How Does Voice Search Work & Its Future?
Voice search: The Opportunity
Pi Datametrics recently coducted a unique study with the University of Hertfordshire which showed that the majority (41%) of those who said that they used voice search every day fell into the 46 to 55 age group; not the demographic you would first associate with this channel.
Baby boomers are also turning to voice search due to its accessibility (i.e. hands free, conversational), and generation Z are embracing voice so entirely that they are becoming known as ‘The voice-first generation’.
As voice tech becomes smarter, we’ll turn to it more and more; searching in ways we previously never thought possible.
“We’re going to start searching more often, in places where we currently don’t. That’s what is going to make up that 50%. I really do believe that it’s going to be somewhere around that figure.”
Jon Earnshaw | CTO and Voice Search Specialist | Pi Datametrics
Voice Search And The Technology Behind It
The growth of voice search assistants and voice enabled products could well develop to impact the performance of search engines on the whole. What technology currently supports voice search, and which platforms should marketers be looking to optimise?
According to the research conducted by the University of Hertfordshire, 33% of the respondents used a Google Home Assistant to search via voice, while 28% used an Amazon Echo.
The use of smart speakers, or voice assistants, like Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant has soared with at least one in 5 homes in the UK estimated to be using them. Priya Abani, a Director at Amazon, has said “we basically envision a world where Alexa is everywhere”.
How are people using smart speakers?
Those who own smart speakers generally embed them into their daily routines and call on them to support relatively basic tasks like providing entertainment and retrieving information. A report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that playing music is the feature used most by the vast majority of users in the UK (84%). Answering general questions, providing weather updates and setting alarms were the next most popular uses. The same report notes that the more whimsical features such as ‘tell me a joke’, or playing general knowledge games were also appreciated.
Benefits of voice search
From setting timers while cooking, to calling friends without pressing any buttons, the devices enable multitasking and support people’s busy lifestyles. But for those who are not confident using technology or have a disability that makes using a keyboard or screen interface challenging, the technology may be life-changing. The devices are typically easy to use, with no fiddly buttons or complicated on-screen instructions. Once set-up, users can retrieve information from the Web, select entertainment, contact friends, and make restaurant bookings without lifting a finger.
A retirement facility in San Diego is reportedly experimenting with the devices as a way to support assisted living. Residents use voice assistants to set alarms, call their families and check the weather forecast. One resident, a 79-year old with hand tremors, finds it easier and faster than screen-based browsers to use his device to search the Web. Similar UK trials are taking place including in Hampshire where the technology is used to support adult social services and help address social isolation.
Families have found the devices provide a way to reduce screen time. Random questions are answered and particular music played without everyone reaching for their smartphones. Google has suggested its smart speakers can help address dependency on smartphones by providing accessible alternatives, reducing the possibility of digital distraction and the impact this can have on sleep. According to a US survey by Edison Research, over two-fifths of users purchased a voice assistant in an attempt to cut down on screen time.
Future of smart decices
The capability of voice assistants is sure to improve. Users can expect more accurate word detection, more natural interactions, and wider ‘skillsets’ as both inbuilt functionality and app support is enhanced.
A little over a third of users already have the assistants set-up to interact with other smart devices. This is likely to change as more connected devices enter the market. An increasing range of hardware comes with voice assistants already integrated, including smart TVs and kitchen devices.
Voice assistants are also set to be used in a broader variety of contexts, including in the commercial sphere and in the provision of public services. Amazon is actively marketing products for pre-installation in hotel rooms and rental accommodation in the US. This, however, raises new concerns, particularly because of the users of the device being different from its owner, and the person using the space in question not necessarily having control over whether the device is enabled.
Services, like banking, delivered through voice assistants via smartphone apps or traditional phone calls may also become more common. Benefits of a more spiritual nature have also emerged. The Church of England launched an Alexa Skill in 2018 which can read a prayer for the day, say Grace or provide details of nearby churches.