue.