Published: 31 October 2016
One thing I love about being a Digital Marketer is knowing that my role depends on my ability to think ahead. With constant updates to the way Google works and the emergence of new social apps every year, I simply won’t survive if I don’t embrace change and take emerging technology seriously. Luckily for me, this way of thinking appeals to my inner-child, who wants to be a citizen of a world with my own robotic personal assistant, virtual reality headsets and hover boards. Luckily for that inner-child, 2 of those dreams have been achieved.
Pictured: Not a hoverboard. You’re not fooling anyone.
While I’m avidly following Virtual Reality as a technology for gaming and marketing, I’m just as excited by the rise of Voice Assistants. Unlike VR, which only started hitting the consumer market this year, Voice Search use has been slowly rising and finally starting to really take off, since Siri launched at the start of the decade. And while it began as a bit of a novelty, users are beginning to utilise the tech for more than silly jokes and innuendo…
And the wonderful thing about these Voice Searches? A great deal of them are lead by a customer’s intent to take action.
In just three years, Voice Search has gone from a gimmicky bit of fun to a quickly growing method of conducting our lives. You’ve heard for years that optimising for mobile and tablet devices is vital to your website’s ranking in SERPs. With the continued rise of Voice Search, that requirement becomes more important than ever, as it could mean that the future of Search won’t even involve customers looking at your website at all.
A Quick Intro to Voice Search
If you’ve never used your smartphone or tablet for Voice Queries, or only used them for a bit of fun and silly questions, you might be surprised at how powerful this tech really is. Just take a look at this list of ‘OK Google’ capabilities. You can imagine how useful these might be if you’re driving, looking for information while dragging luggage in an airport, or otherwise occupied.
In most cases, even the phrasing of search terms changes when speaking to a Voice Assistant. It becomes more conversational. If you were to search Google for the name of Australia’s Prime Minister, you might enter “Australia Prime Minister”. But if you were to ask the person sitting next to you, you’d phrase it as a question. “Who is the Prime Minister of Australia?” Rather than entering keywords, suddenly “What”, “Who”, “Where”, “When”, “Why” and “How” are making a comeback in searches.
What’s more, Voice Search is now so prevalent that it’s become the basis for entire product lines.
Recently both Google and Amazon released gadgets that are entirely built around Voice Queries, in the form of the Google Home and Amazon Echo, respectively. These home-hubs are obviously designed to be used in the home, but the same capability exists in your phone. The important part of understanding Voice Search, is understanding how this changes the way people will find your business.
How This Works with Shopping
If we look once more at that list of OK Google prompts, we can start to identify which ones are linked to Intent-to-Purchase. A good example is this reminder function:
They’re fairly useful functions, and they both utilise location data via your smartphone. Let’s analyse the intent and supposed outcome of both queries:
In the first example, the customer knows exactly what they want (tangerines) and from where (Wallgreens). In other words, the customer has already made their mind up about what they want. In other words, there’s probably no other winner except Wallgreens.
But what about the second example? For that reminder, the customer hasn’t specified a brand name or specific pharmacy. That means that the reminder will trigger once the customer approaches the next pharmacy they come across, no matter what brand. However that reminder trigger comes with one caveat: the location needs to have been classified as a ‘Pharmacy’ by Google’s algorithms, and as you might have guessed, this classification is not automatic. The classification must be provided by the business owner.
To explore these queries and how ‘deep’ this classification needs to be, I decided to execute an experiment in my town to see how different Voice Search phrasing would affect my search for something widely available. So taking my phone in hand, I bestowed upon it three simple commands:
- Remind me to buy paracetamol at Tesco (green)
- Remind me to buy paracetamol at a Supermarket (yellow)
- Remind me to buy paracetamol (red)
Over two weeks of roaming the town as I normally would, my phone would buzz with the reminder numerous times. The first request, predictably, triggered with a buzz and alert when I walked by Tesco. This means that Google has crawled the web and found that Tesco listed an address here on Google My Business. Simple stuff.
The second request triggered all over town, as Google found lots of businesses classified online as Supermarkets. Lidls, Aldis, Sainsburys etc. This is also pretty standard and easy to implement.
However, the final request only triggered in three places: Tesco, Boots, and the Sainsburys to the North. This only happened because these three places are the sole businesses that have used Structured Data (Schema) drilled down their classification to the level of individual products! This is a very big undertaking, but well worth it when you consider that most Voice Queries of this nature don’t specify a business they want to visit, just the product they want to buy.
This is why companies like Amazon are producing things like the Dash and the Echo – those gadgets will always funnel you to buy from their stock, even if you didn’t say that you wanted to buy from Amazon. A lot of money is being spent to make sure that your choices are limited. And really, restricting choice is what all Voice Assistants strive to do. That may sound like a bad thing, but the aim is to give you nothing but the best choices.
Think about the logic behind making a Voice Assistant user friendly. If you’re creating a talking robot butler in someone’s phone, what do you want it to be? Charming and personable is a definite plus, but the key factor is making it useful and helpful... So lets ask the next logical question. When the user searches for something they want, what’s more helpful: A long list of possible matches you need to sift through, or a small set of definite, relevant answers?
We’re seeing this same logic apply to traditional mobile searches too.
Google delivers small snippets of business info to help narrow down your choices and allow you to make a call directly. It stands to reason that a Voice Assistant will want to present a small set of definitive answers, because you’re asking a specific question, and if you’re using Voice Search you’re probably in a situation where you can’t use your hands to sift through the results page anyway.
An Online Customer Journey Without Websites
There is one very important factor to all of this. During my experiments and in every example provided thus far, none of the steps have involved visiting a website. Amazon Echo and Google Home let users purchase purely with voice and their accompanying apps. My reminders told me to buy paracetamol based on location data. I’m able to select my booking dates and call a prospective hotel without fiddling with their on-site calendar or reading their About Us page.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t care about your website design or content, but rather that your website isn’t a part of the impulsive decision moments that people are creating with Voice Search. The only role a website plays in this is how much work is put into structuring its data, so that Google classifies it more easily for search results. Remember – Google doesn’t want to show users a best guess. It wants to show the answer. All that’s left for you to do is determine is how much you want to be that answer, and then figuring out how.
Did you enjoy this blog post? Connect with me on LinkedIn, read more about why you need Local SEO, or check out what I think are the biggest obstacles for VR to become a mainstream consumer tech. If you’re already interested in VR as a marketing tool, then have a look at Ellen’s blog post: How 7 Brands are Harnessing the Power of VR.