Tag Archives: Google Home

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Optimizing for voice assistants: Why actions speak louder than words

“Hey Siri, remind me to invent you in 30 years”

In 1987, Apple came up with the idea of a “Knowledge Navigator”. You can see the full video here, but it’s a concept that’s remarkably – and perhaps, not coincidentally – similar to our modern smart device assistants, Siri among them.

Its features included a talking screen, reacting to vocal commands to provide information and sort calendars.

In theory, we’re there, 30 years later – though the reality doesn’t always quite match up to the dream.

Even when it does work, voice hasn’t always been exactly what people were looking for. The thing most adults said they wish their voice search systems could do was find their keys (though teens said they most wished it could send them pizza).

Although we’re getting to the stage where that’s possible now, the majority of developments in voice have been voice search – talking to your phone to find out information.

Showing search results for “Why can’t you understand me, you stupid phone”

But while talking to a device can be a better experience than playing around with a virtual keyboard on a phone or a physical one on a computer, there are two major issues with voice search.

The first is that it’s still clunky. Half the time you have to repeat yourself in order to be understood, particularly if the word you’re trying to get across is slang or an abbreviation of some sort, which is to say, the default sort of language you’d think would be fitting for “conversational” search.

It doesn’t feel smooth, and it doesn’t feel effortless – and that pretty much removes the point of it.

The other is that it simply doesn’t add value. A voice search isn’t achieving anything you couldn’t do by simply typing in the same thing.

Optimizing for voice assistants: Why actions speak louder than words

But recently, we’ve seen developments to the voice control industry, starting with Alexa. At this point, everyone’s familiar with the Echo and its younger sibling, the Echo Dot – it’s been in adverts, our friends have it, maybe we have it ourselves.

The Alexa devices were among Amazon’s best-selling products in 2016, especially around Christmas, and the trend doesn’t show significant signs of slowing. But if we’ve had Siri since 2011, why is Alexa picking up so much traction now?

The answer is that it’s not voice search. It’s voice commands. Alexa is more exciting and satisfying for users because it provides an action – you speak to it and something happens. You now can order a pizza – or an Uber, or a dollhouse.

Optimizing for voice assistants: Why actions speak louder than words

That’s what people have been wanting from their devices – the ability to control the world around them by talking to it, not just have an alternative to a keyboard.

Ultimately, the commands are more personal. You can go on a website and order a pizza, and you can customise it and pay for it and it’ll show up, but talking to Alexa is akin to saying to your friend “Order a pizza?” (Except Alexa won’t stop mid-phone call to ask you what the other topping you wanted was).

Where the majority of mobile voice commands are used for search, Alexa’s use cases are dominated by home control – 34% of users have Alexa play music, just under 31% get her to play with the lights, and 24.5% use it as a timer.

While Siri and the Google Voice Search system are both examples of narrow AI like the Echo, they make much more limited use of its capabilities – compared to Alexa, Google is not OK, and Siri can say goodbye.

“OK Google – who would win in a fight, you or Alexa?”

Alexa’s success has put Google into catch-up mode, and they have been making some progress in the form of Google Home. Early reviews suggest that it might actually be the better product – but it lacks the market momentum of the Amazon product, and it seems unlikely that the sales will be on an even footing for a while yet.

However, Google does have the advantage of some high-end technology, namely Alphabet DeepMind.

DeepMind itself is the company name, but the more familiar connection is the technology the company produces. DeepMind are responsible for the program AlphaGo that beat the world’s foremost Go player 4 – 1, as well as a neural network that can learn how to play video games with the same approach as humans do.

DeepMind can offer Google systems their machine learning experience – which means that Google Home’s technology might have more room to start leaning towards Deep AI in the future. Your device will be able to start adapting itself to your needs – just don’t ask it to open the pod bay doors.

“Watson – what wine would you recommend with this?”

The other major contender in the AI race has only just started dipping into the B2C commercial market, and not nearly to the same scale as Alexa or Google Home.

IBM Watson has, however, won Jeopardy!, as well as found places in healthcare, teaching, and weather forecasting – essentially, absorbing a great deal of information and adapting it for different uses.

Watson is now used by The North Face, for example, to offer contextual shopping through conversational search. Users answer questions, and Watson suggests products based on the answers.

Likewise, Bear Naked uses Watson to “taste test” their customized granola system for the user, so once you’ve designed your meal, it can tell you if you might want to cut back on the chocolate chips.

AI is a competitive market – and it’s a market synergizing with conversational and voice search to bring us ever closer to the computer from Star Trek, and even beyond it.

Optimizing for voice assistants: Why actions speak louder than words

For now, however, narrow AI is the market – and that means optimizing sites for it.

SE-OK Google

Voice search means that people are searching much more conversationally than they used to. The best way to accommodate that in your SEO strategy is to give more attention to your long-tail keywords, especially the questions.

Questions are opportunities best met with in-depth, mobile-friendly guides that offer information to your customers and clients.

But this also applies when it comes to using apps in the way that Alexa and Google Home do. People aren’t just making voice searches now – they’re also making voice commands.

With that in mind, to rank for some of these long-tail keywords, you need to start optimizing for action phrases and Google-approved AI commands like “search for [KEYWORD] on [APP]”, as well as carefully managing your API, if you have one. And it is worth having one, in order that you can integrate fully with these new devices.

Optimizing for voice assistants: Why actions speak louder than words

You can break down the structure of common questions in your industry to optimize your long-tail keywords for devices.

You’ll also need to look into deep-linking to optimize your apps for search. Deep-linking allows searchers to see listings from an app directly on search, and open the app from those search rankings, making for a smoother user experience.

Optimizing for voice assistants: Why actions speak louder than words

Search results show your app data and link directly into the app

This is only going to become more important over time – Google have just announced that they’re opening up their technology, “Instant Apps”, to all developers.

Instant Apps mean that if the user doesn’t have the app, it can “stream” the page from the app anyway. It’s not a stretch to imagine that before long Alexa won’t need Skills to complete commands – so long as you’ve properly set up your API to work with search.

Siri, likewise, already has SiriKit, which allows developers to build markup into their apps that Siri can read.

Optimizing for voice assistants: Why actions speak louder than words

“Alexa – What’s the Best Way to Deal with AI?”

Voice search is a growing part of the search industry. But it’s not the biggest opportunity of it.

Rather, companies should be focusing on integrating voice actions into their strategy – by deep-linking their apps, ranking for long-tail keyword questions, and making sure everything they want a customer can do, they can do with their voice.

Voice, mobile & apps: Get the latest on Google’s search developments at SMX

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Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Google Home Service Ads, currently available only in select California markets, is expanding to Philadelphia.

The post Google Home Service Ads Expanding to East Coast by @Ryan1SEO appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

What does voice search mean for your local SEO strategy?

The ubiquity of virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana and Alexa, together with improvements in technology, has led to an uptick in voice search queries.

For businesses that rely on local search traffic, this has important ramifications for their strategy.

So how can businesses ensure they aren’t left behind when it comes to local search?

Produced in collaboration with Brandify.

OK, Google…what’s going on with voice search?

Voice search is a growing trend that has been pinging the radars of savvy search marketers for the last few years.

In 2016, conversational AI company MindMeld surveyed smartphone users in the US, finding that 60% of users who used voice search had started using it in the last past year – indicating rising adoption rates. This is backed up by Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report, which found that Google voice search queries in 2016 are up 35x over 2008, now making up 20% of searches made with the Google Android app.

It’s not hard to see why. Voice searches are fast (humans can speak at 150 words per minute, versus typing at 40 wpm), convenient (instant, hands-free) and increasingly reliable.

Rising word accuracy rates are a big factor. Usage in the US grew from 30-65% between 2013-2015, with 35% citing improvements in technology as the primary reason for adopting it.

In its early stages, voice recognition had an accuracy of below 80%, rendering the service buggy and difficult to use. Today, Google’s word accuracy rate is over 90%.

But the real driver of widespread adoption has been the omnipresence of virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana, Google Assistant – all of whom will automatically perform a web search if they are unable to answer a question natively.

SEO company HigherVisibility surveyed 2,000 mobile phone users and found that 27% of respondents use voice search assistants daily, while another 27% use them at least once a week.

What does this mean for search traffic?

More searches using natural language

Whereas regular searches usually just include keywords (‘IHOP opening times’), voice searches tend to be structured using full, grammatically correct sentences (‘what time does IHOP open on a Sunday?’).

In fact, Google is currently working to better accommodate these so-called ‘natural language’ queries. At the Google I/O developer conference last year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai revealed Google Assistant’s ability to handle follow-up questions without the need to re-state the context.

This allows you to search something like “Who directed The Revenant?” followed immediately by “Show me his awards”.

More searches on mobile

The convenience afforded by voice search comes into its own when users are on mobile. Although available on desktop web for Google and via Siri for Mac (as of OSX Sierra), voice searches don’t make as much sense in a desktop environment.

Higher Visibility found that over half (53%) of those that used voice search used it when driving, and another 21% used it when doing another activity.

More searches with local intent

According to Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2016, mobile voice-related searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text-based queries. This makes local SEO critical for businesses seeking to appear in these results.

What does it mean for your marketing strategy?

Look to target long-tail and natural language keywords in content

For the question-answering content on your site, consider how someone might phrase their search query as a full sentence. If you’re stuck for inspiration, your website analytics should reveal at least one or two search terms that tick this box.

Creating an FAQs page is an easy way to optimize for this, as it both asks and answers the most relevant queries for customers – and puts full questions in prominent header tags.

Optimize your site for mobile

In October 2016, global mobile / tablet web browsing finally exceeded desktop, with the former accounting for 51.3%, and the latter 48.7% according to StatCounter.

Mobile-friendliness has been a ranking signal since 2015, but it’s particularly important for businesses who receive traffic from local search from mobile users – such as searches appended with ‘near me’.

Improve your local SEO to target searches with local intent

Google’s Venice update in 2012 improved the triggering of Local Universal results (aka the ‘three-pack’, shown below). This box pops up when faced with queries that have relevant local results, like my Neanderthal request for “food near me”:

Basic SEO advice aside, here are a few simple steps to improve your ranking in these results:

  • Verify your Google My Business listing including a long, unique and correctly-formatted description that includes links to your business. You should also upload high-resolution photos, opening times, a phone number and a business address that matches your website.
  • Use a consistent name, address and phone number (NAP) across your online profiles. That includes your Google My Business listing and your website. This information needs to be exact.
  • Acquire and maintain positive reviews as these have been shown to affect your ranking in local search results. For more on how to manage your reputation online, check out our handy guide: ‘How to handle negative reviews and manage your brand’s reputation‘ over on our sister site, ClickZ.

This article was produced in collaboration with Brandify. Click here to read our collaborative content guidelines.

This article originally ran on our sister site, ClickZ, and has been republished here for the enjoyment of our readers on Search Engine Watch.

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Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.
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Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

Google’s Home device was launched in November 2016 in the US, and as recently as April 6 2017 in the UK.

As a direct rival to Amazon’s Echo in the battle to gain control of the intelligent digital assistant market, Home has made great strides already. Some sources estimate that Google may already have an installed base one-third the size of Amazon’s Echo, which launched in late 2014.

Ultimately, the more effective and useful hardware will gain the public’s vote. What makes the hardware useful will be the software that powers it – and more specifically, the functionality that it provides.

Google has increased the number of Actions available via Home, and third parties are encouraged to get involved and develop novel uses for Google’s voice-enabled assistant.

It feels as though we are at something of an inflection point for this technology.

As such, it seems timely to take stock of where we are, showcase some innovative uses of Actions, and also look at how marketers can start to profit from this largely untapped opportunity.

Google ‘Actions’ = Amazon ‘Skills’

Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, which has recently been rolled out across all Android devices. Assistant responds to voice commands, and can perform an increasing number of actions.

Actions are Google’s equivalent of Amazon’s ‘skills’ on Alexa; the full list of Actions can be accessed and enabled from the Google Home app.

Amazon has undoubtedly stolen a march in this regard, with over 10,000 skills already available. Most observers estimate there to be between 100 and 130 Actions available on Home.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

A further 20 Actions were added last week by Google – but we are really just starting to scratch the surface of what this technology can achieve.

Google has opened this up to third-parties and has also provided a comprehensive guide to help developers get up and running.

The aim here is to move from a fairly one-dimensional interaction where a user voices a command and Google’s Assistant responds, to a fluid and ongoing conversation. The more interactions a user has with a digital assistant, the more intelligent the latter will become.

Actions: The fun and the functional

We can broadly separate the list of actions into two categories: the fun and the functional.

Some of the more frivolous features of digital assistants do serve to humanize them somewhat, but their use rarely extends beyond the gimmick phase. Just say “Ok Google, let’s play a game”, and the assistant will tell a joke, make animal noises, or speculate on what lies in your future.

On the side of the functional is an integration with If This Then That, which opens up a potentially limitless list of possibilities.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

If This Then That integrates with over 100 web services, so there is plenty of room for experimentation here.

There are also a number of integrations with Google products like Chromecast and YouTube, along with third-party tie-ins with Spotify and Uber, for example.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

One new – and innovative – use of Google Actions was released by Airbnb last week. The Airbnb Concierge Action serves as an information repository that is unique to each property.

The host can leave tips or prompts with the Assistant, which will then be relaid on to the guest when the correct voice command is made. Guests can also leave recommendations on local restaurants, for example, for the benefit of future visitors.

Marketers should pay attention to this. This is a clear example of a brand understanding that a new medium brings with it new possibilities.

Simply transposing an already existing product onto this new medium would be significantly less effective; we need to view digital assistants through an entirely different lens if we are to avail of their potential.

We have also seen a novel – if slightly mischievous – use (or abuse, depending on your perspective) of Google Home by Burger King this month. Burger King used a television ad slot to interact with Home and ask about one of its burgers, triggering the digital assistant to list the ingredients in a Whopper.

Although Google have moved swiftly to prevent this happening again, brands are clearly seeing Home as an opportunity to experiment and generate some publicity.

Digital assistants provide fertile ground for brands, as they create a new platform to connect with existing or potential customers. Moreover, with only 100 or so Actions available, there is ample room to engage with this now before the market inevitably becomes saturated.

For marketers interested in playing nicely with Google on this, you can sign up here to be informed of any partnership opportunities.

Monetizing voice-enabled assistants

This task is rather straightforward for Amazon, in the short term at least. Users can interact with Alexa to purchase from a selection of millions of items and have them delivered to their door by Amazon.

For Google, it is more complex. Their money-spinning AdWords business has depended on text-based search and a visual response. That input-output relationship is thrown off entirely by a voice-enabled digital assistant.

Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

However, the smart money is on Google to find a way to integrate paid placements into their Home product, even if it takes some trial and error to find a solution that does not diminish the user experience.

During Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) fourth-quarter earnings call in 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai informed investors, “[Home] is the core area where we’ve invested in for the very long term.”

The significance of those words cannot be understated. Google is, like any privately-held company, under pressure from its shareholders to deliver ever greater profits.

Selling hardware alone is unlikely to bring the profits Google needs to keep growing from its already dominant position, so there are clearly plans to monetize their Assistant in an ongoing capacity.

That level of fierce competition will bring advantages for consumers, as the products will improve and prices may even drop.

The advantages for marketers are potentially even greater, should they be willing to take some risks and work to get the most out of this still nascent technology.