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The State of Voice Assistants As We Begin 2018

Published: January 16, 2018

Author: Dan Kern

This week, we’re diving into innovations in eCommerce, and we’re looking at it from various angles. First up, Voice Search in the Paid Search realm.
The Voice Assistant (VA) industry continues to grow rapidly. The technology is now extremely accurate, and adoption rate is high across age ranges. VA is positioning itself to be a player in digital marketing – but not quite yet.

The impact of VA on paid search might not be muted much longer.

In this post, I’ll explain when and how VA is being used today, why VA’s impact on Paid Search will be minimal for the next year or two, and how you can start planning to capitalize on opportunities that I foresee coming in a matter of months. We’ll close with a couple of predictions on where the trend is heading farther down the road.
Ready? Let’s dive in.

When are VA searches popular?

  • Commands for their device to execute a request
  • Specific fact-finding
  • Question-asking
  • Hand tied up, on the move

When are they NOT popular?

  • When the user is surrounded by other people
  • When looking for options, comparisons
  • When there is uncertainty in what the user is actually looking for

Where are users (likely) searching with VA?

  • At home — mainly with connected devices like Alexa or Google Home
  • Walking down the street
    • Asking for directions, about restaurants they see, weather, etc.
  • In the car, while driving
  • Top VA categories by age (from Google)

Where are users NOT (likely) searching with VA?

  • In an office/work setting
  • When they’re shopping in brick-and-mortar stores
  • When they’re on public transport

Why you shouldn’t be frightened by VA (yet)

VA is not a current threat to your way of conducting paid search campaigns. Most VA searches are currently focused on simple commands, fact finding, and informational questions. Shoppers may not be visiting brick and mortar stores, but they’re also not anywhere near ready to relinquish their power of product/brand choice to a robot — so search results that facilitate browsing will remain prevalent in search environments primed for SEM representation.
Moreover, the comparison browsing/shopping arena will need the web and multiple brand options for the foreseeable future. Outside of e-commerce essentials, adoption of VA search for shoppers in likely to be low (no one is searching for “ok Google, what’s the best POS shopping hardware and what are its features?”). Your current search campaign coverage will continue to do the trick (at least for a while). Sure, people search slightly differently verbally than with their thumbs, but the impact is mitigated via BMM and Google’s loosening keyword-matching policies. In general, there’s a slightly longer tail with VA, but most additional words are just filler/conversational.

How you can plan right now to capitalize on VA

The immediate opportunity by taking action is…low. On the flip side, the threat of negative impact by not taking much action is….also low. So, in the non-threatening short term, advertisers/agencies should make minor tweaks to keyword targeting and stay closely tuned in to product updates from the Big 4 (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon). The eventual VA search advertising “winners” will be those that spot and execute on the opportunities created by AR/VR’s ability to respond to complex VA queries in a logical format. I expect these to include:
Short Term

  • Increased user reliance on technology for information means that more searches/touchpoints will be available for brands to bid on and gain data and insights from (watch the numbers coming out of the 2017 holiday season for VA purchases…adoption is growing fast)
  • Marketers increase keyword coverage to include iterations of Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Instead of just “best event-planning product,” add the following:
    • What company has the best event-planning product?
    • Why should I use an event-planning product?
    • Who is best for event-planning products?

Mid Term

  • Brands will bid on newly created voice-based search sponsored listing inventory
    • Predicted Option 1: Brands sponsor canned responses to popular VA questions
      • Mainly serves branding/awareness purposes and are fairly native (think product placement)
      • e.g. “ok google, who won best music artist in 2017” // “Pandora would like to inform you that Chance the Rapper won best artist in 2017”
    • Predicted Option 2: Brands integrate with Amazon Marketing Services to be the product/brand added to cart when a user queues relevant requests
      • e.g. “Alexa, I’d like to buy a bluetooth speaker; can you add the best one under $200 to my cart?” // “Yes, Dan, I will add the Bose mini2 to you cart because it has great reviews and best-in-class sound. Is that OK with you?”
  • Voice Assist Search inventory becomes an additional optimization lever for Paid Media. Similar to the way we’ve been able to break out mobile from Desktop, marketers will be able to optimize creative and keyword targeting and make unique bid/goal adjustments for VA. This would be built directly into the UIs for Google, Bing, AMS, etc.
  • Increasingly strong use case for localized business…stores, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, museums, etc. VA marketers can address this opportunity the way they did with Google integrations with maps/location-based targeting.

Long Term

  • VA-based ad inventory will be more creatively flexible since they may be featured on TV screens, VR headsets, car tablets, etc. Marketers will have more room to stand out but more inventory types to manage.


What I see on the horizon

I think that Google will eventually automate search campaigns as we know them; VA search results will be included in available inventory for Google to auto-tap. More complicated VA search results will eventually be displayed using AR/VR technologies (simpler, single-option answers will continue to be relayed verbally), and the ad inventory format and media interface will be drastically different than good ol’ Desktop and Mobile.

Check out all of our e-commerce week posts by clicking here.


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