It’s nothing short of amazing how far we’ve gone and how fast we’ve achieved everything related to speech recognition technology. Our phones are now capable of doing tasks as commanded without touching any buttons. Even homes are into it, controlling the lighting fixtures and telling our appliances what to do.
But more than being functional, voice recognition technology has turned into one of the most efficient tools for marketing in this digital age. A quick query can give users the answers they are looking for or ask to book a restaurant. It’s safe to say that the future is already here.
We’ve come a long way from the time when Google had its first foray into voice search with its GOOG-411 service after it was launched back in 2007. It was a telephone service that allowed users to talk into their phones to run local searches. All they needed to do was dial a toll-free number, 800-GOOG-411, and mention their city name, state, and business category. Once done, Google would give them search results that contained up to eight businesses users could choose from.
Apparently, this was Google’s clever strategy to build a phoneme database that could help the company build robust text-to-speech software that would eventually be the foundation of today’s voice search technology.
A year after the first iPhone was introduced in 2007, Google started using this database to bring their text-to-speech software to smartphones by creating the first voice search app for the iPhone. This was the first incidence of speech-to-text making it into a commercial device, and also the introduction of voice search as we know it. Since then, Google has been making constant adjustments to its voice search algorithms over the years.
However, it took four years for the next big innovation to take the world by storm. In 2011, iPhone’s Siri opened up a totally new market that would soon grow to massive proportions.
Voice assistants quickly made their way into consumer smartphones and computers. After Siri monopolized the voice assistant market, big players started to make their move. Microsoft unveiled Cortana and Amazon followed suit with Alexa. It may have been a little late to the party, but in 2016, Google finally announced Google Assistant, changing the game of search engine optimization as we know it.
The State of Voice Search Today
Today, there are over one billion devices that provide voice-assisted searches to users. Both Siri and Google Assistant are now dominating the smartphone market, while Amazon’s Alexa is at the top of the smart speaker food chain.
The world is starting to adapt to the way speech recognition technology has evolved, and with good reason. Voice search is 3.7 times faster than typing. Comparatively, people can talk with the speed of 110-150 words per minute. Versus the average typing rate of 38-40 words per minute, voice search is considerably more convenient.
With smartphones and smart speakers now proliferating in the market, more people are using voice search. In January 2018, there were an estimated one billion searches per month. At this rate, 50 percent of searches will be carried out via voice by 2020.
From a marketing standpoint, these numbers tell you that your business should be working on ways on how to use voice search to your advantage. Perhaps it’s time to find the right partner that knows how to deliver top-notch voice SEO services to help your company stand toe-to-toe with your biggest competitors.
At the rate smart devices that feature speech recognition technology are being purchased in the market, the shift to voice search is expected to take over. This leads us to ask the question: where is voice search going?
Where Is Voice Search Going?
It’s easy to predict what will happen to a futuristic technology like voice since we all can get excited and ambitious to what this can do. There are several predictions by how voice search will grow and improve over the years, so let’s dive right into them to keep you up-to-date about the technology:
Voice search will become mainstream
With a forecast involving 50 percent of the world’s searches done through voice by 2020, it’s worth discussing if the technology going mainstream will check out.
Let’s take a realistic look at voice search and go beyond the hype to find out what opportunities lie ahead of it. Taking a closer look at this bold prediction, the stat can be traced back to Andrew Ng, former vice president and chief scientist at Baidu. He stated during a 2014 Fast Company interview, “In five years time, at least 50 percent of all searches are going to be either through images or speech.”
This quote was then popularized by venture capitalist Mary Meeker, who included it in the timeline of voice search in her 2016 report about internet trends, and wrote 2020 as the year this forecast was expected to come true.
As you can see, stats can be a little distorted during the process of retelling since the difference is substantial. It’s not just voice, but also visual search that’s involved, making it a bit trickier to benchmark since there are limited stats on how many searches are done through images.
Since voice search is more widespread and well-supported compared to visual search, let’s assume for argument’s sake that 35 percent of Ng’s predicted 50 percent of searches will be voice. How far along are we in hitting that benchmark?
To find out, let’s take into account voice queries of every kind. Around 60 percent of searches are done on mobile, so using Google’s stat that one of five mobile searches is done via voice, this means 12 percent of all Google searches are mobile voice queries.
It’s estimated that another 26.4 million queries are done via smart speakers, which translates to an additional 0.75 percent. This totals 12.75 percent of searches, or 13 percent of searches are voice queries if rounded up. This means that the amount would need to increase by 22 percent over the next year to reach Ng’s prediction. To achieve the 50 percent stat most often mentioned by voice search enthusiasts, we would need to reach an additional 1.3 billion voice searches per day.
Now that we’ve established this 50 percent forecast isn’t realistic, let’s return to our conservative prediction of 35 percent of searches will be voice by 2020. What would it take to reach this number in about a year?
The answer came with another prediction from Ng back in December 2016 via Twitter: “As speech-recognition accuracy goes from 95% to 99%, we’ll go from barely using it to using all the time.” By saying this, he believes that sheer accuracy of recognition will push voice search into entering the mainstream. Perhaps, this is the key.
Responses will be more personalized and contextualized
With a near perfect accuracy in recognizing human speech, we would have the same expectations as having a normal conversation with another person. Virtual assistants should respond seamlessly in a human way and intuitively carry on the dialogue. But if they don’t understand what we want them to do, we’re thrown off and disappointed.
One of the main reasons why voice interfaces are considered as the future of technology is due to the faster and smoother way of relaying a query or command. However, there are still UX problems with voice that needs to improve.
Generally, understanding you still isn’t enough to elicit the right response since many voice commands rely on a specific phrasing. This means you can’t achieve the result you want if you don’t know exactly what to say. The good news is any shortfall could be reasonably solved in the future as technology advances. Responses will be more personalized and contextualized.
Recently, Amazon added a notification capability to its Voice Services API. This latest voice notification feature allows Alexa to alert a user that there is new content available, such as shopping updates, upcoming offers, and details about a shopping festival, among other updates. This makes sure that voice search has better engagement time and a more frictionless experience.
Voice shopping will boom
E-commerce businesses are set to benefit from voice search. Walmart recently introduced voice ordering for its online grocery service through Google Assistant. The retail giant can now let shoppers add products to their virtual cart by talking to their Google Assistant supported devices. Amazon has led the way with Alexa helping with shoppers purchase off the website through voice.
It appears that voice shopping is set to hit the mainstream, with an estimated US$40 billion growth by 2022. This feature can give product details and recommendations to make shopping a whole lot easier through the help of your AI-powered virtual assistants.
Content over ads
If Google searches are increasingly performed through voice, what would eventually happen is businesses could lose revenue from ads in other channels since paid advertising isn’t allowed through voice—yet. This poses a challenge to brand marketers who are rushing head-first into exploring how to get their brands out there.
However, some enterprising companies are already finding ways to create content that’s voice search friendly in the absence of paid advertising. When HBO needed to promote its children’s show, Sesame Workshop, the company created a game “Esme and Roy,” which allows kids to play using a smart speaker to answer educational questions.
The over 150-year old company Nestle launched its GoodNes Alexa skill that turns any Alexa-assisted device into a highly knowledgeable sous chef. You can ask GoodNes for recipes and nutritional information about a specific dish and it will email the recipe to you, including the utensils needed for preparing the meal. GoodNes also comes with a visual guide that you can view using a laptop or tablet, so you can just say things like, “Show me the ingredients” after finding a recipe and you’ll be able to view them in the browser.
Pretty soon companies without a voice search presence will find other ways to incorporate their brand into their content to benefit from voice search.
Voice search will go beyond smartphones
Amazon Alexa VP Steve Rabuchin has the following to say regarding the future of the technology, “Our vision is that customers will be able to access Alexa whenever and wherever they want.” This confirms plans for the company to give customers the ability to talk to cars, entertainment systems, microwave ovens, and all kinds of devices.
Developers should now be on top of things as systems compete for attention and new players enter the game. They should be able to manage the complexity of developing apps across different channels and platforms.
Brands should also need to understand the capabilities of each device and the integration of their brand. They will also have to focus on maintaining a good user experience consistent throughout the coming years as complexity becomes a concern.
One industry that’s sure to make voice-enabled devices really take off is in the automotive sector and in-car speech recognition. This has already become an added feature in many car brands, and it’s expected to advance in the coming years, allowing users to do more as they drive to work. This gives them a safer driving experience, particularly those who can’t seem to take their eyes off their phones.
Local and hyperlocal search will be the next big thing
Based on trends, voice search users are increasingly searching for local results. A good 58 percent of consumers have found local businesses through voice search. Not only is the number of users growing, but the volume also continues to grow. In fact, 46 percent of those users are expected to use voice search to find local businesses on a daily basis.
According to Google, searches for “near me” businesses have increased dramatically over the past years. This surge in hyperlocal search is fantastic news for local business owners, and one of the factors contributing to this increase is the use of mobile search. This has forced business owners and digital marketers to fine-tune their efforts and capitalize on the rise of hyperlocal searches.
Search algorithms will continue to evolve
Google has been regularly rolling out updates in its algorithm for traditional search. With voice search now gaining momentum, the search engine behemoth will roll out more of these in the future to make the necessary improvements and streamline the process.
Expect voice search to open more doors for your brand as voice search grows. As technology improves, more opportunities will arise. As long as you’re up to date with the search algorithms, you’ll be able to find ways to put your brand out there using new SEO techniques and provide a better experience through more relevant answers to users.
What voice search can do now is only the beginning. Expect to see major advancements in the user interface in the years to come. Businesses need to start educating themselves on how they can best leverage voice search to better engage their customers. For this reason, you should start looking for the best partner that can understand the ins and outs of voice search SEO and the needs of your company, so you take advantage of the benefits of the technology now and in the years to come.