“Right now, voice search is more of a convenience than a helpful tool in itself. I think the value comes when you can tell a device to complete an action in one fell swoop. I can ask for movie times, but in most cases I still have to buy the tickets myself. Soon I’ll be able to say something like, ‘Buy tickets for the 8:30 p.m. showing of Star Wars at Joe’s Cinema. Find seats towards the middle of the theater.’ At that point, voice search will be more than a gimmick.”
— Gregory Sidor, Earned Media Lead at The Search Agency
Voice search is new, it’s sexy and it’s all the rage right now.
In actuality, voice search has been around since 2011 when Siri hit the scene.
One of the biggest questions surrounding this technology, however, revolves around how it is poised to change consumer habits and search trends.
While voice search has been in the hands of the public for some time now, it has been gaining popularity at a slow but steady pace. Today, 27 percent of U.S. Smartphone users activate voice search functions once a week or more.
One of the main reasons why voice search has recently been gaining steam, as Mr. Sidor noted, is the transition from voice search to voice action.
Voice search is exactly what it sounds like: Ask a question on a search engine, and a response is returned with relevant SERPs.
Voice actions, however, allow users to elicit an activity.
Voice action can do more than have Google tell you the temperature outside. It can order an Uber, schedule a calendar appointment, or place an order via speech commands.
This is what users are truly interested in; controlling the world around them without ever interfacing with a keyboard or a screen.
At this juncture, however, voice search is still constrained to relatively basic functions.
The Current Landscape of Voice Search
At last year’s Google I/O keynote conference, Sundar Pichai noted that voice search now commands 20 percent of queries presented through the Google application and Android devices.
While this is impressive, voice search still provides little in the way of variance between voice-activated and typed queries. The results given to users are still largely the same; users are presented with a results page (possibly featuring a spoken snippet) and the search experience remains the same from there. Aside from instances when a mobile user asks for directions, there is little variance between the two search modalities.
The biggest impact voice activation has had on the search industry comes by way of SEO; we’ll dive into this more a bit later.
As it stands, voice functionality is still relatively simplistic and only capable of driving basic tasks.
We are, however, at a divergence where Google’s DeepMind machine learning technology is poised to be integrated with products like Google Home which will enable the company’s AI to learn and adapt at a more rapid pace.
Voice Action: The Future of Search
Google Home, the company’s response to Amazon’s Alexa and Echo devices, has a lot of ground to gain if it wishes to have a chance of rivaling the wildly popular products; Echo has already sold 8.2 million units in just about two years.
What’s more challenging for Google is that Alexa already has 10,000 skills; up 9,000 from just one year ago.
Google, however, is never one to back down from a good challenge; the search giant recently announced its launch of Actions on Google, which will allow developers to build actions for Google Assistant.
Developers can craft two kinds of actions: Direct and Conversational.
Direct actions are simple actions like people are currently accustomed to. Ask Google to play a particular song, and it begins to play. Ask Google to remind you of something and thine will be done.
Conversational actions, however, are more of a complex back and forth dialog that result in a certain action.
This video from Google’s hardware event featuring Scott Huffman, vice-president of engineering for Google, does a great job of explaining this interaction and the difference between the two.
Google is already lending developers a helping hand to create these conversational actions through its creation service, API.AI.
What makes this type of AI interaction particularly important for Google and what might allow it to overshadow the competition is the fact that these actions are poised to be available across an ecosystem of devices. These actions could potentially be activated across Google Home, within Allo, on Pixel, and possibly on desktop devices as well.
All of this is quite interesting but it leaves one massive, looming question in the minds of every marketer and business owner:
What Does this Mean for SEO?
Yes, it’s clear this technology will undoubtedly have dramatic impacts on SEO.
Those impacts, however, are likely to be nonexistent for quite some time.
Voice search has been around for half a decade and its effects on SEO are just now starting to be felt.
As far as voice actions are concerned, the technology is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before it could viably influence search results and outcomes.
If you’re concerned that you need to optimize your site for a technology that you have a tenuous grasp of, relinquish your fears.
For now, you should be more concerned about the effect voice search is having on SEO than what might be three to five years down the line.
Voice search is poised to continue creating waves in the SEO industry as the technology becomes more refined, ubiquitous, and integrated into a greater number of platforms and products.
During this transitional period, the basics of SEO are likely to remain intact for many years to come.
This does not mean that you need not keep a watchful eye. The realm of AI-driven assistants is coming to life in dramatic ways. Watch this evolution unfold — there is a great chance that this interface is the very future of digital interactions; the Web 3.0.