Voice search and the future of retail advertising

By Wesley MacLaggan, SVP of marketing, Marin Software

Voice search has come a long way since Apple debuted Siri in 2011. Today, the voice-enabled home assistant is quickly becoming ubiquitous in the American household, with Google, Amazon, and Apple, all offering products designed to answer questions, play music, and (in time) help you shop. The evolution of voice technology has scaled quickly, and implications for retail are becoming more apparent. In fact, comScore predicts that 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.

At the end of its fourth quarter, Amazon announced it sold “tens of millions of Echo devices” in 2017, with three separate reports estimating Amazon’s U.S. market share of voice assistants, or smart speakers, is between 70-76 percent. Couple those results with Amazon’s ad business growing by 60 percent in Q4, and it becomes clear that voice search is set to become a major factor in advertising, particularly for retail.   
With the growing popularity of voice assistants, retailers will need to adapt from simple text queries to complex conversational queries. So what will it take to optimize for voice search?

It isn’t what you said, but how you said it
The two most obvious distinctions between traditional search and voice search are the way consumers phrase questions and the way answers are presented. Traditionally, typed searches involved short keywords and simple phrases with many text results listed. In contrast, voice search is generally made up of longer action-oriented phrases, including complete sentences phrased as questions, generally producing a single answer.
Search engine optimization was built for traditional searches, combing websites for keywords and ranking by relevance. Voice search has spawned a new field called “answer engine optimization.” While SEO and AEO do overlap, smart marketers will need to consider semantic nuances and the more conversational tone voice search yields as they configure their behind-the-scenes coding.

Two tactics for advertisers to consider: leveraging long tail keywords and becoming well-versed in schema markup. Long tail keywords that are conversational will be easier to find when a consumer uses voice search to locate a specific service, product , or location. Similarly, schema markup, a popular HTML-add on for boosting SEO results, helps return the most useful results to consumers by making a website’s content more easily interpreted. Not only will schema markup make your site rank better in traditional searches, it will also help boost content through voice search.

The who, what and where
Local SEO is also a key component of maximizing your company’s likelihood of turning up in voice search results. According to Google, more than half of U.S. teenagers and 41 percent of adults use voice services through their smartphone. These results point to a likely trend for voice search: local retail recommendations while away from a desktop computer. These searches may be as simple as “who sells dresses near me?” or as complex as “what is the highest rated local retailer that carries XYZ brand?”

Since consumers using voice search typically frame their questions with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “how,” it’s important to enhance your website with these phrases in mind. To stay competitive, businesses should create or adjust any FAQ pages to be more conversational, which will help the content show up as a reliable source. With voice search, consumers are typically looking for a quick answer, such as proximity to a particular product or service, so it’s also vital to optimize website microdata by ensuring that key information about the business, such as address or directions, are accurate.

In an ever-changing retail landscape, businesses should continue to innovate and drive customer interest to their store. Taking a strategic approach to voice search marketing is a way to build brand awareness and loyalty. Voice search has an increasing role to play in consumer purchasing decisions, too — Social Media Today reports that “nearly 50 percent of people are now using voice search when researching products.”

Retailers Partnering Directly With Google and Amazon
A recent study from Capgemini has found that 51 percent of consumers already use some form of voice assistant, and 35 percent regularly use them to purchase goods such as groceries and clothing. To capitalize on this opportunity, many retailers have partnered directly with the manufacturers to build customer awareness. Starbucks, Best Buy and Walmart are just a few of the retailers that have enabled their apps to speak directly with Google or Amazon’s products. Starbucks, for example, has added its Reorder app to Alexa, allowing customers to say “Alexa, tell Starbucks to place my usual order.” These integrations are yet another way to utilize voice assistants to create a more seamless, engaging customer experience–and a method that any large retail brand should keep in mind.  

Voice-enabled assistants have been a part of our culture for nearly a decade and retail marketers are only just beginning to tap their potential to reach customers. As Google, Amazon and Apple continue to fine tune their technology, the impact of voice-enabled assistants will continue to grow and shape our searches. Retailers need to stay informed and ready to embrace voice search so that their brand rises to the top when someone says “Alexa…”


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