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When Google introduced voice search in 2011, it was little more than a novelty. A piece of sci-fi futurism to show your friends down the pub, but not something to be relied on for everyday use. The most fun often came from testing the limitations of the fledgling technology with a strong accent or words like ‘Worcestershire’ and ‘antidisestablishmentarian’.
But voice search had definite potential, and teams of experts worked night and day all the over the world to make it better. As the tech improved, the novelty wore off and the real value began to shine through.
So what changed?
As voice search technology got better, the way that most people used the internet was also changed. Among all their other benefits, perhaps the main effect of the massive growth in smartphone usage is that it truly untethered the internet. In 2017, mobile devices accounted for 49.7% of global web page views.
Google Maps, ordering an Uber or simply finding out where the nearest petrol station is are so commonplace now, but all rely on being able to access the internet wherever you are.
Now, we all know that typing out longer pieces of text on a smartphone can be a pain. Being able to ask for the information you need rather than having to manually input the query is much easier and quicker.
But is not just our smartphones that are connected. The internet of things (IoT) has seen the number of web-connected devices explode over the last half a decade. In 2018, there were around 23 billion devices connected to the internet, up from 15 billion in 2015. The most common example here is smart speakers, but the scope for voice controlled IoT devices is broad. Toyota wants to begin integrating AI and voice control into its cars by 2020, while Boston Children’s Hospital has successfully trialled using an Alexa-based app to answer parent questions about their children’s health at home.
It doesn’t make sense, and would actively impede user experience, for many of these devices to have a keyboard as the main way of entering queries and commands. As the way people use technology continues to evolve and the internet embeds itself deeper into nearly every aspect of our lives, voice search is increasingly becoming the preferred mode of user control. But there is perhaps another, more central reason that voice search is growing in importance: it makes using the internet much more intuitive.
Decades of experience of search engine usage has made us all experts in hunting out the information we need on Google. Consider the difference in the typical typed search query:
“running shoes overpronation”
And its spoken counterpart:
“what are the best types of running shoes for overpronation?”
The average text search is between 1-3 words, but this is obviously not reflective of the way people actually talk in the real world. Voice searches tend to be more specific and take the form of actual questions that need to be answered. This echoes Google’s move in recent years to make SEO less about creating content that uses the same keywords as user queries, but that actually provides relevant and useful answers.
The growth of voice search looks set to change the world of content marketing, both in terms of how content is constructed but also in how success and engagement are measured. Getting a better picture of how exactly is what we are going to try and do with these blogs.
A good starting point is diving deeper into the demographics of voice search usage. Stay tuned …
This is the first article in our series on voice search. The full list of posts are below: