“Ok Google: Where can I try some local food in Hong Kong?”—this request sounds more like you are having a conversation with Google rather than performing a voice search on an automated program.
However, this is the format most of us use when performing a voice search. As Google is able to recognize languages just like a human, we interact with it like it’s a human.
Voice search has gained popularity and accuracy in recent years. You can ask an endless array of questions—from “What do hedgehogs eat?” to “What is the recipe for kung pao chicken?” to “How many people live in Hanoi?”—through mobile phones, smart-home devices, and computers, and Google can answer you.
It’s no surprise then that by 2020, 50% of total search will be voice search. Usage will continue to grow as search engines get better at understanding our queries.
Today, let’s look at voice search in Hong Kong and see what insights we have on the growing Cantonese voice search network.
Voice search queries can be very different from text search queries
Cantonese people speak very differently from the way that they type. Cantonese is a mostly spoken and seldom-written language (except for text messaging purposes). In fact, most newspapers and books published in Hong Kong are written in the traditional Chinese style of Mandarin.
Because something expressed in text can be completely different when it is spoken, there is a significant discrepancy between the queries used for text search and voice search for Cantonese people.
For instance, when a Cantonese person searches for a dinner place in Tsim Sha Tsui:
- In text search, he/she will likely type “restaurant Tsim Sha Tsui.”
- In voice search, he/she will probably say “eat rice Tsim Sha Tsui” or even “eat things Tsim Sha Tsui.”
As you can see, the queries have similar meanings and intentions, but the key terms are totally different.
Cantonese content optimized for text search keywords may not work very well in voice search as the same keywords may not exist.
Voice-based queries have lower search volume
For other languages, like English, voice search and text search queries generally use similar keywords with a decent amount of search volume.
For Cantonese, however, as shown in the example above, voice-based keywords can be completely different than text-based ones. Therefore, because people use text search more often day-to-day, voice search volume can be much lower than text search volume.
Don’t forget: Cantonese people type differently than they speak! This may seem like a disadvantage in terms of optimization, but it in fact shows opportunity to optimize content for voice search keywords—you can compete faster optimizing for voice search volume than optimizing for potentially saturated text search volume.
Forums are among the top results for Cantonese voice search queries
In addition to regular communication in text messaging apps, there is another channel in which Cantonese people will type the way they speak: forums.
People type in Cantonese in popular forums, like Hong Kong Discuss, Beauty Exchange, and Baby Kingdom. Their discussions in Cantonese are crawled and indexed by Google.
Since there is limited Cantonese content on the web, the forums act like a direct response to many Cantonese voice search queries.
It is quite common to see voice search queries as the title of a discussion with related longtail queries peppered throughout the content.
Participate in local forums with relevant information written in Cantonese. You can direct people back to your website for more details after answering their initial queries.
There is a lower chance of triggering a voice result in Cantonese
Simple voice search queries in English, such as “Is watermelon good?” will trigger a voice result from Google. Google will only read the result aloud if the answer is clear and correct. However, for Cantonese voice search queries, the chance of getting a voice result is much lower.
As a simple test, try a voice search in English: “Is watermelon good?” A voice result is always triggered.
In contrast, doing the same with Cantonese voice search will not have the same probability.
While people can perform voice searches in Cantonese, Google will not likely read the results aloud in Cantonese.
Bonus Insight: Write in a natural speaking format
While a voice result for a Cantonese voice search is rare, it still makes sense to write the content in such a way that it presents well for a voice search result.
For voice search results, Google simply reads results word-by-word from the text. From a search-for-answer perspective, this works well and will improve as Google keeps learning. However, there is a clear limit: the voice result doesn’t sound natural.
That is, when a person talks to or queries Google, the best he/she can get will be answers read from text. Google is not yet mature enough to process the content and restructure it into a natural speaking format. However, if content is written in a natural speaking style in the first place, then at least the result can read slightly less robotic.
What could be more engaging and easier to understand than answers that resemble natural speaking?
Write in a natural speaking format to help your voice search results sound more conversational rather than automated.
“Hong Kong has a lot of local food, such as dim sum and street food. You can go to …”—perhaps one day Google will sound more like it’s having a conversation with you than just reading you a voice result.