Voice search isn’t the next big disrupter, conversational AI Is


Within the search marketing space, there has been a lot of talk about voice search. Many are projecting voice search as the next big thing  – in fact, as the next marketplace disruptor.

But the truth is, voice search probably isn’t going to be the next big thing. Yes, voice search is disrupting text-based searches, and this is causing a few raised eyebrows. However, voice is only a small part of the disruption that’s happening today.

I agree with the dissenting points of view that voice search isn’t the next big disrupter; because I believe that conversational AI is.

Conversational AI is what’s really disrupting and shifting the consumer behavior, and voice search is just a component of that bigger picture.

There, I said it.

Now, let’s talk about it. It’s hard to distinguish between voice search and voice-assisted engagements through digital assistance (aka conversational AI). So, my intention here is to outline the differences between these two entities and explain what you, as marketers, need to do to take advantage of both.

Voice search vs. conversational AI

When you think about voice search, it’s actually not that revolutionary. The AI-based technology of natural language processing that enables voice search is pretty awesome and amazing; however, voice search is just a mode in which people are engaging with search engines.

There are three ways that people can engage with the search engines. They can engage through typing or text, their voice or conversation, and through images. Voice search essentially involves doing a query using voice instead of text. That’s the only difference.

When we think about the difference between voice search and conversational AI (the voice assistance component) what’s important to recognize is that searches are continuously happening. It’s just how people are conducting the search that’s shifting and disrupting the marketplace.

Voice assistance is using your voice to engage with some sort of intelligent technology — like a digital assistant, a chatbot, or potentially even a voice skill — to ask a question and find an answer or to control other technology and the IoT.

Here’s the big differentiator: Instead of using Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. directly, we are now asking questions of, and talking with, third parties like Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, Siri, and the like.

Those third parties are typically digital assistants that engage with our voice. So, nowadays, I say, “Hey, Siri”,“Hey, Cortana”, “Okay, Google” or “Hey, Alexa,” whenever I have a question or something I want information about.

The digital assistants then engage directly with their corresponding search engine to tap into the knowledge graph as well as their specific knowledge repository to provide a response and an answer. Search is the intelligence platform powering intelligent agents.

That’s conversational AI, and it’s changing the way people engage with search.

Say goodbye to the age of touch as the primary interface

What we are seeing with this, in terms of voice assistance, is a shift in how people engage, where the search results are coming from, and how that response is derived. As marketers, we are used to developing programs and marketing plans in an era where touch and screens are the primary user interfaces between consumers and devices.

“The age of touch as the primary user interface between consumers and devices is being disrupted. We’re entering the age of conversational interfaces that are powered by our voice and gestures.” – Me.

We’re entering the age of conversational interfaces powered by our voice, sometimes even our gestures if there’s an AR/VR technology component in place, and it doesn’t even have to involve a screen. Increasingly, these devices do have screens, but their job mostly involves listening and delivering a spoken response.

And as marketers, we have a real opportunity on the horizon.

Voice search – It’s all about position zero and owning your graph

When you type a query into a search engine, hundreds of options pop up. It’s different with voice. When people engage in a voice search using a digital assistant, roughly 40 percent of the spoken responses today (and some say as many as 80%) are derived from “featured snippet” within the search results.

In search speak, that’s position zero. When you are that featured snippet in an organic search, that’s what the assistant is going to default to as the spoken response. Siri, Google, Cortana and Alexa don’t respond with the other ten things that are a possibility on that search page. Just the one.

When you consider this, it’s clear why position zero is becoming really important, because, while you might be number two in the text-based searches, you’re getting little to no traffic if people are engaging with intelligent agents and listening to the spoken response.

The opportunity here is to become that position zero, so you can win the search and win the traffic. But how? It goes back to the best practices of organic search, basic SEO, and having a solid strategy.

It’s embracing schema markup and structured data within your website, so you are providing search engines with signals and insights to be included in the knowledge graph. It’s claiming your business listings so that the data is up-to-date and correct. It’s understanding the questions people are asking and incorporating that question and conversational tone into your content.

Simply put: It’s understanding the language your customers are using so that you can provide value and answers in their own words and phrases. So, let’s conclude with that.

Understand how people are engaging with conversational AI

Let me ask you a question: How do you interact with your digital assistant?

My guess would be that you talk to Alexa, Siri, Google, or Cortana much like you would another human, and that fact has marketing implications — and opportunities.

Conversational AI for voice-assisted search is different from text-based search. If you look at the top 80 percent of queries, text-based searches typically range between one to three words. When we (at Microsoft, my employer) look at our Cortana voice data, the voice searches coming in range from four to six words. That’s substantially longer than a text-based search.

It means that people are engaging with the digital assistant as if they were in a conversation. They’re asking questions and engaging in almost full sentences. They are giving us signals of intent through their word choices and the questions they ask.

Given this insight, there’s an opportunity to think about the questions your customers are now asking. Think about what their need is in the way that your customers naturally talk, not in marketer speak or marketing terms,. Then, provide value back to them in that manner.

With conversational AI, we’re going back to being able to create an emotional connection through more meaningful conversations with our customers to build relationships. Brands will be able to differentiate themselves by adding emotional intelligence to IQ through these conversations.

With conversational AI, we’re going back to a time where we can understand more about the intent because consumers are giving us more information.

We just have to use it.

This story first appeared on MarTech Today. For more on marketing technology, click here.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

​Christi Olson is a Search Evangelist at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. For over a decade Christi has been a student and practitioner of SEM. Prior to joining the Bing Ads team within Microsoft, Christi worked in marketing both in-house and at agencies at Point It, Expedia, Harry & David, and Microsoft (MSN, Bing, Windows). When she’s not geeking out about search and digital marketing she can be found with her husband at ACUO crossfit and running races across the PacificNW, brewing and trying to find the perfect beer, and going for lots of walks with their two schnauzers and pug.





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