LSA16: Impact of Virtual Assistants & A.I. on Search

Virtual Assistants and artificial intelligence have long been talked about but never taken seriously.  It was something to chat about and dream about futuristically, but had no practical revenue impact sufficient to justify any real investment.  And data supported that view – virtual assistants had no material impact in search – equivalent of a statistical zero.   But Timothy Tuttle from MindMeld shared data that should drastically change the direction of the conversation.

In one year, 2015, search on virtual assistants like GoogleNow, Siri and Cortana jumped from that statistical zero to 10% of overall search volume globally.  That’s the equivalent of 50 billion searches a month being performed by voice search.

The implication of that number is that search as we know it today may change more drastically and far more quickly than we previously anticipated.  The explosion of voice search last year points to continued growth.  And Timothy, Kelly Thomas from Microsoft, Manpreet Singh from TalkLocal and Ron Braunfeld from Pingup described how voice search and AI will transform local search.

Kelly shared that Microsoft is seeing longer queries in more natural language on Cortana.  Searches are also becoming more local in nature.  They’ve witnessed some learning curve to using voice search and a maturity in asking more sophisticated queries as they learn.

Artificial intelligence is making machines act, think and respond more like humans.  In the search context, it is also helping bring search to the user by knowing what the user needs based on time, location, past use, weather, real time circumstances, and other intent signals that can be collected and digested.

Manpreet gave an example of using a keyword search for a plumber compared to explaining to the virtual assistant that you have a leak, or a clogged pipe or a burst water heater.  The richer data leads to better search results based on secondary intent.

As such, keyword importance is fading.  AI will figure out what you are trying to accomplish and have the benefit of greater context.  For example, instead of flipping back and forth between Domino’s and Papa Johns’ websites to compare my pizza order and see what specials they have, I might soon be able to ask Siri to order me 2 medium 3-topping pizzas from the one that has the best deal.  She’ll ask me what toppings I want, finish the order and report back to me when the delivery will arrive.

As users understand how AI can cut through the clutter and take search to the next level, virtual assistants will take off and marketers will quickly need to adapt to the new platform.

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