Google Ranking Factors 2017

15. Voice Search: How Will Voice Search Change the Way We Search?

With Ned, Stephen, Will and Dixon.


Stephen Kenwright – Director of Search Branded3
So, I think the common misconception about Voice Search is that it’s another way of searching Google and it just isn’t. So, if you use, Alexa on Echo you’re searching Bing, if you use Siri you’re searching Bing, all of these technologies are Bing-powered right now.

And it’s simply commercial agreement that Bing got in place. But as voice search increases – I’ve seen stats from comScore that say 50% of all searches are going to be voice searches by 2020 – if that’s the case, that means that Bing is growing.

Google isn’t necessarily growing right now, because I don’t think they quite got it settled with Google Home or with Google Now, just yet. I think that’s a little way off and we’re waiting for the next generation of personal assistants etc. before we really start to see voice search exploding.

Will Critchlow – CEO & Co-Founder Distilled
Can I bet the under on all of that? So firstly, 50% of voice search by 2020: no. Firstly, a lot of things that are voice interface, aren’t necessarily a search query, so there is a bit of disambiguation needed there, but possibly, if we are allowing every Alexa to turn the thermostat up, if that’s a query – I don’t know, that’s an argument – I think it’s incremental, to both mobile and desktop search, I’ve given a presentation I called “The next trillion searches”, which is, I think, untapped search amount, a good chunk of which is voice and natural language. But, my bet would be 20%.

Stephen Kenwright
Absolutely, don’t get me wrong, what I would say is that Google is slowing down in growth as it is anyway, and even with that being the case, it’s still huge. I’m not suggesting that 50% of Google searches are going to be voice searches, it’s going to be a much smaller percentage. Which means overall the percentage has got to be smaller, because Google is still going to dominate the search market, with or without voice.

Will Critchlow
But the interesting thing for me is actually the Bing-point you made. I think most of the search, almost the interface, on both Siri and Alexa, are not actual searches, they’re not web searches, they’re not Bing searches.

A much greater proportion of Google’s searches are actual searches, in part because it can actually answer them, so the main thing I get back from Alexa when I ask a question that isn’t “What’s the weather today?” is “I’m sorry I don’t have an answer to that question”.

Siri is equally, well it’s a bit better maybe, but certainly nowhere near the quality of OK Google, which has an answer to pretty much everything. And I think, there’s always different bits, there’s literally the voice recognition bit, the “how good are they at understanding natural language”, there’s the interpretation, as in turning the words you’ve spoke into words written down. There’s the natural language understanding, turning the words written down into a meaning and there is the actual query part.

I think Google is in the forefront of 2 and 3 and actually probably there or thereabouts on number one. Alexa could possibly be up there with them, but I think, personally, my money’s on Google, even in voice search.

Stephen Kenwright
I think it comes down to money, really, because like I said, you know, this commercial agreement between Microsoft and Amazon etc. and it could quite easily be the case that Google doesn’t feel that Amazon is quite there with Echo, Google doesn’t feel that Siri is quite right for search either just yet, and the first indication that one of those massive companies, or even Facebook kind of gets it right, maybe that’s when Google comes in with a billion pounds default search.

Dixon Jones – Majestic Marketing Director – Receptional Founding Director
Are we missing a thing here? I mean – given in the context of search ranking factors – is voice search a ranking factor? Well, it’s a 1 or a 0, isn’t it? The interesting thing about a voice search, is that it’s only going to give you one answer.

And in terms of, in the context of Google, at least, it’s not looking at the traditional search engine results, it’s looking at entity search. And so, for SEOs, the thing that we need to do, to tackle voice search, at least from the Google’s perspective, is to understand the entity search.

And we need to understand, that we need to be in that box on the right-hand-side, not in the normal results, because that’s the one, that is using different methodologies, to try and say “This is the right answer to this question” it’s not trying to say “Here’s a set of appropriate answers” it’s saying “This is the right answer” or “a correct answer” to this question, using all the points that Will made.

So, as SEOs, we need to understand entity search. That means we need to understand things like engrams, we need to understand structured data, particularly structured data, that has sort of been thrown in front of our face, and we need to have enough integrity, in our content – which doesn’t have to be in our own website – in our message, for it to turn up as the answer to a question.

Ned Poulter – CEO & Founder Pole Star Digital
I also think – as Will pointed out earlier on and we were having a conversation about this – we need to kind of, almost not talk about it so much, because it’s not voice search, it’s, a lot of it is not voice search. In fact, the exact conversation we were having about Alexa is that it’s kind of command-line driven, you give it an instruction.

Dixon Jones
Alexa is what Cortana is trying not to be.

Ned Poulter
This is true, but…

Will Critchlow
Does anybody use Cortana?

Dixon Jones
Well, according to Stephen, yes!

Ned Poulter
And the people on the advert.

Stephen Kenwright
Apparently Cortana has a 100 million active monthly users, which is about a third as many as Twitter, regardless of whether they use it using their voice or not.

Will Critchlow
Under.

Stephen Kenwright
No, no, well, yeah…

Ned Poulter
It’s not a game of higher or lower.

Stephen Kenwright
Slightly under, slightly under a third of the number of users.

Will Critchlow
No, no, I mean, I don’t believe the 100 million number.

Dixon Jones
The game is not yet run, is it?

Ned Poulter
Still, I’m reading so much about voice search, or how to optimize for voice search. I think, in terms of practical things, like you pointed out Dixon, it’s like structured data. It’s an obvious thing, because they’re trying to seek an answer to your query, therefore, if you’re presenting possibilities, that it can then process, that’s going to be your answer. But yeah, most of the stuff that I read, it’s not voice search as such, it’s the devices that all of the sudden were incredibly popular.

Dixon Jones
Google’s approach is, once it’s got this structures one-box answer, then it can answer any query, Google’s approach seems to be “I need to crack this one first and then actually I just need to understand voice recognition and tie the two things together. I don’t need all the search results, I just need that box.”

Ned Poulter
And I suppose also have the related verticals and/or software to connect into, like you pointed out Will, so if it’s a navigational search, in the literal sense, it will tap into maps and what it understands about where you are and what you are looking at.

Will Critchlow
So I think that’s a keypoint actually, so one thing is the structure data and the “I’m feeling lucky” nature of the result. But the other is, all the business development deals that need to happen, it’s all the API’s, it’s all the… if you’re going to say “Order me a Pizza”, or you’re going to say “Get me an Uber” or you’re going to say… any of those things they’re going to be satisfied by players in the eco-system

Some of that will be biz-dev deals, with money changing hands, some of it will be, just biz-dev deals kind of done behind the scenes, some of it will be open integration. Alexa’s skills library is an example that. yeah you can argue whether it’s a search or not.. Some of them are, so the search is like… I think it’s fair to call it a search if you’re saying, “Are my trains on time?”, it’s fair to call it a search to say “What’s the weather going to be like today?”.

Each and all of those things can start the searched by “are they native?” or they can be skills that are added in. And that’s one area, where I think Amazon has the lead and the advantage. They have the lead right now, because Alexa’s had the skills library for a while, but they have the advantage because that is Amazon’s business model. It’s Amazon marketplace, it’s Amazon AWS. They know how to build platforms and Google’s never been a platform company. Apple: clearly not a platform company. Amazon has the advantage.

Stephen Kenwright
From a commercial point of view, the problem you’re going to get with voice search is the same problem you got with AMP where, effectively Google is giving you the answer. Is Google going to read out the brand that’s given the answer? Possibly. And their advertising. They’re giving away free information, if you’re optimizing for voice search right now.

Dixon Jones
Which is why you need to own the story, not the content on the page. You need to be the company that delivers things by drone, or you need to be the actual thing that gets answered.

Will Critchlow
I think that’s the business model explanation for why the first growth has not actually been really searches it’s been integration with stuff. It’s because they all have their own business model. Nest is selling the device, so it’s no wonder that it’s worth them integrating with Alexa, so you can ask it to turn your thermostat down.

Ned Poulter
Well, if it’s going to be a smart home, then it’s going to integrate. Which is like you said, it’s kind of, the nucleus, it’s the thing that sits that you can connect.

Will Critchlow
Whereas a media company, has no interest, motivational incentive for doing that. It’s still going to be there, because Google is going to index that content for web search, and so they are going to be able to say they’re all going to pull stuff out, like you know “What time is the Super Bowl?”

Ned Poulter
“What’s Kim Kardashian doing today?”

Will Critchlow
Right, whatever. And that is going to happen, but I don’t see a business model in there.

Dixon Jones
In the meantime, I have not taken the Amazon Echo out of the packet, it is going back to EDF Energy

Ned Poulter
“EDF Energy”

Dixon Jones
Yeah, I don’t know why they sent it to me apparently I won a competition I didn’t enter.

Will Critchlow
So now you’ve mentioned it on camera

Dixon Jones
Yeah, sorry, EDF, you’ve sent me an Echo!