Voice search becomes voice action: A key talking point at SMX London
Columnist Andreas Reiffen recaps a session from SMX London that focused on the future of voice search -- and what search marketers must do to prepare.
From combining search and social to leveraging moments that matter, last week’s attendees at SMX London gained a deeper understanding of the numerous ways they can optimize their search strategies.
Described as the “ultimate survival guide to the dynamic and tumultuous world of search marketing,” SMX — run by Search Engine Land’s parent, Third Door Media — is a conference series designed to highlight the reach and opportunities that can be achieved through search advertising and outline search’s position in the wider marketing mix.
From my own perspective, one of the more enlightening sessions of the London event featured a presentation by Pete Campbell, founder and managing director of Kaizen, on the subject of voice search — a prominent theme given the ongoing battle of the AI assistants.
Despite existing for half a decade — Siri has been around since 2011 — voice search has only recently surged in popularity, with over a quarter (27 percent) of US smartphone users now utilizing voice search assistants once a week or more. This rise in usage is largely due to the shift in focus from voice search to voice command.
Just being able to search for information using voice doesn’t add a great deal of value for the user; it’s not that different to searching by typing. But being able to make something actually happen using voice? Well, that’s a far more useful experience — and it is something Amazon’s Alexa is excelling at.
Through voice commands, users can now order their favorite pizza, schedule an Uber, or even buy a dollhouse – as Amazon Echo’s incident earlier this year ably illustrated. Rather than using voice as an alternative to a keyboard or touchscreen for entering a search, users want to be able to control the world around them by talking to it and driving action, creating a far more personal and interactive alternative to traditional search.
At present, the voice search functionalities available through personal assistants remain within the realm of narrow AI, meaning they can only perform relatively basic tasks. Moving forward, Google’s DeepMind machine learning technology is likely to be integrated into Google Home, shifting voice search toward deeper AI as it starts to learn and adapt itself to the unique needs of the individual. And while it is still fairly new to the B2C space, IBM’s Watson is also expected to drive voice search to a point where it is continually aware and constantly learning.
While the discussion around voice search was one of the most interesting at the SMX London event, the technology is still in its infancy, and advertisers don’t need to be rebuilding their entire search strategies around voice at this stage. While paid advertising is available via the format, the search engine does the heavy lifting, translating voice search into keywords and matching these to ads in the same way as a traditional text search.
Once AI evolves and the technological capabilities allow a better understanding of natural language, the way consumers utilize search could change. Currently, users know they must phrase their questions in a way their device comprehends, omitting slang terms and speaking in a more robotic manner than they usually would.
It will be interesting to observe how common search activities — in particular, shopping — will change as the technology develops. Perhaps at next year’s SMX London, we’ll be discussing new strategies for harnessing the power of voice that we haven’t even considered at this stage.
To really gain the most value out of search — be it voice-activated or not — we need to fill the gap between optimizing search advertising and achieving business goals, and put customer lifetime value ahead of return on ad spend (ROAS) when measuring success.
As the technology develops, companies that use voice search technology that reacts more naturally to consumers’ preferred language will attract more repeat visits and loyalty. And by aligning marketing efforts with inventory management to ensure only those products that are in stock and require promotion are advertised, brands can create valuable experiences that keep consumers returning again and again.
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