What's the Best UI for Search? No UI At All

Speak up and prepare yourself for screenless search

Remember when your phone’s voice assistant was a fun, little novelty and you’d ask it to call you some silly name? You know, like, two years ago.

Well guess what? Voice search—powered by digital assistants like Siri, Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana and devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home—is fundamentally changing one of the most engrained digital consumer behaviors.

In a zero UI environment, consumers are looking for one response, not a page of possible results.

Search is no longer about typing in relevant keywords but asking the right questions. People are using conversation to find what they need, and their devices, powered by voice recognition and artificial intelligence, are not only understanding what they ask but learning their preferences. According to Google, 20 percent of Android searches are now done through speech. It’s not just a mobile phenomenon—Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30 percent of all web browsing will be done with screenless experiences. It’s becoming a non-UI world.

But voice search is different from the keyword search we’ve been doing for two decades. And marketers that have been focusing their search efforts on buying terms and keywords need to be aware of that evolution:

What kind of search uses questions?

People search differently using voice than they do on a keyboard. Voice search is generally natural sounding—people ask questions instead of a inputting a list of keywords or phrases. For instance, a person search for dinner might ask ,“How do I cook marinated grilled shrimp” instead of typing in “grilled shrimp recipe.”  According to Microsoft, text searches tend to be 1-3 words, while voice searches have a longer tail and can easily be 10 words or more.  In their recent report Digital Assistants: Reordering Consumer Lives and Redefining Digital Marketing, Microsoft Bing and iProspect recommend that marketers targeting voice searchers build out keyword lists to include longer, more conversational, question-based keywords.

Understand where the search takes place

How do people use voice search? Where do they use it? Is it just for asking questions? According to a global study of voice search users from JWT and Mindshare, consumers prefer to use voice in private spaces, such as the home, which is where speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home thrive. The car has also become a key venue for voice search—hands-free interactions are necessary and searches are private, so drivers can multi-task.  Still, advertisers should be sensitive to cultural issues—in Japan, where speaking out loud may be seen as inappropriate, many voice users are reluctant to use it in public, while in Spain, the opposite is true.

It’s all about the answer (singular)

In a zero UI environment, consumers are looking for one response, not a page of possible results. They have an immediate need and want a quick, accurate answer. They simply can’t process a lot of results when the output is voice-only. And that, of course, will have an impact on search engine advertising—if the only answer to a query is an ad, users won’t trust the results. One possible option: devices that offer a combination of voice and screen. That’s how people often use voice search on their phones—voice for the immediate need, search results for a deeper dive. And Amazon now has the Echo Show which adds a 7-inch screen to the voice device.

Building mad skills

Skills are the third-party apps that work with voice platforms like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and they offer a new opportunity for marketers to engage voice searchers. For instance, you can go to Capital One to check your credit card balance and make a payment, or you can connect to Pizza Hut or Domino’s to order your pizza. Brands should be looking at skills through the same lens that they do mobile apps, advises the Bing/iProspect report: “Successful skills will be the ones that leverage the strengths of digital assistants and voice interaction in order to simplify users’ lives,” it advises.

Voice is already becoming a critical touchpoint on the customer journey. You’re going to need to understand how people are searching for your products so you can build your search engine buys accordingly. What other implications should you be concerned about? Speak up and you’ll get the answer.