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2020 Prediction Month: The Role Voice Search Plays in Business Strategies in 2020

Episode Overview: Voice search is a work in progress, but companies are innovating on the fly and are actively integrating voice search capabilities into their services and products. As companies race toward the next big invention in voice search, Join Ben as he continues his interview with Courtney Wakefield as they discuss how companies are incorporating voice search technology and what strategies and implementations are proving successful.


  • “What I’m starting to see, in my own organization and organizations that I work with or have friends that are at, I’m starting to see this growth where folks are wanting to bring Alexa devices into their actual business activities. Or voice devices.” – Courtney Wakefield
  • “So, I predict that we’re going to see a lot of folks from the business side, a lot of folks from the operations side, leaning on their search professionals that are inside of their organizations to help them build those interaction models to help them predict the way that people are going to query those devices for particular services inside the business.” – Wakefield
  • A voice search integration issue companies face is that when a user ends up too far along in the wrong voice query path, it’s extremely hard for the device to backtrack to the original path-setting query.


Ben:                 Welcome back to SEO predictions month on Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re taking a look into the crystal ball to tell you SEOs and content marketers what you can expect in 2020. Joining us again today is Courtney Cox Wakefield, who is the coauthor of Voice Search: The New Search Engine.

Ben:                 Outside of being an author, Courtney is also the Head of Consumer Digital Marketing at Children’s Health Hospital, which is one of the top care facilities in the United States. And yesterday Courtney and I talked about her prediction for local searches continuing to dominate the voice search landscape and today we’re going to talk about some of the changes happening in 2020 in the business landscape for voice search. On with the show. Here’s my conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, co- author of Voice Search: The New Search Engine book. Courtney, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Courtney:         Happy to be back. Thanks, Ben.

Ben:                 It’s such a tongue twister saying Voice Search: The New Search Engine, and not saying the Voices of Search podcast. It’s totally tripping me up.

Courtney:         A little tongue twister for you.

Ben:                 Your book, Voice Search: The New Search Engine, sorry if I messed it up. Yesterday we talked about, well, voice search and how the voice search revolution is a little slower than maybe what SEOs had predicted last year and we’re thinking that we’re going to see linear growth, not exponential growth, but that growth is going to come primarily from local searches.

Ben:                 There is another area where you’re predicting that we’re going to see some gains and increased usage in voice search. Talk to me a little bit about what’s going to happen in the business community as it relates to voice search this year.

Courtney:         So, this requires a little bit of a mindset shift for SEOs because I think we’re really used to dealing with organic search that is entirely external. But what the changes that are happening from a voice perspective or really even just the growth for Alexa For Business and perhaps some other different devices that are coming into the landscape, is more like onsite search if you want to think of it from a text based search perspective.

Courtney:         Regular organic searches on Google, Bing, or another search engine, onsite searches, one that’s within our own internal walls of our website and it’s very highly controlled and we can have more impact on the algorithms and how those things work. And so if you think of Alexa in our homes, or voice devices in our homes, versus voice devices inside of businesses, it’s the same way. It’s the same thing or same idea. And what I’m starting to see, in my own organization and organizations that I work with or have friends that are at, I’m starting to see this growth where folks are wanting to bring Alexa devices into their actual business activities. Or voice devices. Usually they refer to them as Alexa, but it’s not always Alexa that’s the vendor, or Amazon, that’s the vendor.

Courtney:         So, what happens when they bring these devices in? They have to start creating interaction models for the way that they want these Alexa devices to perform in their business. So for example, in my case, if we were to put a voice device in a patient room, and I’m not saying that we’re doing this, but if we were, just for the sake of conversation, great, we may have tons of ideas on the business side, maybe nurses, and providers, and folks in the operations, they may have a lot of ideas about the functionality that they want the voice device to be able to perform.

Courtney:         But when it comes to writing those interaction models and knowing what people are going to search and knowing the key terms, or the key phrases, or the queries that they’re going to use, that’s a skill gap that the folks that are actually going to be implementing these devices in the business sector do not have. But that is uniquely had by SEOs and people in the SEO industry.

Courtney:         So I predict that we’re going to see a lot of folks from the business side, a lot of folks from the operations side, leaning on their search professionals that are inside of their organizations to help them build those interaction models to help them predict the way that people are going to query those devices for particular services inside the business.

Ben:                 You know what I want for a business interaction and actually bridges the gap between consumers and voice search for business? I want hotels to start integrating voice search. So you could say, Alexa, tell room service to bring me toothpaste and a milkshake.

Courtney:         Some hotels have it.

Ben:                 I know and that’s the ultimate in luxury and laziness. I can’t wait for it to happen and be spread to the cheap hotels that I stay at.

Courtney:         There’s a hotel here in Dallas that you can close the blinds, you can open the blinds, you can turn on your television, you can do all these different things in the room, and then you can also order certain things. But I love the automation within the room perspective. It is interesting to see what queries work, which ones don’t, and to try to figure out how to speak to it and I think that trial and error process would be a lot shorter for the end user if the operations folks would engage search engine optimization professionals earlier on in the process.

Ben:                 I’m looking forward to the point when I can live my rock star fantasies and say, Alexa, bring me a bowl full of green M&Ms, and it actually works.

Ben:                 Talk to me about some of the other use cases you mentioned. Obviously we talked about hotels, some of the places in the medical community where Alexa is relevant. Obviously places that are taking orders and require people to be hands free. What are some of the other industries or communities that you think are going to take advantage of voice search?

Courtney:         There’s a restaurant in, I want to say it’s China, I can’t remember, I just saw a report the other day, that’s fully autonomous. Now you could enter your order by selecting from a touch screen menu, but you could also do a voice search there. I can totally see the applications from that perspective.

Courtney:         I also think about, on the one hand there’s the consumer side, which someone is in a patient room and they need to order their food. There’s also the operational side, or the business side, where maybe a doctor is trying to get information about a patient’s record, or a cook in the back of the restaurant is trying to figure out how many people are coming through the door and maybe there’s some predictive analytics around what those folks are going to order. And so they can start to prepare ahead of time.

Courtney:         There’s a lot of different industries that can leverage it. Pretty much any area where somebody is having to speak to a human and maybe the wait for that human is slow. And anywhere where the ability to move your hands or physically get to something is limited is also key.

Courtney:         So maybe, I hate to say airlines, because who wants to listen to a bunch of people talking to an Alexa device on airlines, but again, that’s one area where maybe we can see travel in other ways, being able to leverage some of these devices.

Courtney:         But yeah, anywhere where access to be able to move around. That’s why I think healthcare is one of the forefronts of it. You’ve got a patient in a bed who can’t necessarily move, but they definitely, in a lot of cases, can speak and so it gives them a little bit more access. And also, they’re used to waiting for a nurse to come around. It takes away that wait. So any industry where you can reduce the wait time by allowing somebody to interact with a voice device is helpful.

Ben:                 I’m a little surprised that we haven’t talked about the customer service community and I just think of the Xfinitys and DirecTVs, AT&Ts, of the world where you call, or god, even IRS or the DMV, where you call and you go through these automated processes and press a one for blah, blah, blah. As opposed to, “Hey, this is controlled by Alexa. Tell me what you’re trying to accomplish.” Getting a longer query and then directing that to the right place or presenting the right content. That seems like a voice driven experience that’s just ripe for disruption.

Courtney:         Yeah, and the experiences that have been created so far are pretty awful. I think where that gets frustrating is once you end up down the wrong path from a voice perspective, it’s hard to get back and so really leveraging voice devices to understand sentiment.

Ben:                 No harder than the DMV is today.

Courtney:         Fair enough. That’s really fair. But if we could implement those things to help people get to the right place and augment or make better situations, like the DMV, that are very frustrating in person, while also measuring sentiment while someone is going through that process to be able to interrupt and say, hey, have we taken you down the wrong path? You seem frustrated, or something to that effect.

Ben:                 You seem like you think this is the post office, let’s take it back a step.

Courtney:         Right. Because there’s nothing worse than ending up down a path on a phone tree and you have to start over to get back. So you’d have to use the best of both situations. I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody do that very well, Ben.

Ben:                 You’ve shown an adequate amount of rage with this experience, we’re going to let you talk to a real person now. Please hold.

Courtney:         Yes, exactly.

Ben:                 You just have to call and start kicking and screaming. It’s just that simple. Exactly. Human behavior will correct for that.

Courtney:         That’s hilarious.

Ben:                 So okay. We’ve talked about the two big spaces where we think that voice search is going to increase, which is local search people looking for information about what’s around them, directional type queries, and then business, some specific verticals.

Ben:                 As we think about beyond 2020 and this next year, do you see the voice search community, Google, Alexa, Apple, the rest of the world, continuing to verticalize, or do we start to see more just general transition from text-based search to voice-based search?

Courtney:         When it comes to content marketing I definitely think there’s going to continue to be a linear growth. Maybe a little bit of exponential growth, but definitely way closer to the linear side and so mostly for the reasons that we’ve already listed. The technology is getting better slowly, but it’s not getting better fast enough that adoption is going to significantly increase.

Courtney:         I do think the adoption within business is going to be much quicker because you’re going to start seeing … Already people are piloting these programs. You’ve got groups like Cedars-Sinai, huge hospital group, that’s already piloted this in patient rooms and once one group has proved that it can work, shown the value, you’ll see adoption across the industry because everybody wants to keep up and that will be true across many industries.

Courtney:         So, it will just take one player, one big player, to prove success for the adoption to happen. It just won’t work that way from an organic content marketing perspective. So I think we’re going to see those two veins have growth at a very different scale.

Ben:                 So, lots to look forward to in the voice search community. It sounds like there’s going to be some verticalization, there’s going to be some growth in local and in business, and obviously there’s some technology that still needs to develop before we see our true exponential growth, like maybe we predicted last year.

Ben:                 So, Courtney, let me just say thank you for being our guest and we look forward to having you on again in the very near future to continue to educate us on what’s happening in voice search.

Courtney:         Thanks Ben.

Ben:                 Okay, and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, the coauthor of Voice Search: The New Search Engine.

Ben:                 We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Courtney, you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile. You can send her a tweet. Her handle is CourteWakefield, which is C-O-U-R-T-E-W-A-K-E-F-I-E-L-D. Or you could visit her website, which is cwake, C-W-A-K-E, dot digital.

Ben:                 Just one more link in our show notes that I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast headed over to We have summaries of all of our episodes. Contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions, which we’ll answer alive on our show. Or you can apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                 Of course, you can always reach out on social media as well. Our handle is VoicesofSearch on Twitter, or you can contact me on my personal handle, which is BenJShap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing knowledge in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes four to five times a week. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon.

Ben:                 All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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