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Search Elite 2017 > Voice Interfaces: Content’s Play for Dominance

Lucy Hemingway 7 years ago

Innovation sits at the heart of Zazzle Media's approach to digital marketing and so when we get a chance to share our thoughts on 'where next' we're on the next plane!

MD Simon Penson had that very opportunity this week at Search Elite in Manchester, where he shared thoughts on how the next era in computing will impact the world of marketing.

So, if you have any responsibility for marketing strategy you cannot afford to miss downloading the deck and reading Simon's transcript from the event below...

The Deck

Voice Interfaces - Content's Play for Marketing Dominance from Simon Penson

The Transcript

"Hello and good morning! Let me start by asking a simple question; Who here has ever used voice to operate a computer? [pause for a count of hands]. I thought so, most of you.

"It's funny isn't it as if someone asks you if you own a voice device most will say 'no' and yet every new phone is being built around the technology. It's here and we haven't really even thought about it.

"As a marketer, however the time for inaction has passed and this session is all about explaining why that is the case; and what we can do to prepare right now.

"I'll also add at this stage that I'm not coming at this as a techy developer, hooked on the drug of creating Alexa Skills but more from a user/early adopter perspective. I founded Zazzle Media and my passion has always been in using content to create audiences, irrespective of platform or medium. For me, voice seems like the next major era in the evolution. An evolution that started with print, Radio, TV and the desktop computer.

"And it's going to come at us much more quickly than we can comprehend.

"To help us understand that let's spend a moment diving into something known as the Law of Accelerating Returns, a theory on the advancement of technology by Google's chief engineer Ray Kurzweil. It explains how the rules of Moore’s Law no longer apply to the future of technology as we are entering a period of such velocity that improvements become exponential rather than linear.

" As the quote explains here things are about to start moving very quickly and we can see the beginnings of it already. Take computing power for example. We surpassed the point at which a computer was more powerful than a mouse brain in the early 2000s. Next year we will create a computer more powerful than our own brain and by 2037 we will have a machine capable of out thinking all human minds - combined!

"That's pretty incredible progress and as a result it gives the world's biggest technology companies the ability to launch new product into emerging markets faster. Voice is the perfect example of that with all of these players already in on the lucrative space.

"Whether it is Google with Google Assistant, Amazon with Alexa, Apple with Siri, Microsoft with Cortana, Samsung with Bixby or even Facebooks 'Jarvis' they are all ready to fight for share.

"Why? Because the users are already at the tipping point. While there is still some way to go, 20% of all search is done via voice (mainly mobile) and the search giant predicts that will reach 50% by 2020.

"55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice daily and we can see here where they spend their time. Teens use voice as the primary interface for everything, confidently using it for most mobile requests. Adults are still using it a little more cautiously but it is clear there is a wholesale adoption beginning.

"And critically this is much bigger than search. I know that may be slightly controversial stood here talk at a search conference but it's a very important point. The opportunities here span general search, local, productivity support and even entertainment as we can see here from this pie chart of current usage breakdown. The split of time spent on each of these areas is actually quite even.


"Of course, there will be naysayers. There will be those out there that suggest that voice is a long way from being a 'thing' for marketers to plan around. But that's how you get left behind.

"This chart explains why it is dangerous too to sit on your hands as the thing holding that tipping point back at present is a slight lack in the quality of voice assistant understanding. A lot of that has to do with microphone quality for one which is pretty much solved now thanks to work on Google Home and Alexa and Apple HomePod.

"The other key challenge has been vocabulary and conversational understanding but as we can see here we are now very close to enjoying 99% accuracy. Why is that important? I'll let Baidu's chief scientist explain...

"There is a huge difference between 95% and 99% accuracy when it comes to usability and we know that 4% will be the difference between the often-frustrating need to ask numerous separate questions of your personal assistant and it immediately understanding the context of why you are asking and to follow up with a relevant further qualifier, for instance.

"We will be there by 2019!

"Of course, that doesn't mean that voice will kill desktop - just like TV didn't kill radio, radio didn't kill print and so on. Voice will take its place in the ecosystem but with one key difference; it will become the interface with least friction and therefore the most used.

"So, how do we prepare for this major opportunity?

"The first steps is in understanding the two key routes to voice fame and in the simplest of terms you have two key options here. The majority of voice answers are either pulled from some kind of search engine, or from a database of apps. These apps are known as Skills for Alexa, for instance and Actions for Google Home.

"Diving into that in a little more detail and we can start to see some fascinating things, particularly when it comes to Bing. While the Microsoft search engine is very much a bit part player in traditional search three of the big four currently use it as the default search engine for their voice assistants. That suddenly makes Bing optimisation important, particularly when it comes to our second point; featured snippets. As we'll discuss later these become very important as assistants will often take their answer to general questions from these prominent answer boxes.

"And certainly, when it comes to Alexa optimisation we need to consider Yelp data optimisation when it comes to local information retrieval., alongside the usual work you may do to become prominent within Local Pack Answer Boxes.

"And then of course there is the app development. The tricky part is that, right now at least, you need to develop for multiple platforms and that means multiple apps. If you want to feature on Google Home, Alexa and the forthcoming Apple Homepod, for instance, you need to build applications for each of them.

"Our general behaviour changes too of course. Early studies like this one suggest huge growth in who queries for instance, alongside the more obvious when, where and hows. Why is this happening? To answer that we should think about how language changes as we move to a more conversational interface.

"It's not an immediately obvious thing but if you think about how people speak many will use 'who' as an easy and quicker way to ask a question: 'Who is the best...' 'who sells the cheapest' and so on.

"We speak very differently than we write as this next chart shows. Phrases become much more natural and longer, even in early use scenarios where assistants are not yet fluent.

"And the intent behind those questions change also. While 'who' is growing it's the 'where' questions we want we are interested in turning conversation into revenue.  If you think about why that may be for a second it is clear that we use the interrogative word when getting very close to a buying decision.

"Where can I buy? Where can I find? Where is the nearest...

"So, we know how to win, victory is but a step away. Voice is mine. But let's not run too far ahead of ourselves. We need to know exactly what actions we need to take to find a way to maximize potential reach and to do that requires greater focus on the tactics that will allow us to win.

"And where better to start at a search conference than with featured snippets; a massively hot topic at present thanks to the enormous boost it gives brands in organic serp.

"For those that don't know what it looks like here's a screen shot of a search for a new lawnmower (more on that later!). Interestingly this is where both Google and Alexa go to when looking for answers to general questions that are not answerable directly.

"Search for the time, weather, sports scores and so on and voice assistants will often provide an answer but anything more general, or specialist, and the first port of call will be Featured Snippets, making any work to claim these hugely important moving forwards.

"I could stand here and talk about how you go about that but sadly we don't have all day and so here I have captured a few key findings from the work Zazzle has done to claim them.

"Firstly, rank on page one. Numerous studies support the fact that you have to be in the first 10 to achieve the snippet position. And yes, that does mean you can leapfrog anyone in P1-9 if you are in position 10 and go straight into the numero uno spot if you follow the next steps also.

"And the key to this is to build a really useful page that naturally answers all the key pain points around a specific subject area. Use good HTML structure to highlight those points with use of H1s and H2s and Google in particular does love a table. You'll notice a lot of those dragged into Snippets.

" Another trick that works is to answer related, contextual questions as part of the wider piece. Search engines like this as it helps them learn context and conversational 'next steps' more easily. It also helps you as you are providing more 'value' to the visitor.

"And great imagery helps too. Audiences love it and you can find them pulled into Snippets.

"Want an example? Here's a piece of work we did recently for Tesco Bank. The brief involved helping the business 'own pet insurance'. To do that we dived into the data to see where people were searching around the subject and then use that to build out a plan for a series of long tail pages focused on specific pet breeds.

"As you can see these are not commercial pages but useful ones, containing a host of breed information that is incredibly useful for any owner, or prospective owner.

"The results were incredible too. From not having any kind of foothold in the space the site claimed a large number of valuable organic positions, alongside several key featured snippets.

"It's not just about snippets though of course. Local becomes hugely important in the world of voice and to take full advantage of it we need to think differently.

While many have solid plans for local search in place there will be many more opportunities. Voice allows us to search differently, as we have explained before, so there will be no need for this; having to fix your own aerial - thankfully!

"Instead we will usher in an era of precision booking and those in trades and other appointment industries will win if they create a simple system that plugs into voice interfaces allowing you to book a time for an engineer to visit, or for your next barber trip, for instance.

"And while it will absolutely pay to continue to optimise your local SERP another good idea is to look at how you optimise for the key vertical search engines also. If we think about it for a second the work to build the plethora of apps required to own is huge for anyone but the largest of businesses so one smart strategy may be to hold onto the coat tails of the biggest. So, if you are an airline why not really work hard to get as close as possible to the aggregators like Skyscanner? They will be investing 'big' in voice and you can benefit by being incredibly visible.

"And we should really think hard about phraseology too. Words as such as you see here are the ones you should look to build great page experiences around so that they own traditional search.

"What we are looking for here are the spaces that offer you the opportunity to help in a 'frictionless' way - so offering your product r service in the normal path of a consumer buying process. And to figure that out we move to the biggest tip of all.

"How we pull all of this together into a seamless strategy.

"For me the secret weapon in all of this is mapping out your individual user journeys. This process helps you think deeply about the exact routes your audience will take to get to your product or service and in doing so you can map against it every possible touchpoint.

"Let's walk through an example of how that might work for just one user journey; buying that lawnmower we talked about earlier.

"Before we do it is important to point out that this process should be repeated multiple times to capture several iterations of each journey - and then repeated for each of the key personas your marketing plan should already have mapped.

"So back to our example and as you can see here we walk through a conversation with our voice assistant a few years from now once we surpass that vital '99% accuracy' point, allowing for natural language conversations and a better understanding of context.

"Alongside this we capture all of the opportunities we have to create content that aids the flow of this buying behaviour - and there are numerous opportunities! This is where you win; by creating these assets and placing them in a way that maximizes voice exposure.

"Now, I appreciate we've covered a lot today and there may be many questions. I'm happy to answer those around the venue today, so just grab me. And if you fancy starting to refine a voice strategy I've created this simple strategy guide for you and you can download it via the link below

Thanks for listening."


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