Guy Thornton, digital marketing director at digital performance agency Found
Intelligent robot assistants were once just the stuff of science fiction, yet thanks to the likes of Siri, Cortana, and Google Home, they’re now commonplace. We’re used to seeing them on our smartphones and now in our homes too with Amazon’s Echo (integrated with its assistant Alexa) most recently being rolled out across the UK.
Exciting stuff, but as with any new technology, travel brands need to firstly understand how this will impact them and then how they can take advantage of it as well as be ready to mitigate any issues that might come as a result.
With so many travel businesses now relying on digital marketing to reach their audiences too, plus the rise and dominance of mobile searches and traffic in general, the key question is whether voice search queries transferred through intelligent robot assistants will encroach on basic keyboard searches? And more worryingly, whether these could in turn lead to reductions in clicks to sites, particularly for knowledge-based queries?
In a nutshell, is voice search technology going to change how travel businesses rely on search marketing as we know it, or will it just add something else to the mix?
What is an intelligent robot assistant?
An intelligent personal assistant is an algorithmic system held on a smartphone or piece of IoT (Internet of Things) hardware. It assists users by understanding voice queries and can output tasks such as finding information from the internet, or organisational tasks such as adding items to a calendar. It’s particularly useful in hands-free environments, useful for setting timers when cooking or calling a friend on the go.
If a user asks a pub-quiz type question, the intelligent personal assistant will search the internet for the answer and reply. Common intelligent robot assistants that perform this function are Amazon Echo/Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google Now.
In addition to this, Amazon Echo can now connect to other enabled devices in your home and perform tasks for you, from switching on lights to setting your cooker timer, all through voice commands. But Amazon Echo doesn’t just work for you in the home, it can now also connect to certain services outside the home including Just Eat and Uber. At the same time, Amazon Echo uses artificial intelligence to continually improve the user experience, so the more you use it, the more it can do for you.
How should ecommerce marketers adapt to voice search?
All marketers have had to adapt to constant advances in technology, especially through the growth of the internet and the ever-expanding role of digital marketing in most marketing strategies.
However, our reliance on internet search has given travel brands a whole spectrum of ways to reach their audiences. Voice search is no different. For most businesses, voice search will be another option in the mix of marketing channels available, but for some it could equally have a negative effect.
As voice search tends to rely on common knowledge answers, such as capital cities, weather, train times or cooking, websites that rely on this content to drive traffic may see a downward trend in their site visitors. For example, sites like Wikipedia. These sites, particularly ones that rely on impressions and click revenue, will need to continue adapting their strategy to drive traffic where Google’s Knowledge Graph is taking the lion’s share.
The fount of knowledge graphs
For some time now, Google has been providing answers to conversational and common knowledge queries in knowledge graph answer boxes on the search results pages. Many search marketers have been taking advantage of the direct answer boxes and optimising their content to appear for common queries. As an added bonus, if you’re featured, it can also increase your click through rate if you were not already in position one for that term.
The rise in voice search will also continue to encourage ‘conversational queries’. These are search queries that are structured as a sentence, rather than one or two words. For example, ‘When is the deadline for primary school applications?’ rather than ‘school application deadline’.
As a result, travel and leisure companies should now be looking at adapt their content to make it more visible to intelligent robot assistants. Relevant content that voice searches could be looking for, such as best places to go, locations, flight times and basic resort information should all be marked-up and clearly structured.
So will keyboard searches die out?
It’s unlikely that keyboard searches will die out any time soon, just as mobile has not killed off desktop. For the foreseeable future, people will continue to use desktop, tablets and mobiles for searching for information, services and products.
Although Amazon are pushing people to use Alexa to order shopping through them, most sites will remain unaffected as shoppers still want to see the items and browse through options before buying. Travel sites will equally benefit from this more research-based way of searching. However, as the technology moves on, and especially with users fuelling the artificial intelligence these AI robots have, marketers in this arena should be readying themselves for further changes in the way their customers find them and interact with their brand.
What does the future hold for search marketing?
Voice search has a long way to go before it’s any more than a minor part in the overall search mix, with keyboard-based searches still holding the majority. For now, voice search will simply add another opportunity to the search marketing mix without causing major disruption to keyboard searches.
However, this status quo won’t last. As the technology improves, more people will undoubtedly adopt it for certain types of searches and the demographics of users will grow. Early adopters will see the value in voice search and be frequent users, whereas others may prefer to stick to keyboard searches.
Travel marketers should therefore carefully monitor how voice search is developing and start experimenting with its implications. But don’t over invest just yet. Organic optimisation and paid search adverts will bring better quality and higher volume traffic to your website for a while to come.