During an interview back in 2010, Steve Jobs insisted that (Siri is) not a search company. They’re an AI company. We have no plans to go into the search business.’ More than a year after Siri first greeted us on the iPhone 4S, it may be time to reconsider this statement and to better understand mobile voice search and its implications for local search.
Google, for one, has taken Siri’s potential impact on search seriously and has responded with the recent rollout of the Google Search app for iOS, which features a suspiciously Siri-like voice that responds to your spoken queries. Google has good reason to get into the voice search game. Its own data reflects how mobile voice input grew sixfold in 2011.
Why does Siri matter for local search?
A lot has already been said in the local search space about the increasing importance of mobile in general, and it merits repeating here. A white paper by Phil Hendrix, director at research and consulting firm immr, reports that 83% of smartphone owners perform a local search at least once a week, and 42% look for local results at least three to four times a week. Given the immediate nature of mobile searches and the prevalence of location-enabled apps, marketers and business owners are missing out on significant opportunities if they ignore the mobile channel.
Current data from a survey by Opus Research shows that search engines remain the top choice for mobile users and that Siri accounts for only about 11% of web searches. However, voice search already exhibits promising signs in the local search arena. According to mobile ad network Chitika, voice searches on the iPhone are three times as likely to be for local results compared to Google browser and app searches. Simply put, the ability to search by speaking into your phone, without having to type in queries, should make searching easier and increase local search volume.
How does Siri actually do in terms of local search? What’s on the horizon?
Of the numerous ‘Siri versus Google Search cage match’ examples on the web, one test done by Marketing Land suggests that Siri is more adept at interpreting natural language searches, whereas the Google Search app is generally faster with specific keyword requests. This could be due to the fact that Siri searches for answers using direct data sources before performing a web search. In other aspects, Gregory Sterling judges that Siri seems to win out for certain popular search categories like movies or restaurants by presenting more relevant results in a cleaner format.
Siri does have some obvious weak spots. For example, depending on the category, it does not return the range of results you could get from online directories, Google browser search, or even Apple Maps. Another frustrating shortcoming is that users cannot return to a previous search without repeating the search.
If Siri wants to capture a greater role in the world of local search, Apple needs to improve usability and expand its data feeds. Since Siri relies heavily on data feeds from partners like Yelp and Wolfram Alpha, broader and better data would equal better results. Apple seems to have taken notice of their opportunity in local search and that might be why they’ve hired William Stasior, Amazon’s former director of search and navigation, to help revamp search and whip Siri into shape.
What can marketers do?
Although Siri, and voice search in general, has not yet reached its local search potential, now is the time for marketers to start optimizing for voice search and making sure clients’ businesses can be found whether mobile users are typing or speaking their queries.
First of all, as mentioned, Siri pulls relevant results from directories like Yelp and Localeze. Therefore, data consistency across directories and search engines is crucial. Marketers need to be claiming listings and distributing the most accurate, up-to-date business information in order to be picked up by Siri.
Second of all, the impact of reviews is multiplied when it comes to voice search as Siri pulls ratings and reviews from various sources like Yelp and Google Places to determine which results are shown and then displays them prominently in the list of results. Evidently, the social graph carries greater weight and it would behoove businesses to encourage reviews and maintain their presence on Places and anywhere else that might be touch points for customer interaction and feedback.
Lastly, and most basically, keyword optimization still matters. Voice queries are still search queries. In addition to optimizing for local search, it makes sense to consider the difference between natural language and written search terms. Marketers should look to expand the range of keywords to account for any number of spoken variations.
If voice search technology becomes more robust and reaches a point where it offers high user value by making search simple, integrated, and hyperlocal, it could have a dramatic impact on how we choose to perform local searches. Signs already point to it developing in that direction and it is certainly an area to watch.