‘OK Google’, What is the Future of Search?

11th May 2017 by Kevin Mullaney

Just as marketers are becoming accustomed to a mobile first world, search professionals are already looking to the next horizon and the opportunities of voice search.

Users are becoming increasingly comfortable with voice search, which has increased 35 fold since 2008 – with 60% of users only trying voice for the first time in the past year (about 10% of the entire online population).

With momentum building, comScore predicts that over 50% all searches will be voice activated by 2020 across an ever growing set of mobile assistants like Siri, Google and Cortana, not to mention the rise in screen free speakers like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home which are expected to increase to 33 million devices worldwide in 2017.

All of this has profound implications for businesses as behaviour shifts from short, sharp ‘pigeon speak’ searches to longer form conversational queries, known as the shift ‘from things to strings’.

But behind this new conversational tone is real commercial intent, as the most common voice searches are done to save time looking for places (businesses), products and quick answers.

In fact, mobile voice searches are 3x more likely to be local with a typical 18% in-store conversion rate within 24 hours. This typifies the new voice search landscape, as users have a clear idea of what they want to achieve, turning to voice commands to save time and find the nearest or most convenient way to take action.

In order to plan for this voice first future it’s a good idea to first look at what the search engines are doing and plan accordingly.

How are search engines gearing up for voice search?    

For big players like Google, natural language presents a real challenge. Search result quality is continually refined based on how users interact with what the search engine has seen (and now heard) before. So the more users search for the same – or similar – things, the more confidence Google has in serving the most relevant results.

But somewhat surprisingly, 15% of daily searches are still completely new to the algorithm; and this trend is only set to increase as longer form, more personalised voice searches become the norm.

To meet this challenge Google is turning to machine learning and the deployment of its RankBrain AI, which aims to make sense of this flood of previously unseen queries. The rise of the semantic web means Google has a better understanding of the relationship between things, places and people (known entities) and is continually learning to decipher natural language, reportedly turning to romance novels to better understand the subtleties of human speech.

As RankBrain becomes smarter and self-improves its understanding of conversational queries it is able to make better assumptions and draw similarities between other searches with similar intent and content.

So the way for businesses to capitalise on the voice search revolution is to help Google by giving it as much structured information about their business or products as possible, helping to provide RankBrain with the direct answers it needs to meet the plethora of long string questions people are asking about the same thing in different ways.

By doing this, businesses are able to corner off local markets and take home all the spoils from a single search. Unlike regular results; Google only returns, and reads out, the top answer or result which is a small ‘snippet’ of your branded content. So if you’re not the top local result, voice searchers are unlikely to scroll much further down to find you. In return for providing the right answer, Google will be giving a robotic shout out to your brand and a link to you exclusively.

For more information on how to make sure your business is providing the right answers and maximising its voice search potential – tune in for my next blog: How to start acting on voice search now.

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