Still haven’t found what they’re looking for

Search is crucial when it comes to brands connecting with audiences. Yet with so many new ways for customers to search for the things they want, brands need to ensure that are able to respond to them quickly and efficiently on the platform of their choice. 

We’re hearing a great deal about trying to figure out how to engage with customers at just the right moment, in just the right place. But in all the effort we make to connect with them, both on and offline, we’re forgetting one crucial element: Are companies doing all they can to be there when the customer is looking for them?

In Google UK’s latest research, Talking the Talk and Project Speed, we discovered that 75 per cent of consumers search more than ever now they can use mobile voice. The world is moving  on from text search.

It’s still a vital part of the puzzle, with 57 per cent finding it a highly functional, traditional medium and 67 per cent typing mobile text searches several times a day. But in-home assistants, in-car telematics and on-mobile voice search are all changing behaviour. Voice is your new best interaction.

There are many signs that customers are changing how they interact with companies. In the US in-home market, voice-assistant device, or virtual private assistant (VPA), sales are up 39 per cent year on year[1]. There are nearly 800,000 content connections to voice assistants with more coming online all the time, making the devices a rich source of entertainment and information for users[2].

Smartphone usage continues to grow with people ‘second screening’ - using their phones while watching TV, for example. This is an important trend for advertisers to follow. Linking search terms to linear programming and live events is proving profitable for brands. The Great British Bake Off generates a spike in searches for millefeuille ingredients while the BRIT Awards generated huge demand for information about Rita Ora’s dress[3].

Understanding the consumer’s need state is another vital piece of the search puzzle and something text search has considered for some time. Voice adds yet another layer of sophistication. When our research reveals that 25 per cent of people feel search is too slow when sitting down, compared to on the move when nearly twice as many find it lags frustratingly, the imperative is to find ways of making it faster. What can you do to make your brand appear first and fastest?

Mobile users are looking for convenience

Equally, 68 per cent of people who feel rushed and anxious believe search is too slow to respond, compared to only 21 per cent finding it slow when they’re calm and collected. There are already functionalities built for VPAs such as Beyond Health that respond to the emotional state of the user.[4]  If your brand can recognise human emotion within a request using analytics technology and respond accordingly, that’s a seriously winnable opportunity.

Whether it’s on the sofa, in the street, driving the car, making supper or heading to a meeting, customers are mobile and they’re looking for the easiest, most convenient way to get what they need. The most convenient way is voice.

Nearly half of the consumers we surveyed already agree that voice is going to be the future of search and 83 per cent agree that voice makes it easier to search for things whenever you want. 

But this doesn’t tell quite the whole story and Google still - along with our brand advertiser partners - have some work to do. There is demand and there is potential in voice search but we’ll admit not everyone is not utilising it to its full potential.

Of the consumers using voice search, 42 per cent of those who picked it up in the last six months use it every day. But among those who first dabbled more than four years ago, only 25 per cent use it frequently.

That is the result of poor experience. Four years ago voice search wasn’t as advanced as it is today. It was neither faster nor easier than typing, even on mobile.

Innovations in natural language processing and improved tech all round has made the voice experience much better, bolstered by forward-thinking brands tailoring their search strategy to the cross-platform, multiple engagement interaction.

This is the experience enjoyed by recent adopters. The challenge will be to bring the 75 per cent of early adopters who were once bitten, twice shy back on board. We need to start building that virtuous circle of great tech with high performing software serving brands whose keywords and search strategy are set up to answer the particular demands of voice.

We have to respond to the unique challenges voice presents. Customers ask for different things using the spoken word. Our research has validated this - with a huge 89 per cent reckon using voice makes search so much faster. 

Consumers want to speak

When consumers ask for Adidas Stan Smith trainers, they need to know they’ll get a local stockist or next day delivery site, not the first three lines of the company’s Wikipedia page. Here is the opportunity for brands to optimise to their customers’ ‘spoken’ needs.

Consumers want to be able to speak conversationally and 57 per cent want voice search to recognise more complex commands. Natural language processing (NLP) technologies are rapidly coming to the point where they can answer that.

Yet the complexity does continue. Just because it’s voice search, doesn’t mean customers don’t want detail. Brief and to the point is great on the move but 58 per cent would like more comprehensive results.

While voice is becoming an increasingly used channel of communication, text and desktop will undoubtedly remain a popular choice of search. Today 51 per cent of respondents use voice and text search interchangeably. Companies have to manage the dual challenge of responding to voice while serving text. It’s not about pivoting, it’s about accommodating and evolving.

Matt Bush, Director of Agencies, Google UK
Image source: Shutterstock/polkadot_photo