What Does Voice Search Mean for App Development?

Businesses that do not have plans to add voice search to mobile app development in the near future can expect diminishing returns. Here are three reasons why.

Much of the blame for the increasing complexities associated with mobile app development can reliably be placed at the feet of the producers of “Star Trek.” Let’s face it, every generation since the 1960s has grown up with an unspoken expectation. We should be able to merely speak to technology and have it flawlessly do our bidding. Why are we still being forced to use keyboards and pointer devices?

All kidding aside, the complexities of adding voice search technology to modern-day mobile apps can hardly be exaggerated. After all, verbal communication between two human beings can easily become garbled. This might be due to different languages, word choice, intended usage, thick accents, background noise, and a host of other complicating factors. It stands to reason that communication between a human being and any computer would at least be subject to the same limitations.

All that being true, apps that do not include plans to add voice search technology in the near future can expect diminishing returns. Listed below are three reasons why this is so.

1. The numbers all point to a voice-activated future.

Given the complexities and expense involved, it might be tempting to leave voice search out of your next mobile app project. However, it’s become increasingly clear that doing so is unwise. Businesses that decide not to bother implementing voice search in their apps risk cutting loose a rising percentage of online consumers. Google reports that voice search inquiries from mobile devices crossed the 25% threshold in 2020. They expect that this number is only going to go up.

Additionally, Google plans to adjust its algorithm to give priority to voice search-enabled sites. They plan to do this in much the same way that they forced the issue of mobile-first website development.

What’s a small business owner to do? What’s abundantly clear is that skipping past this question risks pushing your products and services further down in search engine results pages (SERPs). You probably are not OK with that, so it makes sense to keep voice search at the forefront of your thinking. This is especially important as you work with your app development team.

2. Search inquiries and SERPs are evolving toward natural speech.

Try this thought experiment for a day or two. Pay attention to the actual words that people use when they are searching for information online. If you’ve set up your website analytics properly, you should be able to tell when search strings were typed or spoken. If not, start by tweaking your analytics to provide regular reporting on these criteria.

Consumer expectations of flawless human-machine conversations have been around at least since 1969, when the HAL-9000 was featured in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Consumer expectations of flawless human-machine conversations have been around at least since 1969 when the fictitious HAL-9000 was featured in Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

After that, look for word, phrase, and sentence patterns that tend to show up in written and verbal search strings. What many have begun to notice is that spoken search strings tend to appear, as you might expect, in more natural language. People are much more likely to use more words when speaking than when typing. Their search strings tend to begin with one of the following words: who, what, when, why, and how.

Capture commonly-asked questions. Develop factual, concise, and helpful answers to these questions. Do this even if the answers don’t tend to support your company’s bottom line. Your ability to quickly and effectively answer questions establishes you as a voice to be trusted. Consumers are far more likely to buy from companies they have already learned to trust.

3. Existing speech-recognition technology can ease the transition.

Adding voice search to your existing app does not mean that your company needs to reinvent the wheel, either. You don’t need to develop text-to-speech synthesizers or develop your own speech recognition technology. While some larger companies may wish to embed all of their voice search tech into an app, doing so presupposes that they have the staff resources to launch and tweak these capabilities over time.

Embedded voice search tech also makes for bloated apps. Small businesses might be well advised to start out small and rely on cloud-based technologies. These solutions are typically far less expensive, more accurate, and less prone to failure than embedded systems. The only downside is that performance is conditional on the bandwidth of a user’s internet connection. Given the cost and complexities of developing embedded tech, this is a more-than-acceptable tradeoff for many.

Moving from Science Fiction to the 21st-Century Consumer

Smart home and office devices are being churned out at an impressive pace and every indication is that this will continue. While some may be tempted to see voice-activated devices as a passing fad, the evidence is strongly against it. Your small to medium-sized business may not yet be ready to make the leap into voice search. However, you should at least maintain the awareness that adding voice search must become a near-term priority.

The creators of “Star Trek” and other science fiction favorites got at least one thing right; flawless voice interactions represent the future of technology. To remain competitive in the marketplace of the future, business owners need to begin insisting their app developers lay out a plan for integrating voice search into all future app initiatives and upgrades.

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