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Who wouldn’t want Jarvis - the complete AI-based assistant Tony Stark (Ironman) uses in his home, lab and metal suit - to help them as they go about their business? Well, more and more of us are stepping into this brave new world with baby steps, beginning with assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Voice Search Technology

The popularity of these voice search-driven technologies has exploded in the past few years. Voice search is still a relatively new development -- although the technology has existed for a while, voice-first devices were still being perfected and introduced in 2014. By the end of the year, just 3 years later, there are set to be over 30 million devices in circulation. This exponential rise in popularity illustrates the impact of voice search and voice-first devices, as well as users’ fascination with them.

Beyond this, voice search is integrated into computer operating systems - the latest versions from Microsoft and Apple have their respective voice guided assistants embedded in their UI. 72% of people, according to this survey by Fivesight Research, say they use Voice Assistants to supplement standard search engines.

Particularly now, with physical devices designed principally to be driven by hands-free assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, voice search and voice commands are being used much more often than in the past. Rather than only being relied on to make calls or search the web, voice search is now being used to help with simple, day-to-day tasks. You can control your home’s heat, lighting, music and appliances with voice. They’re on board TV streaming boxes, gaming machines like XBox and the range is growing all the time. Because of this, voice devices are becoming a big part of many individuals’ everyday lives.

Voice Search and Advertising

Because these tools are still in their infancy, there are no advertising options yet. This is complicated by the fact that rather than directing users to web pages, voice-first devices can, in many cases, provide users with an answer directly. It may be worth noting, by the way, that only Google’s voice search/assistant has its web search features powered by Google. The others - Amazon (Alexa), Siri and Cortana - are powered by Bing search.

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, recently wrote on their blog that the Google Assistant and subsequent Google Home were the result of advances in artificial intelligence, specifically in areas like natural language processing and voice recognition/translation. These developments allow users to interact with voice search devices more naturally, because “the assistant is conversational—an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done.”

Rather than focusing solely on providing information, the Google assistant and similar devices operate with the goal of helping users with everyday tasks like playing music, making reservations, checking movie times or sports scores, getting directions or making calls. The unique way that users interact with this new technology is what makes voice search a new frontier, particularly in the realms of advertising and paid search.

The Future of Voice Search

None of the major players have commented on if and when they will present options to market to users. Amazon has a model for now of using Alexa to make ordering from Amazon easier (and more likely), but for the others, beyond simply selling dedicated hardware and adding value to existing hardware and software, there are no obvious ongoing returns they can utilise if they don’t eventually embrace advertising in some form.

Currently, there are potentially “second hand” benefits of the likes of Google’s Assistant in that they can plug into apps businesses provide to book or order from them. But often, this is not an open plain for any business who wants to do it - although Alexa is leaning more open source than the rest. Right now, such plug-ins are anything but easy and intuitive and a better way needs to be worked out so that the boundaries of these voice assistants are not so apparent as they are now.

Because these devices are still so new, their rapid rise in prevalence raises many questions: Who is using voice search, and why? What opportunities will there be for advertisers to respond to voice search? How may it change the search industry? What could be the future developments? When will I be able to order a flying metal exo-skin armed to the teeth and giving me superhuman strength?

While it is difficult to predict exactly how voice search will continue to grow, it is clear that it will eventually have a huge impact on the search field in the next couple of years. With richer, more customised results, voice search and voice assistants have the potential to revolutionise both how people use search technology and how advertisers and businesses can link up with them to serve their needs. There may be a longer wait for the metal suit, though.

For updates on how advertisers are responding to voice search, tweet us or follow us on LinkedIn.

4 June 2017