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Voice Search – and You Thought "Auto Correct" Was Bad

  |  August 25, 2014   |  Comments

A look at Apple, Google, and Microsoft's voice search programs and how they stack up against each other. Which one comes out on top?

Voice search has been around for a few years now. So I thought we should explore how voice search has iterated over the past couple of years and what it means to marketers targeting local. As background, Apple has "Siri," Google has "Google Now," and Microsoft now has "Cortana" as its voice search platform.


I remember back when Siri was first rolled out. I was so excited that the ultimate input device, your voice, was finally going to take away the mundane drudgery of thumbing my queries into my phone. I would be able to speak into my phone and magically all my wishes would be granted. But then came the harsh reality of real-world usage. Siri just didn't work well at all and "she" could only do exceptionally easy requests like "weather outside" and "stock market." When trialing Siri's local search functionality, she simply could not interpret the voice requests due to confusion of category queries vs. specific business name queries creating results that were just plain worthless.

Fast-forward to today and I have to admit some items have improved, including interpretation of the query input resulting in better matching. But interestingly, Siri still cannot deliver meaningful local search results. For example, a voice search for "Plumbing Supply nearby" returned a merchant 19 miles away, while the same search via touchscreen input yields a merchant 4.7 miles away.


According to Wired's article, the original developers of Siri are now working on a new company called Viv Labs that is developing an advanced form of artificial intelligence (AI) that removes the earlier limitations of Siri. We will anxiously await the release.

Google Now/Voice Search

Google, like Apple, has had voice search functionality for multiple years. Early users were besieged with similar issues related to voice recognition that Apple's Siri exhibited. Google Now, however, has since its release always better-handled interpretation and query handling.

Interestingly, when I conducted the same search as denoted above, "Plumbing Supply nearby," my search results were much more relevant and complete.

Google Voice Search is available in 38 languages and is undergoing an upgrade to allow for multiple language input in the same voice query. I guess this is important to polyglots that cannot handle asking a question in one language at a time. The only time that happens to me personally is when I have had too much tequila, but that is not a normal use case for local search.

In terms of local searching and query matching to relevant results, Google Now has the lead over Siri.

Microsoft Cortana

A new feature with the release of Windows Phone 8.1 contains a personal assistant named "Cortana." Gamers will recognize the Cortana name as the fictional AI character in the Halo video game series. As you might guess, Cortana provides answers including local search queries via Bing Search. Additionally, Microsoft uses data provided by Foursquare to provide information on local attractions and restaurants in a specific area.

Whilst I have not personally tested Cortana, I have been impressed by the comparative demonstrations vs. Google and Apple.

Should You Care About Voice Search?

The simple answer is yes. With three different mobile OS platforms fully engaged in solving the problem, expect major break-throughs and improvements. From the "local" perspective, it is important to understand the data sources each platform uses to deliver local search results. For example, Apple's Siri relies on Tomtom, Localeze, Yelp, and other providers for local data, while Cortana makes use of Foursquare data. These facts provide inclusion and optimization paths to leverage to improve whether your firm's locations are delivered in the voice query results.

For optimization tips for Siri specifically, check out "Optimizing Your Local Listing on Apple's Siri." While the article dates back to February 2012, the same techniques work today.

Optimization tips for Google Now are identical to the tactics you use for Google Map optimization.

In the coming months I will share some optimization tips for Microsoft. As of this writing, I am off to the local Microsoft Store to get a device with windows Phone 8.1 installed on it.

Humorously, I asked Siri for the "Local Microsoft Store" and here is what I got back:



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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