The fact that 72% of people would rather use voice search than fiddle around on a keyboard on their pc illustrates that voice search is becoming part of everyday life. More and more people expect to have the option.

Having the option to research a specific topic by either typing or using voice search can be very helpful. But did you ever notice that next to us having our questions answered by large search engines, such as Google or Siri, searching for answers on a specific website can still be rather frustrating? 

Currently, 10% of people have problems when trying to use traditional websites. To offer everyone a fair shot at finding the best results, it’s clear that we should focus on making information on websites more accessible. But is offering people the opportunity to search using their voice along with the typing option able to do that? 

In theory, yes. But the real world is often a bit more complicated.

Talking vs. Typing

Well, to see which one is better, we have to consider a few things. 

What’s the difference between talking and typing? 

When not writing a kick-ass blog, we would try to limit the number of words. One of the reasons for this is that writing takes a bit of effort. To write a sentence, not only do you physically have to type each letter of each word, but you also are considering grammar and sentence structure. When writing or typing something, you will always have the small thought in the back of your mind of someone reading your work later in time. And wouldn’t it be a waste of effort if they didn’t understand what you are trying to express? 

When speaking, our thoughts are in the present and we live and think in the moment. We aren’t focused on how many words we use in a sentence. This is because speaking comes more naturally to us than writing or typing, which we learn in school. Saying what’s on our mind simply takes less energy and mental capacity, so we can just do it without thinking. Speaking is also three times faster than typing, according to this Stanford study.

What changes when we speak our mind rather than typing words when searching for something online?

Well, considering the above, when we use voice search, we aren’t focusing on sentence structures or the amount of words we use. Thus, one of the outcomes is that spoken search queries often contain more words than typed queries. Yet, almost 99% of websites use keyword-based algorithms - and what does this exactly mean? Well, it simply means that it’s excellent at finding instances of exact words or characters used in a search query. 

When moving on to voice search, it becomes clear that an algorithm that handles spoken queries should work differently than traditional keyword-based ones.

A promising technique in this field is called semantic search. A semantic search algorithm can find synonyms and context out of the box. It is generally more successful than traditional search algorithms when there’s a lot of data. Think about archives, knowledge bases, user manuals, and other data sources with lots of information.

This new advancement in search technology is trained with large language models. It is, therefore, able to handle synonyms and can infer what the user means.

So which one is better?

Well, as long as you find a sufficient answer to your question it doesn’t really matter if you type or use your voice to search for something. In this case, it really depends on your users' preference and on the situation that they are in. If they are researching something while sitting in a quiet area, they are probably more likely to type their search query rather than ask. But what happens when your users aren’t able to type?

Considering that most websites only offer the option to type, voice search should be taken into account here.

Shouldn’t the main focus in our digital world be to try to make information as accessible as possible for each user? 

Who benefits from voice search?

A visually impaired person, for example, might have a hard time seeing what’s happening on a screen. Voice search is less screen reliant and therefore increases accessibility when it is optimized for screen readers.

Someone who finds it hard to work with computers benefits from the opportunity to search using natural language. They also don’t have to navigate the entire website. If done correctly, the intelligence that’s in the voice search function could also be deployed on a phone number. Some elderly people have a hard time with computers. Almost all of them can make a phone call.

People that have a hard time reading and/or writing benefit. Most people with language disabilities have problems with written communication. Having a conversation is often not the problem. The opportunity to search and consume content in audio helps them enormously.

But of course, we can’t forget about the people that still prefer typing or aren’t able to voice search at the exact moment, like when you are in a library. Digital accessibility should leave no one behind. So you need to provide your users with options where possible. A hybrid form of typing/voice and output on screen or in audio should be the future if we want to be including everyone.