As Alexa units and Google Home devices arrive on people’s doormats, and excitement grows for Apple’s inevitable entrance on the digital assistant scene, it could be said that voice search is the innovation that consumers are waiting for. But are brands ready for the technical nuances, organic challenges, and new, unbroken ground that voice search will bring? What does voice mean for SEO? And is it really right for your brand? Ahead of his presentation at the Figaro Digital Marketing Summit, Ian Miller, CEO of Crafted, shares his views on the new digital kid on the block.
Be Prepared: The Sequel
“As marketers prepare for the move into voice search, we can see a lot of parallels with the first iPhone. If we look back ten years or so, every website was basically focussed on the desktop experience. But the first iPhone made it clear that people were about to consume the internet very differently. At first, a lot people did absolutely nothing; they didn’t have mobile optimised websites, or marketing that spoke to people in a mobile way.
Ten years later we’re looking at just the opposite – if a retailer doesn’t have a mobile optimised website, some kind of customer service app, or if people can’t checkout on a mobile, it has a real tangible impact on the business. It has fundamentally changed how people use the internet.
Prior to now, you could use desktop voice search on Google, you could use Siri, you could use Google Now, but none of these were truly synced up with consumers’ lives. Now, with the introduction of Cortana, Alexa, Google Home and the imminent Apple voice assistant, this is not the case.
Will Brands Survive Without Being “Voice-Search Ready?”
At the moment, voice search is still in its very early stages, and just like the first iPhone, there will be a group of very active, very noisy, early-adopters. But if brands don’t plan for voice search capabilities now, they’ll be in the same boat as those retailers which lost out in the mobile revolution following the iPhone’s release.
But the situations aren’t exactly alike. Voice search has some benefit in that it’s very low friction. When we moved from desktop to iPhone, people had to first buy an iPhone, which was of course very expensive. They then had to use data, which was also very expensive, and there wasn’t wide public Wi-Fi coverage – so there was a level of resistance. But the infrastructure for voice search is already there. You can do it on your desktop, mobile or tablet; it’s a very low friction area to move into, and we don’t have the problems with data that mobile had in its time. So while it’s not going to change everything overnight, it will change things very quickly.
What Will Happen To Non-Adopters?
Voice search will change user behaviour in a way that will filter out into to other areas. A prime example of this is the expectations people have for online shopping delivery today. Five years ago, consumers might have paid £7.95 for two-day delivery, and thought there was nothing wrong with that. Now, you can order up to midnight with some retailers and get next day delivery, or collect in store. User behaviour expects these things, and eventually voice search will be expected by consumers too. We will reach a point where consumers will choose products and services because they can book them through Alexa or their chosen assistant. The important thing is to look at voice search, not from a specific technology perspective, but in terms of how will it change the behaviour and expectations of your users.
It’s important to remember that a business will not fail if it doesn’t have a customer service twitter account. But it will work a hell of a lot better if it does. I don’t think it will get to a point where businesses will crumble if you don’t embrace voice search overnight, but if you’re not aware of it, you will be missing out on a lot of opportunities.
Changing The Team Dynamic
Integrating voice search into the wider digital marketing framework is a process that will throw up some very big challenges. One of these will be that the access to that market is going to require technical responses. Marketing tends to think in terms of eyeballs, impressions, visibility and brand exposure, whereas voice search is going to need quite a bit of technical innovation to happen; does your brand currently have the technical ability to do this?
The real crux of the challenge is that it needs more than just integration within channels like print, online, social, or display; that to me is a vertical integration. For me it’s a functional integration; does your back-end system actually allow a customer to use a voice assistant to interact with your brand?
Impact On Organic Search
There is currently a lot of confusion as to how voice search will impact SEO. It’s likely going to see the continuation of a current trend, a dramatic evolution in the way organic search works. Answer boxes are a prime example. If you ask Google Assistant a question, it will read out what the equivalent answer box would be. The process of organic on desktop and mobile is a bit chicken and egg; users want that answer, so Google provides it, but because Google provides it, users have now come to expect it. The same will apply on voice search.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that voice will negate organic search. The amount of time spent on desktop hasn’t necessarily declined, but there’s much more time being spent on mobile. Consumers today are time poor, and voice search lends itself to this changing culture
Areas that might be exempt from the rise of voice search would be those industries with a particularly visual customer journey. ASOS, for example, has put so much effort into being able to get a feel for its products, incorporating video and user-generated content into its site. That just doesn’t work in voice search. The same applies for travel; if you’re looking at a place to spend your summer holidays, you’re going to need a visual search, consumers want those pictures, videos, and reviews. But the more functional aspects of voice search might still have a place here, for booking tickets or checking flight details. So it will change behaviours, but it’s not for everyone or everything.
Metrics? But Which metrics?
The honest fact for everybody is that there’s just not a lot of data yet, and it’s difficult to get a sense of how voice being used, and the results marketers should expect after adopting it into their strategy. One of the challenges with voice at the moment is that the metrics for ROI aren’t as easily identifiable. Take the knowledge box scenario; a voice search returns an answer to a consumer’s question, and your brand is providing the answer that is read out. The user is still being exposed to your brand, but there’s not a click through to your website that you can attribute to a customer journey yet. And that’s where it’s quite tough for brands.
Once we start to see more data coming out of those companies like Domino’s or Uber, which really lend themselves to that interface, brands will be able to better predict and benchmark their results. In terms of this ROI, until we know what the use cases are, it’s difficult to say how much money to invest into voice search. The one thing that is clear though, is that marketers do need to keep voice search in mind for the near future, and make sure they build the necessary technical knowledge into their teams.
There’s a lot of misinformation circulating about voice search at the moment, and the truth is that at this stage, we are all still learning. The one key point to remember, is that voice search must provide a solution to the needs of your consumer, no more or less. Consider its place within your strategy before you start. For a brand like Domino’s, voice search feels like a no brainer. If you’re providing B2B private indemnity insurance, or private medical for corporations, it’s probably not going to work. At every stage, step back, and make sure that these solutions will actually help your user. By keeping an understanding of your consumer in mind, you can be sure to remain relevant, while not being left behind in the voice revolution.”