Google Conversational Search

Background:

Google has begun experimenting with conversational search, quietly released on May 15th. It is available with the latest version of Chrome and on some mobile devices with iOS and Android. With qualities similar to those found in Apple’s Siri,
Google’s conversational search offering allows users to follow the natural progression of language and curiosity to find what they seek.

How it works: the conversational search is special for two reasons – it uses natural language (“What causes BPH?” rather than “BPH causes”) and does so via speech instead of text. Also, results are largely based on the “Knowledge Graph” (semantic search) and user’s previous search queries. Once the initial query has gone through, users can then dial down with additional queries (“What are the treatment options?” “What are the side effects?”).

Google developed the ability to truly understand a real intent behind users’ search queries and personalize the results for each user. If a user allows Google to access more information via other Google products (Gmail, Google Calendar, etc.), the results might be even more personalized based on time of the day and location. Depending on the context of the search, it presents an opportunity to test ad copy to match up with the new conversational based search queries. The conversational search is not yet perfected and can stumble over some searches.

Industry Implications:

With search technology trending toward natural language processing search, we expect this to shift user behavior back to searching in natural language (as we did when Google and other search engines first launched in the 1990s) rather than using keywords (as we’ve since become accustomed). As the language evolves, search experts will be evolving brand strategies as well. Also, it is early to get a breakout of searches conducted via speech vs. text based since the conversational search was launched recently and hasn’t been fully adapted yet.

In the health world, we know that consumers, patients and HCPs all search differently, and we expect that to evolve as well in line with more conversational search; however HCPs will continue to use more technical terms than consumers.

The conversational search may change search queries and make them more long tail, which will increase search volume for these terms. When HCPs consult their patients in real-time, they may potentially utilize conversational search, using common patient language and questions.

As part of this rollout, Google is also releasing additional information into their knowledge graph, including nutritional information. For example, a searcher will now be able to ask Google ‘how many calories are in French fries’ and receive an answer in seconds. Google has currently uploaded over 1,000 different food items. If Google is pulling in nutritional information from their databases it is highly likely that they will eventually pull in additional information on nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals. Both HCPs and consumers will be able to ask questions about a specific pill, injection or even a protein shake and get detailed answers.

Recommendations:

At this time Google has not communicated a paid search aspect of conversational search, meaning there are no changes from a regulatory perspective and therefore no immediate action is needed from our clients. However that is always a concern we’re aware of, and monitor closely for progression there. At the same time, our search team continually monitors the evolution of search keywords and queries to ensure the ideal language is optimized for our clients’ brands. We are watching for change in performance and for keywords showing up related to conversational search as well as running search query reports.