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Can Google fix its mobile problem by pushing voice search?

Google iPhone app

Google's iPhone app

Google is hoping it can turn around its mobile search problem with a new algorithm intended to deliver better results for mobile users asking a question out loud.

The new algorithm is called Hummingbird and it attempts to address how smartphones and voice recognition technology have impacted the way in which searches are conducted. The news comes at a time when Google continues to see weakness in CPC rates for paid search, driven in part by the growing number of searches being conducted on mobile.

“There is a maelstrom of advances and new developments that is clearly shaking up search and social,” said Brian Klais, CEO/founder of Pure Oxygen Labs, Madison, WI . “Underneath it all is absolutely Google’s intent to remain relevant in a mobile world, because all of those changes, there is a clear benefit to the mobile search.

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“It is like Google is saying with have the information, we have the ability, we have the smarts and the algorithm to answer those questions, so let’s answer them and help the mobile searcher out so they don’t have to bounce around so much,” he said.

“The takeaway is that marketers have got to get mobile prioritized.”

Taking mobile seriously
Google learned the hard way that it needs to take mobile seriously.

When the company did not adjust to changing search behaviors driven by mobile’s growth over the past few years, it saw CPC rates for paid search go down, which has impacted its bottom line.

Google’s introduction of Enhanced Campaigns, which makes it easier for marketers to deploy search campaigns across mobile, desktop and tablets, is also meant to drive up CPC rates on mobile.

 

It is too soon to know if any of these strategies are working.

Mobile users search differently compared to desktop users. In particular, they are looking for immediate answers that they can take an action on, such as a nearby restaurant or the best nearby deals.

As voice search is growing, this is also having an impact on searches.

“As searchers adopted mobile, Google saw query length shrinking—but as searchers adopt voice search, queries are lengthening—and becoming continuous, like a conversation,” said Jeremy Hull, associate director of paid search at iProspect, Boston.

“Google needs to be prepared for this new kind of search behavior, and Hummingbird is the foundation,” he said.

Better user experiences
The focus for Google is on improving the user experience for mobile.

While a growing number of searches are taking place on mobile, a significant number of results are not mobile-optimized, causing users to bounce around from site to site trying to find what they are looking for.

While others have previously tried to address voice search, such as Apple with Siri, the experience typically left something to be desired, limiting the appeal.

By addressing voice searches, Google is hoping to make the search experience less frustrating for users.

“The fact that Google can now answer those questions for you, and answer audibly, if you are using the Google app, that is a really good experience and it aligns terrifically with the mobile search experience,” Pure Oxygen Labs’ Mr. Klais said.

However, when users hear a spoken answer to their question, this could mean they will be clicking less on marketers’ sites to find the answer.

“Doesn’t that mean that sites will get less traffic?" Mr. Klais said. "The answer is yes, that is exactly right."

“It is almost like Google is punishing the Internet for not getting mobile faster,” he said.

Questions as content
The growing focus on voice search will leave some searches relatively unaffected while others will see better results.

For example, a search for “shoes,” which is a simple query with very high volume, will be unaffected. However, a search for “Shoe stores in Tulsa with size 10 blue adidas shoes,” which has very low search volume, but indicates a user looking for a very specific result , will see better information returned with Hummingbird.

“These ‘informational’ searches collectively, if not individually, drive a significant portion of searches,” iProspect’s Mr. Hull said.

“Given Android's continued expansion in mobile generally and voice commands specifically, these kinds of phrases are a strong match to the kind one would expect to arrive at asking your phone for help finding something - potentially enhancing the value and quality of Google’s mobile search results.”

To address the growth in voice search, marketers should begin experimenting with questions as content.

Additionally, marketers should focus on better parsing voice commands and questions.

Marketers need to start thinking less about optimizing for specific keywords, and more about how to answer user queries with very relevant content, authored by recognized experts, in order to earn visibility.

“Google’s recent update of their algorithm – Hummingbird – further improves the search engine’s ability to understand the more human characteristics of the user query,” said Grant Simmons, director of SEO and social product at The Search Agency, Los Angeles.

“Instead of making a simple keyword list to optimize against, it's a better idea to make a list of possible user questions, their implied needs, and then create theme-focused content that would address the user’s question based on their intent, context of their potential location and immediacy of the implied request,” he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York

Associate Editor Chantal Tode covers advertising, messaging, legal/privacy and database/CRM. Reach her at chantal@mobilemarketer.com.

 
Related content: Search, Google, mobile search, voice search, iProspect, Jeremy Hull, Pure Oxygen Labs, Brian Klais, The Search Agency, Grant Simmons, mobile marketing, mobile

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