The prediction by Comscore that 50% of searches will be made through voice by 2020 has been widely reported.
Whether it gets there in this timeframe or not, the growth stats to-date are undeniable: 13% of US households owned a smart speaker in 2017, with a further 53m devices expected to be shipped in 2018.
Where are we now?
Currently, smart devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home have their uses, from playing music or answering quick questions such as ‘what’s the weather?’ or ‘what time is it in New York?’
We’re at a stage where it’s still largely a bit of fun. But for behaviors to really shift, it needs to go to the next level...
The key challenge to be faced is taking the leap from voice assistants to digital agents.
Where are we going?
To understand what that looks like, just watch the Google Duplex video where an AI voice call is used to successfully book a haircut.
That’s not the future. It’s today. When you realize that, think about what this could look like in five to 10 years.
If you can ask ‘where should I go on holiday next?’ and receive a personalized response based upon your previous travel history, demographics, family etc, that could be even better than talking to a travel agent.
Also, buying online may not feel right with voice just yet. But it didn’t with the web at first either and, with Amazon firmly behind this, there’s a clear focus for improvement.
For adoption to become more widespread, voice search has to be more useful than what we currently have and one of the key reasons we’re seeing growth in voice queries is because it removes friction.
If you’re sat with a group of friends and want to check a fact, there’s friction involved in picking up a phone or tablet and typing in your question.
Just asking this question aloud is much easier and it shares the answer with everyone.
Texting and driving should be a thing of the past too, so there’s a lot of good that can come from this.
Changing human behaviors
No one can predict the future right now for sure – if we could we’d all be billionaires.
I try not to pay too much attention to the individual algorithm updates and focus more on where Google, Amazon and Apple want to go.
All are heavily pushing voice, and with Facebook expected to launch its own smart speaker later in the year too it’s becoming an arms race for market share, giving the winners incredible power for the future.
Most importantly, what are the trends of searchers? If people are changing their search habits, this could be as big a shift as mobile taking away traditional desktop queries.
Five ways to get started
Start. If you don’t have one, buy a smart speaker…
Ask questions, try to annoy Alexa and have some fun with it. You’ll learn a lot about what type of answers are coming back and where they are being pulled from.
Understand what questions people are asking about your brand/industry. A large percentage of voice results are pulled from Google answer boxes (not all), but structured data is a good place to start with the double benefit of web plus voice results.
Install apps and use them. Also read Alexa skills reviews on Amazon to give insight into what people like/want to see next.
Develop your own Amazon skills and Google actions. Make it easy for yourself. Right now you don’t have to be 100% perfect, but you should be starting. Get to grips with creating daily new briefings and try Amazon Blueprints to create skills, then you can build up from there.
What does the future hold?
When you look at what happened with mobile, there are companies with billion-dollar valuations based purely on being an app on the platform (Uber, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Tinder, Instagram etc).
Voice search queries are a big opportunity to capture organic branding – but the big winners will likely be those who build apps on the voice platform.
While the competition is low, now is the time to take advantage of being early. This is only just getting started.
Kevin Gibbons, co-founder and chief executive officer, BlueGlass
Tel: 0844 656 3109