Google Home is a powerful new search and discovery device. I like it though I didn’t find it in normal usage to be dramatically better than Amazon Echo/Alexa (as Danny Sullivan does). Regardless, its appearance is very significant because it will help accelerate voice search adoption and virtual assistants.
As Google’s emphasis on its “Assistant” (across devices) has shown, search has become much more “ambient,” transactional and less about SERPs. It’s also about a range of content experiences and capabilities that go well beyond screens. Indeed, the virtual assistant concept transcends search into much broader territory.
Apple is rumored to be working on a Siri-based stand-alone home assistant. If that in fact happens I predict that Microsoft will also build one for Cortana. By the time those appear in 2017, however, Google and Amazon, especially, will have sold perhaps millions of assistant devices this holiday season. (I now have an Echo, an Echo Dot and two Google Home devices in various rooms in my house.)
Amazon hasn’t disclosed sales figures but hinted that volumes for Echo and the lower-priced Echo Dot are huge. Third parties have said that Echo devices are outselling Kindles for Amazon.
This obviously matters to marketers because of the very different user experience these virtual assistant devices offer, which is mostly screen free. With both Home and Alexa there are companion screen experiences but they’re very secondary. In various articles and conference sessions, I and others like Bing’s Purna Virji have been talking for some time about the growth of voice search and the potential impact of virtual assistants on users and marketers.
Optimizing for voice and virtual assistants is about answering user questions and structured markup. It’s also about integrating your transactional capabilities into these platforms — ASAP.
While the battle of the virtual assistants will continue to heat up, in one sense it doesn’t matter whether your prefer Home or Echo/Alexa. What matters is that you’ll own at least one of them — or a Siri or Cortana-based voice assistant if they appear. Of course, Google has the advantage of its search index (over Amazon and Apple) and its lock on mobile search usage gives it another “network” advantage.
Voice search took a lot longer than I expected to become mainstream and take off, but it is now taking off. I have good information about Siri usage and voice search, which is growing tremendously. The larger point here is that these devices will further condition people to use their voice to search or ask for information and conduct transactions.
While smartphones are and will remain the primary internet access devices in our lives, our activities will be distributed across screens and access points: the PC, tablets, smartphones, in-car, TV and stand-alone virtual assistants. Voice is a more intuitive and natural interface and it will become the preferred way to access information for millions and millions of people. Get ready.