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Is Voice REALLY the Future?

For the last 18 months, the message has been the same: “Voice First technology is the future”.

The script has been stuck to perfectly: Smart Speakers, Voice Assistants and Voice Activation have been heralded as the way forward for technology; the solution to every problem from marketing, to customer service, to e-commerce but now (maybe for the first time) the flicker of doubt has started to rear its worried-looking face.

According to comScore; 50 per cent of all searches will be voice searches within 2 years, but stats like that didn’t stop Patrick Reinhart (VP of SEO Agency Conductor) recently suggesting at the Brighton SEO Conference that brands should be placing their resource elsewhere;

“There’s no way to confirm with your bosses that your voice search strategy is actually working and I think we’re all getting a little lost along the way. I would rather focus on things that are more easily measurable.” – Patrick Reinhart, Conductor.

I agree with his sentiment… in a way.

Voice right now is focused more on simple commands than on purchasing goods or requesting information. Commands such as “Turn off the lights” or “Play me Beyonce” are much more common than, say, adding an item to an Amazon shopping basket. But for me, that’s not a compelling reason to not get your ‘Voice Search’ house in order and experiment with what will, no doubt, be an effective tool in the future.

Reinhart does acknowledge that Voice does have a big future that “Can not be ignored” but advises “awareness” over “investment”. He sites Amazon Skills poor user retention rates as a reason NOT to invest in the current market.

It’s a compelling argument. Alexa Skill user retention rates currently lie at around 6% (up from 3% two years ago) but for me, this is an issue with the content within the Skills rather than the capability of the platform. I have written before about Voice needing a “Shazam Moment” before it fully matures and that moment is yet to happen. In my view, it is those who invest now in developing that content and exploring what works will be the ones who benefit first when the emerging technology tips into the mainstream.

One of the reasons that people are still cautious about the future of voice are the questions concerning Voice SEO and the importance of being ‘first’. Whether a user is asking for “Toilet Paper” or “Pizza Delivery” the interaction is very different from that of using a traditional search engine.

Instead of being presented with a multitude of options in list form, a user is provided with ONE single search return which means being “first” could become everything. How to take advantage of this aspect of voice is proving difficult to predict. It could transpire that those who invest in a ‘Voice First’ presence now will benefit in the future. It could also be that we see the introduction of paid search dominating returns or even, as is happening now in some areas, platform providers returning search results that favour their own products.

Amazon, for example, has a range of private-label brands that they offer as the default return on voice product searches. Ask Alexa to add “Batteries” to your Amazon basket and you’ll receive such a product. Unless that is, you ask directly for a competitor’s product. This shouldn’t discourage brands from investing in this area, it should serve as a sign of how important it is becoming to establish a presence on these platforms early doors… to build familiarity with its users and make your brand synonymous with your service to those who are already using Voice Assistants.

There are still many unanswered questions as to how voice will be used going forward and even what form it will take, but there is a compelling argument that NOW is the time for research, testing and claiming your place in the market:

“In this climate, it’s the companies that invest in the future of voice interaction and surround themselves with the right talent, the right technologies, and the right partners that will prevail. Now is the time to get this right because we’re on the precipice of a transformation in customer interaction — and AI will be at its core.” – Havard Business Review

For those with a limited budget, that require quick results and measurable success, Patrick Reinhart is 100% correct. Existing and effective marketing tools is the logical investment.

For those with a longer-game plan that want to have a head start on their competitors (and we’re talking 5 years time, not 50) the time to act is now.

As with any emerging technology, there are no guarantees that there will be a massive future for the brave new world of voice but with estimates suggesting that global uses looking to top 200million by the end of this year all the evidence points to it being big.

In all likelihood what we now understand about the world of voice and the way we consume it will completely change before the technology reaches maturity but those who invest early will learn how their customers interact with the media and understand how best to operate in the space. It will be those early adopters who will see the benefits when it does.

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