How Do People Use Voice Search?

By Toby Cox / 4 December 2019

Voice technology changes the way we interact with our devices and search for things online. Our survey finds that people who use voice search are likely to use it multiple times a week and most likely use it to search for information, products, and services. 

In 2018, there was an average of one billion voice searches per month, and that number is expected to grow in 2020. 

But what do people search for when they use voice search?

The Manifest surveyed 501 people who use voice search with a voice-enabled device such as their phone or a smart speaker. We found that people rely on voice search to conduct simple queries to find fact-based information, the weather, news, and details on products and services. 

The quality of voice-activated technology improves every year. Our findings suggest that more people will make voice search part of their daily routine as the technology becomes more reliable. 

Our Findings

  • More than half of voice search users (53%) use it at least once a week, suggesting that voice search technology is habit-forming. 
  • People are more likely to use voice search to search for products, services, and information (60%) than to communicate with other people (20%) or issue commands (20%). 
  • The top three types of information people use voice search to find out include facts such as trivia and term definitions (62%), the weather (46%), and the news (32%). 
  • Different age groups use voice search differently: Younger voice search users ages 18-34 are the most likely to use voice search to issue commands (30%) compared to users ages 35 and older (17%). 
  • Older voice search users ages 35 and older (64%) are more likely to use voice search to search for products/services than younger users ages 18-34 (47%). 

People Who Use Voice Search Once Likely Will Use It Again

Online searches have become a habit: The average person conducts 3-4 searches on Google every day, and Google processes more than 63,000 queries per second.

Once people realized it was easier to “ask” search engines such as Google and get an immediate answer than flip through one of 32 encyclopedia volumes, they didn’t go back.

John Foster, CEO of Aiqudo, an AI startup in California, thinks this will be the case for voice search too. Once conducting searches via voice is easier and as reliable as text-based searches, people will stop typing and start talking to their devices more. 

Already, 53% of voice search users report using the technology at least once a week, suggesting that voice search technology is habit-forming.

53% of voice search users report using the technology at least once a week.

Foster says voice search still has a long way to go, however, before it will revolutionize the way people can search for information. 

“I think by the end of 2020, we will have seen that tipping point where more searches are done with voice than with [typed queries],” Foster said. “Once it happens, people won’t go back. It’s not like people will do half their searches with voice and half with text.”

It’s not like people will do half their searches with voice and half with text.

Foster speculates that more people will use voice search in 2020, but doesn't necessarily agree with the commonly cited prediction from ComScore that 50% of searches by 2020 will be conducted via voice

How we search for information online will continue to evolve, and people will leave the less-efficient process of text search behind and favor voice search as the technology improves.

People Use Voice Search to Look for Products, Services, and Information Online

Most people who use voice search want to know or buy something. 

People are most likely to use voice search to look for products, services, and information online (60%). 

How People Use Voice Technology

Others are most likely to use voice search to communicate with other people (e.g., voice text) (20%) or issue commands (e.g., “Set alarm for 6 a.m.”) (20%). 

“We hear a lot of people saying they want to use it to get a specific answer to a specific question,” said Matthew Lang, strategy director at Rain Agency, a creative strategy agency in New York. 

Lang said that people rely on voice search to find answers to fact-based queries such as:

  • How late is the grocery store open? 
  • How long will it take me to get from home to the doctor’s office? 
  • Who is this actress in this TV show?
  • When does Star Wars come out?
  • What was the final score of Sunday’s game?

People are most likely to use voice technology to search for products, services, and information online, especially those that have a direct answer. 

People Want to Know Facts, the Weather, and the News Through Voice Search

Trivia, the weather, and the news have one thing in common: They all typically have a concrete, direct answer.

People use voice search to look for fact-based information such as trivia and term definitions (62%), the weather (46%), and the news (32%). 

In the past month, people used voice search most often to look for fact-based information such as trivia and term definitions (62%), the weather (46%), and the news (32%). 

People use voice search most often to look for information and facts and cite the weather and news as specific types of information they look for.

James Watkins, a digital marketing manager at PHS, a hygiene services provider in the U.K., Spain, and Ireland, for example, says he typically uses voice search to look for what he calls “non-essential information” such as the weather or the nearest coffee shop. 

“If the answer is incorrect, it isn’t too much of an inconvenience,” Watkins said. 

According to Watkins, asking a voice assistant about the weather is a low-risk search: If the answer is wrong, he can always verify it using more traditional search methods. 

Queries that have concrete, simple answers are ideal for voice search because the technology has limitations when it comes to more complicated requests.

Voice search will remain an imperfect technology as long as it can’t comprehend or give reliable answers to complex queries. In the meantime, people will only trust voice search for inconsequential information or information they can easily verify. 

Different Age Groups Use Voice Search Differently

Voice search users find different uses for the technology depending on their age and information-related needs.

Nearly one-third (30%) of voice search users ages 18-34 use voice search to issue commands to their device (e.g., “Set timer for 20 minutes”) compared to 19% of those ages 35-54 and 16% of those ages 55 and older. 

How Different Generations Use Voice Technology

Conversely, 64% of voice search users ages 55 and older and 63% of users ages 35-54 use voice search to look for products/services, compared to 47% of those ages 18-34. 

For example, Stacy Caprio, a business coach, uses voice search only when she’s unable to use her phone, such as while driving. Her older relatives, however, use voice search more frequently. 

“My use of voice search is much more situation-specific whereas some of my older relatives tend to use voice interaction as their main method of communicating with electronics,” Caprio said. 

Caprio said younger technology users are accustomed to the hands-on functionalities of electronics, while older generations prefer to use voice search because it’s like talking to a person. 

Voice search makes more accessible to older populations as well as the sight- and dexterity-impaired. 

“The way we engage with most technology is tactile and visual,” said Matt Smith, CEO of Speak2 Software, which offers voice-enabled smart speakers to assisted living centers for seniors. “These are challenges for someone losing their sight or motor skills, no less trying to understand the complexity and ever-changing user interfaces. With voice technology, the user interface is now manageable and easy to adopt.”

Generations use voice search differently depending on the goals of the query and their level of comfort with technology.

Voice-activated technology can help improve the livelihoods of all populations and make information more accessible to those who might have difficulty using technology. 

People Use Voice Search to Conduct Simple Searches but May Still Rely on Text Searches for More Complicated Inquiries

People use voice search to look for simple pieces of information such as weather and the news, products, and services.

How people use voice search varies across generations – Users 35 and older are more likely to use voice search to find information than those younger than 35, while younger users are more likely to use voice technology to issue commands. 

Experts think that more people will use voice search as the technology better understand complex queries and voice search results improve. 

About the Survey

The Manifest surveyed 501 voice search users in the U.S.

Most survey respondents are female (55%), and 45% are male.

About 22% of respondents are ages 18-34; 33% are ages 35-54; and 45% are ages 55+.

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Digital Marketing
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