Monday 08 April 2019

The end of SEO,
The start of Voice Engine Optimization

The end of SEO, the start of Voice Engine Optimization

We are all increasingly turning to smart devices in our quest for information. Smart assistants are becoming the new guards that will oversee a large part of our product searches. Algorithms will provide us recommendations and will ultimately drive our purchase decisions. Let's take a small trip down memory lane to illustrate some parallels with recent developments.

Remember the humble beginnings of the world wide web?

In the early 90's people surfed from one website to the next in their quest for information (or entertainment) but often they didn't know where to begin their journey.

And so, two Stanford graduates, who foresaw that people would be more efficient when provided with some guidance, came up with a starting point for browsing the rapidly expanding web of information. In 1994 they published a hierarchical list of hyperlinks pointing to other websites, which they had grouped by topic. They called it Yahoo! and their approach proved to be very successful. It was quickly adopted, which led to a myriad of so-called web directories or portals that dominated the world wide web (www) for quite some time.

Obviously, these portals quickly became tremendously powerful since they controlled which websites featured most prominently in their directories and thus had a major influence on website popularity. They then started to monetise their rankings by selling a share of the traffic through primary listings and banner space. Hence internet advertising was born.

How to outsmart an algorithm

That dominant position only ended in 1998 when two other Stanford graduates introduced the concept of a searchable index of pages, called Google. Their premise was simple: the importance of a site is more accurately defined when it is objectively measured by an algorithm.

Clever marketeers quickly understood that the introduction of that computer-driven PageRank algorithm also required a different approach, that entailed more than to simply throw advertising money at the editors controlling the directories. And so, they started looking for ways to influence and outsmart machine calculations by being (or at least appearing) more relevant than their competitors. That soon led to a completely new online marketing discipline, called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – later followed by Search Engine Advertising (SEA) when search engines started selling advertisements associated with search keywords.

Smart Assistants drive people to their purchase decisions

Meanwhile - anno 2019 - we've entered the era of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Rapid improvements in technologies such as voice recognition and natural language processing have given rise to so-called smart assistants, which are getting smarter by the day. These technologies are moreover implemented by devices that are in constant contact with their users. By collecting massive amounts of relevant data, they can predict, anticipate and - slightly more unsettling - influence the needs of users.

As a result, consumers increasingly turn to these devices in their quest for information. Smart assistants will oversee a large part of the product searches and ultimately algorithms will provide the recommendations that assist and drive people to their purchase decisions.

The new gatekeepers

In a way this reminds me of the situation in 1994 when portals like Yahoo were the main gateways to the Internet, whereas 25 years later smart assistants have become our new gatekeepers. The significant difference is obviously that these machine algorithms, which have now replaced human editors, are no longer bound to the computer screen.

Clever marketeers again realise that they need to address this change in consumer behaviour and must ensure that their products are picked up by smart assistants and stand out from the masses. Yet this time they are forced to market to computer platforms.

This fuels my conviction that the new online marketing discipline, called Voice Engine Optimization or VEO, will become an essential element in most marketing plans. Especially since the stakes are high in the world of smart assistants and top rankings are more important than ever.

On a desktop or laptop, you can still get away with a search ranking on the first page. Even though the top few results will get the most clicks, there's still some scraps to be collected at the bottom of the page. Those opportunities have already shrunk on mobile screens, with the top 3 rankings claiming most of the clicks.

But they will now shrink even further for voice search, where the first position will probably dominate all others. The level of competition will be fierce with everyone competing for potentially being transmitted as the only result, especially if you consider the estimate that by 2020 up to 50 percent of all searches will be conducted by voice.

Battle of the giants

At the same time, there is also fierce competition between the platforms themselves.

I guess there lies another historical parallel. Just like Microsoft and Apple Macintosh competed for the desktop, and later on Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) competed for the mobile, the tech giants are now trying to dominate our living room with their smart assistants, ranging from Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa to the Google Assistant. 

Who will prevail?
To be continued ...


Frederik Claessens

Frederik Claessens,
E-Commerce Manager, SQLI Belgium


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