Voice search has become one of the quickest growing areas of
SEO over the past two years. From humble beginnings involving calling
up a Google representative to make a Google query, to a surge of growth in
2016 which saw Google confirm that 20%
of mobile queries are voice searches, it’s clear to see that voice search
has grown spectacularly ever since first being introduced back in 2002, even if
at times the growth has stagnated due various factors like lack of adoption and
But what’s been causing this growth? In this post, we’ll
explore the different ways that voice search evolved in 2017, as well as what
held it back over the last year. We will also explore how voice search has
started to interact with other forms of search technology, and how it fits in
the new SEO landscape of 2018.
Evolution of Devices
In previous years, the only way to perform a voice search
was mainly on a mobile device. Desktop PCs also had the capability of using
voice search, but due to the fact that it requires a microphone, desktop PCs
were often neglected in favour of mobile devices which were more convenient for
users to interact with due to the microphone being readily available and the
capability to use the voice search function being readily accessible as well;
this was in the form of saying a phrase like “Hey Siri” or similar before then
carrying out a voice search.
Despite the neglect though, in the 90s and early 2000s, there
was a surge of activity on desktop computers. DragonDictate, one of the most
popular speech recognition programs, was launched in the early 1990s and
Microsoft Office incorporated
voice and speech recognition in 2002 in a bid to improve upon the
technology of the time as well as improve user experience.
However, in recent years we’ve seen an increase in other
devices which use voice search as part of their functionality, in the form of
‘smart speakers’. The two most popular of these smart speakers are Amazon’s
Echo and Google’s Home. Both brands offer a range of products designed to add
functionality to the home, with the main focus being around customers using voice
commands, but both have different objectives. Amazon is focused more on retail
within its ecosystem, whereas Google is focused more on partnerships and
expanding its data collection and storage, unlike Amazon.
In addition to smart speakers, other devices such as TVs and
media devices like Amazon’s Fire Stick also now incorporate voice search
commands to allow users to interact without needing to use any input devices
other than their voice. And as the technology has improved, the range of
devices continues to expand, creating a full ecosystem that is designed to sit
within a home or office.
Voice search technology is now firmly part of the modern
smart home, allowing you to control your lights with your voice, set an alarm
or turn the TV on, to give a few examples. Amazon have even developed a smart
alarm clock, the Echo Spot, which functions like the other Echo devices and
allows users to use voice commands with it, further adding to the ever-expanding
Amazon suite of devices.
But despite this surge across a wide range of industries, there
have still been a few that have resisted the changes, namely in the gaming
industry. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Xbox One were notable for having the Kinect,
an attachment for the Xbox that worked on both motion sensing and voice command
allowing you to game without a controller or just use your Xbox with your voice.
By the time the Xbox One was announced, the Kinect was poised to evolve into a
fully modern system, designed to control your home media system in the form of
the Xbox One, aurally. However, despite selling it from 2010 to 2017, it was
announced in October 2017 that the Kinect would be discontinued due to a
variety of reasons, including lack of adoption by consumers.
That is not to say that industries resistant to voice search
have ignored it entirely. Sony’s PlayStation 4 allows you to operate it with
voice commands, and Microsoft has changed its focus from the Kinect and instead
used the technology that was in place in the Kinect to create a digital
assistant in the form of Cortana, which is also available on many Microsoft
products as well. It’s clear to see that whilst some forms of voice search
technology may fail, such as the Kinect, other forms such as digital virtual
assistants are on the rise.
Evolution of Virtual Assistants
Virtual assistants have been evolving in rather dramatic
ways since their introduction back in the 1960s. The first virtual assistant
was the IBM Shoebox, which was presented to the general public in 1962, could
recognise 16 spoken words and the digits 0 to 9.
Since those early days, virtual assistants have grown
exponentially, with users now being able to gather information on a wide range
of subjects such as the weather or looking up facts, as well as being able to
set alarms, play music or videos, as well as making purchases from e-commerce
businesses. This increase in intelligence has prompted the rise of AI in the
consumer market as a competitive advantage for businesses to develop and use as
part of their marketing mix as well as for sales applications, and this
development of additional voice and virtual assistants is driving competition
in the development market as every company attempts to jump on board the
virtual assistant wave.
One reason for this is that nearly all modern smartphones
have some form of voice integration, whether it’s Siri on Apple iPhones, Google
Assistant on Android phones, or Bixby on Samsung phones. Some of these, such as
Bixby, even have a dedicated assistant button to allow easy access to Bixby,
whilst Google and Apple have opted for voice commands such as OK Google or Hey
Siri to activate their voice command abilities.
Originally virtual voice assistants had limited
functionality, serving more as a keyboard substitute but 2017 saw the rise of
AI and a true assistant, as you can now order an Uber, a pizza or even purchase
products happily on Amazon with Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant. This ties
into Amazon’s focus on e-commerce and retail. Google Assistant has also
expanded its range of abilities, being able to scan your emails and offer up
suggestions such as making notes on your calendar amongst other functions and
integrations with other Google services. All of these are designed to enhance
your experience whilst using the device, whilst also collecting data, which
furthers Google’s aim of creating a linked ecosystem.
2017 also saw a massive jump in virtual assistant usage
compared to 2016. Amazon’s Alexa rose from 0.8 million monthly users in May
2016 to 2.6 million monthly users in May 2017 in the US alone, and Cortana,
Microsoft’s virtual assistant, grew its US user base 350% between May 2016 and
May 2017, according to a survey from Verto
Analytics which was reported on by TechCrunch. One interesting point is
that usage of Siri dropped by several million users, equating to a drop of 3%,
which we will touch on later on in this post. But how does this growth factor into
everyday usage for voice search? And what does the marketplace hold for voice
Evolution of a Marketplace
Voice search usage is growing in unexpected ways that not
many users could have predicted 10 years ago. For example, China is the country
that has seen the biggest growth in using voice search, with a staggering 64%
adopting it across the country. Other major international adoptees of voice
search include Thailand, which is close behind China, with 57% adopting it in
the country, according to a recent survey reported on by DigitalMarket
Asia. It’s clear to see that from these figures that businesses, if they’re
not focusing on international customers’ needs, will need to start
incorporating that into their global marketing going forward.
Back in 2013, China was dominating the voice search app
market by being able to create apps that could reach 93%
voice search recognition accuracy, whereas Siri in the US was just being
properly introduced to the general population. However, 2017 showed that more
companies were supporting voice search, with the number of Alexa Skills (the
equivalent to apps on Alexa) growing to 15,000 in 2017 according to an article
so it’s clear to see that the marketplace is adapting as the technology keeps
evolving as developers add to it.
And as the marketplace for voice search keeps growing, it is
only natural that advertising will come to the forefront at some point. With
customers already purchasing from Amazon’s Echo devices through Alexa, it was
thought that advertising would soon be underway and that businesses would be
taking advantage of one of the fastest growing trends of technology.
However, Amazon announced that it would be introducing a restrictive
ad policy in 2017 that banned advertising through a lot of the Alexa
Skills, apart from streaming music, radio and flash briefing Skills that have
been installed on the Echo device. As such, this has curtailed a lot of third
party advertising on this particular platform, although not all virtual
assistants or connected devices are experiencing the same ban.
Google announced in May 2017 that they would be monetizing
Google Assistant with ads and e-commerce functionalities, and this has resulted
in several partnerships including with Walmart, allowing customers to order
through the voice search functionality. This caused an increase of 50% in
Walmart’s online sales year on year in one quarter according to a report by MarketRealist,
suggesting that voice search is becoming an increasingly popular market for
Final thoughts and predictions
As the technology for voice search keeps evolving,
e-commerce will also have to evolve alongside it. Whilst many e-commerce
businesses are already scrambling to become Mobile-First compliant in time for
the perpetual, they should also be aware that they need to optimise their
websites so that voice search algorithms can search their website correctly.
Another point to cover is that as more competitors enter the
market, the more the market place will develop based on the higher level of
competition. Roku, a media streaming company, have recently announced their
intentions to join the market by creating their own virtual assistant, according
to a recent TechRadar
Thanks to this and other competition, we’ve already seen
Apple’s Siri lose millions
of monthly users as people migrate to other platforms and ecosystems. How
the new Apple HomePod will fare when it’s launched in Spring 2018 is unknown,
but it could potentially end up failing due to oversaturation of the existing
market. This, on top of continued delays in production that saw the tech giant
push back its expected delivery date for the HomePod means we predict Siri will
be this year’s biggest loser in voice search.
In addition, we predict that we will see more voice search
queries related to e-commerce businesses. With two of the three major players
either operating their own e-commerce platform or partnered with a company who
operate an e-commerce business, businesses who are wanting to succeed in
e-commerce with voice search will need to adopt a variety of optimisation
strategies to ensure that they are equipped to both capture and assist shoppers
whilst competing against Amazon’s own in-house e-commerce capabilities and
other brands who have opted to work on their voice search capabilities.
Google and other search engines have been pushing searcher
intent as one of their key rankings lately, and voice search queries are going
to be an extremely valuable set of data to help e-commerce businesses
understand searcher intent. This can then help to optimise an e-commerce
website, but a few things need to be kept in mind before that can occur.
One of these is the fact that depending on the type of
business, international or small data sample sets that voice search queries may
produce may end up skewing or biasing data. This can affect how to optimise
your e-commerce site, so we’ll be covering how best to optimise your website
and avoid these pitfalls in a future blog post.
If you’ve got any further questions about voice search after reading this article, or if you’d like to know how to incorporate voice search into your marketing strategy, then why not get in touch with us? Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01793 238 697