Ask Siri

What’s the future of search? Just ask your phone

It was great to spend some quality time last week with my kids. Good, too, that the extra guest they insisted we bring turned out to be unfailingly polite, dependable and informative. Also, unlike other grown-ups, this visitor never sloped off to the bar.

My sons’ constant companion on the trip wasn’t a friend or relative but Apple’s personal voice assistant Siri. Whether it was answering questions about the weather, shopping, local restaurants or making phone calls, I was struck how much the next generation of web users has instinctively taken to using voice search.

They are driving a revolution in search – a revolution accelerating by the month with big implications for companies and organisations that use the internet to reach consumers.

How fast search is changing was underlined last week in the annual Internet Trends report from Mary Meeker, the leading venture capital analyst.

As usual, it was packed full of data and insights into the development of the internet and digital technology across the globe including just how fast the use of mobile voice assistants is increasing.

The report showed that last year 65 percent of smartphone owners used voice search. Siri is estimated to receive more than one billion speech requests a week while one in five searches on Android devices are already voice-based.

It’s quite a transformation. The way in which we interact with the internet has stayed pretty much the same since the web was invented – through a physical keyboard. Although this has evolved with the development of the touchscreen, the basic actions have not changed – until now.

As Meeker puts it: “Typing text into a search bar is so last year. In five years, at least 50 percent of all searches are going to be either images or speech.”

Today, people are already using voice to perform tasks, typically when their hands or eyes are otherwise occupied. Voice input is faster and easier than typing – with humans being able to speak almost 4 times as quickly as they can type.

While still in the early days, voice recognition accuracy is improving. Google’s word accuracy rate has risen from below 80% in 2013 to above 90% in 2015.

What does this all mean?

For local businesses or for local government, the opportunity is to help consumers or citizens find the service they want quickly and easily. ‘Where’s my nearest pizza restaurant?’ or ‘what bus do I catch for the high street?’ are obvious applications. Already, it’s estimated that around 40 per cent of voice searches on the mobile web have a local element.

For all of us, it means making sure the content we post is easily discoverable by voice. Analyse the questions that your audience might be asking (the “who, what, where, why and how” questions) and address those answers in your web pages, blog posts and social media.

It will also be more important than ever to make sure written content is drafted in a natural, human voice. Not only will your brand sound more authentic, but you’ll be speaking the language used by your audiences in voice search.

The wider repercussions of all this are unpredictable but exciting. Wrap voice search together into the internet of things and the implications are mind boggling. Once more, the line between the offline and online worlds is becoming blurred. If you’re confused by all of this – try asking your phone.

Mark Flanagan is Portland’s Senior partner for Content and Digital Strategy

Written By

Mark Flanagan