Siri, Are You Taking Over Mobile Search?

The new iPhone 4s comes with a feature that is bound to impact how search marketers try to reach iPhone users.

Siri, the voice recognition app that comes standard with the new iPhone, can be used to control text messaging and reminders inside the device. But it can also be used as a search tool, to call up specific information from the outside world.

With the mobile search space already in flux, Siri adds a game-changing angle, particularly for marketers that want to reach the lucrative (presumably affluent) iPhone audience.

Here are some factors for businesses to consider as Siri grows in both audience and usage:

  • Siri works. Siri’s voice recognition is nearly flawless, and its utility right now is only limited by the APIs that Apple has given it to work with. It’s likely that the API list will grow, giving iPhone users access to pretty much any form of information they can verbally request.
  • Siri is a velvet rope. Apple’s choice of APIs to power Siri will, in effect, choose the leading search tools for the iPhone. As Danny Sullivan and Greg Sterling reported, an iPhone user can ask Siri to use Bing or Yahoo to perform a search. But Google is the default, and most users will take the default option if it serves them well.
  • Pick your battle. For any given business, there will be one all-important API that needs to know who you are. Today, that’s pretty much limited to Google Search, Google Places and Yelp. But in the future, Apple may add APIs to cover more niches. For example, if one of the many physician portals is chosen as the API for look-ups, then it will be very important for doctors to get listed there.
  • Make that two APIs. Google is also advancing the voice recognition functions on Android, and may match Siri for ease of use. If so, you can expect their “Siri” (“Andrew”?) to become the lead search method on many other smartphones. In which case, all the planning implied above gets doubled, with two tracks of promotional tactics to hit both platforms.
  • Siri likes keywords. When searching for restaurants that serve ravioli, Siri returns a list of places that mention ravioli in their Yelp reviews. Yes folks, keyword optimization is still very much the name of the game.
  • Siri localizes by default. “Show me restaurants” uses the Location Services in my iPhone to correctly assume that I want a list of Boston restaurants.
  • Punjabi “Dubba”. One of my favorite Indian places is Punjabi Dhaba, a fast-paced joint that serves fresh, hot Indian on mess-hall steel trays. But Siri can’t understand the name. Fortunately, they happen to be No. 1 when you ask for a list of Indian places in Cambridge. In this case, attention to both keywords and category choices can help make up for a name that voice recognition systems find challenging.

Siri iPhone 4s mobile search

Siri can find restaurants by type, and even by keyword, but sometimes has difficulty recognizing names.

As Apple continues to develop Siri, we’ll see what directions it (she?) takes, and I’ll post updates here to track how it impacts mobile search marketing.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Apple: Siri | Channel: SEO | Mobile Search | Search Features: Search By Voice | Search Marketing: Mobile | SEO: Mobile Search


About The Author: runs Skypromote, an SEO agency in Boston and NYC, and has been doing search since 1998. You can follow him on Twitter @SherwoodSEO.

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  • http://jstohler jstohler

    “Nearly flawless”? LOL. Every time one of my iPhone friends tries to show off Siri, their request either isn’t understood or is horribly mangled.

  • Kieran

    “Its utility right now is only limited by the APIs that Apple has given it to work with. It’s likely that the API list will grow.” Wishful thinking Sherwood! We are still waiting on the Facetime API’s, or someone might still be! I keep reading about how Siri will get better with API’s but am I wrong to think that Apple is not known for being open with things like this? I hope they change their ways but I am a skeptic.

  • John E. Sullivan

    #search I just don’t understand how this will affect search/rankings. Queries are the same, the utility is different. Any thoughts?

  • Sherwood Stranieri

    @jstohler: My experience is that Siri is pretty much spot-on when you’re indoors and speaking to the phone. Background noise and chatter from others will confuse it, but that’s true of cell phone usage in general :)

    @kieran, Very true, Apple does not have a stellar reputation for being open. That’s why i made the point that Apple will choose their favorite APIs, and those APIs will pretty much be the anointed winners in iPhone search activity.

    @John, I actually think the queries will be very different. I doubt the “ravioli” search would have occurred to me while staring at a text box. The natural language interface will bring-out a lot of spontaneous attempts like that, just as the address bar provokes its own unique form of “searching”: type-in domain traffic.

  • moroandrea

    As it has been questioned, I don’t see how Siri would affect natural optimisation.

    The final provider will be one of the three search engines currently on the market: google yahoo or bing. Therefore, as their algorithm is totally independent from steve jobs idea, the efficacy of voice recognition and the results an engine will provide are totally out of synergy.

    I don’t have an iPhone 4s, and I exclude buying one just for an experiment like this. However, from what I can understand Siri transmit a packed voice file to apple’s server which will perform the voice recognition to return the answer or the instruction to the phone.

    What could probably happen is you misspelt the name and the recognition lead you to the wrong results.

    If we would like to look at this in a bit more granular way, your concept could make sense in just one way. As voice recognition won’t probably work fine with long tails, what we can need from now onward is refining again the keyword subset an being sure our websites are ranking for specific short-tail keywords that will immediately provide the expected result.

    So no more long tail or generic, but tailored keywords. This makes sense but I doubt this was your original thoughts as it wasn’t properly argumented.

    However, considered the limited audience of the iPhone 4s and the positive trend only people buying android based phones which not support such a feature yet, how worth is today changing the strategy? And how quickly would you expect customer to understand such a step just for the sake of a limited audience, especially considering how often they even don’t have a mobile site?

    I’ll be glad to read your opinion on this regard.

  • Sherwood Stranieri

    @moroandrea, The final provider of search results is not always Google, and as I mentioned above, Bing and Yahoo are never used as default results. In fact, depending on your industry, Google itself might not even matter. For example, if you search for a professional service (doctor, dentist, plumber) none of the engines are used – Yelp is the source.

    Regarding client needs, I agree: we’re at the early stages here, and even mobile itself isn’t going to be an essential tactic for a lot of businesses. But iPhones are selling fast, and Android will soon have a similar feature. So in the next couple years, this method of searching will be available to everyone.


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