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AI and the future of search: Where to start

Senior Analyst, Marketing Science

april 25, 2023

Consumer search habits are evolving alongside the rise of conversation and voice search tools. How should that inform your future business strategies?


Microsoft’s Bing AI has become one of the most popular examples used to justify public distrust in AI technology. According to a recent poll by Monmouth University, 91% of Americans believe that AI will either bring more harm than good or equal harm and good. And while the Bing AI story is no Skynet, it does push us to reflect on the growing presence of AI in many aspects of our lives, namely as a search tool. 

AI has become a dominant aspect of recent search developments, such as conversational AI and voice search tools and features.  We’ve seen great use cases where AI has been helpful, but if you try to do too much too soon, it can get overwhelming and leave room for errors or unforeseen circumstances. AI’s emerging popularity marks a change in people’s habits regarding search, most notably the shift from key term searches, “restaurant - Italian – city name,” to full sentence questions, “how do you make an authentic lasagna?” How is an increasing AI presence in our technology affecting user habits? And how should that inform development strategies when it comes to search?  

What is a conversational channel?

Google Search Console screen showing the list of top search queries    

Conversational channels enable us to do everyday tasks through voice and text-based commands. With the help of voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and other AI-based virtual agents, we no longer have to manually search, send text messages, or even complete transactions.  

These interactions happen on smartphones, smart speakers, voice assistants, chat-based apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger, and even TVs and cars. This type of channel emulates human interactions and communication in some ways, and it does so in a mostly automated fashion.  

How did search evolve? 

In 2013, Google’s search engine received a core algorithm update. It was titled “Hummingbird,” named after the speed and accuracy of the bird. This update places greater emphasis on natural language queries, considering text and semantic meaning over individual keywords, as well as users’ physical locations at the time of search. It also looks deeper at content on individual pages of a website, with an improved ability to lead users directly to the most appropriate page rather than a website’s homepage. 

These algorithm changes resulted in a shift in search habits, and SEO strategies changed to accommodate this shift. As search engine algorithms have gotten “smarter,” SEO strategies have also had to be smarter and more organic, with a focus on providing the best answers to users’ questions. These strategies also included the implementation of structured data such as schema markup. This is a form of metadata that communicates content in an organized manner to a search engine, allowing it to display the content attractively and as a rich result to the user.  

As for evolving search habits and behavior, the algorithm changes also trained users to search differently, recognizing that sentence and question queries offer better and more useful results. With the rise of AI and voice search, these habits are only growing stronger and more supported by these rising trends.  

Voice search vs conversational AI 

Although it may seem like you’re interacting with the same platform and voice assistant today, several platforms and integrations are required to complete basic AI search functions. There are distinct differences between voice search versus chatbots or other conversational AI platforms enabled by companies.  

  Voice Search Conversational AI
What is it? Voice search allows us to conduct traditional searches via voice commands on Google, Bing and other search engines. With the help of Google Voice, Cortana, Siri and Amazon Echo, we can ask explicit questions, and the voice assistants will provide the best answers possible.  Conversational artificial intelligence (AI) refers to technologies, like chatbots or virtual agents, with which users can communicate to complete specific tasks. These platforms focus on task completion, rather than answering questions like voice search platforms. 
What trends are we seeing? This is transforming the way we search and has driven an increase in users searching with a full question.  

According a 2018 PwC Consumer Intelligence Series voice assistants survey, more than 70% of consumers prefer to search via voice rather than typing, and 90% think it’s easier than searching online.  

A 2022 UpCity and Pollfish poll highlights that voice search is used daily by about half of the U.S. population. It also accounts for 20% of searches in the Google App, according to Think with Google.  
When it comes to technology trends, we typically think about how they will disrupt the customer experience. But adopting these tools will benefit customers just as much as employees. 

According to a PFSK survey cited by chatbot.com, nearly 75% of users prefer chatbots to humans for answers to simple questions. An MIT Technology Review report shows 90% of businesses have significantly improved the speed of complaint resolutions with chatbots. 

Conversational AI is expected to reduce contact center costs by about $80 billion by 2026, according to Gartner 
What are the use cases? Use cases and relevant micro interactions will vary by industry, but general ones include:  

  • Getting answers to FAQs 
  • Getting directions 
  • Finding contact information for a company 
  • Finding answers to specific, long-tail queries 
Use cases and relevant micro interactions will vary by industry, but general ones include:  

  • Making a call 
  • Sending texts and messages in other chat apps such as WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, etc. 
  • Posting on social media 
  • Setting reminders 
  • Signing into customer portals or apps 
  • Completing transactions 
  • Playing music or controlling other smart home features 

Voice search and conversational AI, though different, are both rising trends that play a role in the evolution of our search habits as consumers. Google has been investing in the voice space since 2012, when it acquired and then sold Motorola. Meanwhile, voice search has been rapidly rising since 2019, when the adoption of smart speakers and voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home started to take off.  


What do we do with these search trends? 

Two words: data analytics. 

Voice search and conversational AI are changing our behavior around search and have consciously and subconsciously been “training” us to conduct searches by asking a complete question. We’ve always searched with a query in mind. Now, we’re explicitly asking the question to the voice assistant or conversation AI, assuming it will lead to the best answer. 

For companies, optimizing voice search may seem overwhelming, but there’s a simple and achievable first step: use the data available to you. Businesses have more data than ever readily available about the exact, specific questions customers and prospective customers have. They can easily dig into this data to identify and answer their questions directly on our site through FAQs, blogs, video content, emails, and more. This strategy takes the guessing out of the game, allowing them to conceptualize and plan according to reliable data.  

Once this data is analyzed, finding the right strategy based on the identified client needs becomes a smooth and attainable next step.  

Free tools such as Google Search Console (GSC) can be used to export question queries that actual users are searching for. 

Here’s how you can do it: 

Step 1: 

When you sign into Google Search Console, click on “Search Results” in the left-hand tab or “Full report>” in the Performance report.

Google Search Console screen showing Performance results

Step 2: 

Click on “+New” and then select the filter for “Query”. 

Google Search Console screen showing the Performance by Search results

Step 3: 

Enter the regular expression “who|what|when|why|where|how”. 

Google Search Console screen showing the Performance by Search results, specifically showing the Query window

This will provide you with a list of question-style queries your website is showing up for. 

Google Search Console screen showing a list of the top search queries

The takeaway 

The increasing presence of AI in search technologies has brought about a significant shift in user habits, moving from keyword-based searches to full-sentence questions. Advancements in AI technology have also led to the development of conversational AI and voice search, which, though different, have both transformed the search experience for consumers. Incorporating these search technologies in the right way can bring benefits to both businesses and customers. 

Voice and conversational search are rising trends, both as technological developments and in consumer habits, and it’s time to create business strategies that take both into account. Data analytics is the most useful resource, and an easily achievable first step in creating this strategy.    


If you want help getting started, or have any questions about this process, contact us today! 


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