Amazon Tips Its Hand on Alexa Ads

Although Amazon maintains there are no plans to put ads on its Alexa voice assistant — the brains behind the Echo line of smart speakers — they’ve started asking advertisers what kind of ads they might pay for.

Although Amazon maintains there are no plans to put ads on its Alexa voice assistant — the brains behind the Echo line of smart speakers — they’ve started asking advertisers what kind of ads they might pay for.

I’ve been talking a lot about the development of voice search, AI assistants and smart speakers lately, and what they could mean for digital advertising in the future. (Maybe you’ve heard some of it …) But so far, the actual advertising side of that has been a guessing game. Here are a few advertising options, but clearly Amazon is letting the user base build before revealing the actual shape of its offering to brands.

But just yesterday, CNBC reported that Amazon has started asking serious questions about the viability of Alexa advertising. According to anonymous sources, they’ve gone as far as asking major CPG brands what kinds of sponsorships they’d be wiling to pay for:

With Alexa, where advertising is currently limited, Amazon is in talks to offer companies a variety of promotional opportunities, including some that are already being tested.

One experiment in the works is letting companies target users based on past shopping behavior. For example, Alexa may suggest to a shopper who previously bought Clorox’s Pine-Sol to consider buying its disinfecting wipes. Amazon is also looking to tap advertising in Alexa’s skills. Someone asking the Echo for help cleaning up a spill might be nudged to use a specific brand.

There are already some sponsorships on Alexa that aren’t tied to a user’s history. If a shopper asks Alexa to buy toothpaste, one response is, “Okay, I can look for a brand, like Colgate. What would you like?”

Although Amazon responded to that article by saying there are no current plans to advertise on Alexa, the conversations are certainly plausible, and they reveal some interesting ideas.

For starters, the promotional opportunities are all pretty singular. Unlike Google search ads, where you might see a handful of promoted posts, these ads sound like they’ll be exclusive, and presented before non-sponsored options are event mentioned. That’s a pretty powerful sponsorship.

Second, linking the direct-order potential of Alexa to what amounts to audio push-notifications for brand you buys creates a loyalty model almost as powerful as continuity programs.

Of course, these ad types are all just in the discussion phase, but Amazon is clearly aiming for an experience that’s more like targeted, data-driven online advertising than broadcast radio.

Tuning Into Voice Search

The big question for search marketers is: What must be done to make sure that a site comes up in answer to voice search queries? This is both a simple and difficult question, but one that must be addressed.

SEO Is Dead — 5 Rules for Winning in the New World of SearchHave you met Siri, Cortana or Alexa yet? If you haven’t, you will soon. Perhaps you’ve used Google Voice or Amazon Echo. The market for voice-activated search is poised to explode. Users are rapidly embracing this technology.

I expect that we will see rapid adoption, because voice-activated search doesn’t have a huge user learning curve and the devices are increasingly affordable. It’s their simplicity of use that will drive rapid adoption.

The big question for search marketers is: What must be done to make sure that a site comes up in answer to voice search queries? This is both a simple and difficult question, but one that must be addressed.

In previous posts, I have urged site owners to prepare their sites for mobile search. My admonitions have been to increase site speed and to make sure that the site is mobile-compatible. This is the underlying technical architecture needed for search success in 2017. Faster is better, and not to be fast and mobile-ready is to be left behind from a technical standpoint.

Unfortunately with search, no matter how wonderful the content and offering is on a site, technical miscues can doom it to obscurity. With the technology challenges met, it is time to turn to the offering itself, and this is where voice search enters the picture. Voice search is all about the user, the user’s intent and the user’s challenges in articulating the query.

Voice Search Adoption Will Be Faster Than Mobile

Voice-activated programs have been in the technology marketplace for a number of years. They are finally maturing.

The original versions required extensive training before they would recognize the user’s commands. The results were sometimes comical. I once tried an early version when I was writing a book and decided that it would require more editing to make the results coherent than just keyboarding the text.

Fast-forward to today, and we have technology so simple to use that it is prudent to safeguard it from toddlers likely to place orders on their parents’ Amazon accounts.

Estimates suggest that one in five consumers use voice search on a mobile device. Younger users have adopted the technology faster and use it more often than older users. As mobile searches increase, so too will voice searches. However in my opinion, the proliferation of voice-activated devices with search capabilities will add a booster rocket to the adoption rates and the volume of searches.

How Can Search Marketers Respond?

The key to an effective response is to ensure that your content addresses the questions a user might pose.

This may require rethinking your content approach. Most SEOs have used keyword-based strategies for search. These have been quite effective; however, in the future they must be linked to what the user wants.

This requires an inside-out process. Content must be able to answer the types of questions users pose. Where, when, why, how, and what are often starting cues for a voice search. Searches for directions are “where is” something; events are the answer to “when is” queries; “why” and “how” are often signals for factual information. There are a number of other signals — best, near, open, etc. An individual searching on a voice-activated device is unlikely to search for a giant head term — computer. The user is much more likely to pose a question that would fall into the realm of long-tail search.

As site owners create content, they should carefully consider if the content does address these cues and what other questions might a user ask. This will result in voice-search-relevant content.

If you haven’t already done it, now is the time to implement structured data on your site. This provides a framework for the presentation of data in a format easily consumed by search engines and returned in answer to voice queries.

One More Tip

Here is a bonus tip — extra credit, if you will. Years ago, many sites included FAQ pages. They fell out of fashion, but it is time to dust them off, make sure that they are up-to-date, linked into the site structure (not orphaned, as happens with older, unloved content), and the SEO reviewed to make sure it isn’t outdated.

These pages often provide just the type of information a user wants and seeks on a voice-activated device.

Voice search will change how we search. Instead of keying in keywords, we can expect search to become more conversational. If we expect to succeed, we need to think about engaging in an informative conversation with our site users.

The New Direct Marketing

Direct marketing, at its simplest, is marketing to a targeted list of prospects and customers, making an offer to generate direct response, measuring it and repeating it (with refinements). The thing is, today many, many different channels allow you to do that — from the classic direct channels, to typically brand channels, to crazy channels that have never really been used for marketing before.

Dr. Evil: Marketing W/ Frigging LazersDirect marketing, at its simplest, is marketing to a targeted list of prospects and customers, making an offer to generate direct response, measuring it and repeating it (with refinements). The thing is, today many, many different channels allow you to do that — from the classic direct channels, to typically brand channels, to crazy channels that have never really been used for marketing before. (Seriously, Alexa is a speaker from Amazon that users can use to shop from home through audio and voice recognition, we ain’t in Kansas anymore.)

What do you make of these new channels? Have you had success marketing on social media? What about augmented reality, or 3DVR? The Internet of Things?

The Internet allows you to market across borders and over seas. Have you been able to do that successfully?

That’s a lot of potential … whether it’s potential opportunity of waste is hard to say. And it probably depends on the specific opportunities for your business. When does it make sense for a company to leverage home appliances as part of an Internet of Things marketing strategy? Are you the company it makes sense for?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I’d like to hear how you’re thinking about them yourselves. What is “The New Direct Marketing” to you?

We are talking about a lot of these topics tomorrow at Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk. If you want to hear what some fo the industry’s top experts think about The Internet of Things, taking your marketing global, crowd-funded marketing and more, click here to register!