Voice search is also clearly on Google’s mind. Google made 10 big announcements at I/O 2017, and four of them involved Home and Google Assistant. Plus, in early December, John Mueller launched an idle tweet asking the SEO community about what sort of voice search data they’d like to see and why.
How Voice Search Changed in 2017
1. AI-Backed Speech Accuracy Is Now (Almost) on Par with Human Accuracy
In May 2015, Google’s Sundar Pichai announced that their speech recognition error rate was at 8 percent thanks to their investments in machine learning.
Now, according to Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report, Google’s speech recognition is even better — their English word accuracy rate is now a staggering 95 percent, as of May 2017.
That number also just happens to be the threshold for human accuracy. Sure, it’s still slightly more error prone than typical human dialogue, but the gap is shrinking quickly.
Put into perspective, this means that Google’s AI-backed voice recognition has improved by 20 percent since 2013. And they’re still making “significant breakthroughs” in speech recognition, according to Pichai at I/O 2017. He says we’ll continue to see “error rates continue to improve even in noisy environments.”
2. Voice-First Devices Are Becoming Common Household Appliances
Virtual assistants, smart home devices, and other voice-first technology (e.g., Google Home, Amazon Echo, and the upcoming Apple Homepod) entered the public consciousness in a big way in 2017.
In 2015, almost no one had heard of voice-first devices — only 1.7 million shipped across the U.S. That number shot up to 6.5 million in 2016.
In 2017, VoiceLabs predicts that number will swell to 24.5 milliondevices shipped. That’s more than a 312 percent increase from 2016 to 2017.
More than 12 million voice-first device sales will occur in Q4 alone, according to Strategy Analytics, so we can expect even more sales next year.
If 2017 was the year that pushed voice-first technology into the mainstream, 2018 will be its heyday.
3. Voice Search AIs & Voice-First Devices Have More Diversified Skill Sets
Google’s doing everything they can to make the Google Assistant part of your daily routine. Now, in addition to getting a traffic, weather, and news update when you say “good morning” to your Google Home, you can make announcements throughout your house, find your phone, and entertain your kids with over 50 new “family fun” skills.
As of 2017, you can integrate your Google Home device with a Chromecast, effectively allowing you to control your TV with your voice.
Google’s begun rolling out a hands-free calling feature, free in Canada and the U.S., though it currently only supports outgoing calls. And, since Google partnered with Walmart in August 2017, you can now take advantage of voice shopping through your Google Assistant.
4. Voice Search Is Even Bigger Internationally
If you thought voice search was a solely Western phenomenon, think again.
Recent global research found that Chinese consumers are leading the way when it comes to voice assistant usage, with a staggering 64 percent adoption rate. They’re closely followed by Thailand, with a 57 percent adoption rate.
In fact, back in 2013 when Siri was still relatively new to the U.S., China was already creating apps that could reach 93 percent voice search recognition accuracy.
5. Voice Search Is Changing the Way We Advertise
Finally, in a change that promises to have a huge impact on advertisers in 2018 and the years to come, Amazon launched a restrictive ad policy that effectively bans third-party ads from Alexa voice apps.
This is a jarring change for brands used to desktop and mobile advertising, where banner-ads, pop-ups, and other ads effectively interrupt a user’s experience. However, it does fall in line how Brian Roemmele, founder of Pay Finders, foresees the intersection voice search and advertising.