Emerging Technologies in Search

“I’m not concerned with the future, I’m concerned with the future’s future.” – Robert Doniger, “Timeline” – Michael Crichton

Search

Right now, there isn’t a bigger buzzword in tech and marketing than “artificial intelligence.” These trained models and neural networks are leading a ‘Smart’ revolution — in everything from robotics and medicine to children’s toys.

‘Smart’ assistant devices, such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, are the latest technologies gaining acceptance from consumers. Even more, they are pushing industry executives to think about the future opportunity of their own brands in voice search.

Mobile device virtual assistants, such as Siri or Cortana, let us do a multitude of voice-controlled tasks, like adding a calendar date, sending messages, ordering products, answering questions, translating, suggesting a dinner recipe, checking weather and more. But that’s only the start with AI and home assistants.

Preparing for the Future

The end goal of these home assistants is to know what you need before you’ve finished thinking of the task. By gathering data in an ‘always-on’ mode, and integrating with mobile devices and other ‘Internet of Things’ home equipment (refrigerators, thermostats, lights, garage door, security), these devices have quite a bit of data to gather and learn from us.

For example, at some point, assistants will intuitively understand personal shopping trends by seasons and aggregate shopping lists automatically — maybe even with that recipe you’ve wanted to try— then order those items without an explicit command.

Just like when the mobile revolution started, the voice search era must be seen through data trends. According to Search Engine Land, 20 percent of all searches are voice controlled. With voice search accuracy up to 92 percent, it’s clear the technology is more dependable, and users are realizing that voice search can be more helpful than it used to be. With sales of Amazon Echo and Google Home well established, the devices have gained a foothold with many consumers.

For brands, voice search and personalization will mean different things. But for businesses that have something to gain in the smart home market, this voice controlled assistance can offer a new world of possibilities.

What it Means for Search

The deviation away from a physical screen to auditory controls is significant to how a user searches. Unless a smart assistant gains a holographic display (patent pending) or pushes results to mobile devices, users must listen and interact with AI conversationally. This means a few things for search moving forward:

  1. There is no secondary answer. The assistant delivers the best answer, and that’s it. This means the top spot in “search results” is going to increase in importance.
  2. Related keywords are essential. Google wants to see data that uses similar words and phrases connecting to the topic. Those related keywords help quality and relevancy analysis of text and voice data.
  3. Brands, websites and links do not get direct credit. A query answer doesn’t reference where the info came from the same way a mobile device does.
  4. Conversational searches. The value of long-tail keywords is going to increase.
  5. Users won’t be pushed to a website. That is, unless they check their phones for more investigation, so it’s important to be ranked well in case of follow up searches.

Optimizing Websites for Conversational SEO & Smart Home Devices

For search, websites and SEO, voice control means addressing more long-tail keywords and conversational queries.

How do we optimize website strategy and technology for conversational queries?

  1. Third party integration is necessary for brands. Either through voice advertising (whenever it becomes available) or through product integration, users should be able to enable your service or hear your ad on the device. How can your brand or service be used on voice home assistants?
  2. Add or expand natural language content pages such as Q&As or FAQs. Use targeted keyword phrases and conversational tone in the content.
    1. Optimize landing pages for collective data and resources. Include common phrases of your service or what can be found on the page.
  3. Analyze targeted keyword SERP (Search Engine Results Page) features such as Instant Answers and align content to those phrases.
    1. Pivot content strategy to long-tail keyword content.
  4. Implement structured markup to help search engines understand more details about a page or site. Markup code with schema.org
  5. For local stores, verify businesses in Google My Business and use tools to make sure your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) listings and citations are accurate across the web.
  6. Confirm your site is mobile friendly and has a fast load time. As many voice searches are conducted on mobile devices with virtual assistants, having a fast and mobile optimized site will provide a good user experience and boost mobile conversion.

Challenges to Growth: Privacy & User Retention

Privacy: Privacy and personal information concerns have been raised with an always-on listening device in the home, which has the potential to gather more data (direct and indirect) than any other device. Although companies promise to protect personal information, that isn’t a complete guarantee when personalization is the name of the game and the manufacturer has plenty of monetary incentive when sharing information with advertisers for targeting.

Users must understand what they are giving up when they decide to use the device. He or she will likely to be used for targeted advertising (and, to a lesser extent, hacking). I see this as a barrier to entry for some users, but not a disqualifier for most. Personalization is the cornerstone of having an effective and informed assistant, so data gathering is priority No. 1 for these devices.

User Retention: A second challenge to growth for these devices is user retention and third-party app production. Although nearly 30 million devices will be in the home by the end of 2017, many users are sticking to simpler actions, such as streaming music, playing jeopardy and audio versions of books.

Moving forward, developers for voice-controlled apps/functions will need support for consumer discovery and deep analytics data to create truly valuable voice controlled services.

As a step in the right direction, Amazon launched an online hub to help developers and marketers further create “Skills” (amazon’s word for apps) and analyze adoption data for the echo device family. I think 2017 is going to see big strides in support, advertising and capability of voice controlled smart home assistants.

Final Thoughts

Although user adoption is still relatively low and the technology is still developing   the voice search era has begun. As the common idiom says, “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” so keep an eye on smart assistant AI data and trends for future optimizations and business opportunities.

Funny Things you can Ask your Smart Home Assistant:

Alexa

“Alexa, can you fart?”
“Alexa, are you a robot?”
“Alexa, do you know Cortana?”
“Alexa, can you beatbox?”
“Alexa, tell me a joke.”

Siri

“Siri, why don’t I have friends?”
“Siri, when is the world going to end?”
“Siri, do you have a boyfriend?”
“Siri, what is 0 divided by 0?”
“Siri, tell me a story.”

Cortana

“What does Cortana mean?”
“Cortana, will you marry me?”
“Cortana, let’s play rock paper scissors.”
“Cortana, sing me a song.”
“Cortana, do you speak Klingon?”

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