This article originally appeared in our weekly ‘Industry Roundup Newsletter’ that goes out every Friday to marketers around the world. Join them by adding your details here 


 

I was at Colston Hall last week, in ‘The Lantern’ specifically, with 200 other marketers for the Digital Gaggle conference, hosted by SEO and social agency, Noisy Little Monkey.

Built in 1873, The Lantern was originally a theatre, and its stage has been graced by illustrious Bristol Old Vic Theater School alumni like Patrick Stewart and Daniel Day-Lewis over the years.

Treading the boards yesterday, however, was a quite different actor – Amazon’s Alexa.

Alexa’s star turn, in one of the talks of the day, was backed up by a supporting cast of Just Eat’s Voice Search R&D team, self-described ‘meat sacks’. The Digital Gaggle audience (‘Gagglers’?) watched as the two ordered sushi live on stage. It wasn’t exactly Hamlet, but as a performance of the tech, it was brilliant.

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Food delivery is just one facet of Alexa’s abilities. She can – at present – play music, provide information, deliver news and sports scores, tell you the weather, control your smart home and even allow Prime members to order products they’ve ordered. But that scope is increasing daily, and anyone is free to create new applications (or skills as they’re known.) There are over 15,000 skills at present, and all that’s required to develop new ones is some basic javascript knowledge.

Amazon’s virtual assistant, delivered through the Amazon Echo, benefits from first-mover advantage in the ‘voice interface’ space, having been out in the wild for over a year – attracting 8.2m users. But the pack is hot on its heels. Google Home has been out for six months; Apple and Microsoft Cortana devices will be launched soon.

Speaking with Just Eat’s engineer Andy after the show, it’s clear that the hardware isn’t the important bit, however. It’s easier to think of the various voice interfaces as voice browsers; where you might currently have Safari vs. Chrome vs. Firefox, think Alexa vs. Cortana vs. Siri. Anyone can plug Alexa into their hardware just as any laptop can run any web browser.

It can be tempting to dismiss these new platforms as irrelevant for B2B; too soon for small and midsized businesses. But voice is not limited to Alexa, of course, and is already very much part of mobile search and is growing rapidly. By 2020, it’s estimated that 50% of all searches will be voice activated.

Mobile First Index

In an earlier presentation, Nichola Stott of SEO agency MediaFlow primed us for Google’s incoming ‘mobile first index.’

Slides

What you need to know is this:

  • It’s already well underway and will likely kick in next year.
  • It’s “the most significant change to the search landscape since the launch of Google.”
  • Most searches are now conducted via mobile, and so Google index mobile first.
  • 20% of searches in Google app are now voice searches
  • When people search with voice, they tend to use longer, more polite phrases. This is starting to affect the ‘long tail’ search results
  • Most people get their answers from the SERP’s page and don’t bother clicking through to sites. This means that sites must be much more aggressive with markup schema
  • Speed is absolutely everything when it comes to mobile. At the very least you should look at the size of the images on your site.
  • And the rest is all stuff that’s been said for years – When reviewing your site, use your phone! The brilliant news is that what’s good for mobile is very good for desktop.

Voice as an interface, however, has limitations. Not only can it throw up some slightly odd results, it’s decidedly one note. With screens, you can animate, add colour, add visuals, but voice has none of that – it’s words, robotically recited by a box. As such, the words have to be the right ones, and the tone you choose is the sole differentiator between brands.

Alexa’s performance on stage at Digi Gags was a prime example of this use of tone – when she placed the sushi order, Alexa commended the designer for placing his sushi order ‘like a boss.’ There is scope for personality, but it’s far more limited than screen-based search.

Brand personality has always been important, and how you speak a way to define yourselves, but the rise of voice search places more emphasis than ever before on tone of voice.

Of course, voice will not completely replace screens, certainly not in the foreseeable future. But with the rise of Alexa et al, and a push towards smaller wearables like smart watches and smart glasses (which Amazon has just announced it’s working on), brands will have less visual space to get their message across.

What you will need, are great writers.

This article originally appeared in our weekly ‘Industry Roundup Newsletter’ that goes out every Friday to marketers around the world. Join them by adding your details here 


Also published on Medium.

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Tom is the founder of Future Content, a specialist content agency located in Bristol, UK. Tom is the winner of the 2016 'Acceler8' award for Entrepreneurial Leadership from RBS and Entrepreneurial Spark. You can find Tom on Twitter @HTSandford. If you ever visit Future Content's offices you'll find Tom near the table tennis table.