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Digital Personal Assistants & Future of Search – Has Science Fiction Become a Reality?

Mar 01, 2016   |   Industry News
Digital Personal Assistants & Future of Search – Has Science Fiction Become a Reality? -, Milestone Inc.

Milestone’s team was at SMX West today in San Jose where there was an opening keynote session by Behshad Behzadi from Google.  The session regarded the future of search and how our digital devices are beginning to play the role of personal assistants – which was once a notion of science fiction, such as Star Trek. Behzadhi discussed the evolution of search that has led us to the point where voice search has created a conversational aspect to our relationship with digital devices, using live demo on a smartphone to demonstrate how voice search is becoming increasingly contextual from users’ search queries – and how that “science fiction” future is not so far away.


As a summary, here are few key takeaways from the session which will be helpful not only for SEOs but also for businesses:

  1. Voice search is growing faster than typed searches.

Word recognition error rate is now approximately 8% – meaning that the search engines increasingly understand your intent and your context when you utilize voice search.

Action Items for SEOs & Businesses:

  • Consider mobile first as voice searches are happening on mobile devices.
  • Focus on both on-page for mobile by customizing mobile content for users and strengthen off-page strategies even more in 2016 by correcting citations and core information sources that feed data to the major search engines.
  1. Natural language queries are growing and will continue to grow in future.

In 2015, mobile and tablet search surpassed desktop search, and users are increasingly asking more conversational questions that can be answered by content.

Action Items for SEOs & Businesses:

  • Stop thinking about just specific keywords and your ranking around those but rather review whether your on-page content has the relevant information about that page and can be understood by search engines and users both.
  • Use structured data (schema) to increase the chances of better ranking and showing more information upfront to users.
  1. Contextual search is the biggest driver of local searches specifically on mobile.

Essentially, context no longer needs to be in context. Much of what users are looking for via voice is based on the user’s need, such as to make a reservation or navigate to a location, both of which are inherently local.

 This is an interesting one, as it sounds counterintuitive – but actually, it is more intuitive. Google now understands what you are looking for based on your world.

For example, asking Google to show you pictures of “whales” may yield pictures of whales from your most recent vacation – or pictures of Wales from your most recent vacation, depending on which vacation you took. Google also understands your requests once you are in a specific context. Let us provide an example:

          OK Google: Where is Coit Tower?

                        Who built it?


                                                    Show me restaurants near there.

                                                    I prefer Italian.

                                                                  Call the second one.


Here you can see that within each result provided, the queries become increasingly less contextual in request, but are increasingly more relevant in their result because Google understands the context of the user.

Action Items for SEOs & Businesses:

  1. Consider what questions users may ask about you (FAQs) and ensure that data is available in your schema, on your website and in relevant local directories and listings. Examples might be:
    – Hours of operation
    – Facts, such as history, height, weight, architect, etc.
    – Photography
    – Location
    – Accessibility
  2. Search results for a given keyword query would be very different for two users based on their pervious search patterns and history.
    For example: If you searched for your business on Google and then bounced off from the website right away and then using the same device, if you did another search, let’s say in next 15 mins, then based on your previous experience Google might show your competitors website higher than yours as last time you seemed to have found some irrelevant information. So this is one example of how your website might rank very differently to your users than it does to you on your mobile.


  1. App indexing in search results allows users to take actions via installed apps.

Users are now given the option to utilizing their installed apps – or to install apps – to take action, instead of using mobile-friendly sites.

Action Items for SEOs & Businesses:

Consider what actions your users may be taking via apps from relevant queries about your business. Would they be making a reservation via OpenTable? Booking a room through HotelTonight? Ensure that the information that exists about you on apps is equally as relevant, engaging and accurate as on your own website to ensure you are maximizing conversions on all channels. This leads us to the answer to our original question, which was, “Has science fiction become a reality?” The answer is, in essence: YES. While our digital devices haven’t yet truly become our ultimate personal assistants, the developments of voice search are creating an environment in which many of our daily tasks can be managed with a simple spoken query. The “ultimate assistant” has not yet arrived…but the next time you ask your hands-free device a question about how to get somewhere during rush hour traffic, ask yourself whether you think the future is here.  If you have additional questions regarding our article or SEO strategies please leave a comment below, visit our website, or email [email protected] directly.

Contributed by:
Kanika Thakran, Sr. Manager SEO
Kelsey Hunsinger, Sr. Team Lead Manager

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