Leveraging Voice for a Better User Experience


Last Updated on December 11, 2021

The Internet is a largely visual place, where our eyes process information and communicate content relationships. So, it’s perfectly understandable why brands and publishers obsess with exit rates, bounce rates, conversions, and a variety of metrics that paint a picture of user experience.

The reality is often a bitter one: user experience is a constant battle to deliver on (un)reasonable demands and expectations, and even staying ahead of the curve if possible. How users prioritize content consumption today is changing, and one potentially painful realization is coming to the front page of ‘UX Daily’:

treating your audience as readers-only no longer cuts it.

As the age-old adage says, “the customer is always right,” only this time, they are relying on their ears to have a positive experience. Readers are increasingly becoming listeners and to keep up with the change and stay afloat in the competitive landscape, there needs to be a fresh new way to engage and grow an audience. That way is voice technology.


Thinking voice-first

In a more and more voice-activated digital world, voice tech is swiftly becoming the modus operandi for businesses looking to both reach and better engage their users. Publishers, as the group with most reading content, are employing native audio players left and right and converting their articles into audio content. What’s more, they are dedicating staff and resources to design editorial experiences specifically for voice assistants – all so that they can provide a smooth audio experience.

There are a few reasons behind this behavior, starting with convenience. Audio content frees you to do something else, which just so happens to go in line with the modern way of doing things – multitasking. With audio, it’s largely about efficiency and retaining the luxury of time. If you expect a reader/listener-to-be to go through a full article in one sitting, prepare for subpar user engagement at best (have you ever skimmed through a text?). On the other hand, they just might listen to it on their way to work.

Beyond the somewhat obvious convenience component of listening on the go, what makes audio content so engaging is its personable nature. Listeners have an intimate, one-on-one connection and often feel immersed, especially if they hear a compelling story.

Then, there’s a format for every type of content. From news-like updates and short bursts of information to full audio articles and long stories (akin to podcast episodes) covering literally every topic, there’s something for everyone.

Here is one particular piece of information I often like to use in order to accentuate how important audio content has become: people spend 16 hours and 43 minutes listening to online audio (defined as listening to AM/FM radio stations online and/or listening to streamed audio content available only on the Internet) on a weekly basis. Recalculating it for daily usage means almost two and a half hours each day are spent listening to some form of audio content. That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?


Voice as a differentiator

round gray speaker

“If you don’t give your readers what they expect and provide them with different ways to consume your content, you’ll lose them.”

Those are actually my words, I felt I couldn’t paraphrase the point better than I did the first time around. When you factor in three main elements of user experience – usability, usefulness, and accessibility – you start to get a sense of why voice technology is the key to unlocking the full potential of user experience.

There are two major ways how you can leverage voice to enhance user experience, and I’ve already mentioned them. The first one is through a native audio player that allows listening to written content instead of reading. Mind you, this doesn’t replace what’s on the page but provides an additional option, one that fits the mold of reader expectations. An added benefit is the ability to repurpose content into new ways to get your message out there.

Basically the same goes for smart speaker skills or actions (whichever way you want to call them) and voice capabilities. Delivering your content via smart devices such as smart speakers with your own customized voice-first capabilities makes it available to readers at a time and place that’s most convenient for them, thus driving growth and retention. The conversational interface is a natural step considering how people use (and generally want) voice tech in their life.

Look at it this way. When you give users multiple options, you are making things easier for them – one of the tenets of user experience. More options mean it’s more likely that they will engage with your content, share it with others, and come back for more.


Times are changing

Brands are still struggling to realize audio is more than just a medium for entertainment. The voice and content technology (contech, as I like to call it) behind it is on a huge upswing. Did you know that U.S. smart speaker owners rose 40% in 2021, reaching 66.4 million with total smart speakers in use rising to 133 million? That’s just one example out of all kinds of stats that show rises in both the usage of voice services and overall audio content usage.

It’s my humble opinion that the voice-first movement has done an excellent job at setting certain standards for voice tech. From text-to-speech accuracy to recognizing different, often less prevailing accents, there have been tremendous advancements toward a voice-first world. From a user experience point of view, whether it’s a native audio experience through a web-based player or smart assistant-driven abilities, voice and audio need to become an integral part in moving forward.

In a world where the majority wants to be able to showcase their multitasking prowess and consume content on the go, brands need to start thinking now about how they want this situation to play out. Anything short of a strategic approach won’t do. Voice is the next frontier is you want to reach new users, extend your brand presence, and boost revenue. The best part of it all? It’s still early stages of voice technology and we’re bound to see new and exciting ways of using it.

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