Voice Search: Recent Growth + Future of Voice Commerce

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How a child’s approach to voice search may illustrate future consumer behavior patterns as we adapt to life with audio assistants.

Early Experience with Voice Search

INTRODUCING SIRI, ALEXA, CORTANA, & THE GOOGLE ASSISTANT

voice search apple siri

Released in 2011, Apple’s Siri was the first personal assistant available to consumers. At its launch, Siri was primarily used as a means of issuing standard commands or to ask jokes. Siri has since been incorporated into modern versions of the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook, and Apple TV, and currently utilizes Microsoft’s Bing for search queries.

Microsoft’s own personal assistant, named Cortana after the character in Xbox’s Halo series, was first released in 2014 and is now supported on all Windows 10 computers, Windows 10 mobile devices, Xbox One systems, and as a standalone application for iOS and Android devices. Searches conducted with Cortana operate using Bing.

Unveiled later in 2014, Amazon’s Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant available to owners of the Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers. A standalone application is also available for iOS and Android devices. Where Siri and Cortana were originally developed for use on mobile phones, Alexa was created to serve as a home automation system and for facilitating commerce with Amazon’s online store.

Recently, Amazon and Microsoft announced a partnership that will allow Alexa and Cortana to activate one another. While Bing will continue to power search on both platforms, the integration of Windows and Amazon services will likely make the personal assistants more valuable to users.

Finally, in 2016 Google unveiled its own intelligent personal assistant, simply called the Google Assistant, and complementary smart speaker (Google Home). The Google Assistant has since been integrated into iOS and Android devices via a standalone application and is available on mobile and desktop versions of Chrome. Unlike all other personal assistants, search using the Google Assistant is powered by the company’s native search engine.

(Photo above: Apple Siri)

GROWTH OF PERSONAL ASSISTANTS & VOICE SEARCH

According to a report from Edison Research in partnership with NPR:

  • _ 7% of US consumers own a smart speaker (a subset of personal assistants, including the Amazon Echo and Google Home).
  • _ Of the owners surveyed, 87% indicated that the ability to ask questions without needing to type was a reason for wanting a smart speaker.

This connection with search is the primary reason marketers and SEO practitioners should be paying attention to the device category.

  • _ Further evidence from the study shows that smart speaker owners regularly use their devices to complete at least one of 28 activities, including playing music, learning about the weather, and asking general questions.
  • _ On average, an Amazon Echo or Google Home owner completes 7.5 of these 28 tasks per day. Notable tasks for brands include requesting information when cooking, ordering food, finding local businesses, and ordering products.

As intelligent personal assistants and the smart speaker category grow in popularity, use, and impact, understanding consumer behavior as it relates to these devices is essential for marketers. The evolution of search behavior has already been noted by many search marketers who have witnessed recent growth in natural language searches and long-tail queries. To understand more about how consumer behavior will change with personal assistants, I decided to experiment with my family.

WHAT WOULD YOU ASK A ROBOT?

When I first introduced my son to the Google Assistant, I let him think about what he wanted to ask, curious what he would choose to learn more about. He mulled it over for a few seconds, and readied his question. “OK, Google. How much does a rhinoceros weigh?” he asked. The Google Assistant processed his query for a moment and then provided its response, noting the varying mass of three rhinoceros species.

For his next query, he again asked a direct and fact-based question. “OK, Google. How much does a Spinosaurus weigh?” And again, the Google Assistant answered his inquiry, providing the estimated weight of the dinosaur from its Wikipedia entry.

Continuing the line of questioning natural to a 6-year-old, he then asked about the weight and lifespan of a sasquatch, curious to know more about the mythical creature. In his mind, there was no distinction between the information that could be provided about a rhinoceros, a Spinosaurus, and a bigfoot. The Google Assistant, however, was unable to give a response.

As he continued experimenting with my smartphone, his questions to the Google Assistant became increasingly conceptual. His transition from direct Q&A results to questions that required deeper investigation mimics the general transition consumers are making as intelligent personal assistants grow in popularity. What started as a novelty for mobile device users is quickly evolving into an essential method for accessing information. Natural language searches are indicative of this evolution, which means the next major focus for marketers should be on content to match these queries.

Marketing Applications for Personal Assistants and Voice Search

VOICE SEARCH RESULTS

Crucial to voice search is the connectivity of smartphones, Wi-Fi-connected devices, and smart speakers. As the number of connected devices with built-in personal assistants grows, so too will the importance of voice search. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30% of web sessions will occur without a screen.

Currently, voice search results on Google are dictated by featured snippets (also called quick answers). According to some reports, more than 30% of search results now feature a quick-answer box. Search marketers hoping to optimize for voice search should also be looking at featured snippets to ensure their content appears.

VOICE COMMERCE

The partnership between Amazon and Microsoft is a major move for voice commerce. Expanding Amazon’s reach beyond its native application and in-home smart speakers could lead to significant revenue for the company. Integration with Windows could also enable Amazon to expand its delivery services and more seamlessly incorporate calendar and email notifications.

To compete with Amazon for ecommerce and product delivery, Google has also been building partnerships with major retailers and is now able to deliver goods to users of its Google Express application. Most recently, the company announced a partnership with Walmart that will enable Google Home owners and those using the Google Assistant to order products via voice commands.

FINAL TAKEAWAYS FOR MARKETERS

With personal assistants available on nearly every connected device, the impact of voice search, voice commands, and voice commerce is likely to continue expanding. Anticipating this growth and preparing content to meet the unique needs of a voice searcher will ensure brands are able to keep pace with the ever-changing device landscape.

Just as a 6-year-old can find and engage with content, so too will general consumers be looking to explore the internet via voice controlled devices. A word of caution for parents: pay close attention to what your children are asking of your household’s personal assistant or you may wind up with a shipment of toy dinosaurs and nets for capturing mythical creatures.

 

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