Alexa. Siri. OK Google. Voice search is a technology most of us have been utilizing for quite a while now, but really only from the perspective of a consumer.
What’s the weather like in Los Angeles? What time is Aquaman playing at the Cineplex? Who won Super Bowl XLIV? Where’s Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que?
Stuff like that.
But from a digital marketing point of view, it’s not something that’s typically integrated into your average company’s strategic umbrella.
Should it be?
When does it make sense? Does it make sense it all?
This was the topic of conversation my colleague Dustin and I covered on our most recent Digital. Done Right. Podcast – and it’s not a question with a straightforward answer.
As a technology in general, voice is something that’s both absolutely here but not quite there. It’s cool and cutting edge, but it doesn’t always work like you’d like it to. Devices don’t always integrate without lots of finagling and they often struggle to accurately understand our commands. As for the responses we get back from voice search, it’s 50/50 whether your question was adequately answered. It’s equal parts super cool and super frustrating, which is usually the case when rolling out new tech.
That doesn’t mean voice as a marketing tool ought to be ignored. Not at all. It just means it’s complicated.
On the podcast we cover a lot of different topics surrounding the obstacles and the opportunities voice presents:
- The adoption curve for the technology
- The most common queries for voice searches and whether they’re relevant in a business context
- Voice chatbot
- The challenge of compelling users to choose voice when the previous method is faster or easier to use
- Complexities related to applying an old communication style through a new medium where it doesn’t quite work
- Integration with AR and VR
You can listen to the full episode here, but for this piece I mostly want to focus on an R &D type project we did for a major client, building out an Alexa Skill in the home building industry. I think this real-world case study really drives home the reality of reality of working towards marketing with voice right now.
A Pitch the Explore the Possibility
A couple of years ago we pitched the idea of building an Alexa Skill for a national homebuilder – and the board loved it. With the hardware becoming more prevalent in the home and Alexa adoption on the rise, it seemed like a great opportunity to explore a channel where competitors weren’t yet present.
Functionality was relatively simple, with the primary utility being that you could schedule an appointment to tour new homes using voice.
So, “Hey Alexa, I’m interested in a house in Phoenix, Arizona.” You set your price point, and then the assistant gives you back some options about different communities and different homes offering this many bedrooms and whatnot. And then you’re able to schedule an appointment using voice through the skill.
Challenges and Successes
We made it work, which was cool. We integrated some first-party data to help with the search and filtering criteria and the skill’s still there. Customers can download it and use it, right now.
But for this client, the application didn’t wind up being relevant. From an R & D or proof of concept perspective, it was a big success – but there were just too many barriers to compel customers to fully adopt the medium.
For one thing, you look at Google, and you can imagine the incredible sums of money they’re investing to figure voice out. There are infinite variable involved and infinite permutations of queries and then all sorts of things that can throw a wrench in the work, something as simple as your kids walking in to ask you a question or someone turning the TV on in the background.
We were very proud of what we built, but from an investment point of view we were certainly more limited than the major players moving voice forward.
Other barriers were that in order to use the skill, a customer would have to download the skill to their device and learn the commands. By the time you do that, you might as well just head to the company’s website and book your appointment online or call from your phone.
It meant that there was one more thing that needed to be marketed – and if customers who were intrigued with the channel encountered a snag, boom, they’re gone. The benefits of figuring out how to navigate the voice commands just weren’t big enough, when the end result was something you could quickly achieve through a different medium.
A Unique Search Environment
To wrap up here and cover the initial question, “Should voice have a role your digital marketing strategy?” The answer is yes, but not a prominent one.
One thing that stands out when thinking about targeting voice search with SEO on your website is the unique type of real estate we’re looking at.
Unlike a traditional search, where queries return a full page of results to choose from, with ads prominently shown at the top – with voice search, there’s just one answer.
And so, it’s easy to imagine how valuable that space can be if you’re able to rank for it. It’s absolutely worth considering when structuring your on-page content.
But it’s such a longshot to win, you’d be hard pressed to make an argument for putting too many resources into a singular voice search SEO strategy.
Similar to our previous conversation about “Zero-Click Searches”, optimizing your page for voice search is better thought of as a subset of your overall SEO strategy but not as a standalone campaign focusing on that one channel. Just like no click search, a heavy focus on FAQ style content will best structure your page to potentially have snippets land on voice search answers.
In the end, I’m both skeptical and excited about the future of voice. It’s one of those things that someone’s going to figure out how to utilize in a way we’ve yet to imagine and make an absolute fortune. So, it’s absolutely something worth exploring and keeping in your back pocket.
Putting some money towards testing how voice could augment your business’s customer experience is worthwhile. It’s an investment into something that will only become more prevalent as time goes on. How prevalent and when? Those are million-dollar questions!