Changing Consumer Search Habits: the Shift to Voice and Visual

By Kyrie Bussler
  • 03.26.18
  • 8 Min Read

With more and more people turning to the internet to access information, paid search strategies have become a necessity for businesses to avoid being left behind. In just one day, an average of 3.5 billion searches happen on Google alone. That’s a lot of opportunity to connect consumers with your content.

However, the way consumers are searching for information is significantly changing. It isn’t just a matter of typing questions into a search engine anymore. People are turning to voice and visual searches.



In 2018, voice-enabled devices are expected to grow in popularity. According to eMarketer, Amazon Echo models were three of the top four selling electronics on Amazon during the 2017 Thanksgiving weekend, and the amount of people using voice-enabled speakers is expected to grow by 27.6% to 45.4 million users this year.

This growth has largely come from improvements in accuracy. Voice search has drastically evolved from the days of speaking into your iPhone to see what funny, half-correct response you could get from Siri. Devices like Google Home even use voice match to discern between multiple users.

At the moment, there are no paid options for advertisers in voice search. Advertisers can make organic optimizations like using a conversational tone in content or long-tail keyword phrases to have a higher ranking in search results. But it may only be a matter of time before users start hearing ads on their devices. In March 2017, Google surprised many Google Home users with what appeared to be an advertisement. After receiving normal morning updates about weather and traffic, users heard, “By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast opens today. In this version of the story, Belle is the inventor instead of Maurice. That rings truer if you ask me. For some more movie fun, ask me something about Belle.”

Backlash quickly erupted all over Twitter and Reddit. Google responded by saying that the blurb was not in fact an ad, but rather an attempt to call out timely content. Since then, Google hasn’t experimented with any similar efforts.

Whether it was an ad or not, it does bring up an interesting point: did users not want the ad at all, or did Google serve the ad to people who aren’t interested in Beauty and the Beast?

Some say it may be the latter. A November 2017 Invoca study  outlined that people would be willing to listen to ads on voice-enabled devices if:

  • They were asked if they want to hear the ad before it plays: 30%
  • They got to choose brands from which they hear ads: 28%
  • The ads are personalized based on commands or questions asked: 25%
  • The ads are connected to brands they “like” on social networks: 23%

This means that targeting is key for the future of paid placements in voice search.

Voice and Visual Search Examples


Voice isn’t the only factor changing the world of search, as consumers are increasingly turning to visual content for searches.

In 2017, both Google and Pinterest launched search tools – Google Lens and Pinterest Lens – that allow consumers to search by visual content. The idea is to use a picture to find other relevant information and search results without having to type or say anything.

The Google Lens has a variety of capabilities including saving text and information; recognizing landmarks; learning more about art, books and movies; scanning barcodes; and identifying products. For example, you can take a picture of a restaurant to find more information about it. Or you can take a picture of an unknown type of flower, and the search platform will help you identify it and give you relevant information like nearby florists.

The Pinterest Lens allows users to find similar items based off a picture. That means no more typing various keywords and searching through hundreds of shoes to find a pair like the ones you spotted on the street. You can just take a picture, and a similar pair will come up.

Target is one of the first brands to partner with the Pinterest Lens by integrating the tool into its app. By taking a picture of an item that they like, users can find a related product at Target to actually buy.

Pinterest reports that it has had 600 million visual searches every month over the last year. The most popular search categories are fashion, home décor, art and food. The amount of consumers using visual search across all platforms is expected to grow as accuracy improves – similar to voice search.

From using their voices to photos, people are changing how they search and consume information. Accordingly, advertisers have to change how they’re reaching and connecting with consumers. It’s not just a matter of creating an ad; it’s about accounting for the overall experience of searching for content. At L&S, we keep a close eye on these changes. Contact us to see how we can help optimize your brand and connect you with consumers.

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