Episode Overview: Voice search is an intriguing, exciting component of the total search experience, but little data has been collected on its efficacy to accurately solve user search queries. As developers and search giants like Google continue to iterate and improve the voice search experience, visual search remains strong and continues to grow in popularity among users. Join host Ben as he concludes 2020 Predictions Month with Perficient Digital’s Eric Enge reviewing why image search is so appealing to users and discuss the various obstacles preventing progress with voice search.
- Google image search remains one the most popular type of search query on Google, encompassing 20% of all user search queries according to data from Ira Fishkin.
- A utility problem with voice search is users can ask questions, but don’t get call responses. It’s missing a natural conversation component that allows users to narrow down results using successive followup questions.
- When optimizing for featured snippets, 98% of the benefit is attributed to showing up in web search results, whereas there’s only a 2% benefit to showing up in voice results.
GUESTS & RESOURCES
Ben: Welcome back to 2020 Predictions Month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this month we’re looking into the crystal ball to tell you SEO and content marketers what you can expect in 2020. Joining us again for SEO Predictions Month is Eric Enge, who is the principal for digital marketing at Perficient Digital, which is a leading digital transformation consulting firm serving enterprise customers with unparalleled information technology, management consulting and creative capabilities.
Ben: Yesterday, Eric and I talked about why Google will be integrating more features into its UI. Today, his prediction is discussing why visual search is going to be more important than voice search in 2020. Okay, here’s the rest of my interview with Eric Enge, principal of digital marketing at Perficient Digital. Eric, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.
Eric: Well, great to be back, Benjamin. Thanks for having me again.
Ben: Always a pleasure. Great to have you as a friend of the pod. Yesterday, we talked about your prediction about how Google is going to be integrating more features into its UI, about how you should take advantage of featured snippets and image search, and YouTube. There are all sorts of ways other than just static blog posts and web pages that are going to help you get more visibility with Google.
Ben: Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about two of those that are kind of contrasting. For years now, we’ve been hearing how voice search is coming, voice is coming, is voice search coming. Voice search isn’t coming so quickly. Talk to me about how image search is actually more important to SEOs than voice search this year.
Eric: Sure, I’m happy to do that. I think the real core to this story is that even basic research will show that over 20% of all search, this is leveraging data that Ira Fishkin published by a jump shot, over 20% of all search, not just all Google search, is Google image search. That’s a big hunking number by itself. In contrast, the available data around voice search is quite a bit smaller. There’s some conflicting information, and I think if I can I’d like to deal with a couple of the most commonly cited stats and help people understand what they actually said, and then we can get back to visual search a little bit more after that.
Eric: First of all, there’s the oft-cited boat which is often attributed to Comscore, that 50% of all search would be voice, actually even a misstatement by itself, by 2020 the actual original quote was going to be 50% of all search would be voice and visual collectively by 2020, and it by Andrew Ing, not by Comscore. But it doesn’t matter. That didn’t happen. It’s not at 50%, I can assure you.
Ben: It’s not even 15.
Eric: That’s correct. Then there’s a statement that was made by an executive at Google, whose name is escaping me at the moment … It’s actually Sundar Pichai, so that’s an executive all right.
Ben: I’ve heard of him.
Eric: He said that in the U.S., on our mobile app and Android, one in five queries, 20% of our queries are voice queries, and their share is growing. So, that statement which was made a couple of years ago sounds like a big number too, but here, you have to break that down a little bit more.
Ben: That’s 20% is voice search, or it’s image search?
Eric: It’s voice search. This is what he said. This is the other really commonly cited stat. The problem is, first of all this did not include desktop queries, where the voice search queries share is probably close to zero. It also did not include queries via browser on Android devices. It may be that, and I suspect, that far more of the actual querying activity on mobile devices, on Android, probably happens in Chrome and regular browsers rather than the Google Assistant.
Eric: By the time you get done with those two data points, I think you see that voice search is probably a lot smaller than the way people are reading it.
Ben: If you strip out 80% of people’s activity on their mobile phones and desktops, then 20% of the activity happens on voice search. Right? It doesn’t paint the whole picture is what you’re saying.
Eric: It is what I’m saying.
Ben: Right, and on the contrast, image search, something we don’t talk very much about, is incredibly important. Talk to me about what you’ve seen in image search, and why you think that that’s not only more important now, but going to be more important in 2020.
Eric: There are a couple of reasons. To be fair about it, we don’t have hard data beyond the one statistic I already quoted from jump shot, by Ira Fishkin. Over 20% of queries are image search already. That’s a real 20%. It’s measured across … Well, the jump shot data is PC and Android devices. This is broad, unfiltered, unconstrained data. So that’s a hard number, and that effectively is the start of a visual search experience. Google has announced some major initiatives in this area.
Eric: Google Lens, which can increase the number of people using Google Collections, Google Discover. We’re pushing it in several areas. I think those will progress unevenly. They also have 3D images and high resolution images they’re now trying to make available to people through search experiences. Also, from the conversations I have with people at Google, they also believe that visual search is going to come along much more quickly than voice search.
Eric: So, I would try to step back and think about well, why from a human perspective would this be true? There’s a couple of things there. One is that 30% of the neurons in the human brain are associated with processing vision, and visual understanding. We are closer to taking advantage of that in the world of search than we are of voice.
Ben: Tell me, what are the shortcomings to voice search that are stopping it from gaining wider adoption.
Eric: Another often quoted, but misunderstood stat, is that evidently speech recognition today does a better job of understanding voice than humans do.
Ben: I don’t believe that for a second.
Eric: But let’s understand what we mean by speech recognition. What we mean is understanding that I just said the word “the” and then the word “dog” and then the word “ran”. It’s literally understanding each individual word, which is not the same as natural language processing and understanding the sentence. That’s where we have a gap that’s still very significant.
Ben: Yeah, I think that voice search can hear what you’re saying more accurately. It’s different than interpreting and understanding the intent.
Eric: That’s exactly the gap that we’re at. Not only that, in the voice search world, which by the way “voice search” is even the wrong name for it, but in this world, great, you understood this one sentence and what it meant. Then I give you the answer and in the answer is another question, “Can you maintain a conversation?” And we’re not even close.
Ben: Yeah, I think at the end of the day when I think about voice search, we’ve been hearing voice search is coming, I mentioned, ad nauseam for a few years. It seems like Google is putting the pieces together in terms of understanding what is the most relevant short form pieces of content to be able to give answers to consumers when they ask questions. We’re seeing this with our featured snippets, Google being able to keep more content on their page. They’re putting the building blocks together to be able to give you the information quickly and efficiently in their non-voice search, in desktop search.
Ben: On the flip side, there’s also a utility problem in voice search in the sense of I can ask a question, but there is no call response, call response, call response. It’s hard to continue a conversation and then filter down where if I’m looking for an ecommerce experience, I want to buy shoes, Google can’t necessarily interpret okay I want to buy shoes. It’s not going to send you shoes. It needs to ask what color, what style, what brand, what size, a whole bunch of follow up questions, what address, what payment form. All of those experiences haven’t been built out yet.
Ben: Right now, what people are doing on voice search is they’re asking to play music, they’re asking what the weather is, and to set a reminder. The feature set is relatively limited, and to me that’s the hindrance for voice search. There’s actually development in the, I want to call it UI, or maybe it’s the UX because there is no interface. It’s interface-less. But, the feature set is limited in voice search, and that’s really where I see the development is, and that’s why the consumers won’t adopt yet until that development continues.
Eric: Right, so there’s two things there. One is, a lot of what’s called voice search is really people giving commands to their device – set a timer, play a song, turn on the lights, turn off the lights, stuff like that. That’s not really search in the conventional sense. But what we’ve kind of worked together through here in talking about this, is voice working the way people would like it to work ideally, has a long way to go whereas visual search-
Ben: Pretty damn good.
Eric: Has not nearly that far to go to give the user what they’re looking for. That’s the reason why the visual side of things is going to go much faster.
Ben: From a practical application where SEOs should prioritize those visual, not necessarily voice search, on the flip side you’re going to get more bang for your buck when you’re getting into a featured snippet than by spending all of your time trying to optimize your images. So, where does the rubber meet the road here? The practical application of optimizing for voice search is featured snippets and all of the sort of features that Google is building, quick answers, as opposed to image search is a different strategy. How do SEOs take the information that image search is really going to be more important and impactful than voice search, but featured snippets are going to be really important as well?
Eric: Yeah, no it’s a great question. When we talk about optimizing for featured snippets, as you just suggested, you need to remember that the benefits of doing that are probably 98% associated with showing up in web search results, and 2% in voice search results. So, featured snippets optimization is not a one-to-one with voice search optimization. It’s only 2% of the benefit that you get from the featured snippet accrues to voice search. Whereas, anything that I do in image optimization speaks directly to that entire 21% or so of all search, which happens in Google image search today.
Eric: Then as I play in Google’s new features there, I would project that those would probably grow more quickly than voice search.
Ben: At the end of the day, I think this is a business decision where you focus on featured snippets. Obviously, that is going to have an impact on how you show up in voice search, but really you should be doing this because you want to be in position zero and have Google showing your content at the top of the page.
Ben: It is not specifically a voice optimization tactic. Depending on what your business is, you can decide to focus on that, or image search. In reality, when you’re directly comparing voice search to image search, image search is going to be dramatically more impactful this year than voice search would be alone.
Ben: Okay, Eric any last words before we let you go? Any other predictions related to voice search and image search for 2020?
Eric: Having prioritized the image and visual search over voice search, the reality is that both will grow, and for each business it’s always important for you to consider what might be the best platform for you. If you have a business where it’s natural for a person sitting on their couch to want to bark out something to their Google Assistant or Amazon Echo device, then maybe a voice search strategy does make sense for you now. I’m just saying to be more business where the visual side plays more importantly than the voice.
Ben: Okay, and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Eric Enge, principal of digital marketing at Perficient Digital. If you’d like to get in touch with Eric, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, where his handle is @stonetemple, or you could visit his company’s website, which is perficientdigital.com
Ben: Just one link in our show notes that I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all our episodes, contact information for our guests, you can send us your topic suggestions, your SEO questions, or you can apply to be a speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is @voicesofsearch on Twitter, or you can reach out to me directly. My hand is @benjshap.
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