A voice-first landscape is no longer a pipe dream. From our personal devices to our household appliances and car dashboards - voice assistants like Siri, Google, Alexa and Cortana are now an indispensable part of our lives. It has been predicted that China will be home to 85.5 million smart speaker users in 2019, surpassing the 74.2 million in the US. Search by voice is fast and seamless. It not only delivers relevant content quickly, but also makes the whole experience easier when you’re otherwise occupied or can’t be bothered to use your hands. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai claims that over 20% of all mobile search queries on Google are done by voice. At this rate, voice-enabled search possesses tremendous potential to disrupt numerous industries in the digital landscape.
Shiny new technology, endless possibilities
According to Microsoft’s 2019 voice report, people have been using voice-enabled technology to look up quick facts, directions and to search for a product or service. Other than being faster and more convenient than traditional keyboard search, speech recognition technology also helps people with mobility restrictions and visual impairments to access information. Voice-enabled search would enable more people to search in their native language. This would give a much-needed boost to content in vernacular languages. Given the levels of penetration of voice devices and consumers’ willingness to use them, content creators are exploring ways to optimize their content for voice-enabled search.
A new frontier for digital publishers
Voice-enabled search has caused a paradigm shift in the way search results are provided to consumers. In a traditional web-based search many results are displayed as a list. The consumer has to use his/her judgement to explore and discover which result answers their query the best. Voice-enabled search, on the other hand, is all about the one best answer. Thus, there is an increased pressure on publishers to optimize their content correctly to secure an engine’s trust.
Along with providing the single best answer, voice-enabled search significantly improves user experience. That’s why search engines such as Google are placing a higher emphasis on voice-enabled search optimization. As it does with traditional web searches, Google delivers the most relevant and detailed voice-enabled search results. Most of Google’s voice answers are sourced from Featured Snippets – a self-contained answer to search queries taken from a third-party site, positioned right at the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Publishers looking to rank high and get discovered through voice-enabled search technology must optimize their content for search by voice. Google has produced a separate set of guidelines for voice-enabled search quality raters. These search results must provide audible answers that are not only factually accurate but also presented in a way that it’s easy for the consumers to understand them. According to a voice-enabled search SEO study conducted by Brian Dean (a leading SEO expert) a page optimised for voice-enabled search should be simple, easy-to-read content, preferably at a 9th grade reading level (or below).
When using voice-based search devices, consumers expect the device’s understanding level to be of another human being. They want to ask questions and receive concise and accurate answers. Though Natural Language Processing has come a long way, the technology is still nascent. Voice assistants cannot yet process the nuances of language the way that humans can. This leads to errors and delays due to misinterpretation. Even straightforward questions and commands have to be rephrased multiple times in order for a machine to understand slang, accents or users with speech impediments. Once misinterpreted, the user often needs to wait for the voice answer to be done until they can repeat their question/command. There is a reason that #alexafail is a regular trending hashtag on Twitter. From a placing erroneous online orders to tweet dictations being taken too literally, hilarious submissions on this thread express the frustrations of a voice assistant owner.
The future of content
New advancements in voice recognition technology are taking place every day. It will be exciting to see what the future holds for search by voice. But we can expect it to usher in a more fluid and effortless medium of content delivery.