How Voice Commands are Changing the Way We Search

Voice Commands and Digital Personal Assistants

Voice commands and digital personal assistants may have been science fiction in 1980’s TV shows and movies, but in 2016 they’re a commonplace reality. By calling on your assistant with “Ok, Google” or “Hey Siri”, you can ask for turn-by-turn directions to a nearby restaurant, look up who the CEO of Amazon is, or send a message to your friend. And you don’t even have to lift a finger.

Assistants like Siri, Google Now, and Cortana could easily have been written off as gimmicks,  occasionally pulled out for party tricks. But due to the convenience they provide, and the complexity of the tasks they can accomplish, it’s not as weird anymore to see someone talk to their phone the way they would to a human. According to Thrive Analytics, 56% of adults in 2014 used Siri, Google Now, or Cortana. This figure is up 30% from the previous year.

More Questions, Longer Sentences

“Siri, What is the weather outside? How many pounds are in a stone? Where am I?” Notice that a lot of the things we say into our phones take the form of a question. Just look at the commands you can give to Google Now and Siri. Now look at how many of them start with what, where, when, who, or how. According to Search Engine Watch, these question phrases have seen a growth of 61% year to year.


Taking this a step further, voice commands use more full sentences than ordinary searches. When you type in queries into Google, usually you use a couple keywords to help you out. Since personal assistants have become smart enough to understand the meaning behind what you say, most speak naturally by using full sentences.

This means businesses need to think about what kind of questions and long-tail searches relate to their service or product. Are you a local cafe looking to be found? Maybe a post on where the nearest cafes are might help you be found.

More Local Searches

Speaking of local cafes, since people are doing voice searches on mobile devices, it makes sense that these searches have some element of location. Based on a study by Chitika, voice searches are three times more likely to be location-based than text search. People want to know what’s around them, where they are, or how to get to where they need to be.


Take a look at a voice search for “Where is the nearest cafe?” Not only does Siri provide the name and distance of the cafe, it shows you a map, reviews, and a snippet of the Yelp listing. Sometimes, it may show a Zagat listing, or a Google maps listing.

We’ve talked about this many times before, but the point is that you want to make sure your business can be found online. Your business name, address, and phone number should be consistent across all directories.

Smarter Every Day

A few years ago, nobody would have been caught dead talking to their phone like an assistant. Where will we be in the next few years? While nobody knows for certain, we can observe some remarkable trends happening right now. For one, it’s likely that these long-tail searches will almost eclipse the traditional keyword searches, comprising 70% of search traffic. Second, we’ll start having intelligent assistants not just in our pockets, but in our homes.


The makers of Siri are developing the next version of a digital assistant, known as Viv. They believe that Viv represents the evolution of digital assistants, the “next paradigm” for interacting with computers, (the previous two were apps and the world wide web). Viv can “teach itself” by writing new code tailored to your behavior, integrating with Venmo,, and Uber.

We’re only witnessing the beginning. Two years ago the error rate for voice commands was roughly 25%. Now it’s just 8%. As we move closer to zero percent error rate, we’ll move closer towards a world where talking to a robot is just as natural as talking to a human.