Voice Search Makes Mobile Context Key -- It's Position One, Or Nothing

After a family weekend of people of multiple ages stopping by my Echo speaker or talking to their iPhone, to ask Alexa or Siri to find things out for them, it struck me that voice search really is the next big thing. So it's interesting to see that it's a priority for L’Oréal over and above augmented reality -- a tech that promises much, but the beauty brand can't seem to find the ROI?

Google has already claimed that 40% of search in the US is via voice -- but it has also gone on the record to say the figure is actually 20%. I would suggest the latter figure is actually closer to the mark, but whichever is true, the rise of voice search tells you two things.

First of all, search is going even more mobile. Although most research will agree that half of the world's search queries are already mobile, this proportion just has to increase. Secondly, mobile search doesn't always need a mobile device. In other words, people who are moving are just as happy to speak to a device to get a result as they are to sit there, type in a password, fire up Safari and type in a relevant search term. To be blunt, speaking to a device that is already on and primed is just far more simple.

My usual question is finding out which tv channel has a particular sporting event, and it has always struck me that Alexa will just tell me when, for example, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix started at the weekend. Conversely, Siri will generally give me a link to find out more. However, if Alexa lets me down -- and she often does -- if I have Siri on my screen I am at least a little closer to going into Safari and typing out the question. 

It was the latter situation that made me realise that there is a whole new type of article or blog devoted to answering such questions. Most national newspapers will have a section in their previewing of a sporting event -- sometimes a stand-alone article -- that has a list of questions you might ask your mobile phone or home assistant, such as "when does the Grand Prix start" and "which channel is showing the Grand Prix?"

Volce search is also challenging publishers to be able to deal with long-form, conversational search queries. This is a little like how we used to search before Google became so clever we could use shorthand and allow us to enter "mortgage deal" instead of "show me the best rates for a five-year tracker mortgage." However, now we're speaking -- we're going to back to conversational search and that has SEO implications for publishers and brands.

Whenever mobile becomes bigger, brands know they need to be able to react to context and location. According to one article on this, "near me" searches doubled during 2016 and four in five people will start searching in a store when they are about to make a purchasing decision. Two in three, it turns out, have conducted a search straight after seeing a tv ad to find out more about the brand. 

The big takeaway is that search not only needs to be able handle longer conversational terms, savvy publishers and brands will be increasingly set up to find out where someone is so they can add a location and context wrapper around their understanding of search terms.  A mobile voice search for "where can I get a great cocktail" by someone in the West End of London after the theatres have emptied obviously has much more immediacy than someone pre-researching West End bars on a laptop at 10am before they are fifty miles away from the capital.

Conversational search and context -- those are the two massive opportunities for brands and publishers because, remember -- as often as not it's only the top result that will be read out by a voice assistant. So it's the ultimate case of winners taking all.

It's position one, or nothing. 

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