Winning at Voice-Assisted Search

Voice-assisted search came onto the mass market in 2011 with the initial release of Siri. Since then, there have been ongoing improvements and expanded options in natural language technology and experience. A better user experience made consumers comfortable with voice search and increased its usage, further fueling development of the technology and data architecture that makes the information we crave voice accessible.

The Walmart and Google cooperative voice-shopping partnership announced a few weeks ago heralds more than just the first real challenge to dominant e-commerce giant Amazon. It punctuates the growing prevalence and importance of voice-assisted searching and shopping behaviors.

Voice-assisted search came onto the mass market in 2011 with the initial release of Siri. Since then, there have been ongoing improvements and expanded options in natural language technology and experience. A better user experience made consumers comfortable with voice search and increased its usage, further fueling development of the technology and data architecture that makes the information we crave voice accessible. Personal assistants are now a default on smartphones but in the past couple of years smart homes, home devices and technologies like Amazon Alexa/Echo, Google Home, Google Assistant and even Microsoft Cortana (which powers both SIRI and Alexa) have become commonplace in American households. Amazon doesn’t divulge numbers but unit sales estimates for the Echo devices vary from 8-11 million since its 2014 introduction.

People use their voice-activated devices, most commonly their phones but increasingly smart speakers, for a number of purposes. They listen to music, control smart appliances, research products, play games, set alarms, enjoy audio books, catch the news and a thousand other things. Partnerships with other internet driven companies, like Uber, amp up the productivity and use cases for a voice search or shopping experience. Consumers can check ball scores, the weather, flight status or order a car, a pizza, a replacement part or any number of very useful queries. Add context — as in where you are located, what device you are on and a search history and the search utility goes way up. How will marketers pay for that level of relevance?

Marketers need to quickly understand how to optimize for voice search and voice assistants as the volume and share of mobile searching continues to rise. Hitwise says that almost 60 percent of searches currently take place on mobile devices with their tiny screens and keyboards. This makes voice search an attractive alternative to thumb cramps and typos. To date, Google has not announced a paid voice search product but organic results will be in sharp demand as comScore predicts that 50 percent of searches will be done through voice by 2020. Gardner further predicts that 30 percent of web browsing will be done sans a screen. Need more proof? Bing’s market share has rebounded in recent years, in part due to all the Android and Google powered voice searches that utilize their data. Moz wisely cautions that voice search volume is additive to typed search and not to neglect your typed search SEO as it continues to be important.

Search behavior is naturally altered between text and voice. Voice searches take a more conversational approach and are much more specific. Users typically ask a long question to a device where they might type a short string of keywords in a screen based search. Often taking place in a mobile environment and on a mobile device, voice searching skews to local queries. The results also differ. The search result can be returned by voice and is not always delivered with or by a long laundry list of possible search results to scroll through. The top one or two places in a search result will become all the more important, as the goal of a voice search is not to provide options but to provide the best response. THE answer.

As our population gets more and more connected, voice search will play a larger and more important role in commerce. A recent report revealed that in the last 12 months 19 percent of consumers have made a purchase using a voice-controlled device. That purchase percentage soars to 43 percent for Millennials. Marketers and sellers, in particular, should tread carefully. If consumers are voice shopping on an Amazon device in the Amazon marketplace, that closed environment provides Amazon the ability to skew the search results to Amazon products or their preferred partners. It’s not a level playing field. It’s the Amazon playing field and they have the home advantage. Voice assisted shopping can also devalue brand as both searches and search results are often generic.

Many experts suggest that becoming THE answer to relevant voice searches will take a combination of new skills and tactics that recognize that SEO is no longer entirely about SERP position though, happily, it appears that optimizing for voice searchers also improves overall SEO.

What steps should marketers take today?

  • Rewrite your site copy to mimic natural language. Listen in on customer calls or utilize a natural language tool (Question Samurai is one) to help you translate product or brand speak into natural language.
  • Optimize your site for questions including lengthy, long-tail queries that include the Who, What, When, Where, Why words.
  • Create an FAQ page that lists the most common questions along with the answers as well as very specific landing pages for key questions/queries.
  • Incorporate local/regional language as well as previously meaningless hyperbolic terms like “best” or “top” as these tend to be used in voice searches.
  • Use featured snippets
  • Claim your business in all relevant local directories, especially Google Pages.
  • Revise your search results to include a timely CTA with an immediate click (Book Now. Call Now.) to take advantage of the mobile mindset and the perceived immediacy of the need.

Voice search combined with data and preferences revealed by smart devices, wearables and other IOT should be able to take real-time data, add it to voice searches and better interpret our true search intent. Our voice searches should then lead to better, more convenient, more relevant results than typing. If not THE answer, then a closer approximation than our typing reveals.

Don’t wait to consider your voice search strategy. Giving real people real answers to their questions can have an immediate impact on your search relevancy and your business.

Business IS Personal, and Other Leadership Rules

“Business is one of the most human things in the world,” Simon Sinek said early on in his presentation during &THEN. He shared that when he hears someone say, “It’s not personal, it’s business” he just laughs to himself. No, no it’s not … business is personal. It’s human.

I have a new marketing crush. It’s Simon Sinek.

Simon SinekHe was the Monday morning inspirational keynote speaker during DMA’s &THEN event last week and I’m still running over in my head all the things he discussed in under an hour, a week later, because he gave us that much to chew on.

His wonderfully dynamic speaking skills aside, Simon was able to be upfront and frank with a hall full of marketers.

“Business is one of the most human things in the world,” he said early on in his presentation. Then he commented on that when he hears someone say, “It’s not personal, it’s business” he just laughs to himself. No, no it’s not … business is personal. It’s human.

business_personalAnd human is something we could all stand to do a little better, and a bit more often. Especially in leadership roles.

Simon spoke about how in this ever-connected world, technology shouldn’t replace human contact. Instead, it should bring humans together. And leaders need to take the charge.

Certificates Don’t Make a Leader

“[There’s an] incredible lack of leadership across the world today in every industry,” Simon said. It may seem harsh, but hang on before you brush off his point.

As humans, we like intensity because its easy to measure, and this is how leadership is often taught:

  1. Attend a leadership seminar
  2. Earn a certificate
  3. ”I’m a leader now!”

It’s the intensity we crave, but that’s not how it works. Consistency matters more than intensity. Good leaders are built over time, energy and actions.

Another point of his I really liked was that good leaders create an environment of vulnerability, which allows people to speak up and honestly ask for help and feel safe. If you know you can ask for help with a project and not fear a layoff or something else, employees will do so. This builds trust and stronger teams (trust me, THIS WORKS).

Put the Phone Down

We’re all saying this, but Simon both reinforced points and made some new ones.

When someone’s smartphone is out — whether in their hand, on a table or anywhere else visible — it makes the other person in the conversation feel less important. Why? Because at any moment it’s understood that a notification can go off, and attention gets transferred directly to the phone.

During a meeting, a smartphone on the table announces to all “you’re not important.” And yes, Simon let us all know that flipping the phone over in an attempt to be polite is still just as bad. And it’s true! How many meetings have you sat through with all the buzzing from phones being set to vibrate … or the phone with the ringer still on?

It’s distracting, but we all do it … and probably because a fair number of the people in leaderships roles are doing it. Not to be jerks, but because of this need to constantly be connected. Here, the tech gets in the way of the relationships.

Toward the end of his presentation, Simon said, “Whoever understands people the best wins.” “People” are our prospects, customers and even our fellow employees. Make it personal … because that’s just what good business is.

There will probably be a couple more blog posts in the future that will reference Simon’s presentation at &THEN 2016 … he gave me a lot to think about.

Smartphone Conversions: The Uncrossable Chasm

Monday we ran my video talking about how TV ads don’t matter anymore, largely because of changing viewing habits. Tuesday morning, I came in and saw a chart from eMarketer showing that 96 percent of Americans go online while watching TV, 79 percent from smartphones. Hallelujah! All of those viewers can respond to your TV ads! … If it worked that way, I certainly wouldn’t be making videos about how TV ads don’t matter.

Monday, we ran my video talking about how TV ads don’t matter anymore, largely because of changing viewing habits. Tuesday morning, I came in and saw this chart from eMarketer, showing that 96 percent (!) of Americans go online while they’re watching TV, 79 percent from their smartphones.

91.6% of U.S. Internet users go online through one or more devices while watching TV.Hallelujah! All of those viewers are just a web address and a swipe from converting off of your TV ads!

If it worked that way, I think all the old media would be in a lot better shape. I certainly wouldn’t be making videos about how TV advertising doesn’t matter anymore.

Smartphones Don’t Play Well With Others

The thing is, I watch TV every night with my smartphone and/or laptop by my side. In fact, I’m at home watching TV as I write this.

There have been a few days I’ve used that time to go to the website of a catalog I got in the mail, especially if I have a laptop out. (That’s your best case scenario if you send me a catalog, by the way: I go to your website on a laptop, there’s a chance I buy something, and I might sign up for your newsletter.)

I can’t remember ever doing that for a TV ad.

The problem is huge with smartphones, which have the lowest e-commerce conversion rates of any device. And by lowest, I mean conversion rates a fraction of what you see on tablets or traditional computers. According the “Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly Report for Q4 2015,” e-commerce conversion rates on traditional computers in the U.S. are 4.66 percent and tablets are 3.89 percent, but smartphone visitors convert at only 1.43 percent.

While more and more people watching TV are also tapping around on their phones, getting them to interact with you and actually buy something is almost a lost cause.

No Sign of the Invisible Bridge

That’s been the story since smartphones were invented, and it comes down to both the interface, and what people are doing while they’re on smartphones.

Tapping a web address into a phone is really difficult (and swiping isn’t even an option). That discourages people from using their phones to go to your e-commerce site from a commercial or other ad. Inputting the address, credit card and the other information needed to complete a sale is even worse.

If you want a recipe for conversion rates that are a third of other channels, that’s it. And it’s a well-recognized issue. Over the years many technologies have tried, and are still trying, to bridge that gap.

On the interface side, several startups have tried introducing tech to make it easier, from optical techniques like QR Codes and image recognition, to audio recognition like Shazam.