Intelligent robot assistants were once just the stuff of science fiction, yet thanks to the likes of Siri, Cortana, and Google Home, they’re now commonplace. We’re used to seeing them on our smartphones and now in our homes too with Amazon’s Echo (integrated with its assistant Alexa) most recently being rolled out across the UK.

Exciting stuff, but as with any new technology, business owners and marketers need to firstly understand how this will impact them and then how they can take advantage of it as well as be ready to mitigate any issues that might come as a result.

With so many businesses now relying on digital marketing to reach their audiences too, plus the rise and dominance of mobile searches and traffic in general, the key question is whether voice search queries transferred through intelligent robot assistants will encroach on basic keyboard searches? And more worryingly, whether these could, in turn, lead to reductions in clicks to our sites, particularly for knowledge-based queries?

In a nutshell, is voice search technology going to change search marketing as we know it, or will it just add something else to the mix?

What is an intelligent robot assistant?

An intelligent personal assistant is an algorithmic system held on a smartphone or piece of IoT (Internet of Things) hardware. It assists users by understanding voice queries and can output tasks such as finding information from the internet, or organisational tasks such as adding items to a calendar. It’s particularly useful in hands-free environments, useful for setting timers when cooking or calling a friend on the go.

If a user asks a pub-quiz type question, the intelligent personal assistant will search the internet for the answer and reply. Common intelligent robot assistants that perform this function are Amazon Echo/Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google Now.

In addition to this, Amazon Echo can now connect to other enabled devices in your home and perform tasks for you, from switching on lights to setting your cooker timer, all through voice commands. But Amazon Echo does not just work for you in the home, it also connects to certain services outside the home including Just Eat and Uber. At the same time, Amazon Echo uses artificial intelligence to continually improve the user experience, so the more you use it, the more it can do for you.

How should marketers adapt to voice search?

Marketers have had to adapt to constant advances in technology, especially through the growth of the internet and the ever-expanding role of digital marketing in most marketing strategies.

Our reliance on internet search gave marketers a whole spectrum of ways to reach their audiences. Voice search is no different. For most businesses, voice search will be another option in the mix of marketing channels available, but for some it could equally have a negative effect.

As voice search tends to rely on common knowledge answers, such as capital cities, weather, train times or even cooking, websites that rely on this content to drive traffic may see a downward trend in their site visitors. For example, sites like Wikipedia. These sites, particularly ones that rely on impressions and click revenue, will need to continue adapting their strategy to drive traffic where Google’s Knowledge Graph is taking the lion’s share.

The fount of knowledge graphs

For some time now, Google has been providing answers to conversational and common knowledge queries in knowledge graph answer boxes on the search results pages. Many search marketers have been taking advantage of the direct answer boxes and optimising their content to appear for common queries. As an added bonus, if you’re featured, it can also increase your click through rate if you were not already in position one

The rise in voice search will also continue to encourage ‘conversational queries’. These are search queries that are structured as a sentence, rather than one or two words. For example, ‘When is the deadline for primary school applications?’ rather than ‘school application deadline’.

As a result, search marketers should be looking at adapt their content to make it more visible to intelligent robot assistants. Relevant content that voice searches could be looking for, such as opening times, addresses, schedules and basic information should all be marked-up and clearly structured. 

So will keyboard searches die out?

It’s unlikely that keyboard searches will die out anytime soon, just as mobile has not killed off desktop. For the foreseeable future people will continue to use desktop, tablets and mobiles for searching for information, services and products.

Although Amazon are pushing people to use Alexa to order shopping through them, most e-commerce sites will be unaffected as shoppers will still want to see the items and browse through options before buying. Similarly, it’s unlikely that service providers will not lose custom because of voice search.

As for knowledge, intelligent robot assistants such as Google Now provide news headlines and other relevant information to users. However, most of us tend to want to read whole articles so websites that rely on in-depth information and analysis will not see their users going over to voice search just yet.

What does the future hold for search marketing?

Voice search has a long way to go before it’s any more than a minor part in the overall search mix, with keyboard-based searches holding the majority. For now, voice search will simply add another opportunity to the search marketing mix without causing major disruption to keyboard searches.

However, this status quo won’t last. As the technology improves, more people will undoubtedly adopt it for certain types of searches and the demographics of users will grow. Early adopters will see the value in voice search and be frequent users, whereas others will prefer to stick to keyboard searches.

Marketers, and search marketers in particular should therefore carefully monitor how voice search is developing and start experimenting with its implications. But don’t over invest just yet. Organic optimisation and paid search adverts will bring better quality and higher volume traffic to your website for a while to come.


By Guy Thornton, digital marketing director at Found

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