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Will Apple's Siri Change the Voice of Local Search?

  |  October 20, 2011   |  Comments

By tying voice commands to proximity and a robust business listings database, users can search and select businesses on the go in a much more user-friendly manner.

As a gadget geek, I and an estimated 4 million other geeks, conducted what has become an annual pilgrimage to the Apple Store over the weekend to seek out the new Apple iPhone 4S. Truth be told, I was perfectly happy with my normal iPhone 4. But alas, I was seduced by the new voice-recognition feature called "Siri." Now voice recognition is nothing new, but in true Apple fashion, it has taken (acquired) a promising technological feature, simplified it, and, most importantly, made it work.

The difference: old voice recognition features were generally embedded in single programs or applications allowing only one type of results, e.g., phone dialing, web search queries, etc. The reason why Siri is a major step forward is in the fact that it is integrated into the OS (operating system). This fact enables simple voice commands to access various programs/apps directly and create specific results or actions. For example, when asked "Siri help," the user is returned the following answer:


In this example, users can control 14 (seven on this screen) different apps with a simple question.

So why is this important for local search? Well, by tying voice commands to proximity (where I am) to a robust business listings database (in the present-form Google Maps), users can search and select businesses on the go in a much more user-friendly and simplified manner. Below is an example of requesting "Hotel near me":


Again, searching via voice recognition is not new. Google has had this functionality in its iPhone app for some time now. Here is an example of the same request for "Hotels near me" in Google:


As you can see in the Google example, users are forced to consume an entire mobile web page to find the information desired. And then, the user can select a location, tap on the phone number, and place a call, requiring the user to stop using their voice commands and finish the job through traditional input.

With Siri, the user can ask to "Call" or "Get directions" of any of the locations returned by the voice query without having to move between applications. This seamless integration is the simplicity that voice recognition needs to become effective and adopted by the masses. I must admit, there are still some bugs, or more correctly, recognition issues, with some of the commands that I have conducted. But for the most part, I have found the new Siri feature to be a major step forward.

Key Points for SMBs to Leverage

It all starts with the basics; your business listing information is the key to findability and selection in local search, including the Apple iPhone 4S. Instead of rehashing how to ensure your business listing is accurate, consistent, and optimized, I will direct you to my recent column on "Business Listing Management" where you can get a list of do's and don'ts. As mentioned above, Apple is leveraging the Google Maps product for local business NAP (name, address, and phone) information as well as driving directions. It will be interesting to see how this relationship evolves. If Apple gets serious about the local search space, one could expect an acquisition or development of its own maps product. But for now, the key optimization point is to ensure your listing is complete in Google Maps.

One area of special attention that I have determined from conducting numerous local voice searches with Siri is how specific keywords within categories can be leveraged. For example, when searching for "Lunch near me," Siri revealed she (yes, Siri has a female voice) was looking for the keyword "Lunch" in local restaurants' reviews.


Moving to the bottom of the listings stack, there is a credit that states "Reviews from Yelp." So one of the key optimization points marketers can benefit from is to evaluate your reviews on Yelp to ensure that there are specific keywords contained in the review text. Now, I am not condoning that businesses create "keyword stuffed" reviews; however, when encouraging customers to write about your business/service, you might remind them to be specific about your business' offerings. For more information on ratings and reviews, here are "3 Tips to Leverage Ratings and Reviews."

Local mobile searching exploded with the introduction of the smartphone. Why? Because smartphones made searching much easier than the predecessor feature phones. Apple's Siri voice recognition and the numerous copies that will no doubt emerge have just made local searching even easier; and if history is any indication, this will spawn growth in consumer local search. So go back to the basics and make sure your business or brand can be found in this quickly emerging category.

Last night, as I was finishing this column, I asked Siri one final question:



Gregg Stewart

Gregg Stewart is founder and president of 15miles, a full-service marketing agency and consultancy, specializing in digital solutions, headquartered in Connecticut. 15miles supports businesses and agencies of all sizes. With more than 20 years of experience, Stewart applies his successful tenured career in interactive advertising and local search to the ongoing development of digital and mobile solutions for his clients' online-marketing campaigns. Through his strategic counsel, national and local brands become better equipped to target and reach niche consumers for increased leads and sales. In addition to his ClickZ columns, additional columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive. In 2013, Stewart was recognized with the ClickZ Hall of Fame award.

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