Virtual Assistants: The New Marketing Touch Point

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Virtual Assistants

Virtual assistants have achieved considerable importance on the market (and also in our homes) and the voice has become the new frontier of marketing. Although there is a debate going on to try to determine what their importance will be in the future, this is the right year to optimize your content for virtual assistants.

The voice technology is everywhere, pay attention not only a duty, but it is inevitable since it is affecting the world of marketing, advertising, retail, and, of course, also that of online searches. There will be changes in the way consumers behave which will be crucial for us marketers if we want to continue to find ourselves in the right place, at the right time and above all by addressing the right target .

A survey by NPR and Edison Research revealed that 65% of people who use smart speakers today could no longer do without it. Here then it becomes crucial to know something more about the use we can make of it and the technology behind them.

Who is using them?

More and more people! In February 2018, a PwC survey , conducted on a sample of 1,000 people in the United States, showed that 72% of respondents had used one of these devices and only 10% of them had never heard of it. People who used it more heavily were between 25 and 49 years old and 65% of the respondents belonging to this age group had declared to speak to the voice assistant of their smartphone at least once a day.

Even more recent – and surprising – data is proposed by the latest edition of the How Popular is Voice Search? by HigherVisibility. The novelty effect of voice search is fading and the number of people who use it is also decreasing. The study revealed, in fact, that 40% of the 2,000 people interviewed (in the United States) have never used voice assistants and only 23% of them carry out a voice search from a smart speaker or smartphone at least once a day.

Again from this research it emerges that as regards voice commands, from 2017 to 2018, the differences between generations and between genders have decreased: Baby Boomers and Generation X have reached Millennials in the use of voice assistants. The difference between generations in the use of voice assistants lies in what they say and in the commands they give .

How are they being used?

We live in a world now mobile-first, but voice assistants seem to go a little against this trend. The PwC survey we have already mentioned shows that 74% of respondents use voice assistants on mobile from home. And it has even been noticed that the participants prefer to speak to their voice assistants in private because doing it in public, using their own words, “is strange”.

Another detail that emerges is that the use of this technology occurs mainly for basic activities . The HigherVisibility results show that the most frequent commands are requests for directions, contacts from the address book or for switching on the music, meteorological information, searches for clubs and shops in the surrounding areas and fun questions.  No trace, however, of research related to purchases.

Just as the HigherVisibility results demonstrate, compared to the previous year , confidence in voice search and therefore in purchases made through voice commerce decreased .

Why are they not used?

It’s not new: lack of trust is the biggest barrier that hinders consumers from doing something. And that people don’t feel confident about this technology is evident from the data that emerge. The majority of PwC respondents prefer to buy online or from apps rather than through the voice assistants they rely on to do research (71% of people prefer them).

But why are people reluctant to shop online through voice assistants? Partly because most people believe that virtual assistants are unable to interpret the details necessary to complete an order correctly . If there are problems in understanding simple questions due to pronunciation issues, why couldn’t there also be at the time of the transaction? Another sensitive issue concerns the lack of confidence in communicating your bank details by voice in order to make the payment.

It’s not all. There is also a problem with using credit cards. There have been cases where young children have used pre-authorized credit cards (and whose data was stored on these devices) to make very expensive purchases with Amazon Alexa . For example, the case of a 6-year-old girl from Texas who ordered a $ 170 dollhouse and nearly two kilos of biscuits had made headlines.

Even though these devices are becoming increasingly numerous in our homes and in our lives,

The journalist Patricio Robles has published an incredible figure on Amazon in Econsultancy : only 2% of Alexa owners have used their device to make purchases. A fact in fact in contrast with the official Amazon declarations of the post-Christmas period: “The use of Alexa by users for purchases has more than tripled in a year”.

But the lack of precise numbers leaves no doubt about the true value of sales and the size of the phenomenon.

Even in the absence of clear numbers, it is certain that something is moving and that we must prepare to welcome a new change … How can we therefore start using virtual assistants in our marketing strategy?

One of the needs we need to focus on to help consumers is creating a coherent experience. From the PwC survey it emerges that they expect the devices to act correctly, are able to receive accents and pronunciations (which does not always happen using Siri, Alexa, Bixby or Cortana) and above all that help them make things easier .

By prioritizing a voice strategy and gaining greater confidence in voice assistants, will we be able to take advantage of the benefits of this technology?

The report also reveals that users would like to be able to skip advertisements, preferring video over audio. But giving the opportunity to choose whether to listen or skip listening to an advertisement increases the percentage of those willing to listen.

So why focus and work on this aspect?

In 2017, voice sales in the United States had reached $ 1.8 billion and the figure is projected to reach 40 billion by 2022. Although we do not know if these projections are accurate, the potential is enormous. HigherVisibility also ends its report with a positive note on the potential of virtual assistants, despite the decline in their use due to lack of trust.

And even if we have to wait to see if the predicted explosion will happen, for now we can start doing some things.

So going back to the question above:

What should we do right now to optimize voice search?

Strengthen SEO locally

As we have seen, one of the commands that is most frequently given to voice assistants concerns searches “in the surroundings”. Take some time to update all your local information in SEO , including your Google My Business account data.

It may sound like trivial advice, but Google will penalize you for not finding details about your brand, so make sure that every time someone says “Hey Google” or “Alexa” it is addressed correctly. .

Use your content to answer questions

Knowing the problems your customers are having is helpful in getting a featured snippet and being catapulted into a zero position in searches. It is in this area that vocal assistants seek answers. In fact, according to the Roast agency’s Voice Search Ranking Report , 80% of the answers searched by devices on Google Home come from snippets. To conquer these positions there are several possible ways. You can optimize your copy using tools that reveal what are the most frequently asked questions related to your keywords . You can write your copy with a conversational style to imitate as much as possible the phrases that people would formulate, making sure to insert the answers in the text: Google will reward these actions by giving you zero position.

Prioritize practical questions

What was the most common type of question asked to a voice assistant in 2017? Easy, the questions “How to do …”. Certainly creating a “how-to content” is not enough; our advice is to use the HowTo scheme to enrich the content of your site and to translate it into a language that search engines understand. In this regard, keep an eye on Speakable , a tool that can select the parts of your text that are most suitable to be read aloud by devices that use Google Assistant. Speakable is currently widespread, in beta, only for US and English-language sites, but it is likely to spread quickly .

Waiting for it to arrive here in Italy, you can start using other methods , applicable on all types of devices, useful for optimizing SEO. For example: Alexa Skill and its Google equivalent, Actions, the aforementioned HowTo scheme, the FAQ or the Q&A (question-answer) model.

And what about ads?

Although we have not yet seen Paid Media campaigns on these devices, Amazon and Google have opened spaces on their respective Alexa Skills and Google Actions apps to start investigating the possibility of inserting campaigns of this type. Although it is still in its early stages, a 2017 Think with Google study had already revealed that 52% of the people interviewed were interested in learning about promotions and offers from the different brands.

Our advice, once again, is to stay abreast of the times and technology, optimizing your content and preparing the basis for the future.

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