Intelligent Speakers and Search Engines

Intelligent Speakers and Search Engines

As an avid Science Fiction fan, I often marvel at how modern innovations often mirror or even surpass the other-worldly technology showcased in my favourite movies and television shows.

Who ever thought when Star Trek was first aired in early 1966 that hand-held communicators, speaking computers and particle weapons would become a reality just a few short decades later.

It’s a real pity we don’t have a world Governance system that promotes Galactic peace or interstellar star ships just yet, but hey… if we can get through all the petty, divisive nonsense that seems to pervade the World at the moment I guess it will happen eventually.

The fact is, technology is pushing forward so fast that if you are tasked with promoting a retail website you really do have to run to keep up. Which brings me round to the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the increasingly ubiquitous ‘Intelligent Speaker’, something that Star Trek did very well…

Intelligent Speakers

Devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo are now being joined by many other third party ‘intelligent speakers’, many of which are tied into the collected knowledge contained in search engine databases as well as news services, other smart devices and online retailers.

Intelligent Speakers, just like the virtual assistants embedded into Microsoft, Apple and Google operating systems make use of Natural Language Processing (NLP), the use of which is only possible because of advances in Artificial Intelligence and Neural Network processing over the past decades.

Neural Networking and NLP allow computer systems to learn and respond to us in much the same way a Human does, giving an approximation of intelligence. It’s all very ‘Star Trek’, but what does this have to do with online marketing?

NLP and Search Results

Natural Language Processing does introduce particular challenges to those who are promoting websites, in that we are now presented with an ever-increasing range of potential search queries via a spoken interface.

Modern devices with access to distributed AI powered by Neural Networks allow us to express ourselves to our computers and home devices like smart TV’s, games consoles and the relatively new Intelligent Speakers in a way previously only available in the realms of Science Fiction. All of this is only possible because the wonders of our modern, fast Internet connections.

Google have stated that 15% of all search queries on its search engine have never been seen before . This is increasingly a consequence of the flexibility allowed by naturally spoken search via Intelligent Speakers and Virtual Assistants embedded on devices such as TV’s, games consoles, computers, smartphones and of course intelligent speakers.

The Right Question?

Normally, before any online marketing campaign can take place, baseline targets need to be established.

Questions such as “What keyphrases are we targeting for a particular website?” and “What are the likely returns for those keyphrases for the top positions in search engine results?” normally need to be asked.

These kinds of questions become much more difficult to answer in the world of spoken search and in fact, are we actually asking the right questions anyway?

Perhaps what we really need to ask when structuring a marketing campaign in this new era of spoken search should be “how would anyone possibly describe a search for this product?” This is a much broader question and can’t readily be answered.

Even the normal array of keyphrase research tools available to us become useless when a good portion of the possible phrases used to search for a particular product or service become in effect completely new and have no search history.

Perhaps what we really need is a way of predicting how people interact with machines through spoken language. Whilst clever people all around the Planet are actively working on producing machines that can do just this ( perhaps what we really need to do is think creatively ourselves and approach the problem from the point of view of a website user, rather than a website marketer…

Covering All The Bases

The World Wide Web as originally proposed as a massive data exchange.

The whole idea was to allow information to be easily shared. It turns out that if we go back to basics then we can get around the problems posed by natural language searches.

By ‘go back to basics’ what I mean is providing comprehensive, factually correct and enticing information on each and every product and category page in our online stores, backing this up with genuinely useful content on supporting pages like guides, blog posts and informational pages.

Doing this in the vast majority of cases allows us to describe any way in which anyone will search for products or product ranges. The more text you add throughout your eCommerce website and the bigger variety of language you use, the greater chance that you will capture some of the phrases used to search for the products and brands that you offer in your online store.

This doesn’t give you free reign to spam and stuff keywords in every page in your website, but if you keep it front of brain that not everyone thinks alike you should be on the right track.

It doesn’t guard against people who search for a battery by asking Google Home “that thing with the copper coloured top”, but it may just save our marketing efforts from the worst effects of the Intelligent Speaker invasion.

The Death of Search Engine Optimisation?

The logical conclusion of the arrival of smart devices like intelligent speakers is that they will eventually render search engine optimisation and online marketing obsolete. After all, what’s the use of optimising a website for a bunch of keyphrases when searches by real users can’t be predicted?

This argument is slightly erroneous. Although yes it’s much harder to predict what an actual user is going to input via a smart device, the raw material used by these devices will continue to be the actual content within a website. All search engines and the smart devices that utilise them rely on website content and the content that these search engines are really interested in is written text.

Supply plentiful quantities of written text in your retail website that is factually correct, enticing, unique and on subject and you are not only fulfilling what search engines are looking for but providing exactly the kind of content your real, Human visitors are looking for.

Unlike a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ store, eCommerce websites rely on top quality imagery and text to persuade people to buy. Retail website users don’t have immediate access to a salesperson so rely on supporting text, product description and imagery to portray what the product is and why it should be purchased.

Even if optimising for keyphrases on each page were to become outmoded because of smart devices and intelligent speakers, website content will still have to be optimised to get the right reaction from a website user.

It turns out that if you supply top quality content that you’re also going back to basics and right back to the original premise of the World Wide Web.

Create. Share. Amaze. It’s what the ‘web should be and I for one am looking forward to a bright new chapter in online marketing!


David Fairhurst

Head of eCommerce

Intelligent Retail

David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London