The Battle of Voice Agents: Amazon Echo & Google Home

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A smart speaker initially released to a limited audience, the Amazon Echo has been flying off shelves in the United Kingdom since September 2016, selling more than 11 million devices worldwide - that’s right, the likelihood that you can exclaim “Hey, Alexa” anywhere in the United Kingdom and receive a response from this device is second to none. Boasting an integrated screen for visual results powered by voice queries, the competition between search engine giant Google and retailer Amazon is hotting up minute by minute.

As marketers, it’s our job to be in the know about what’s dominating the industry. As digital marketers, our focus is on understanding how people search on voice-activated devices, and identify the opportunities this provides from a search and marketing perspective. Sure, product searches on Amazon can be manipulated with sponsored content and Google SERPs can be skewed with tactical ad-bids, but what does this battle of voice agents mean for modern marketers?

Hey, Alexa

Amazon is the veteran of the voice-activated marketplace, having ravished a two-year head start with launch of its voice assistant Alexa in 2014. Since being released to the mass-market place, after a number of years being Prime exclusive only, the Amazon Echo has since become the best-selling product in Amazon in 2016, and is now available in spin-off products - The Echo and Echo Dot.

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A simple supply and demand story; the voice search market in the U.S. and U.K. is growing at a rapid rate, with 20% of Google searches in the U.S. attributed to voice search alone. Usage of voice-activated personal assistants has seen a significant increase, with survey data from MindMeld claiming that 60% of respondents said they had started using voice search in the past 12 months.

Understanding just how search queries differ across devices is crucial to digital marketers, as these invaluable insights will reveal customer intent and opportunities to meet customer expectations more closely at various touchpoints. This allows us to optimise our online assets, deliver the right message at the right time and improve the customer journey. With a range of virtual assistants now on the mass-market, such as Siri and Cortana, consumers are becoming more “conversational” with search and mobile devices, presenting content and SEO opportunities. The obstacles the brands will inevitably face with the rise of voice input for search need to be adjusted too; such as rethinking language used in ads and adjusting for top of the funnel results.

Alexa’s reach extends far beyond the Echo, though, as Amazon is working on integrating its cloud-based voice service into consumer products, that will make everyday life easier and more integrated - cashing in on the “American dream” of living and thriving in a fully-functioning smart homes. Earlier this year, car manufacturer Ford announced that Alexa will be integrated into its Sync 3 cars in the UK, so owners can check opening times of a shop as well as switch the lights off at home from inside their car. Car owners of specific Ford models will also be able to control certain functions of their vehicles through Alexa voice commands from inside the home, such as locking the car doors or even starting up the car.

Expanding drastically from a simple “Alexa, look up what…” solution, the Amazon Echo is playing a pivotal role in every-day duties and life for more than 8 million people worldwide.

Okay, Google

Not one to miss a slice of the pie, Google’s very own voice assistant, Google Now, launched in the form of Google Home in November 2016 (U.S.). It’s no secret that Google has had investments into natural language processing and machine learning, with its artificial intelligence system RankBrain being a core algorithm since 2015. Google’s capabilities and intelligence in machine learning and AI, teamed with user behaviour data from its products like Google Calendar, YouTube, Gmail browsing history etc. gives Google a distinct competitive advantage over Amazon when it comes to consumer data.

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Google Home pulls data from all these Google data sources and is able to assist users of the voice-controlled speaker throughout the day; from practical calendar reminders to pulling up the best chocolate cake recipes. But, because of Google’s search engine capability, it is also able to predict what the user is interested in based on their search history.

Controlling smart home devices is one of Google Home's strengths, particularly home entertainment systems, and on top of this, it can also distinguish between voices and give personalised responses to each one. For digital marketers, this means that you may want to consider organic and paid optimisation beyond your website and look into the opportunities in other Google products such as Google Shopping, Gmail, YouTube and so on, to see how these channels working together can strengthen your brand offering to consumers.

GOOGLE 1/0 10TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Google’s annual developer conference I/O 2017 took place in May, where a number of new features of Google Home were revealed, such as hands-free calls for users in USA and Canada, alerts for upcoming events like meetings, doctors’ appointments and now also streaming Spotify for free service users.

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New capabilities between voice and TV were also showcased at the Google I/O conference through Chromecast integration with Google Home. It is already possible to use voice commands to search on YouTube and other apps, but soon users will be able to select programmes that they want to watch on Netflix and any other out of the box TV streaming service, and stream them directly onto the TV. Google is planning to be able to provide more personalised results for the user to choose from based on their viewing habits and search history, profiting on an element of personalisation that Google benefits from due to its comprehensive data collection.

Final Thoughts

Though Amazon may have trail-blazed the leadership for voice-activated search agents, Google is hot on its heels thanks to the mass amount of data already accumulated by Google’s widely used services. The prospect that artificial personal assistants are set to impact more of daily life (Amazon Echo’s integration with automobiles), and the potential to serve personalised result based on historic data (Google Home), leads marketers to a new and clever opportunity to fit their brand or business into the cusp on this search revolution.

Voice search is inevitably going to affect search and marketing in paramount ways, with implications owed to the even bigger presence of mobile usage, a need for different key-words to reflect how people actually speak, rather than type, and most importantly - the use of conversational content that mimics a user's speech. As Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, explains:

With virtual assistants having more of a role in everyday life, so opens up the competition of securing the slot as the virtual assistant’s preferred service and result, meaning SEO will likely be much tougher than it currently stands - I mean, there will only be one top spot to compete for...

How will voice-activated virtual assistants affect your search and marketing strategies? Do you anticipate much change in your current strategy to reflect this shift in trend? Let us know over on @FastWebMedia Twitter.

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