Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is Google Voice Search Accurate?

IndOn June 14th at the Inside Search event, Google introduced a search by voice feature for their Chrome web browser. Essentially, the feature mimics the application that was developed for the Android smart-phone. The feature, which Google has dubbed "Search Out Loud," has been rolled out across the United States and is available on Chrome 11 and later versions of the browser. Understanding how the feature works is not extremely difficult, and in reality, it will not have a major impact on search engine optimization. The question is, does it work and how accurate is it?

Essentially, when you open up Chrome 11 and arrive at, you can see a microphone icon located at  the top right of the search box. Mike Cohen, the Google Speech Technology Manager, says that his team has input approximately 230 billion words in to the system to help it recognize common search queries. While this is a lot of words to integrate in to such a system, it has been demonstrated that the feature does not always return the most desired results, as people often add or omit certain words to a particular query when searching vocally as opposed to typing something in to the search box.

Since the feature is relatively new, there has not been a substantial amount of data collected to report back the efficiency of the tool. However, conducted a brief study to test the accuracy of Search Out Loud and found that the results displayed were accurate for 6 out of the 10 queries used. Perhaps the most erroneous of the results displayed were for the search query "bubonic plague," which Google returned listings in the search results related to "robotic legs." Testing out a longer tailed keyword phrase demonstrated the accuracy (and capability) of the tool, as Google returned the correct results for "new york mets schedule for tuesday june 21st."

I believe it is inevitable that Google will continue to return erroneous search results for people using Search Out Loud, but should not always be held accountable. I would be willing to bet that a lot of people using the new feature are spitting out search queries that are significantly longer than if they were searched by typing.  And while according to Cohen Google currently has the capacity to match 280 billion phrases, you also have to consider that it is impossible that they have accounted for every variation of every phrase that someone could potentially search with.

Also, there are other issues to consider that may present the search engine mogul with additional problems. For example, someone with a particular accent may pronounce a word much different than someone with a different accent. Google's programmers will have to attend to such intricacies - making it nearly impossible to turn Search Out Load in to the perfect feature. Nevertheless, we can count on them to continue to improve the system, providing consumers with yet another way to retrieve desired information. I will be interested to see if they roll out the feature on different browsers, or if it will remain unique to Chrome, and whether or not they will adopt personalized variations of the feature that include voice recognition, thus enabling Google to return more accurate results.

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