What do you need to know about Voice Search?

In the last six years of owning a smartphone and all of its intrinsic technical bells and whistles, I have used its voice recognition software only once. This was a request to Siri to, “Open the pod bay doors HAL.”

It’s great, you should try it… Although after repeatedly attempting it again this morning, Siri’s response has become terribly withering.

siri-is-hal

And that’s about my total experience. 

However, as of October 2014, 55% of US teens and 41% of US adults use Google voice search more than once a day and the use of mobile voice search more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, according to a study from Northstar Research.

The study also reveals that 56% of adults use voice search because it makes them “feel tech-savvy.” Further testament that you’ll never go broke developing tech that makes people feel like they’re in an episode of Star Trek.

So I’m intrigued… How popular is voice search right now? Will it become a bigger deal in the future? Who uses voice search? Why won’t Siri play along with my 2001 references anymore?

I’ll try to answer all these questions now. (Quick spoiler for the last one, it’s rightfully bored of me.)

How popular is voice search right now? 

The study above was commissioned by Google and is now more than a year old, however it is the most up to date study I have found so far. If anyone can point me in the direction of newer research I’d be very grateful.

Who uses voice search and why do they use it?

Of course the most obvious answer here is that it grants a better level of web accessibility to people with disabilities. Unfortunately Google had to drop its always listening “Okay Google” feature for the desktop version of Chrome, where users could just say “okay Google” and a voice activated search would take place. It does however still feature on mobile devices and Chromebooks, and you can activate it on desktop by clicking the microphone symbol in the Google search bar.

Voice search has also found popularity in Asian markets. In October 2015, Google ran its first ad campaign in Vietnam, and put voice search right at the fore.

According to Campaign smartphone adoption in Vietnam jumped from 36% in 2013 to 55% in 2014. Mobile is also at the heart of the campaign’s narrative.

Balazs Molnar, head of search marketing at Google Southeast Asia, had this to say on why voice interactions are driving search in Asia.

“While voice search and commands are unlikely to replace typing completely, in many Asian languages it’s harder for people to type using a small keyboard. For instance, character-based languages or languages with a lot of diacritical markers, like Vietnamese. People find it easier to speak rather than type on their phones.”

So what excuse do 55% of US teenagers and 41% of US adults have then?

Firstly, and rather anecdotally, typing into a mobile phone is a pain in the ass when walking down the street. Everyone knows you shouldn’t do it, and I have given my share of evil glances to people who have walked into me for that very reason, but we all do it. Voice search is a safer, more public conscious option.

In fact, typing on a smartphone is tricky enough while sat perfectly still. Especially for those of you, like me, who suffers from ‘big stupid clumsy fingers’. 

Voice search makes it easier to avoid mistakes, especially now that voice recognition software is a heck of a lot better than it was a few years ago.

Voice search is great for multi-tasking, 23% of adults use voice search while cooking, saving a butter and garlic smeared iPhone. It may also help you pay attention to the television show you’re watching, 38% of people use voice search while watching TV, which avoids them missing vital evidence in Making a Murderer.

Teens have a lot less shame when it comes to barking orders into a smartphone. There’s little stigma associated with using voice search while hanging out with friends, whereas only 1/4 of adults speak to their phones while in company. One in five teens also admit to using voice search privately in the bathroom.

What’s next for voice search?

As of November 2015, Google “understands you a little better.” I know, creepy right. According to its blog, Google search is starting to truly understand the meaning of what you’re asking. It can now break down a query to understand the semantics of each piece and glean the intent behind it with better accuracy. 

Superlatives, ordered items, points in time and complex combinations can now be understood to serve you more relevant answers to your questions. Ben Davis wrote the most entertaining summation of these improvements over at Econsultancy.

These ‘direct answers’ provided by Google will theoretically better match the more natural way that people ask questions in speech rather then when typing something into a search bar, where keywords can still dominate our search behaviour.

What does this mean for you?

It may mean that sites with the sort of content that answers common questions accurately and concisely are more likely to be the ones providing the answers to those questions.

The Google Answer Box will continue its merciless dominion over all known human knowledge and who Liam Hemsworth is currently dating, so as a publisher you will want to get in on that action.

For businesses and retailers, it will only become more vital that your business information is up-to-date (location, opening hours, contact information) because the easier it is to use voice search while out and about, the more people will use it.

Related reading

Simple Share Buttons