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How will Apple’s Siri Impact Local Search?

You can ask her anything, she has the answer — or, she will.

Siri is Apple’s new voice-controlled personal assistant for the iPhone 4S. Acquired by Apple last year and launched this month, it allows you to talk to your phone and issue it voice commands. Unlike most voice software, Siri has a personality and even a sense of humour. Ever since the beta was demoed, tech blogs have been abuzz with reviews, speculations and predictions for Siri.

People have come up with many ideas of what to ask of Siri. She knows Who’s on First? She can send a birthday message to your Aunt May, or remember to pick up your dry cleaning. And, by next year, Apple promises that she will be able to direct you to the nearest pizzeria.

So if you own that pizzeria – or the hardware store, bank, industrial parts supplier…then you may want to know a few things about how Siri will impact local search from a mobile.

At the dawn of something big.

Siri is in its infancy. At the moment it is not particularly good at local search. It’s limited to the United States, though Apple promises that the feature will be rolled out internationally by 2012. Its functionality is also not less than perfect. Siri pulls information from various website APIs, including Yelp, Yahoo and Localeze. For a business to be found using local search it needs to have updated and accurate information in these directories for all of its locations. Accessing reviews or further information, or even placing a call to the location is currently limited. People will likely continue to use other more traditional search methods until this is improved.

Apple has big plans to expand local search, both geographically and functionally. Soon, you really will be able to ask your phone to make your dinner reservations for you without giving it any other information. It’s envisioned as the perfect personal assistant.

One of the ways that Siri will work is by limiting search results to the most obvious, and anticipating the user’s request rather than providing options. If you ask Siri where to get pizza nearby, she’s less likely to give you a long list of restaurants than she is to recommend the closest one with good reviews. In this way, Siri will be less like a search and more like using Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” button.

Voice-activated search isn’t new, and neither is GPS-enabled local search. By putting the two together, and eventually integrating it fully with iOS, Apple hopes to make Siri succeed where other natural language voice systems have only inspired frustration.

Google is also jumping into the game with Voice Actions for Android, a Google Voice-powered initiative that is still somewhat limited in capability, but will probably evolve as a result of the Siri launch.

Making sure you’re prepared.

There are some things that every business owner should be thinking about:

  • Making sure all local listings are accurate, thorough and up to date. This includes proper categorization for your business. Siri’s natural language functionality means that selecting the proper categories can be critical. If you’re not there, Siri won’t be able to find you, and will probably direct users towards your competitor instead.
  • Thinking beyond Google Places. Google is still the most frequent source for local search, but with Siri relying heavily on Yelp and other similar services, it will be just as important to verify and maintain all listings. Maintaining listings in so many different directories can be challenging to do manually; larger businesses may want to consider outsourcing or automating the process.
  • Preparing for international rollout. Siri will be rolling out internationally in the coming months. Businesses need to ensure that their international locations are mapped and updated and that content is available in all local languages. Google Voice has been slow to roll out third-party language search; Apple may have an edge here.

Siri is going to change local search. We’re monitoring it closely- its potential to be a game-changer is huge.

 

Sari Stein, Digital Strategic Planner

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