Technology trends: Voice recognition

With Gartner predicting 30% of all interactions with devices will be voice-based by 2018, the next 12 months will need to see search strategies adapt

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Gone are the days when Siri was merely used as a novelty to ask questions such as “who let the dogs out?”

The first voice activated technology to launch way back in 2011, Siri has since been joined by a host of consumer-focused digital assistants, with the entrance of Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, Echo and more to the market.

Following advancements in AI technology, today, you can shop, control your music, search the web, find the latest news – and according to market research house Mintel – 62% of Brits are either already using or are happy to use voice-operated devices for all of the above.

As we’ve identified in our tech trends features for the past few years, advances in technology have made us both lazier and more demanding; we want instant answers with minimum output. Last year, Google announced that 20% of mobile queries are now voice searches and according to Gartner, by 2018 30% of all interactions with devices will be voice-based, because people can speak up to four times faster than they can type.

While last year we looked at the growing use of chatbots by brands, in 2018 the impact of voice recognition technology will have a huge influence on the world of search and SEO – and businesses will need to understand how to keep their offering ranking highly.

Research conducted by global tech publishing company Purch found that 42% of marketers have ‘developing for the voice interface’ on the roadmap for 2018 while 8% already had a voice platform – and that number will continue to rise dramatically.

As the use of voice search grows, the way in which consumers ask questions and queries will inevitably change. Search strategies will need to focus less on just optimising specific keywords and more on providing rich answers that mimic the dialogue of ‘real’ people.

How voice recognition works

Put simply, voice recognition is software or hardware with the ability to understand and interpret the human voice – that then allows a user to either operate a device, perform a command or write without the need for a keyboard of any kind.

Basic forms of the technology have been in circulation for years. What’s changed, is the vast improvement in word accuracy, and ability to decode conversational language. Google Machine Learning has consistently been improving word accuracy since 2013 to the point where today it sits at 95%, equal to the threshold for human accuracy.

According to Google there are three traits that characterise voice search queries: they won’t be sensitive, they will be about an ‘on-the-go topic’ and they won’t include sites that require significant interaction from the user.

So, how can businesses ensure they don’t get left behind.

Philippe Aime, CEO of persuasion-based optimisation platform Convertize, explains:

“A.I in 2018 will bring SEO-voice activation, which is an as-yet unexplored opportunity for online marketers. What if, rather than being overwhelmed by choice, the customer knows exactly what they want? All they need to do is take out their phone and talk to it.

“It is a business’ job, however, to make sure that it is SEO-optimised and comes up in top lists of voice search results. The applications of Siri and Alexa will become far-reaching. Even if customers are not looking for anything particular, but are merely enquiring about the weather, their phones will be smart enough to suggest the timely purchase of an umbrella. Or 20 minutes later, when the sun re-emerges, a pair of sunglasses.”

“The developments of A.I allow marketers to use cognitive behaviour and guide consumer behaviour more intelligently. For example, as marketers will be able to extract more information regarding their customers, the cognitive bias of social influence could be used in more persuasive ways.”

But while there’s no denying that businesses and marketers need to be prepared for the growing application – and resulting implications – of voice technology, Financial Times journalist Izabella Kaminska insists we shouldn’t necessarily expect quite such a dramatic demise of text as is being predicted.

Despite the adoption by consumers of Siri and Alexa, you are yet to see many people actually use voice commands while commuting to work or over lunch with friends. Although this could change as the technology continues to evolve and improve, Kaminska questions whether that’s “enough to justify the billions being spent on the rollout of the technology today?”

Only time will tell…

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