The rapid adoption of smart assistants is set to spark a huge increase in voice search.

Where does this leave traditional on-screen search in marketing?

Half of all searches will be voice searches by 2020 according to comscore while 30% of web browsing sessions will take place without a screen by that time according to Gartner. And smart speakers are set to be the fastest growing consumer technology this year.

So, with many consumers eventually accessing search via spoken results from the likes of Google Home and Amazon Alexa, what does this mean for the way we use traditional search results in marketing – those with search listings presented on screen?

smart assistant

The truth is that marketers are going to have to get used to developing search and content strategies that satisfy both spoken results and screen based results (not least for devices such as the Echo Show).

To be sure, voice assistants and voice activated devices are fantastic. They allow you to be online, scour the web and remain productive when your eyes and hands aren’t free - while driving, cooking, walking, socializing, exercising and operating machinery for instance.

But there are a variety of important reasons why screen-based search results will be here - and remain very valuable to marketers - for the long term:

1. Some searches are best satisfied by visual content

Think of the 23% of search results that return a video on the search page for example and the 16% of images results. Google’s algorithm has learned that visual information is the best way to answer certain queries. Examples include someone searching for fashion or furniture or for visual 'how to' instructions that explain how to do something.

Some searching is to do with finding inspiration rather than finding answers to specific questions, which is why sites such as Pinterest are now popular destinations for search. Providing visual ideas is also why many retailers are introducing visual search apps that let consumers take and upload photos of products they’ve come across to help them find similar products online.

2. People love on-screen browsing – and you just can’t replicate that experience via spoken results

Think about how screen-based search results can set people off on an online browsing journey moving from link to link as they learn about a topic from a variety of different online sources. People while away hours doing this in their leisure time and with spoken search results as yet it’s not possible to re-create the same browsing experience. 

So expect consumers’ love of on-screen browsing to continue and for marketers to find ways to capitalise on this in their organic and paid search and content strategies.   

3. Spoken ads in voice activated searches are still too problematic

Search ads work well on screen because they are integrated on the page - above and below organic results – and, importantly, they do not detract from the searchers’ experience.

But having a spoken voice ad interrupt your voice activated search session is just too disruptive. The likes of Google and Amazon are still trying to find a way to monetize spoken search via advertising in a way that consumers will feel comfortable with. So it’s unlikely that either is going to want to see screen-based search advertising disappear any time soon. In fact Amazon is currently heavily focused on expanding its screen based search advertising business with many experts predicting continued growth.

4. People don’t always want just one ‘right’ answer

With spoken search results, your smart assistant will give you just one answer to your question. But there’s evidence to suggest that people prefer to choose their answers from a range of alternatives.

For example, Google has been displaying ‘direct answer’ boxes in-on screen results that call out a single answer in a distinctive box on the search page when someone is obviously asks a ‘why’ or a ‘how’ question. Usually, Google Home only reads out one answer to a search question – and this is mostly the same result that features as a direct answer in search results.

However, currently Google only returns 16% of desktop searches with a direct answer box (4% on mobile), so presumably it’s algorithm has learned that for many searches, people prefer to view a list of results. 

5. Sometimes you don’t want your search results to be heard by others

In an office environment or on the train or bus home, it just would not be done to have everyone listening to your voice based interaction with your device. Plus sometimes you just don’t want anyone else to know your business! Screen-based search results can be more personal and easier to keep private.

So on-screen search results provide a number of advantages over spoken search results for both consumers and marketers. In future, marketing professionals will need to develop a greater understanding of the types of searches and situations in which spoken results are most appropriate and those that favour visual, screen-based results.

Why not read our series of articles on the state of voice search in 2018:

Marcus Tober

Published 20 April, 2018 by Marcus Tober

Marcus Tober is CTO at Searchmetrics GmbH and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

I would argue the misleading stat here is the suggestion that by 2020 (so two year's time now), 50% of searches will be voice activated.

This isn't dismissing the technology but for that to happen both adoption and the capacity for them to answer complex questions will need to improve considerably. Bear in mind most users still hit frustrations asking simple questions or for their device to control basic household functions and I'd argue that much as the 'Year of Mobile', the hype is getting ahead of what's actually likely on this one!

3 months ago

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