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How Do Consumers Use Voice Search?: Interpreting Our Google Survey Results

In our increasingly connected digital world, there’s a good chance you’ve been exposed to voice search in some way. Maybe you’ve chatted with Siri on your iPhone. Perhaps you or a friend have even invited a digital assistant like Amazon Echo into your home. Even if you’ve never used voice search before, you’re probably aware of it and have noticed its presence more and more.

But just how many people are using virtual assistants powered by voice search? How are they using them specifically, and what are their attitudes toward the technology?

We conducted a Google Consumer Survey to find out. Our study polled 1,001 respondents from February 12-15, 2018. We targeted users of voice-activated assistants among the general U.S. population on the Google Consumer Surveys publisher network.

How Many People Use Voice Assistants?

We found that 20.5% of respondents currently use a voice-activated virtual assistant like Siri, Alexa (Amazon Echo), Google Home, or Cortana. Significantly, 61.7% of people have never used one before.

These results suggest that voice assistants still have a way to go before becoming a widespread technology. However, we can expect the percentage of users to continue to grow as more digital assistants find their way into U.S. homes. After all, smartphones were considered a niche device about a decade ago. Now they’re just about universal.

How Do They Use Voice Search? On What Devices?

However, those who use voice search tend to use it often. 46.3% of respondents said they use voice search one or more times a day. When someone uses voice search, they appear to make it part of their regular routine.

Mobile phones were by far the most common device on which respondents use voice assistants, at 63.6%. With Siri preloaded on every iPhone, it’s understandable that many people have been introduced to voice search through the world’s most popular smartphone.

Consumers predominantly use voice search on their mobile phones.

Dedicated home assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home are separating themselves from the rest of the pack, though. 35.1% of respondents said they used voice search with these devices, clearly making them the second most common option. We’d expect the gap between mobile phones and in-home digital assistants to narrow over time.

How Long Have They Been Using Voice Assistants?

As a relatively new technology, it’s not surprising that most people have started using voice assistants recently. 64.3% of our respondents have been actively using them for two years or less, and 21.3% have started within the last six months.

Voice assistants are still largely in the “early adopter” phase as consumers discover and learn more about them.

Why Do People Use Voice Search?

Convenience seems to be the strongest factor pulling users toward voice search. As the most popular response, 50.4% of respondents said they use voice search because it’s hands-free. A sizable portion (42.8%) also enjoys that it’s faster than typing.

Interestingly, just under 15% of voice search users said they like having answers read back to them. It’s worth speculating whether this could make digital assistants appealing to seniors, a demographic famously slow to embrace new technology. Rather than strain to read words on a small screen, many would certainly prefer to listen to audible content.

Most respondents use voice commands to play music or other media (55.6%), with significant percentages also using them to receive updates on news and weather (31.3%), or to set timers and reminders (33.9%). It’s not hard to imagine many people setting their digital assistants up as entertainment or informational hubs, ready to dispense content or perform functions directly applicable to their daily lives.

Are They Using Voice Search to Shop?

Users haven’t been so quick to let their virtual assistants help them with shopping, however. Just 8.1% said they used voice search to purchase an item, and a resounding 71.5% hadn’t even used it to find information related to a purchase.

The most common items purchased through voice search or virtual assistants were entertainment products like music or movies (43.0%), as well as everyday household items (26.2%). Consumers may be more open to buying these types of products with voice search since they don’t require much guesswork. People generally know exactly what they want to buy.

Most users turn to virtual assistants to buy entertainment media and household essentials.

When it comes to apparel, which garnered 15.3% of responses, consumers are usually more selective. They need to figure out sizing and may prefer to actually see an article of clothing in front of them or try it on before buying. None of which is feasible with digital voice assistants.

The importance of visual confirmation is further supported by the fact that we saw more people buying apparel on devices with screens than home assistants that lack displays. Tablets (19%), mobile phones (17%), and desktops (23%) all outpaced home devices (10%) in this regard.

Among those using voice search to purchase everyday goods, Amazon Echo was more common (35%) than mobile devices (26%). This may suggest the integration with their existing Amazon accounts is reassuring to users, making them more comfortable stocking up on essentials with an online retailer they know well. It’s certainly easy to ask Alexa to buy more paper towels the moment you run out.

Much of the hesitance to shop through voice assistants likely stems from the fact that many users still aren’t very familiar with them. Indeed, the greatest percentage of respondents who said they were “not at all comfortable” completing a purchase with voice search had been using it for less than six months.

Recent adopters are the least comfortable using voice search for purchases.

Recommendations for Retailers

Voice search may not have officially “arrived” just yet, but it’s definitely arriving. It’s important for retailers to prepare now to make their content more voice-friendly.

The key is to not disrupt the user experience. 38.2% of respondents said they were receptive to advertising or sponsored content on virtual assistants if it was relevant to them as a consumer. People want to be approached with product suggestions related to their interests, and for it to happen in a natural, seamless way.

Make your content more conversational in tone to match the discussions people are having with Siri, Alexa, and other assistants. Use schema markup and structured data to make your site more crawlable, so important information (i.e. a calorie count for a recipe) can be pulled easily and delivered in search results.

Voice search is rapidly evolving, and it would be interesting to see how people’s responses to these questions change in a year or even several months. For more insight into the growing impact of voice assistants, check out our white paper “Search Without Screens”, based on results from another survey we performed last year.

You can also explore our library of on-demand webinars to learn more about a variety of topics in the world of search marketing.