The infographic below shows you some of the eye-watering search statistics that are driving this change.
In this article I’m going to break down the trends driving the search engine revolution.
Let’s get started.
Note: This article was updated on 2 August 2020.
Table of contents
The search engine revolution: The rise of voice search
According to Hubspot, there are already 70 million voice devices in the US alone.
Statista says that over 60% of searches now happen on mobile device, up from 34% just five years ago. By the end of 2020, over 50% of these mobile searches will be voice searches.
This isn’t just changing the way we search, but also how we search.
According to Moz, just 8% of Google searches on desktop are questions. That shoots up to 80% when using voice search.
Here is a list of the most used words to start a voice search. These 25 terms account for over 20% of all voice search queries.
Here are the top 5 queries broken down by volume.
Amongst these top queries 77% (How, What and Is) are questions.
Questions also tend to have more words than other search queries. This is also a growing trend on Google, with over a third of all searches now over four words long.
Audiences are digging deeper into a subject and using more keywords to arrive at useful content.
This makes optimizing for voice search even more attractive.
But how do we know that the voice search trend will continue to expand?
For this we need to look into audience habits, particularly among younger demographics.
What’s driving the voice search trend?
This revolution will continue to accelerate because it’s being driven primarily by young people.
According to proranktracker.com, 21% of U.S. adults (totalling 53M people) currently own a smart speaker.
Over 50% are 18-36 year olds, and 69% of them use these devices every day.
Younger people live at a fast pace, and voice search is particularly prevalent around tasks where people’s hands are occupied, such as driving (62% have used it), household chores (74% have used it) and cooking (66% use it).
Here’s a table from eMarketer.
The key takeaway is that millennials are driving the change in our habits.
And hot on their heels are Gen Z, who are even more digitally savvy.
Already, 35.8% of millennials use voice-enabled digital assistants at least once a month according to eMarketer. This compares to just over 10% of baby boomers.
How far will voice search go?
Gartner predicts that by 2021, over 30% of all searches will happen without a screen.
Clearly there are limitations to this type of search. For example, if I wanted to know a recipe, or a quick cooking tip then voice search would be more useful than if I was searching for a detailed guide on how to improve my website SEO.
There are just some tasks that will always require a screen, that make voice search less likely.
The interesting point is that most of us are still using manual (typing) search for these queries, when just as easily I could be talking to my laptop or phone.
In this instance, user behaviours is primed to change.
There’s also a question of the technology. Today, most voice search devices claim 95% accuracy. This has contributed to the uptick in voice search because… well, it’s just better.
As the tech continues to improve around dictation, narration and the search hardware itself, voice search will of course grow.
Finally, it also depends what emerging and competing technologies come along and how they perform.
For instance, although more and more searches are happening without a screen, that runs in direct contrast to visual search, which also continues to grow.
In fact, Google’s visual search now has over 1 billion items.
What is visual search?
Visual search uses real-life images such as photographs and screenshots to conduct online searches.
Cutting edge visual search technology utilises the power of AI (artificial intelligence) to understand the intent and context of images and return users with a useful list of related results.
One big application and driver of this industry is eCommerce sites like Amazon, and fashion retailers.
Visual search is a way of bringing high-street habits into the home.
If you think about it, it makes sense.
When we shop in a clothes store, we search with our eyes.
We see a nice pair or trousers and get drawn in by their visual appeal. When we shop instinctively, we certainly don’t think about them in a textual context – blue, high-waist jeans.
Instead, we’re attracted by promo photos, mannequins, other shoppers and the design of the product.
The possibilities of visual search are enormous because of our habits. Visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram are growing fast.
Today, people use their Instagram layout as a way to showcase their products in a visually engaging way. If we can search visually for similar products, it will make the old way of type searching for shopping items feel unnatural, not the other way around.
The search engine revolution: The rise of visual search
Some of the biggest proponents of visual search are platforms like Pinterest, Google, and Amazon.
Microsoft is hot on the heels with its own vision engine for Bing.
Today, there are over 600 million searches on Pinterest. I even wrote about it in my platforms with the most potential article.
The Pinterest phenomenon is changing the way we think about entire sectors, like interior design, art and data visualization.
It’s becoming more and more common to assemble boards about what we want our homes to look like than searching for the individual items that make them.
Key to this is the way the human brain actually works.
Check out this graphic.
The human brain is known to process visual information so much faster and more powerfully than text.
90% of all information that hits our brain is visual.
This also has an impact on our recall rates.
So, if visuals are the way forward, imagine what they could do for eCommerce, and the search industry as a whole?
If we’re still recalling what we’ve seen days, or weeks later, the impact of visual search on brand building, and online sales in general could be transformative.
This has been driven even further by the unique circumstances provided by the Covid-19 pandemic. Suddenly shops were closed overnight. The rents made many retail stores instantly unsustainable. But visual search offers a way to take some elements of the real-life store experience online.
After all, people do shop with their eyes.
How big is visual search?
Currently, Google Lens recognizes over 1 billion items.
Pinterest has over 600 million searches a month.
These numbers are huge, but visual search is still in its infancy.
According to Smart Insights, 36% have performed a visual search.
How far will visual search go?
The possibilities for visual search are truly staggering, driven by three truths.
1. Younger audiences LOVE visual search
This sounds like an obvious statement, especially since the rise of Instagram and other visual platforms has been so stratospheric.
However, the data backs it up. Accroding to w3-lab, results showed that 62% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers prefer visual search to all other types of searches.
That’s a pretty conclusive trend.
2. The science backs it
Earlier in this piece we spoke about the amount of visual data our brains can absorb. That 90% of everything we take in is visual, and our recall rates are so high.
According to Gale Academic, the human brain can process 36,000 visual messages per hour.
That’s 600 visual messages per minute.
In contrast, our average reading speed is just 250 words per minute, or 15,000 per hour.
This year, Generation Z became the world’s most populous generation. Dr Darla Rothman says that they don’t read text like previous generations. Instead, they skim it at a lightning fast pace of 4.4 seconds for every 100 words. The speed we consume content has even driven a whole new niche of digital writing tools.
With the depth of reading getting shallower, and more and more platforms based around the power of visuals, it seems likely that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possibilities for visual search.
3. It makes companies money
There is a very real effect to the fact we can absorb and retain more visuals.
It’s helped platforms like Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram grow at incredible speed.
It helped visual stock photo platforms like Unsplash explode almost overnight.
It’s also why Google and Amazon are putting millions behind their visual search technology.
It’s all because the real-world application for sectors like retail, real estate and gaming can help people make a LOT of money, fast.
With this possibility, almost endless sums of money are being pumped into development tools and more sophisticated Artificial Intelligence.
The search engine revolution: a summary
We’re in the early stages of the next search engine revolution, away from manual type and towards a far more immersive, interactive way of searching.
Both voice and visual search are growing at a rapid rate, inspired by changing habits and behaviours from millennials and Gen Z.
Interestingly, they’re also pulling in different directions, with voice search moving towards a screenless future, and visual search making screens more interactive and important than ever.
For users, businesses and marketers, these drivers present a huge opportunity to optimize for both voice and visual search by tailoring keywords into questions, using popular trigger words and including far more visual content like infographics, videos and diagrams in pieces.
I’ve written a separate blog about exactly how to optimize for voice search to keep your blog ahead of the curve.
If you enjoyed the contents of this article and found it useful, check out some of my other statistical studies, including a deep dive into the most liked video on YouTube.
For more information and advice, just get in touch in the comments below.