14 | Voice Search & Devices with Nick Wilsdon


“There’s almost a backlash around voice search” Nick Wilsdon points out during the podcast episode around voice search, devices and discoverability. Voice should be a complimentary tool that is used by a brand so don’t go forgetting your sites and SEO.

However, although there may be a degree of hype around voice search, it’s sensible for brands to take simple steps to understand it and utilise it when it makes sense. Get involved in it and get prepared but do not forget your entire digital marketing strategy.

Did you know that 30% of businesses are expected to use voice search to help customers by next year?

About Nick Wilsdon:
Presenter at Search Camp in December 2017.
In the industry for over 18 years.
Ran own agency in Russia.
Has been a part of other agencies, such as iProspect and Arena Media.
4 years at Vodafone, looking after Search projects across 24 markets.
Has a voice device in every room of his house!
Twitter – @nickwilsdon
AMP for Mobile First Approach
I was really impressed that Vodafone have AMP product pages that were performing really well. When Nick spoke about his projects at Search Camp it was clear that there is an opportunity for some businesses to utilise AMP. Nick suggests that if you’re a smaller company, it may be useful to use AMP to have pages that perform better than the bigger brands.

One of the big criticisms of AMP has been addressed since the end of last year though. The industry often questioned the injustice of better performing content via AMP compared to a speedy, mobile first friendly site. AMP would show up in the carousel and therefore offer better visibility for those pages. Now, however, Google is promising to offer the same visibility to fast pages as well as AMP pages, to encourage companies to improve their site speed in general.

Voice ‘Skills’
Brands can take ownership of the voice search space by creating Alexa skills. It can be broken down into three, with opening terms being ‘Hey Alexa’ that are then followed by invocation names such as ‘Ask Vodafone’ or tell/get. Then there’s the utterance after that which is ‘show me my bill’. So, by creating an Alexa skill you can create a set of invocations around ‘Ask Vodafone’ for example.

Invocation names are being taken up and Amazon vs Google have a different approach to how they allow brands to take ownership of this. Google allows everyone to register, whereas Amazon asks for brands to take ownership in a different way.

Get a basic Alexa skill up and running (Google Actions are a little trickier) that you can reserve as the whole market is only just beginning to develop.

Top fact: at the beginning of 2017 there were 200 Alexa skills, by the end there were 7000 and there are now 35000. It’s easy to make them and they’re on the rise very very quickly.

If you want to set up your own Alexa Skill or Google Action:

Developer.amazon.com has a short course
Code Academy teach you
You can use any language
Create simple Q&A functionality
Note. Skills are not a replacement of APPs and are not used for selling through, currently. 

Develop your APIs for Voice
APIs are a great way to offer information that will help respond to customer queries via voice. For example at Vodafone, they can query their bills, whereas most brands can use it for ‘where is my delivery’ and offer information on their item that’s en route.

This is a great way to make that customer journey even better than it already is because it’s offering your customers, who already bought/buy/shop with you to gain more out of that partnership. You will delight customers with your customer service and offer a more convenient and transparent service. It’s an added layer of trust and how it can currently be used in the short term whilst we wait for the voice area to be developed.

Authentication issues
Something that is missing from the current voice ecosystem is that there’s nothing to stop guests and other people setting alarm clocks for example. There is no authentication process which makes it challenging when you have children who may re-set that alarm clock as soon as you leave the room. This is the same thing that possibly holds us back from sensitive queries, such as billing information. It’s more likely to be used to compliment sales therefore rather than the sales themselves but it may be key for reordering specifically.

Nick believes that due to the APIs reordering may be made simple, especially if we have something that we want specifically but at the best price. Voice may therefore help find that specific item at the best possible price and reorder it for you. Definitely a process of convenience. Just Eat may be good for re-ordering takeaways and Domino’s are early adopters of this as well. The Ocado App allows for items to be added to the shopping list and it’s great for to-do lists.

Voice Search and Structure
This area can be tapped into via featured snippets and position 0 that is used by Google. Also, Schema by marking up your site as currently Nick identified problems with voice discover-ability of brand addresses and numbers in particular.

Structuring content in a particular way is nothing new, traditional SEO is all about making data being easy to crawlers to process and capture. Extra visibility may be gained here therefore, if you are making information easy to be found. Similarly, Alexa skills uses traditional SEO also because it’s using keyword research. You use certain keywords and similar queries to make sure that the utterance works in the best way possible.

Nick says that Google is very sophisticated, perhaps more than Alexa, as they use AI to understand what people actually mean when they say one thing but mean another.

Localisation and ‘Near Me’
Nick says it’s something he’s looking into actively. You can organise your local data using Yext, Localistico or Uberall, which are filling the gaps that Google left with their local product. If you had many stores it was a problem, especially if you’re doing it at scale like Vodafone. Nick said they saw 100%+ visibility when localisation was sorted out. You can do add 360 photography via Google guides, and cameras are now cheap to buy too.

Things to Do right now, in 2018
Build your brand invocation and ask your web development team to build a skill.
Work our what service you offer and how these can be made available via an API. This can be complex but it will futureproof the brand. There’s a rise in assistance Apps that offer connections for you which will need an API from you to work.
Data Surrender & Personalisation
With personal assistants and voice search, there’s a whole new level of personalisation and us giving up our data. For them to know our routines and know when our partner’s birthday is so that the assistant can have a present delivered they need a whole new level of information about us which may be an issue. One example is push notifications through voice devices but brands are very aware that it’s intrusive. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops as it’s a very current topic and issue at this moment in time, especially after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica incident, GDPR regulations and more.

What Does the Future Hold?
Personal assistants will help with productivity immensely. We have plenty of information and we need ways of sifting through it and gain something from it, quickly too. Nick mentions a medical virtual assistant that looks through the fire-hose of information to make sense of it to give the right documents without the need for someone to look through it all.

An example can be where your assistant will read the terms and conditions for you. It will know whether or not you want to sign up to the t’s and c’s of a particular brand and what areas you agree/do not agree to. No more Cambridge Analytica?

We will experience hiccups along the way, such as voice authentication, especially for banks where family members were able to gain access to information, but it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

Voice is also not a replacement, so don’t give up your site or Apps or SEO. However, it does help us interact differently with brands/customers. We’re always on the go so it’s another place to interact with data and an extra way to help engage.

Voice search is primarily an English language thing. In the US it’s US-centric but otherwise, if not, then English language. Amazon has done well and is dominating market share with Alexa devices but as they’re not in every international market, Google Home is catching up. It’s hard to interact via voice when English isn’t your first language and speaking to Alexa with an accent.

The next big step for internationalising voice search will be real-time translation. Imagine someone speaking to you in another language but it comes through in your own so that you can understand it!

Monetising Voice Search
Brand involvement is key.
People are unlikely to pay for an Alexa Skill or Google action as they would pay for an App (at the current level of maturity.)
If you sell on Amazon, it’s likely that they will do something more advanced through their voice network so it’s worth looking into Skills now and gearing it up a notch.
There’s a possibility in the future that utterances (phrases) are monetised in a similar way to PPC keywords. Developing skills or actions now, will allow you to move quickly on these opportunities.
Having a screen on a voice device offers even more opportunity for a PPC-like approach because a company can advertise their product to show up in the results for particular queries.
Voice Search with a Visual Screen
Nick has the new voice device that also has a screen and says it’s been really handy for his children when they’d like to see how something looked for their homework or it has been ideal for his baby monitor solution. Having cameras around the house, as well as voice devices, means that he’s able to check up on his baby whenever. I said it’ll be useful for security cameras as well.

The screen needs to be controlled with voice, not touch. So if you’re listening to a podcast, you need to use audio commands to play the file for example. It is touch screen too but it’s a voice device with a screen attached that’s complimenting the experience.

Listen to the episode on iTunes now.

Music credit: I Dunno (Grapes of Wrath Mix) by spinningmerkaba (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/jlbrock44/56346 Ft: Jlang, 4nsic, grapes.


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