You can use voice commands on home assistants like Amazon Echos and Google Homes to connect and control smart devices throughout the home and find local services quickly. You can even use them to get dates (you read that correctly).

When enough people ask a virtual assistant inside a device to turn on the lights, play your favorite song, order pizza, or check the weather, it quickly becomes a consumer behavioral change that affects the way marketing and search work. And although these virtual assistants are present in phones and tablets, it is in the home devices sold by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft that they really reach their full potential.

Alexa (Amazon), Google Assistant and Cortana (Microsoft) are artificial intelligence programs designed to learn from every interaction with their humans. They can personalize their responses and even accurately predict their owners' needs (such as booking tickets to a movie) to make suggestions ahead of time.

With home assistants forecasted by Juniper Research to grow to 275 million by 2023, their impact on how consumers search for products and services--and how businesses get found--is already beginning to make itself felt. Here's what every entrepreneur needs to know about this increasingly important tool.

It's not about keywords anymore.

Voice search has accelerated a move away from the traditional approach of using keywords to look for a product or a service--by removing the keyboard and the screen entirely.

Right now, it can only provide short answers to spoken search queries that match specific sections of content on a page. Google, however, is using machine learning to move toward the capacity to understand the content completely--and infer answers from it, the way a person would.

In its latest research paper, Google released its question-answering data set--called Natural Questions--as an open-source resource. The examples show that the company is leaning away from ranking indexed web pages that match search queries. It's now aiming to rank pages because it can understand them as answers to a question being posed--even if that answer is not explicitly stated in the page's content.

This fundamental shift will affect the way your business approaches search. It'll take the focus away from keywords, or even short explicit answers that are being used to match a web page to a search query, and place emphasis on the way people use language in its most natural form.

It's about discovery and retention.

This development is part of the organic evolution of information retrieval technology. It's also the solution to a much deeper problem: Voice search is hard to do well.

The novelty of asking a device a question and getting an answer back soon wears off. The effort to frame the question and get a satisfactory answer is commensurably higher than searching on your phone or laptop, and the satisfaction is potentially lower.

This creates a retention problem for Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant that can only be solved if two things happen. First, the devices themselves must understand the questions being asked of them better. Second, the information retrieval technology that powers them must better understand content it has indexed so it can give more satisfactory answers.

The takeaway here is that while content is still king, the type of content that is being created has to change. If you want your business to be found through voice search, you need to take these four considerations into account:

  1. Length is important. A web page of content that is created to answer one or more questions about a product or a service needs to be as complete and authoritative as possible in that regard.
  2. Structure is critical. Content that is disorganized in its presentation, uses language that makes it hard to read or lacks a logical progression in the presentation of its subject stands a much lower chance of being cited in search.
  3. Clarity is key. Navigation aids such as subheadings, bullet points and even illustrations help present information better and make it understood faster from a human point of view. These are elements that now play a key role in ranking in voice search.
  4. Quality is a must. No page that regurgitates content, throws together definitions and loose paragraphs or relies on keywords to attract search engine attention is going to rank well enough to be presented in voice search.

Get these four right when you create content and your business stands to gain exposure in search in every form.

Published on: Feb 1, 2019
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