Voice User Interfaces (VUI) have been developed off the back of technology from the 1950s, the AUDREY speech recognition system. This was designed by Bell Laboratories to identify the sound of spoken digits 0-9, which then led to the birth of systems such as IBM’s Shoebox (1962) and DARPA’s HARPY (1971). In later years, more modern VUIs in widespread use include Apple’s Siri system, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Assistant and in 2021, voice assistants became classed as “critical components” in a range of IoT devices.

Why use a VUI?

Using a VUI gives users an extra way to interact with their devices, whether that be smartphones, tablets or other smart devices such as an Amazon Echo (for example). Using spoken commands is often quicker than typing a command out, and also offers an inclusive way for users who are visually impaired to use their devices in a way they may find easier.
In addition to the user benefits of using VUIs, there are expectations that the voice recognition technology market is going to be worth around $50 billion on a global scale by 2029 – so from a business perspective, it’s worth capitalising on this now.

VUIs on websites

We’re all used to being able to use voice commands on phones, laptops, tablets and other smart devices like an Amazon Echo or Google Nest, however websites seem to be lagging behind to a degree. In part this may be due to the lower demand for a voice assistant on a website – users who are used to searching websites with their keyboards and mouse and not so much by voice may not feel the need to have a VUI option. In addition, VUIs tend to work best when users are in quiet, private spaces like the home, so users who are at work or travelling where it is busy and loud may find a VUI on a website is not the best option.

That being said, there is definitely a growing argument for implementing a VUI in a web build, especially if you are exploring the accessibility of your offering for your users. Bearing in mind that Google and other search engines offer voice search as an option, it could be that a website optimised for voice search will also see the benefits in their rankings.

How can a VUI aid website user experience?

There are a number of ways in which utilising a VUI can help to aid user experience on websites. These include:

Customer service

VUIs lend themselves naturally to conversation, which helps users to feel like they are being heard even if they know they are talking to a AI system and not a human user. It is important that any VUI is designed for spoken conversation with simple dialogs and optimised for the right vocabulary for your target market.

Immersive experiences

If you offer VUI on your website, it helps to make the experience immersive for users. This in turn can keep them on the website for longer, help them make buying decisions, and even increase the amount of devices a website is viewed on. For example, a website with VUI may be more likely to be viewed on a Smart TV than one without.

In addition, if users are viewing your website on mobile devices, this can help to make the website more user friendly, especially as mobile users tend to be more used to looking for a voice assistant.

Increase website footfall

As above, offering a VUI opens the website up for users who may otherwise struggle to use it. VUIs can also be built to aid with the shopping process such as scanning, selecting and buying.

Building a VUI for website use

If you’re considering implementing a VUI on a website, the first step is to define why you think this is a good idea, and how do you think your users will utilise it? Will they use a VUI to search the website, engage with customer service, fill out forms, or something else?

Once you have this worked out, you can start to work out the practical aspects such as the framework, conversation flow, speech commands, responses etc. This is not something to go into without doing your research and understanding the technical aspects – better to not have a VUI than one that doesn’t work properly, so the development and integration needs to be done properly.

Considerations for implementing a VUI include privacy and security, speech recognition to include different languages and dialects, processing natural language, managing context, multimodal interfaces, optimising for mobile devices and also making sure the responses given are accuracy and usability.

If you are considering implementing VUI on your website, please get in touch – we’d be happy to help.