Voice Search in 2019: 101

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There are now almost 4 billion voice searches a day, 60% of which are made via a smartphone.

To understand the importance of voice search in the future you only need look at the amount of money tech giants are throwing at it. There is a real battle going on at the moment between several major tech companies for dominance in the digital assistant market (specifically in smart speakers) with everyone from Amazon to Yandex having a speaker on the market. While Alexa rules the roost at the moment, Google has, for the first time, succeeded in outselling Amazon with it’s Google Home since it went to market.

However, even though voice search is in it’s ascendancy, there are areas that are are still problematic.

Immature technology

For voice to be a contender, it will require a number of other technologies to reach maturity. The nature of the technology at the moment is such that it is predominately suitable for basic query and response – so it should not come as any surprise that this is what it is used for.

All of these technologies are in the process of their own mini-revolutions. In the tech community, you’ll find similar back-and-forth arguments as to their particular usefulness – led by, often, the same companies that are investing in voice.

While a combination of these technologies will spell the end for mobile devices, it does not take all of these technologies to make voice search an incredibly important part of our lives and, therefore, of importance to the survival of brands.

Nobody buys using voice search

Hardly anyone has used voice to make a purchase, and most research suggests a distinct mistrust of spending anything more than a trivial amount even among those that do. However, this was also the case for desktop computers, as it was for mobiles. In this regard, the cynicism around voice is somewhat unwarranted, the amount that voice has to offer in terms of value for local businesses, FMCG, catering and other physical locations is being overlooked. While direct voice to purchase may be negligible so far, the current state of the market so far can be seen as comparable to the initial preference for ROPO (research online, purchase offline) that was typical at the dawn of eCommerce.

What is missing is trust – but this will come through exposure and, again, through advances in the technology. As we become familiar with our digital assistants, we’ll begin to trust them – especially as they begin to handle more complicated tasks on our behalf.

No one really uses voice

This is an understandable concern but that doesn’t change the fact that of the approaching four billion searches a day, 60% of all searches are now from mobile devices, and 20% of those are now spoken (12% of all searches, therefore, are both mobile and spoken – or almost 500 million).

What history has taught us, however, is that very little that is useful remains unused. If something can prove itself to be better than the device, service or approach it looks to replace, it will eventually replace it.

Digital assistants are stupid

The key to the success of voice is its ability to reduce friction in various interactions – whether commercial, social or for work – and one of the barriers to this is that digital assistants are idiots with an encyclopedia. They are increasingly capable, but you would likely trust a child more than a digital assistant with many of the jobs that they will inevitably be tasked with.

While digital assistants are pretty stupid – they are particularly narrow AIs – they’re getting better all the time and as they get smarter, we’ll be increasingly trust them to handle certain tasks, make recommendations (as we do with Netflix in a more narrow sense) and they, and voice search, will increasingly become the next technology that we will not be able to do without.

What you can do to prepare

The majority of the groundwork you can do revolves around making your content easier to parse for digital assistants. As Google moves to the Answer Engine model, there will be increasingly less focus on driving traffic to your website from search engine results pages (SERPs) and more on mining your site for content. In this regard, your efforts should be aimed toward ensuring that your site keeps ahead of the competition when it comes to structuring your data – and this is done through schema markup. While schema will be familiar to many in eCommerce, it is increasingly important that it is adopted by all industries – to ensure that you’re not left behind as voice increasingly impacts local and then all searches.

John Warner is marketing & content executive at Click Consult

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