Will Digital Assistants Replace Search?
Search Engine Optimisation

Will Digital Assistants Replace Search?

17th May 2016

Last week the latest digital assistant,Viv, was demonstrated to the public. Viv was created by the same team that developed Siri and can be solely controlled by voice. During it’s unveiling, a pizza was ordered, toppings added, paid for and delivered all through Viv. This was done without the user ever needing to use search, apps or a website.

Here’s a video of the digital assistant in action at the Tech Crunch Disrupt Conference:

The rise of the digital assistant

Their are four leading digital assistants that have risen to prominence since Siri was launched in 2011:

  • Siri – Apple
  • Cortana – Microsoft
  • Echo/Alexa – Amazon
  • Google Now

Initially Siri seemed like a bit of a gimmick and restrictive as to what could achieved with voice instructions. However, digital assistants have become more useful because of API integration with third party apps. They are also much better at actually understanding voice commands – Google say that the error rate from voice search has reduced to 8% from 25% from just two years ago.

Digital assistants have also moved away from just being available on our mobile phone and are becoming a feature in our homes. Siri can be used to select TV shows and films through Apple TV, Cortana will soon be available on the Xbox One and the Amazon Echo is an advanced system that can control a number of home appliances including Wifi enabled lights and TVs. The Echo also works with third party apps such as Uber and Dominos, as well as of course being able to order products from Amazon.

This all means that we can access the information we need without having to type out a query in a search engine.

How does this effect search?

Recently, the Head of Conversational Search at Google, Beshad Behzadi, presented at the SMX West conference and discussed the future of search. He emphasised Google’s aim – to become ‘The Ultimate Assistant’, and he demonstrated solely via his mobile phone how Google are trying to achieve this with conversational search.

Many queries were completed by search but without ever needing to select a search result. As well as delivering the most relevant results, Google is clearly trying display this information as quickly as possible, with universal search elements such as rich snippets, knowledge graph and local results becoming much more prominent.

Google Knowledge Graph - Pirate Bay Proxies
This is one knowledge graph Google probably didn’t want to show.

In local results for a query such as “Best Italian Restaurants Near Me”, it’s possible to use voice search to say ‘call the second one’. The user does not need to select any organic results to achieve their goal.

In Google’s ‘How To Search on Google’ page (like anyone needs instructions!?) they suggest using voice search as one of the top suggestions which shows how much they value voice search and see it as an integral part of their future.

How to search on Google

I’ve talked a fair bit about Google and conversational search, but this interestingly brings up an important point. iOS and Siri does not use Google, but rather Bing for it’s voice search capabilities. This could potentially mean a rise in traffic from the Bing search engine and it may mean that it’s worth SEOs keeping more an eye on their Bing rankings than previous.

How do I optimise for conversational search?

Do your long tail keyword research

As it’s been highlighted before, voice search terms tend to be more long tail and conversational. Instead of typing ‘Orlando Holiday Deals’, a user is more likely to say “Are there any holiday deals for Orlando this summer”.

This makes it more essential than ever to have good long tail research. Make sure your landing pages are optimised for long tail terms and create specific landing pages if the keyword volume warrants it. Check out this article out for some tips on long tail keyword research.

Have a good FAQ section and good content

Research has shown that question based searches (What, Why, When, How) are growing rapidly – up 61% in just one year. This could again be due to increase in conversational search.

This means when relevant, it’s important to have a good FAQ section with relevant questions and unique answers to each question.

If an FAQ section does not fit your site, then consider questions that your target market are likely to ask and create relevant content that answers these questions. This could take the form of blogs, evergreen articles or guides.

Local, Local, Local

Studies have shown that a large amount of local searches are conducted on search, and often lead to conversions. As mentioned before, Google are looking to to provide answers much quicker, and local results are a massive part of that (and has been for some time). But with voice search and the increase of ‘near me’ searches, Local SEO is only going to get more and more important.

McDonalds Near Me Searches

If you have a physical location and rely on footfall for conversions, then local SEO (regardless of voice search) should be a key priority. Check out this Moz Local SEO checklist to get started.

So will search become less important?

I’ve already seen comments stating that Viv is going to replace Google. While it’s very likely that digital assistants will make an impact on the use of search, I doubt very much that they will completely replace the need for search engines.

Voice search tends to be ‘On The Go’ and requires a need for immediate answers. These may be directions to a local store or answer to a simple question that can be answered by the knowledge graph.

But consider purchases with a longer research path – Cars, Holidays, etc. It’s unlikely that someone is going to commit to a high value purchase without doing extensive research. This research cannot all be completed with quick results and voice interaction. While the scales are definitely shifting over to mobile, it’s still true that mobile traffic is usually still only a factor in upper-funnel shopping activity.

However, even as sophisticated as digital assistants are getting, they’re still not perfect.

Here is an example of a knowledge graph result from a voice search, when I was looking for information on a song (please don’t judge my music taste):

Word Up Knowledge Graph

As good as hummingbird is at understanding context, it still doesn’t get everything correct. So Google (and other search engines/digital assistants) still have some way to go before it’s perfected and people can rely on it to be their primary method of searching. Voice search and digital assistants are definitely going to become a big factor in digital, but will it be the end of search? I doubt it.


Written By
Paul Hunter is a Digital Account Coordinator and Marketing Manager at Liberty, a Digital Marketing Agency based in Cardiff. He responsible for analysing and creating bespoke digital marketing strategies for a number of Liberty’s biggest clients and managing the overall marketing strategy for the company.
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