The importance of voice search

Is your site properly optimised for the fastest growing type of search?

The world of search is defined by the technological innovations that make it possible. Ever since Sergey Brin and Larry Page first mapped out the algorithms for BackRub (Google’s first incarnation) in their Stanford dorm room, the way we use the web to search for information has been continually evolving. Now, as we look to the future, predictions are being made around how search engines will accommodate the increasing demands of the user.

Voice search is by no means a new idea. In the immediate years following the new millennium, the world of search was a crowded market place, with many engines competing in the same space. Along with Google, the names Lycos, Alta Vista and Ask Jeeves go hand in hand with conjuring up nostalgic memories of dial-up internet, CRT monitors and Will Young winning the first series of Pop Idol.

In 2002 Google trialled a rudimentary version of voice search through the now discontinued Google Labs. Looking back, it almost seems comical to imagine that their solution required the users to sit at their computer and dial up a phone number. Once you were through, an automated voice would command you to “say your keywords”, and your results would appear on your desktop before your very eyes.

Understanding RankBrain and user intent

Fast-forward fifteen years, and voice search is becoming one of the most talked about considerations for website optimisation (pun intended). Google’s capacity for voice search has vastly improved in terms of the amount of languages it’s able to process, the accents and dialects it can detect, and its applications across other Google products like Maps.

Google’s RankBrain is a key player in understanding not just what appears in the search engine results, but why it appears. A lot of this comes down to user intent. The RankBrain algorithm that Google uses to serve up results to queries has become so sophisticated that it can understand the differences in the user’s intent for different types of information.

This is why it’s so vitally important to know the difference between a user who might be researching a restaurant for an anniversary dinner in three months’ time and a user who is three blocks away looking for a quick, cheap dinner. And the difference of intent is that the former could be made via desktop computer, and the latter is likely to have been made by voice, on a mobile phone.

Voice search in your home

Thanks to in-home personal assistants, the likes of Google and other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo aren’t the only players in this market either. The Amazon Echo was the fastest selling speaker of 2015 as more people are becoming used to the idea of voice searching through a personal assistant which, in the case of the Echo, is called Alexa. Apple’s Siri assistant has also given this sort of search capability to the many millions of iPhone users. Google have been in a battle to assert their own dominance in both these markets through their Pixel mobile phone and Google Home; their home assistant to rival the Amazon Echo and Microsoft’s own product, Cortana.

With Google’s new messaging app Allo which is built to rival the likes of WhatsApp, users can ask the app questions and the answer will then be pulled directly from Google’s search results into the conversation itself. So whilst you’re exchanging messages with your friend about what you’re making for lunch and decide to ask Google “how do I boil an egg?” – you won’t need to leave the app to do so! Now you and your friend know that the optimal time to boil an egg is 6 minutes if you like “a bit of squidgy in the centre”.

Allo is indicative of Google’s commitment to innovation in voice search and rolling it out across their various new platforms.

Preparing for the future