Alexa, tell me about how you’re going to change digital marketing.
That’s the question that all marketers should be asking their smart speakers as voice search grows bigger and bigger and screen-based text search starts it’s gradual decline.
Artificial Intelligence is taking over! Well, perhaps not yet in the way depicted by the likes of Netflix’s Black Mirror or Channel 4’s Robots, but almost certainly in the sense of how we are consuming our information. The tech market has a new reigning family, a family that presents itself in the form of AI devices: Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are the ones to watch as a new era in search dawns.
The market is huge, and it’s growing at an incredible rate as these devices start becoming the norm in homes all over the world. The Amazon Echo is estimated to have sold more than 4.4 million smart speakers in its first year of sales, and with its application growth topping over 500% in the second half of 2016, it's a device that just keeps on learning. Amazon have said that they sold millions more Alexa devices over the 2017 holiday season than in the same period in 2016. In contrast, let’s look at Google’s take on the AI smart speaker, the Google Home, which in the Christmas period of 2017 (October- January) sold nearly one every second, equating to close to 7.5 million Google Homes. Both devices are proving to be serious competition for one another. But there are others trying to get their money's worth: in terms of mobile AI, Apple was arguably the first to release any kind of mainstream AI with Siri on its iPhone, iPad and Watch devices. While 45% of those who have used AI personal assistants have said that they’ve used Siri, it seems that people aren’t using it so regularly, with its monthly active users in the US dropping in 2016 by over 7 million. But, Apple being the over-achiever that it is, has just released it’s very own smart speaker, the Apple HomePod and we should be expecting some big things from this in the not too distant future.
“It’s the end of SEO as we know it"
So it’s probably safe to say that one of the biggest tech trends emerging in 2018 is the rise of voice search driven by AI technologies. It has been estimated that voice search will account for 50% of all search as soon as 2020, both through mobile and home devices. This will significantly disrupt the way digital marketers will need to approach their strategies in the next few years.
The Opportunities for Marketers
Let’s think about how digital marketers like us can start preparing for the AI revolution when developing our strategy. The first thing to check, before you make any voice search-specific changes, is that your website is fully optimised for mobile and is listed locally in directories such as Yelp and Google Local. It has been found that mobile voice search is 3 times more likely to be local-based than text, so make sure you have that covered in your SEO strategy.
Voice search will change what we are searching for, how we are searching for it and how we will be making purchase decisions. It could even be the end of SEO as we know it, and through the very nature of voice search, what used to be the attempt to rank on the first page of Google, will now be the battle for reaching the number 1 spot. That’s all that will matter when the answers aren’t in front of our eyes, but are being vocalised instead. Second place on Google won’t get you noticed; the winner takes all when it comes to voice search. Now that’s a challenge!
"The winner takes all when it comes to voice search”
Voice search demands an instantaneous response; this means that content will need to directly answer the questions that internet users ask. Search engines will be pulling excerpts from your content to answer questions, so you’ll need to consider how you can make it fit this ‘FAQ’ style. Content will need to be relevant and, crucially, structured to support how Google search relays the information through smart voice search software.
As search moves away from being predominantly text-based, natural-language will become even more important when we optimise our websites for search engines. The average person types 38 to 40 words per minute, whereas we are able to speak around 150 words in the same time, so it stands to reason that our sentences are far longer when making verbal search requests. This means that search queries will inevitably be longer and we will be asking our devices complete questions, starting with the interrogative pronouns who, what, where and how. These kinds of search queries saw a massive increase of 61% in 2016 alone. There will come a point when you will have to optimise your SEO for this, and it will make keywords majoritively long-tail and conversational. Voice search is still some way off understanding absolutely everything that we say but with the speech recognition word error rate now at 8%, it is getting there and will improve significantly over the next few years.
The speed at which search and response will take place is also going to change how we approach the customer journey. Consumer decisions are going to be made far more quickly through voice search, so naturally the journey will need to be changed to meet this demand for speed. We will likely be creating landing pages specifically for customers using voice search and we will inevitably be tweaking copy to speed up the journey too. Our understanding of individual buying habits will deepen through the conversational tone of the buyer journey, making personalisation even more important in voice search purchases, where consumers will be expecting AI to be able to give them exactly what they want, without even having to explicitly explain what they want. AI will use our data to predict our behaviours in a way like never before, which will lead to selling in a way that even Nostradamus couldn’t have predicted.
"Screenless apps could give your brand a rare opportunity to claim your place in a completely new realm"
Voice search will also challenge the way brands present themselves to their consumer. Screenless apps could give your brand a rare opportunity to claim your place in a completely new realm if you can afford to fund it. But where will marketing come into it? Well, brand voices are a very strong possibility, whereby a brand’s app will use a voice unique to them to get their message across. These apps would also mean that brands really will have to focus on content, even more so than they do now if they want their product out there. It could be that brands will have to come up with screenless apps that will overtly benefit the user and their needs with content, whilst subtly pushing products in this way, as opposed to out and out advertising.
The future direction of voice search driven by Artificial Intelligence is difficult to predict, and its impacts on industry and marketing are even more tricky to foresee, but we do know that it is happening, it is growing, and it is almost certainly the future of search.
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