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How Voice Search Technology will Elevate eCommerce

By: Ernest Sampera on November 3, 2020

For many years, voice recognition technology remained the stuff of science fiction. Although it was possible to create programs that could recognize and respond to speech, the inability of programs to process speech to understand nuances or underlying intent was very limited until quite recently. With the vast availability of big data and machine learning algorithms, voice search has become a viable tool for consumers and retailers alike.

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What is Voice Search?

Voice search allows users to issue a verbal command to a device and have the device recognize not only the words spoken, but also the context and intention behind the command. It differs from pure dictation in that the software involved has to interpret what the user is trying to accomplish rather than responding to a predetermined code or command word.

With the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices across households and multiple industries, voice search has greatly reduced the number of unique interfaces users must deal with on a regular basis. The basic concept of issuing voice commands doesn’t really change from device to device (although the quality of the voice search technology behind them might), which opens up tremendous opportunities for IoT devices. In addition to being quite convenient, voice search has been a revolutionary innovation for people who need special accessibility tools to utilize computers and other electronic devices.

How Voice Search Technology Works

The basic principles behind voice search technology are actually quite simple. Every voice search goes through the same essential steps when processing a request.

  1. Record and transcribe speech into text.
  2. Analyze text to identify direct questions or commands.
  3. Connect to search engine data sources to determine search intent and find relevant information.
  4. Present information to the user in a way that fulfills intent.

In practice, of course, this process is a lot more complex. Typically, the most difficult step in this process is identifying the user’s actual search intent. The better voice search technology is at determining what someone is actually searching for, the less likely it will be to get confused or provide results that aren’t quite right. Data is critical to identifying search intent, which is why Google Voice Search is widely considered to be the most effective voice technology. Thanks to the massive quantities of data at the search engine’s disposal, the algorithm is better able to discern an individual’s search intent and connect them to the results they’re after.

5 Voice Search Statistics

48 Percent of Web Searches Use Voice

According to survey data presented by Adobe in 2019, nearly half of consumers used voice search technology to conduct “general web searches.” Most of these searches occurred on smartphones (85 percent), with smart speakers coming in a distant second place (39 percent). Furthermore, 44 percent of users claimed to use voice technology every day.

Nearly 70 Percent of US Smart Speakers are Amazon Devices

Amazon continues to dominate the home speaker market with its Echo device. Analysts estimate that 69.7 percent of US smart speaker users will use an Amazon-branded device, which is actually down from 72.9 percent for the previous year. Google-branded devices trailed far behind, making up only 31.7 percent of the overall market.

72 Percent of Consumers Have Used a Virtual Assistant

Most people’s experience with voice search comes from using the virtual assistant program on their smartphones. Although Amazon’s Alexa program is a mainstay of popular culture, it’s not actually the most frequently used virtual assistant. That status goes to Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri, both of which take up 36 percent of the market thanks to their usage on mobile devices.

58 Percent of Consumers Use Voice to Search for Local Businesses

There has long been a powerful connection between mobile searches and local businesses. According to Google, 46 percent of searches have a local intent. This number is largely being driven by the ubiquity of mobile devices. Unsurprisingly, the majority of voice searches for local businesses are carried out using a smartphone. For people who have carried out such a search within the last year, 56 percent of them used a smartphone, and 74 percent of them report doing so at least once per week.

41 Percent of Consumers are Concerned About Voice Technology’s Privacy Implications

Voice search technology necessarily utilizes quite a bit of data to carry out search requests. It must be able to gather information from a verbal request and cross-reference that with a history of search data to determine intent. According to a recent study by Microsoft, this data gathering process raises security concerns among many consumers, especially when it comes to voice technology’s ability to record spoken commands or passively listen to users. The range of concern is remarkably consistent across age categories, with the notable exception of the youngest voice searchers, who (according to some studies) appear to be significantly more worried about the privacy implications of voice search than older users.

Why eCommerce Customers like Voice Technology

As voice search technology continues to improve, consumers will be able to find the products and services they’re looking for faster and more easily. The “hands-free” quality of voice search is incredibly important because it allows people to carry out searches while they’re doing other things. A powerful voice search algorithm that understands user intent and can reference previous searches and purchases will be able to cater to the user’s specific needs.

Since the average person can speak faster than they can type, voice searches can be completed much more quickly than a conventional search that’s manually typed into a smartphone or computer. They also allow for more natural searches. Instead of spending time thinking about how to properly phrase a question, consumers can simply ask what they really want to know and trust that the voice search algorithm will be able to connect them to the best results.

The Boom in Voice Search Technology Amidst a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many consumers to adjust their relationship with various technology platforms. When it comes to voice search, early indications are that people are using voice-activated devices more than ever. During the month of April, the percentage of people using voice technology either several times or once per day increased, while the average number of weekly voice requests made on home smart speakers increased from 9.4 to 10.8. This bump was surely due to so many people being confined to their homes, but changes in tech usage behavior tend to be “sticky.” Once people begin to see the benefits of using new technology, a large portion of them continue to do so. It seems likely, then, that the pandemic may provide voice search the same boost it has given the remote workplace.

Of course, there are also some obvious public health benefits to voice search technology. Many devices and services available in public spaces could easily be replaced with voice inputs and other forms of touchless technology. Imagine, for example, walking into an elevator and simply saying what floor you want to go to, or ordering food verbally from a kiosk (along with some form of contactless payment). Voice technology could significantly reduce the risk of contamination while also providing much higher levels of convenience.

Improving Your Digital Customer Experience with Voice Accessibility Tools

The increased reliance upon voice search is already forcing online retailers to design their digital customer experiences with voice accessibility in mind. Rather than simply relying upon search engines and virtual assistants to drive voice search traffic to them, they’re also utilizing their own voice technology to improve the shopping experience.

Take, for example, the wine industry. A number of wine companies have developed smart speaker applications to work with Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant. These voice search apps (or “skills” as Amazon calls them) allow customers to get more information about their wine choices as well as other advice or guidance related to entertaining and preparing recipes.

Domino’s Pizza has also invested heavily in voice recognition technology in recent years to automate their ordering system for both phone and online orders. Their innovative AI voice-order system, “Dom,” is a key component of the company’s efforts to become fully digital and minimize the potential for ordering errors to improve customer satisfaction.

How Voice Search Optimization Can Give Companies a Competitive Edge

As voice search technology becomes more broadly accepted by consumers, businesses will need to adapt by taking steps to optimize their websites and user experiences to the unique elements of voice searches. Some examples might include:

Optimize for Location

Many voice searches are accompanied by the phrases “close by” or “near me.” In order to take advantage of these searches, businesses need to make sure their online presence is properly optimized to indicate their location, both for residents and travelers.

Create “Natural” Content

Voice searches tend to be conversational rather than keyword-oriented. People typically ask their device a question the same way they might ask another person for information. So, rather than “top-ranked restaurants Pittsburg,” they would ask “What’s the best restaurant in Pittsburg?” A combination of longer keyword phrases and filler words (extra adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, etc) should be used on sites to help voice search programs find results quickly.

Load Faster

The ideal voice search result is completed quickly, which means that slow-loading websites are even more likely to get overlooked. As more and more people transition to using voice search, companies must make sure that their sites are able to offer up their content quickly to remain competitive.

Think Mobile

Depending on the source, mobile searches already make up anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of all internet searches. Developments in voice search technology will only accelerate this trend, as smartphones are at the forefront of voice innovation. Failing to optimize networks and web-based applications for mobile users will make it difficult for businesses to compete for valuable search results.

Answer Questions

Voice searches are often framed in the form of a question to address the customer’s immediate need. Providing ready-made answers in the form of an FAQ page or with content formatting that is more likely to be found by search engines can help eCommerce retailers become a valued brand that consumers trust.

Preparing for the Future of Voice Search Technology with a Data Center

With voice search technology becoming more important in delivering a quality customer experience, retail companies must put more thought and resources into developing voice accessibility tools that interface with their existing networks and help them take advantage of changing consumer preferences.

Data centers will play an important role for organizations seeking to roll out network services that utilize voice search technology. Colocation services can provide access to the powerful cloud computing resources needed to power big data analytics while also allowing companies to keep their proprietary applications running in a secure environment. With high levels of uptime reliability and the ability to scale services to meet future needs, data centers offer the same level of flexibility and performance that customers are increasingly expecting from voice search technology.

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