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Over half a billion people are already using voice assistants each week. Experts expect this number to markedly increase in the coming months thanks to a variety of imminent product releases. Given the size of the opportunity in this burgeoning market, competition is unsurprisingly fierce, with the technology titans going toe-to-toe to win a place in every room of everyone’s home.

According to Strategy Analytics, Amazon’s Echo devices currently have 67 percent of the smart speaker market, compared to Google’s 25 percent share. However, Google Assistant, the company’s rival to Alexa and Siri, is reportedly picking up the pace and is now installed on over 400 million devices, including the Google Home speakers and a sizeable proportion of Android phones.

Anecdotal accounts from users suggest that it takes some time to become comfortable with asking a machine questions out loud. And it takes even longer to trust the technology sufficiently to use it for online shopping, in what’s called conversational commerce; people tend to rely on visual information, like product photography, to inform purchase decisions, particularly for items like clothing.

The major technology players are already responding to this requirement by releasing screen-capable devices. At the Consumer Technology Association’s CES event in January, Google announced it will be collaborating with Lenovo to produce a voice assistant with a screen. Amazon’s recent Echo Show and Echo Spot speakers feature similar functionality, and Facebook is poised to launch two smart voice-powered devices in the summer, which include screens, facial recognition capabilities, and a front-facing camera.


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With the next generation of smart home assistants incorporating screens as standard, we’re likely to see consumers increasingly use these devices for online shopping, in the same way that the introduction of high-quality touch screens to smartphones sparked the rise of m-commerce. So, how can businesses operating online adapt to capitalize on this significant shift in consumer shopping behavior?

Voice-friendly search optimization

The types of phrases that people use to formulate search queries online are constantly evolving, and often in response to technological innovation. One obvious example is the rise of location-based searches, driven largely by mobile geolocation tech. Google reports that, since 2011, searches containing the phrase “near me” have increased by 3,400 percent.

Considering that voice assistant adoption is set to skyrocket, this will inevitably have ramifications for SEO and online content. Consumers will use more conversational language when articulating spoken search queries, moving away from simple keyword-based phrases like “festival gear” and instead asking more nuanced questions, like “what should I pack for a festival?”

To fully leverage these types of conversational queries and secure organic traffic from voice search, businesses will need to optimize pages with authoritative, helpful content that answers these questions. This content should be succinct and waffle-free to give it the best possible chance of being read out by the assistant as the optimal answer, or what Google terms the “featured snippet” (a block at the top of a search results page that includes a summary of the answer, extracted from a webpage).

Search Engine Land offers the following best practices for maximizing success with this strategy: “Identify a common, simple question related to your market area, provide a clear and direct answer to the question, offer value-added info beyond the direct answer, and finally: make it easy for users (and Google) to find on your page, with correct metadata.”

Product descriptions that talk back

In the not-so-distant future, once shopping via voice queries becomes more commonplace, it’s likely that consumers will begin to expect ecommerce websites to be able to support conversational interactions. So, when viewing a product page on a retailer website, for example, they’ll want to verbally ask questions about the product and receive accurate spoken answers.

To support this capability, businesses will need to anticipate likely user queries and add appropriate voice-specific metadata to their product description content, essentially fulfilling the role of the offline sales assistant. To illustrate, a customer browsing the product page for a handbag may want to ask “is the strap detachable?,” and they would expect to receive a verbal yes/no response, ideally embellished with some helpful additional details.

Unless ecommerce companies have structured and populated all of their product data to support voice queries, they risk losing out on the conversational commerce revenues that are about to emerge, and will likely see their conversion rates fall as consumers increasingly expect a voice-compatible shopping experience.

Consistency of tone

The advent of a voice-driven ecommerce world throws up all sorts of new questions with regard to the brand tone of voice and consistency. Although brands won’t necessarily be able to control how voice assistants speak, in terms of factors like accent and cadence, they will need to consider what voice assistants will say when parsing the content from their websites.

Brands will need to apply the same level of rigor and diligence around brand compliance to “spoken” content as they would to written or visual website content to ensure that the information digital assistants provide about their website sounds consistently on-brand across all markets and languages.

According to ComScore, by 2020, consumers will make 50 percent of online searches using voice. Smart assistants offer new and exciting ways for brands and consumers to interact, which represents not only a huge opportunity but also a significant (and urgent) challenge for ecommerce and SEO teams. Those that adapt first will be the first to reap the benefits, cutting through the noise, quite literally, to drive sales and market share.

Ed Bussey is the CEO and founder of Quill, a content production service.

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