Over the past few years we’ve seen voice search enabled devices battle off for supremacy, and a hard push from technology providers to encourage their customers to adopt the new technology.
Voice search is a natural progression from traditional typed search queries, a hands free option to gain information on the go. And the huge tech giants have been investing heavily into the technology with Google, Apple and Microsoft, all providing a voice search technology on their operating systems.
More recently we’ve seen devices coming to the fore that are solely based on voice commands, such as Amazon Echo and the recently announced Google Home, with more in the pipeline.
It’s no stretch to imagine a world where voice search is a mainstay in modern life, but has the era of voice search taken a foothold already?
Is voice search currently being used?
Early signs are showing growth in voice searches on a level that suggests more than a gimmick.
In the USA, accordingly to a recent report by Mary Meeker o.b.o KPCB ( http://dq756f9pzlyr3.cloudfront.net/file/2016_internet_trends_report_final.pdf ) 1 in 5 searches performed on Android devices are voice searches, and it’s still growing.
What is the appeal?
The appeal is obvious. Any technology that allows us to do everyday things with less effort is always going to be well received. And with voice searches we gain access to information, arguably faster, and with less effort.
Simply cast your mind to a sci-fi tv show or movie and you’re bound to remember a time we see characters talking to a hidden computer at home or work, asking for information or to perform an action, like closing the blinds or turning on the lights.
What are the restrictions?
Voice search platforms still have a reliance on search engine bots scraping the latest data, which in some cases, can be outdated. For the majority of content this won’t have much of an impact, however, if you use the voice search tool to get opening hours of a store it’s possible they may not be accurate.
How about privacy? No one aside from the upper echelons of attention seekers would willing want their phone recording every single word they say. And the technology is now even capable of picking your voice out across the room with music playing.
We need to know what data is recorded, when does it start and when does it end? I’ve discovered by listening to my voice search history in Google that the recording begins before I say “Ok Google” – You can check your Google voice search history here – https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity – by filtering out using voice options.
Aside from the technology listening in to what you’re saying, what about those around you? Conducting a voice search in a public place and notifying those around you what you’re in market for.
However the social acceptance of speaking into a device in a manner that doesn’t match a phone call is dwindling fast, an increasing number of apps and phone use that deviate from a regular phone call, for example snap-chatting oneself.
How can we use voice search?
The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about the strengths of voice search is directions. Hunting around streets looking for that cafe where you’re supposed to be meeting your friend 20 minutes ago. Even more beneficial if you just happen to have your hands full, say for example if you’d already bought two coffees and carrying them to meet your friend at the park. The Google technology gives you the option to run a query without touching the phone via the familiar phrase “OK Google”, however your phone screen must be unlocked. It’s a lot easier to unlock your phone with one hand than it is to type a search query.
This is the key area for shop fronts to explore, seeing how users adjust their search behavior using this new method.
Enabling this option does have it’s drawbacks, in both power consumption and the ever watching presence of Google recording noise around you. Though you likely only have anything to worry about if you mention certain trigger phrases. They wouldn’t be recording your bowel movements as you power through levels on your phone whilst sitting on the can.
The situation where are group are in a debate about who is right and who is wrong. Asking your phone to respond, the anticipation of the answer, the grand reveal! Much greater impact than one user reading the answer out. Everyone get’s to reveal in the answer at the same time.
So how does this affect marketers and advertisers?
We’ve done a lot of work around user search queries over the years, and for the most part it has been relatively easy to predict what a user will search for in relation to your product or service.
Voice search is going to flip that on it’s head. The rise of voice search queries will be the biggest shake up to search engines we’ve seen in years.
Brands must now consider how users will find them from conversational queries rather than typed queries which are more thought out.
For example, look at the graph below showing Google search query trends over the past five years. We can see an obvious increase in the search query “restaurants near me”. Whilst it is possible that some users will type this phrase, it is one typically associated with voice search queries.
Digital marketers will need to think a little further out of the box and put themselves in a users shoes for both situations. Especially those who run accounts for bricks and mortar stores, businesses most likely impacted by the latest method.
Reliance of search engine bots to scrape the latest data, in some cases this might be outdated. For example, when using an assistant to get the opening hours for a store, they may not be accurate.
As with all technology, the capabilities of voice search technology is getting better very quickly. Looking back only a few years you can see the massive improvements that have been made.
Google’s Assistant has become very conversational and allows for “follow-up” voice searches that take into account the previous searches. For example, you can use the following
- “Who directed the film Titanic?”
- “Who is he married to?”
- “What films did she appear in?”
Errors rates are decreasing rapidly also. Google claimed in May 2015 and error rate down to less than 8% compared to 23% in 2013. Google listened to a large volume of queries to determine the accuracy rate.
Apple also claims an improved error rate of 5% in Jun 2015, but are less revealing about how they reached that figure.
Any smartphone will have access to some kind of voice search option either embedded in the operating system or through an app. Smartphones are likely to be the primary device used to conduct voice search for the foreseeable future.
Household voice based devices are starting to appear with Amazon Echo & Google Home two such products which are already widely publicised. These devices will become more and more sophisticated, developing into home assistants that will allow you to control all kinds of settings throughout your home.
Google have made certain acquisitions, such as Nest, which points to an eventual home automation system which will feature a voice search option.
Voice searches are here to stay, there is no denying the fact that. How the technology evolves over the course of the next few years will be Brands should adopt the idea of voice search as soon as possible, accept it and work with it.