Voice Search will change the way we search. Or will it?

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As you have probably heard, there has been a lot of speculation that voice search will change the way we search for and find information.  Some are even speculating that this year – 2018 – is the year that happens.

But I don’t see it that way.  Sure, voice search will grow in popularity.  But such a fundamental shift in search habits takes time, doesn’t it?

I consider myself “ahead of the crowd” when it comes to adopting technology.  I’m not necessarily an early adopter, but I do fall in between early adopter and early majority.  I purchased my first Google Home device when they first came out and have used it ever since.

However, I don’t use it to it’s fullest potential.  I have used my voice and Google Home to send video from YouTube, for example, to my Chromecast, and I do use it almost daily to play my favorite radio station.  I have also used it to set reminders and alarms, but outside of that not much else.

I also don’t use my Google devices to do a lot of Google searches.  Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to review multiple results for most things, not just one.  Of course, there are certain questions where a single answer will suffice, but for the most part I prefer to look at more than 1 result.

And to me this is a shortfall (so far) for voice search.  There is not really going to be a single result for every search.  There shouldn’t be just because different people have different expectations and experiences.  Therefore, a voice search for “best pizza” in your area may not reflect your own personal tastes and expectations.  While Google may return the highest rated, or closest pizza place to your location, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the “best pizza”.

In the city I used to live in there was a local pizza place.  Not a chain or affiliated with anyone.  They made custom pizzas with a huge selection of toppings, but the price was the same whether it was loaded or only had pepperoni.  To me, this was the best pizza in the whole city.  However, it didn’t have as many ratings as some of it’s competition, and it was not centrally located, so it’s delivery options were limited.  Therefore, there were other pizzerias in town that were considered to have the “best pizza” but not in my mind.

This is one real problem with voice search.  It’s still all based on aggregate data.  There is no real personalization involved.  Sure as time goes on, I expect there will be, but for now the voice search interface is built on top of the “regular” search results.

While the first problem with voice search is results personalization, the second is what I alluded to above – the inability for a voice search device to properly convey more than a single result.  It’s great at answering simple questions where there’s a definite answer such as how old an actor is, or when the London Bridge was built, but when more than one option is available, as is the case with most searches performed today, voice falls far short.

That’s not to say it won’t get better, but it has a long way to go.

The third major issue I see has to do with us – the users.  Google has “trained” us how to search.  When people started using search engines more widely we quickly learned that longer queries generally returned fewer and lower quality results.  There was only one search engine that was decent enough to attempt to answer questions.  That was Ask Jeeves until recently.  But even it’s abilities were limited.

So we began reforming our queries from questions into 2 or 3 word searches.  Instead of being able to search for “how do I get my website found in Google” we had to search for “Google website ranking” or something similar.  A few years ago, even Google couldn’t answer the question of how to position a website in Google.

We’ve been searching this way for so long – using 1 or 2 or 3-word searches – that it seems foreign to be able to ask our phones the question: “How to I get my website found in Google?”

None of these issues are deal breakers.  I think the purveyors of voice search will find creative ways to work around some of these issues, while we, the searchers, will just have to get more comfortable having a conversation with our voice enabled search devices, rather than trying to formulate a query to type into a search box.

IF voice search is so flawed, should we ignore it?  My answer is: Definitely not!

I do think Voice search has the potential to fundamentally change how we search, but I also believe we have a long way to go before I give up my screen and trust my voice device to pick the best result for me.  I feel most people will agree with me, and that’s why it hasn’t taken off quite yet.

But as the devices get cheaper, and the technology driving them gets smarter, we will see more and more people finding it easier to search by voice than taking the extra few seconds to type their query.  When that will happen is anyone’s guess.