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Speak up! The triumph of Voice Search

First search went mobile, then it went local - and with more and more users leaving their keyboards in favour of Voice Search assistants, we can safely say Voice Search is the next big thing. This change has enormous consequences, especially for marketing professionals and local businesses; With individual keywords set to be replaced by search based on full sentences, Voice Search will likely change SEO in fundamental ways.

Way back in November 2008, the official Google blog proudly introduced a new feature: “You can now speak to the Google Mobile App through your iPhone.” Proud though Google was, Google users weren’t so impressed: Voice Search produced - how should we say it - varied - results. Eight years later however, and Voice Search hasn’t just caught up with keyword search; It’s about to dominate the internet. It’s no coincidence that the latest range of personal assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo are voice-activated - the market has spoken: Typing is yesterday, the future is in the voice.

In this regard, the smartphone was simply the first step in creating a purely voice-controlled generation of devices. Wearables and smart cars are just two kinds of devices that will be more and more voice-controlled. Personal assistants are becoming more sophisticated, and are now able to handle all manner of requests through everyday speech, including handling emails or taking notes. This makes the term ‘Voice Search’ a little outdated. Indeed, so sophisticated is Voice Search becoming, that it resembles something more like regular conversation than simply spoken keywords: “Siri, where is the best Italian restaurant near me?”; “OK Google, how is the Welsh national team doing in the Euros?”

By 2020, half of all searches will be done by voice

2015 was a game-changing year for Google: It was the first time mobile searches overtook desktop searches in important markets including the US and Japan. Voice Search is predicted to reach the same benchmark by 2020; That is, in fewer than 5 years, Voice Search will carry out half of all search requests. In this way, Voice Search and Mobile Search trends go hand in hand: Just as it became easier to carry out a search on your mobile device, it’s ultimately going to be more comfortable to vocally request information, rather than type and scroll through the hitlist.

Voice Search is leaving the comfortable surroundings of the smartphone: It’s made its way into the bedroom (those late-night Netflix sessions on the tablet), but it’s also entering the living-room. In June 2015, Amazon made a daring entry into Voice Search with the release of its music-device management tool, Amazon Echo. Just this past year, at the Google I/O developer conference, Google revealed its very own competitor to the Amazon Echo: Google Home, which replaces the Mobile personal assistant, Google Now in users’ homes. In contrast, Siri (Apple) and Cortana (Microsoft) can’t be used across devices.

A quantum leap thanks to AI

Easier operation is just one of the factors leading to voice search’s triumph. There was slow progress in the early days, with programmers requiring even more patience than normal, but recently, the technology has taken some giant steps forward. The error rate at 8% can still be improved, says Behshad Behzadi, Google Director of Conversational Search. Sure, but just two years ago, every fifth search went wrong.


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“It’s a kind of magical experience” - that’s the way the Google search expert describes today’s interaction with voice-search software. Andrew NG from Chinese search company Baidu, says that every incremental increase in search accuracy results in a more pleasurable experience for the user: “No one wants to wait 10 seconds for an answer” said Ng, in the KPCB report “Internet Trends 2016”.

The enormous leaps in Voice-Activated software are down to artificial intelligence. Google put aside its proven search algorithms to become one of the pioneers of machine-learning, self-learning algorithms and neural networks which create “Deep-learning” capabilities. These enable computers to bring together and process masses of complex information in a reflexive way, turning speech into something the computer ‘understands’. That is, the more information the network receives, the more it learns. Which means the more users that use the technology, the stronger the network becomes, and the better its ability to handle requests.

Meaningful outcomes for local marketing

It’s not for nothing that voice search gets called ‘conversational’. Our interaction with the computers has thus far only been confined to searching online via typing. With Voice Search, our interaction takes on a more entertainment-like role. This means the user will often casually give more information about the purpose and use of their search than normal. Traditional search is often only limited to the pure search of a product or service; Voice Search puts those products and services into context. This not only presents new opportunities for marketing experts, but new challenges too. SEO strategies based on typed searches are very likely to become less relevant in a market dominated by voice search. Instead of buzzwords, fully formulated sentences are going to come to the fore.

Voice search is the next big thing for business. Especially for local trade. It will replace the increasingly popular ‘near me’ search request, which already accounts for about 20% of all searches. Many may doubt it: Who wants to talk with their phone this way? Well, just look at your nearest underground or bus schedule and ask yourself whether you doubt people ask Google to make that information clearer for them. Trust us, after wireless gave the internet freedom, it’s now also got a voice.