Voice search is not going to take over text search

Given all the attention voice search gets in the media, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that traditional search is going to cease to exist in the very near future. This prospect is terrifying for many that rely on organic or even paid search as a primary source of online users and customers.

In my opinion, we will never see a day where search has completely moved to voice only and there are number of reasons why.

Financial

First and foremost is the profit motive of Google and other search engines. If Google were to give only a single result in response to a voice query and that result was organic, Google could no longer monetize those queries. From a raw financial perspective, it is unlikely that Google would ever give up any of their juggernaut of paid advertising.

In addition, Google has increasingly moved in the direction of more paid search options and not less. Over the last few years, Google has placed more of search engine page layout in the hands of advertisers. Throughout the history of search and especially paid search, there have rarely been instances where there have been just one paid result for a query. Even if Google were to give a paid response (and it’s unclear how that might work) for a voice query, that would have to be just one paid advertiser and not the multiple they do now. Google would essentially be making the top advertiser the only advertiser.

Auction

This could possibly increase the price per click a site might pay to be that top advertiser, but it could just as well very likely destroy the auction as advertisers not willing to pay for the top spot would not participate in the auction at all.

Second, while there is a lot of pressure in the organic world to obtain a top ranking on a Google query, by no means do the lower ranking results get zero clicks. There are even clicks that happen on search result pages beyond the first one. This is because search is far from perfect. Even though uses artificial intelligence to read minds and understand what a user wants, many times even the user doesn’t even know what they are looking for.

Refined searches

A user will search, click a result, go back, click another result or even conduct another search in their quest to find the information they seek. The very diversity of multiple results is what help the user determine the best result. This process cannot ever be reproduced purely by voice simply because giving a single result to a query would mean that Google would have to know EXACTLY what the user wants.

This is a very easy thing to do when there’s only one possible result like a query on weather, numbers, directions or the names of sports players. This get much harder when the results are completely subjective like finding the best vacation spot, the latest play by play of a game or an opinion piece on the news.

Even with full personalization it is theoretically impossible to know exactly what a user wants unless the user explicitly said what they want. This of course happens at times, but usually that is the final query in a series.

Imagine this query train:  “Best hotel in Miami”, “Best Marriott hotel in Miami”, “Marriot hotel in Miami with free parking” “Marriott hotels with suites and free parking”, Marriott hotel with suites and free parking that have a lounge” and finally you might get to “address of Marriott Biscayne Bay Miami”

What you might notice is that all of the queries in that chain have multiple answers and would be completely impossible for Google to give just one response.

In the future, we might see voice search prompts after a query is done, but that might only be applicable in a place where a user can’t do a full desktop or mobile search like in a car. More than likely this whole clarification process will take so long and be so cumbersome, users would prefer a visual search with multiple responses rather than a smart device that prompts for clarifications.

Essentially, the number one reason that voice search is never going to replace multiple results is that voice must be perfect and perfect is never possible in our changing world. Perfect will always change as users realize how much information is possible to obtain by just conducting an online search for information.

Ten years ago who could have ever imagined that people would be able to ask their phones to read them a recipe or tell them whether they need to go out with an umbrella. In the future, we may be able to ask our devices if we have the flu based on a number of symptoms, but we are not going to be able to find the perfect gift idea for a special someone.