Thoughts, Insights and Inspiration

Spotlight on: Voice Search

If you’ve seen people uttering the words ‘OK Google’ into their phone, you’ve seen someone using Voice Search. The functionality is nothing new, but has developed significantly in recent years, with Apple (through Siri), Microsoft (through Cortana), and most famously Google all making strides in the Voice Command or Voice Search arena. Yet, for all the technology available, Voice Search still hasn’t quite taken off as much as it has the potential to. So what’s behind this stagnated growth and what’s the opportunity for Voice Search?

Voice Search: The Current Picture

In 2014, Google commissioned a survey looking at how often and for what purposes Voice Search was being used. The results suggested a significant generation gap in attitudes to the technology, with 55% of those under the age of 18 using some form of voice-activated service at least twice per day, in contrast to only 41% of adults. What’s more, usage among teenagers grows as the amount of time they spend on their phone or tablet does: 75% of those who are using their phones for more than 11 hours a day are inclined to use a Voice Activated service.

Such stats aren’t all that surprising. Technology will always have a generation gap associated with it. The older you get, the more emerging technologies seem confusing and even a little scary. That problem is only exacerbated by Voice Search, which comes with certain stigmatisms attached. Teenagers are likely to feel comfortable giving commands to their phones, while adults are more prone to see such actions as alien. A phone is for talking into, not talking to.

However, just because Voice Activation is currently struggling to gain traction doesn’t mean it will forever. Indeed, the fact it’s striking the right notes for younger users is very promising; if the next generation are taking the technology in, it’ll not only gain in useage, but develop through their ingenuity. As Google’s Vice President for Conversational Search Scott Huffman pointed out: “We found that for teens, voice search comes as naturally as checking social media and they’re getting very creative about how (and where) they use it.”

Utility Reigns Supreme

While innovation creates a buzz around Voice Activation, it’s actually practicality that’s cited as one of the technology’s key benefits. 40% of those surveyed said they used Voice Search to find directions when out and about; 39% to dictate a text message; 32% to make a call; 27% to check the weather and 23% when they’re cooking. These are important stats. The keyboard on a phone is small, compact, and difficult to use when on the go. Voice Search is quick and easy, by comparison, so it fits in with the Be Quick and Be Useful elements of Google’s Moment Marketing methodology.

This is playing into the growth of Voice Search. Reports suggest that Apple is considering integrating Siri into the latest version of its Mac OS (OSX), while Google is looking to make waves in Conversational Shopping Search. The latter is a particularly exciting development, which will help revolutionise the way consumers purchase. As The SEM Post reported: “Similarly to how regular voice queries are more long tail and are refined without repeating the initial search query, conversational shopping would be applying those principles to online shopping.”

Beyond the big three tech giants, we’re also seeing a new Voice Search offering from SoundHound, called Hound. This is a next step voice search, which allows users to Search using natural voice (rather than having to use specific commands) and then keep refining it, making it easy for the user to find what they’re looking for. “Hound takes speed and accuracy to a whole new level by combining Speech Recognition and Language Understanding,” the company’s site explains. “Just recognizing words isn’t good enough, so Hound does language understanding at the same time… Hound understands both context and details. You can follow up to refine your results, or you can say precisely what you want all at once.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Such developments represent good news for eCommerce sites looking to boost conversions. While they may not benefit directly, any innovation that helps customers find the information they’re looking for faster and with greater ease is significant and worth taking advantage of. The way to do that is to ensure your site is as fast and simple and Voice Activation is allowing the customer’s Search to be. By doing so, you’re creating a quick, efficient user experience from the very start of the purchase journey to the very end of it.

There are, of course, still problems to be resolved with Voice Activation, many of which revolve around the technology’s ability to understand vocal ticks, impediments, and regional accents, but such issues are likely to be resolved as time passes. As the technology is refined, understanding of it will be enhanced and usage increased. It’s just a case of breaking down barriers and making an ‘OK Google’ as commonplace as a click or a tap.

What do you think about the future of voice search? Let us know in the comments below or via social media, and make sure you subscribe to the blog to receive articles straight to your inbox.

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