The New Voice and Visual Search Ecosystem

In the first article of this three-part series, Voice Search: The Evolving SERP and You, I covered the evolving search engine results page (SERP) and its impact on marketers.

Here, I go beyond the SERP because like it or not, the new voice and visual search ecosystem promise to make your SERP ranking a minor concern.

First, I’ll look at the devices changing behavior and expectations and making SERPs much less important. For example, in one survey, 80% of Google Home’s answers came from Answer Box results.

Then, I’ll dig into this new voice and visual search ecosystem. We’ll explore where we are today and what’s coming.

Finally, I’ll show you some simple steps to follow to position yourself to capitalize on the coming changes.

And, of course, I’ll explain why you absolutely will want to read upcoming Part 3, The Voice Search Playbook for Brands, which will posted at AMA Chicago articles next week.

Search Beyond the SERP

Many searches today deliver results without a SERP. This is the new voice and visual search ecosystem. And marketers need to understand what’s changing it.

In terms of voice search, it has to do with the devices used to search. Visual search involves evolving visual technology that can use images as the search parameters. While visual search may still be a developing area, voice search and its no-SERP results are here.

“Hello, Alexa” – Your Smart Speaker and Who is Listening, and When…

In 2017, a 6-year-old from Dallas, Texas, ordered a $160 dollhouse and 4 pounds of cookies. As the news article reported, she had been talking with Alexa on her Amazon Echo Dot about her love of dollhouses and cookies.

While new parental controls might now prevent such an event, how the buyer engages should be an ever-present factor in the mind of every marketer. The purchase was made during a conversation. She didn’t scroll through search results. The company got the sale based on what she said.

Smart speakers activate based on trigger words, which is how the girl was able to talk with Alexa. Privacy advocates may have concerns about who is listening and when – and maybe rightly so. For example, a judge in a double-murder case ordered Amazon to produce the audio recordings from an Amazon Echo believed to have been activated at the time of the killing.

For marketers, these events show that casual conversation can activate and train a smart speaker. This learning will impact future search results and means marketers must intimately know the language of their users, specifically how they search, if they want to be recommended by your Alexa, Google Home, or iHome.

Say “Hi” to Your Washing Machine and the Internet of Things (IoT)

You might think of voice activation and smart technologies as simply running the machine. But truly, how big a step is it from:

  • Turning your microwave on with words and re-ordering popcorn
  • Setting your washing machine for the next load and ordering more laundry detergent
  • Ordering movies with your smart TV (wait, that’s already here!)

With the internet of things, the line between service and sales becomes blurry. How long before voice actions become voice commerce? Marketers, you’ve been warned.

Then, There’s the Wearables, the Driveables, and the New Screens

Google recently bought Fitbit. Apple has the iWatch. You can buy Amazon earbuds with Alexa.

Vehicles feature Google Assistant and Alexa. And a new category of screens with a personal assistant like Alexa that can also make calls have entered the market.

When we look and see 135% smart speaker growth in three years, it’s clear voice-activated devices are here to stay. And they will change the way people search, engage with brands, and buy.

And Voice is Only the Start. There’s Also Visual Search

Amazon introduced Echo Look, a hands-free camera powered by Alexa and Intel® Real-Sense technology. You can capture a picture of yourself and get style advice. Well as of early 2020 Amazon discontinued the device but kept the AR functionality.

 Google Lens can help you search based on pictures you take, locations you are at, and data you capture. It will even help you shop and while it’s still not the best at identifying products, it is getting better.

Brands have introduced image search into their apps. And Pinterest has introduced a visual search capability to recommend clothing and home décor products all from the context of an image.

The Everywhere Opportunity

As the digital ecosystem grows and expands, marketers will find themselves with opportunities everywhere – and at every time. The lines between sales, marketing, and service are blurring.

Opportunity will (does) exist before, during, and after the sale. Where marketing has traditionally been about customer acquisition, the need for continuity between all of these customer-interactions shifts marketing – specifically digital marketing – into the realm of customer experience.

For marketers, the key is to get into a mindset centered on this new ecosystem.

3 Questions to help Reframe for the New Digital Marketing Ecosystem

The simplest way to reframe from customer acquisition to customer experience is to take a holistic view of the business.

 Here are three questions you can ask to get yourself thinking in this way:

  1. As you think about the experience, what can you automate for your customers?
  2. Are there any inefficient actions you can enable and improve with technology?
  3. What experience can your brand deliver on a screen like this (whatever it is)?

If these sound like user experience questions, they should. You want to think about how customers experience your brand, especially through interactions that might traditionally belong to the area of customer service.

In the expanded search ecosystem of voice and visual search, reducing friction across the entire experience from search to service becomes paramount.

How to Take Action on the New Digital Ecosystem

Being No. 1 on the SERP still has value, but if your customers interact with a personal assistant to search, your SERP ranking may be of less importance. A voice search study found that more than 60% of voice responses don’t come from the No. 1 spot.

It’s time to get to know your customers better than ever, especially if you are a brand whose audiences are likely to use personal assistants and voice-activated devices.

Here’s what to do.

1. Decide where to invest

The first thing you need to do is decide where to invest your time, effort, and money.

To determine this, we need to answer the BIG question:

Should you choose Google, Amazon, or both?

Microsoft with Cortana and Apple with Siri may be in play, but let’s be honest, Google and Amazon are the 800-pound gorillas in the room.

Both are growing fast, especially in the smart device market. Alexa and Google Assistant are appearing everywhere, meaning speakers, vehicles, wearables, and more. Yet, there is a difference between the two.

Google knows what you search for and what you want to find. Amazon knows what you buy.

Google is winning (so far) for the finding process. Amazon is winning in the selling.

Where you invest your effort will depend entirely on where your customers are.

2. Position yourself correctly

As a marketer, positioning your brand is key. Ask yourself, does your audience do voice searches or give voice actions?

With voice searches, you need to make your information easy to find and access. These belong to the query structure of “What, “Who,” and “How” questions. And noted at the beginning of the article, the large majority of Google Home results come from the Answer Box.  This means in addition to crafting content to answer informational questions, you must implement schema on your site to ensure Google understands you do answer your audiences’ questions.

Voice actions require clear CTAs. As “When” and “Where” questions, schema again helps to ensure Google has the information needed to give your audience what they need to act – an address, a telephone number, or an order form.

Search or action, however, your SEO and paid search should focus on those long-tail keywords. Where keyed text searches may only be 1-3 words, spoken searches are longer through the “tail” at 7-10+ words per search.

Your takeaway here is that to position your brand to reach your audience, you must:

  • Know the keywords
  • Know the questions you need to answer
  • Do the technical SEO website work with schema, meta-descriptions and more to capture that Answer Box
  • Write stellar content that works for both text and voice searches

3. Build solid voice content and seamless interactions

Google Assistant only repeats the content provided it. The marketer’s challenge lies in building content that creates a dialogue flow, where one answer leads to the next. A tool like Amazon’s Dialogflow gives a visual metric of how users engage and where they start in the process.

The good news for marketers is that you probably have most of the infrastructure already in place.

What you need to do is:

  • Ensure you connect the brand experience to the shopping cart, and
  • Have an ability to pass account information through different interfaces.

You can also create custom themes and rich responses to guarantee the answer you deliver provides complete information. For example, if your user wants a translation, you need to deliver a way to get that translation. For local results, you want to have your local name, address, phone (NAP) information available. Flight information should include ways to purchase airline tickets.

4. Start experimenting with new technology

It may have started with voice search, but the technology is quickly evolving past it. Next up, expect to see conversational AI. That’s right, your Google Assistant, Alexa, or another virtual assistant will converse with you.

But it’s not just personal assistants who will have this capability. AI-driven chatbots will also converse with customers to answer questions, creating new opportunities for marketers.

Google Duplex is a tool launched nearly two years ago that makes this possible. It allows you to ask your Google Assistant to do something for you – making an appointment, for example. Google Duplex receives the instruction, contacts the business, and once the appointment is made feeds the information back to Google Assistant which confirms the details. With Google Duplex, Google Assistant becomes a real assistant!

The key here is to experiment with new technologies, especially those that align with your audience’s behavior. Set aside a certain percentage of your marketing budget, maybe 5%-10%, and use it to find the technology that will make it easy for you to be found when your customer asks.

One Final Thought on This New Ecosystem – Get Started Now!

Voice shopping may still be nascent, but it is growing fast. And like voice search, voice shopping won’t display options. The brands that deliver the best answers and smoothest purchase path will thrive. Brand loyalty might keep an audience around for a while, but you want to be ready when your audience embraces voice engagement, conversational AI, and even visual search.

Coming Up: Voice Search Continues

With voice, search will never be the same. That’s why we’ve created the Voice Search Marketer’s Playbook – the next and final post in this three-part series.

Please check back with AMA Chicago articles in a week for the final article on voice search.

Also, if you’d like more information on voice search, please join me at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 for an AMA Chicago online workshop series, Future of Search.

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