What Google doesn’t want you to know: Voice search is taking over display search, while Assistant and chatbots are emerging
The greatest jump in the history of search is happening under our eyes and Google is keeping pretty quiet about it.
Last year, Google announced and Hitwise estimated that around 58% of all Google searches were mobile, and more than 20% of mobile searches were via voice. Sources inside Google have hinted that voice search is approaching 25% of mobile now and some expect it to go above 50% in the next 3 to 5 years. For example, voice search was cited as the fastest growing type of search, according to the keynote speech given by Behshad Behzadi, Principal Engineer at Google Zurich, at SMX West in March 2017. Why is this happening?
2017 is the year of voice — starting at 8mm, ending with 950mm voice devices
We started 2017 with an estimated 8mm voice devices, mostly Amazon Echos with some Google Homes. An industry report from VoiceLabs estimates a total voice-first device footprint of 33 million devices in circulation by the end of 2017.
However, VoiceLabs missed something big. In May 2017, Google announced that its Actions on Google platform was activated for all Android devices natively, meaning that voice search via Google Assistant and Action was fully enabled. Why is this important? Because Google Assistant and Actions are what power Google Home — it basically makes any Android phone the equivalent of a Google Home (and any iPhone that has the Google Assistant app downloaded on it). Assistant the the smart helper behind voice search, and Actions allows any developer to build on top of Assistant and have their action, skill, or app featured on Google.
So in May 2017, Google had ~100mm Android devices with Google Assistant and Actions a button away. Since Android cycles through new users every quarter, all 2bn monthly active users of Android globally will eventually come onto the Assistant and Actions platform as they upgrade, with ~350mm new activations each quarter. Using this data you can infer:
Google will end 2017 with between 850–950mm users that have voice search and a fully voice-first device in their pocket and home.
This is a big deal because the quality of the voice-first devices depends on how good the intent matching is, which depends on the total number of users. It’s the economics of big data — the quality of the service depends on the size of the chat data set. So as customers gravitate to the better devices, Google will continue to outpace Amazon Alexa. Most serious tests so far have shown that Google Assistant (available on Home, all Android devices, and iOS) is far superior to Alexa at answering questions and figuring out what users want. See this test with 54 questions and this study with thousands of questions, where they found that Google Assistant is 6 times more likely to answer your question than Amazon Alexa. Finally Google and Higher Visibility have reported that most people use voice search to call people, ask for directions, play songs, and search for information.
Why is Google quiet about voice search if it’s winning?
Because they’re still figuring out how to build their ad business model around voice. Google reported that mobile searches are less profitable with less revenue per click, and the company is still really early in figuring out how to do voice search ads. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai has also been quiet when Wall Street analysts ask him how they will monetize voice search. Google just doesn’t know — they are running all sorts of internal experiments right now on voice ads. Their engineers are quiet because they have to figure out how to disrupt their own cash cow business of desktop and mobile search.
What does the rise of voice search mean?
Speech will take over typing and texting because it is 3x as fast with 20% fewer errors
Researchers at the Stanford Human Computer Interaction Lab found that with speech recognition, the English input rate was 3.0x faster, and the Mandarin Chinese input rate 2.8x faster, than a state-of-the-art miniature smartphone keyboard. Further, with speech, the English error rate was 20.4% lower, and Mandarin error rate 63.4% lower, than the keyboard.
Websites on the open web are over — no one spends time in browsers
Content creators will have to partner with Google Assistant and Actions, as the new platform, or other interactive platforms like Amazon Alexa, Facebook Messenger, or Snapchat. Websites are losing out as US users spend more time using apps than watching TV, and roughly 33% of time is spent on Facebook / Snapchat / and text messaging versus 8% of time in browsers. It’s also likely that the app world is over, as a majority of US smartphone owners download zero apps per month and spend most of their time on a few app platforms like Facebook, Messenger, Snapchat, and so on.
Chatbots are the new delivery form that will win with voice search
Voice search is about interactivity: questions, answers, guided flows, and conversations. Websites are mostly static, like brochures from the print days. If you look closely at the Google Actions and API.AI platforms, they are essentially chatbot platforms. Facebook Messenger is a massive chatbot platform, as are Kik and Telegram. Still not convinced? Read what the chatbot entrepreneur of Octane AI, Matt Schlict writes: “How Bots Will Completely Kill Websites and Mobile Apps.”
Adtech is going through a big disruption: SEO and SEM business models are getting blown apart
If you thought the move from desktop first to mobile first was a big deal, get ready for the move from mobile websites to “ambient voice-first”, where your phone and other talking devices surround users and are ready to serve them. A static website isn’t enough — you need an interactive AI agent to really engage with users. Here is a list of reasons why voice search will totally change SEO.
What Google doesn’t want you to know: Voice search is taking over display search, while Assistant… was originally published in Chatbots Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.