4 Voice technology and its impact on marketing
4.1 Technological development of voice user interfaces
4.2 Voice assistants and voice-controlled systems
4.3 Two voice assistants in comparison: Alexa and Google
4.4 Challenges and potentials of voice for marketing
4.5 Opportunities for Voice Search Marketing
5 Voice Search Marketing: Manufacturer recommendations
5.1 Integration into the marketing concept
5.2 Strategic partnerships
5.3 Product development
6 Final consideration
Appendix I – Amazon Echo Newsletter
Appendix II: Customer Journeys from Christina, Student
Appendix III: Customer Journeys from Mark, Head of Marketing
Appendix IV: Most asked on Alexa on various weeks
Appendix V: Interview guide for self-test (in German)
Appendix VI: Self-test with Amazon Echo and Google Mini
Question 1: Wieviel Uhr ist es? (English: What time is it?)
Question 2: Bestelle Shampoo. (English: Order Shampoo)
Question 3: Öffne Deutsche Bahn. (English: Open Deutsche Bahn.)
Alternative: Wann geht der nächste Zug von X nach Z?
(English: When is the next train from X to Z?)
Question 4: Hat der Lidl noch auf? (English: Is Lidl still open?)
Alternative: Wann öffnet der Lidl? (English: When does Lidl open?)
Question 5: Setz Milch auf meine Einkaufsliste. (English: Put milk on my shopping list.)
Question 6: Suche nach pastellfarben Textmarkern. (English: Look for pastel colored highlighters.)
Alternative: Bestelle pastellfarben Textmarker. (English: Order pastel highlighters.).
Question 7: Gib mir mehr Informationen zu pastellfarben Textmarkern. (English: Give me more information about pastel highlighters.)
Question 8: Wie kann ich meine Bestellung erstatten lassen?
(English: How can I get a refund for my order?)
Question 9: Wo ist meine Bestellung? (English: Where is my order?)
Question 10: Was ist Pi? (English: What is Pi?)
Question 11: Was läuft gerade auf ProSieben? (English: What is now playing on ProSieben?)
Alternative: Rede zu ‚TV Spielfilm‘. (English: Talk to ‚TV Spielfilm‘.)
Question 12: Was ist ein Schrittzähler?
(English: What is a pedometer?)
Question 13: Wieviel kostet ein Schrittzähler? (English: How much does a pedometer cost?)
Question 14: Was ist Fitbit? (English: What is Fitbit?)
Question 15: Suche ein Fitnesscenter in der Nähe. (English: Find a fitness center nearby.)
Question 16: Finde Trainingsübungen.
(English: Find training exercises.)
Alternative: Wie kann ich abnehmen?
(English: How can I lose weight?)
Question 17: Starte GYMONDO. (English: Start GYMONDO.)
Question 18: Gibt es einen Waschsalon in der Nähe?
(English: Is there a laundrette nearby?)
Question 19: Suche nach Waschmaschinen mit ‚AddWash‘. (English: Search for washing machines with ‘AddWash’.)
Question 20: Wo kann ich meine Waschmaschine reparieren lassen? (English: Where can I have my washing machine repaired?)
Appendix VII – Product results with Alexa vs. desktop search
Example 1: Industriestaubsauger
(English: industrial vacuum cleaners
Example 2: Fernseher (English: TV)
Example 3: Laubsauger (English: Leaf blower)
Appendix VIII – Alexa Skills and Google Actions
Appendix IX – Amazon’s suggested utterances for Alexa
Appendix X – Simple instructions for creating skills
Appendix XI – Instructions for creating Google Actions
Appendix XII – Amazon search results for detergent
Appendix XIII – Alexa information about the detergent
At this point I would like to thank everyone who supported and motivated me while writing this master’s thesis.
I would particularly like to thank Mr Nima Poorbiazar for the competent and helpful support. Thank you very much for the helpful suggestions and constructive criticism in the preparation of this work.
I would also like to thank my fellow students during the studies, for two very nice years in Munich and for the many stimulating discussions that contributed significantly to the fact that this master's thesis is available in this form.
I also thank my friends Gil Da Silva, Diana Rossi, João Manuel Jesus Cunha, Diogo Raimundo, Sandro Luz, Mehdi Demengeot and Addi Benkhay for the encouraging words during the creation of the German version of this work.
My special thanks goes to my sister, Caty Gomes Fernandes, for the proofreading and strong emotional support over the course of my entire degree.
Finally, I would like to thank my parents Manuel Rodrigues Fernandes and Licinia Martins Gomes, who made my studies possible and supported me in all of my decisions.
AI Artificial Intelligence
API Application Programming Interface
ASR Automated Speech Recognition
DL Deep Learning
GPS Global Positioning System
HTML HyperText Markup Language
IVR Interactive Voice Response
ML Machine Learning
MMM Modern Merchandizing Methods
NLU Natural Language Understanding
SEA Search Engine Advertising
SEO Search Engine Optimization
SMART Specific - Measurable - Achievable - Reasonable - Time Bound
SSML Speech Synthesis Markup Language
VEO Voice Engine Optimization
VUI Voice User Interface
Fig. 1: Structure of the work
Fig. 2: Five-step model of the marketing process
Fig. 3: Target pyramid of an organization or company
Fig. 4: The golden triangle of the Google search results pages
Fig. 5: How users perceive the new Google results page
Fig. 6: Use of voice control in Germany 2017
Fig. 7: Technology behind voice user interfaces
Fig. 8: Smart speakers by brand
Fig. 9: Global digital assistants market share in 2017 and forecast for 2020
Fig. 10: Global factors for the preference of voice assistants compared to websites in 2017
Fig. 11: Neuro-Insight study in 2017
Fig. 12: Survey on the benefits of digital voice assistants 2017
Fig. 13: Intended use of digital voice assistants 2017
Fig. 14: Use of voice assistants in Germany, by device, in 2018
Fig. 15: Frequency of using voice assistants in Germany in 2018
Fig. 16: Tools for self-test with Alexa and Google Assistant
Fig. 17: Use of digital voice assistants as a seller
Fig. 18: Voice Search Marketing
Fig. 19: ‘Amazon’s Choice’ and ‘Bestseller’ labels on Amazon.de
Fig. 20: Course of work and results
Tab. 1: Website categories and possible goals
Tab. 2: Overview of the results of the self-test
Tab. 3: Strengths and weaknesses of digital voice assistants
Tab. 4: Challenges and potentials of voice
Tab. 5: Intent, utterances and slots in voice apps
This chapter presents the research goal and the resulting problem definition of this work. Finally, the procedure and the structure of this work are explained.
Digital voice assistants have been spreading rapidly in American households since 2015 and have also been more and more widespread in Germany since 2017. Results or confirmations are in some cases no longer displayed visually, but with most voice assistants for the home, called ‘Home Assistants’, only verbally reproduced (e.g., Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod, etc.). Most of these devices have neither a screen nor a keyboard, so that the only interaction possible is through human language. Around a third of Germans between the ages of 18 and 69 were already using a digital voice assistant in 2017. According to current surveys and forecasts, the number of users of digital voice assistants worldwide will continue to grow. In 2016, the market intelligence company Tractica predicted that there will be around 1,831 million users worldwide by 2021. Google CEO Sundar Pichai claims that 20% of searches are currently made using voice searches on Android devices. According to Gartner, 30% of web browsing sessions should be without a screen by 2020.
Among the top 5 digital voice assistants is Amazon's Alexa, which, according to statistics from IHS Markit, had the largest market share in 2017. Users of digital voice assistants are not only able to start a music playlist with a voice command, but can also call up almost any information from the Internet by voice input. Among other things, the new user interfaces enable hands-free ordering of products and services, as well as controlling the ‘smart’ home. Thanks to the convenience of voice control, digital voice assistants are becoming more and more popular.
Meanwhile, the increasing popularity of digital voice assistants is unsettling product providers. The results of the voice search are often limited to a single result in order not to overwhelm the user. In addition, the results are becoming increasingly personal, making it more difficult to acquire new customers and increase market share. For example, if someone asks, ‘next soccer game’, the results may vary depending on the user's team preference. Similarly, when searching for everyday products, the previously ordered article is suggested for re-ordering. This makes the customer experience much more convenient, but from the point of view of marketing and sales, questions are increasing as to how the visibility of a product, a brand or a company can be guaranteed under these circumstances. Voice search is a challenge, especially for companies that already have difficulties in finding themselves on the first page of search results in search engines.
Smaller retailers in particular who sell their products on Amazon are unsettled by the new market developments. By my own two years of experience in the Amazon digital video games and software team, frequently asked questions from vendors are ‘What do I have to do to get Alexa to suggest my product?’ Or ‘Can Alexa help me with customer loyalty? If yes, how?’. Similar questions can also be found in the Amazon Seller Central Forum, where third-party providers can exchange ideas with other sellers. With other digital voice assistants, too, the question arises as to how they choose their answers. The consequences of the spread of digital voice assistants for brands and product providers are therefore difficult to predict. In particular when searching for products on Amazon, vendors fear that voice assistants will not allow the display of advertising messages, as is currently the case on desktop and mobile devices. Knowledge of the internal functioning of voice-controlled systems is limited and not very widespread. The technical properties of Alexa are kept strictly secret by Amazon and the literature is often limited to the development of chatbots or Alexa-like voice computers. There is little technical literature that provides information on how companies can become ‘discoverable on these new user interfaces or how brands will interact with their customers in the future.
The aim of this work is the creation of recommendations for manufacturers and product providers, which should contribute to the achievement of marketing goals in the era of digital voice assistant. Manufacturers who would like to have their products mentioned by voice assistants such as Alexa should receive information or instructions on how they can achieve this goal.
The main goal of this work was divided into the following sub-goals:
· Goal 1: Summary of the basics of marketing. The aim is to consider the role of marketing and how new technologies influence marketing strategies in order to later deal with what marketing can look like in a future with voice-controlled user interfaces.
· Goal 2: Analysis and evaluation of search engine optimization as an online marketing tool. The methods of this marketing activity should be presented so that it can also be assessed whether this instrument can still contribute to the achievement of marketing goals in the future.
· Goal 3: Collection of information about voice-controlled systems and a description of how they work. This information is intended to determine the effects of voice technology on marketing and thus contribute to the marketing literature. The aim is to show that certain marketing activities will remain relevant even in a future in which voice-controlled devices will change the interaction with web and app content.
· Goal 4: Completion of the recommendations for action to generate sales in the retail business in the context of voice search. Finally, the knowledge gained is to be summarized with regard to the needs of the manufacturer. The aim is to give vendors the opportunity to find answers to their questions and to get to know the necessary measures to achieve their business goals.
The structure of the work is inspired by the concept of the sales funnel. This is a sales tool that is used in particular in the B2B area and in sales to, among other things, map the various stages in the sales process. A simiar funnel is known in online marketing under the term ‚conversion-funnel‘. The funnel metaphor generally describes how potential customers are gradually selected until a deal is successfully closed.
In this work, the idea of the funnel was adopted in order to gradually move from the basics of marketing to a presumably new branch of online marketing.
Using the metaphor of the funnel and the goals of this work, a subdivision into individual phases was carried out, in each of which work packages were derived. The following figure gives an overview of the structure of the thesis (see Fig. 1).
Source: own illustration.
Fig. 1: Structure of the work
In the first chapter the basics of marketing are summarized and thus in particular the tasks, goals, concepts and instruments of online marketing are recorded. Then the instrument of search engine marketing will be examined in more detail and its challenges highlighted. Subsequently, the functionality of digital assistants is determined in order to be able to evaluate the challenges and potential of these new user interfaces and to develop new tools for marketing.
Finally, the questions from Amazon vendors are taken up and answered using the newly gained knowledge. The results are general recommendations for action for manufacturers who offer their products through retailers such as Amazon. In addition, with this work, a first contribution is made to a possibly new instrument of online marketing: Voice Search Marketing.
This chapter explains which tasks marketing fulfills, which role online marketing plays in this context, which goals online marketing pursues, which concepts are important here and which instruments marketing has at its disposal in the digital world. These basics should contribute to the understanding of the further course of the work.
Marketing is understood in society as a synonym for advertising and selling. However, there are different definitions among marketing experts, which only occasionally put the sale of products in the foreground. In 1973, the economist and management thinker Peter Drucker wrote that the goal of marketing is to make selling superfluous by making products and services so well suited to customers that they sell themselves. In this marketing philosophy, the focus is not on the sale of products, but on the satisfaction of customer needs. Similarly, Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller define marketing as a process by which companies create value for customers and build strong customer relationships, in order to get value from customers in return. At the same time, the authors present a holistic marketing concept in which marketing extends over various corporate functions and thus has a strategic influence on the company’s activities. The British management consultant and marketing expert Anthony Freeling argued in 2011 that although this new concept is largely recognized and accepted by marketing managers, it is almost unknown in the wider business world. He attributes this to the different definitions of marketing and the separation from business strategy. In order to close the gap between marketing and strategy, Freeling proposes a new definition of marketing, which is adopted in this work:
„Marketing is the process of creating and communicating winning offers that profitably attract customer spend in an uncertain market environment. It does this by:
· Shaping the market environment through innovation,
· Adapting to changes in the environment, and
· Beating competition.“
In Figure 2, a five-stage model of the marketing process according to Kotler is presented, which is intended to make the tasks of marketing more understandable.
Source: Cf. Kotler et al. (2016), p. 39.
Fig. 2: Five-step model of the marketing process
In the first stage, marketing needs to understand the market environment and customer needs. Then the marketing strategy is developed by noting how the company creates value for the customers. In the next steps, a marketing program will be created to attract customers and retain them in the long term. In the final phase, the company gets the result of their efforts in the form of sales, profits and long-term customer value.
Advertising and sales are therefore to be seen as part of a broader marketing mix that combines the entirety of marketing measures in order to influence product demand. There are four main groups of marketing activities, commonly known as the “four P’s” according to McCarthy (1960): product, price, place and promotion. The production policy defines variables of the product to be sold, such as quality, design, packaging, guarantee, etc. Marketing activities also involve making price decisions such as list price, discounts and payment methods. Furthermore, the distribution policy clarifies how the product is made accessible and available to potential buyers. These include decisions regarding market coverage, distribution channels, warehousing and transport. The fourth ‘P’ stands for ‘Promotion’ and is generally understood as all activities with which the advantages of the product are communicated to potential buyers in order to win them over as customers. In order to define the best marketing strategy and the best marketing mix, marketing managers first deal with the analysis of the company's situation and the strategic planning of the activities that serve to achieve the company's goals. This is followed by the implementation phase, in which the marketing plans are executed. Finally, in the phase of marketing controlling, the results of the executed marketing efforts are measured and evaluated in order to initiate corrective measures if necessary.
With the development of the Internet and the work of computer scientist Ben Shneiderman in 1983 in the field of marked text links, the basis of today's hyperlink, traditional marketing strategies, concepts and methods were challenged. Text links can be used to create direct links between advertising campaigns and the advertised products, which is not the case in traditional advertising. In addition, text links make it possible to measure the success of advertising campaigns by counting the number of clicks on a certain link. Meanwhile, the Internet offers new possibilities in all four Ps: it opens up new distribution and communication channels and enables the sale of digital products at a fraction of the cost, as well as greater price transparency for customers. However, the Internet also makes it much more complex to determine the optimal combination of different marketing measures. The barriers to entry are much lower in the global network and the openness of the network means there is a rapid growth in the number of participants and the information they provide. Discoverability in the steadily growing network is becoming an even greater challenge for those involved in marketing and the field of online marketing is developing into its own discipline with its own goals, methods and instruments. Online marketing includes all measures aimed at directing visitors to your own website or to a specific website, from where business can then be carried out directly.
Each sub-discipline of online marketing offers different advantages and disadvantages or strengths and weaknesses in relation to the support of individual company goals. For example, a stronger internet presence in digital search engines offers different advantages for companies than a presence in social networks. The general strength of online marketing compared to traditional marketing is that success can be measured relatively precisely and very quick using analytical tools. As a result, it is possible to initiate improvements while the marketing process is still ongoing. With larger marketing plans in particular, there is often the option of setting new priorities and making changes while the measures are running in order to optimize success. In the following, the goals of online marketing are explained in more detail and modern marketing concepts are presented, as well as specific online marketing tools.
As already noted, online marketing includes all measures that contribute to increasing the number of visitors to the website. However, this indicated goal is only one of many possible goals of online marketing that can be pursued by website operators. In general, the goals vary depending on the company and strategic orientation. Businesses need to be clear about the goals of online marketing so that the appropriate resources can be targeted to achieve those goals. The authors Chaffey and Smith propose five common goals of online marketing and derive from them a framework for the development of goals, which they call the 'five S':
· Sell – i.e., increasing sales through increased distribution, advertising and sales promotion.
· Serve – i.e., create added value for the customer by giving additional benefits online.
· Speak – i.e., approach customers by following their activities, asking them questions, creating a dialogue and learning about them.
· Save – i.e., save costs and thus increase profitability.
· Sizzle – i.e., expand the brand online by strengthening brand values in a new medium.
Erwin Lammenett emphasizes that there are different levels of goals and that in commercial companies, sales and profit are always the top priority. A distinction is made between four different levels, which can be represented in the form of a target pyramid, as shown in Figure 3.
Fig. 3: Target pyramid of an organization or company
The first level of corporate goals is followed by strategic goals such as market share or customer acquisition. On the third level you will find the operative goals, such as creating a greater awareness or purchase intent. In order to evaluate the achievement of the goals, relevant key figures are required, such as the click rate of a campaign compared to previous campaigns. The key figures form the basis of the target pyramid and should be objectively measurable in terms of marketing controlling. To this end, the approach of defining SMART goals can be used.
According to this approach, goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely, i.e., limited in time. Table 1 combines the approaches mentioned above and offers some examples of general online marketing goals depending on the website.
Tab. 1: Website categories and possible goals
Determining specific goals is a complex task in the field of online marketing. Over time, new communication channels (e.g., social media) or information channels (e.g., search engines) are developed, on which different new rules apply. Therefore, new concepts have been gradually developed to help with the creation of online marketing plans. Some of these concepts and new methods are presented on the following pages.
The marketing environment is becoming more and more complex with the spread of new technologies and faster changes. Marketing plans have to be adapted more and more quickly and efficiently to the requirements of technological advances. In order to facilitate the creation of online marketing plans, new concepts have been developed in the digital environment. The concept of inbound marketings shows, for example, that traditional marketing methods no longer make sense in the online environment. The concept of customer journey enables the development of individual communication strategies taking into account all relevant physical and digital points of contact. The method of agile marketing describes how the marketing process can be accelerated so that insights from new marketing channels can be taken into account in future marketing plans. These three concepts are described in more detail below.
In online marketing, a distinction is made between inbound marketing and outbound marketing. Traditional media are predominantly ‘push media’, in which the marketing message is sent from the advertiser to customers and other target groups. Because the message is played out by the company to the customer, it is called ‘outbound marketing’. With this type of marketing there is limited interaction with the customer and it is difficult for the target audience to turn away from the promotion. Outbound marketing activities include, for example, display marketing, television advertising or the sending of advertising letters (mailings). This type of marketing is associated with high wastage because the message is spread very widely, but sometimes also reaches non-relevant target groups. In digital media, however, it is often the customer who initiates contact with a brand, for example by actively searching for information or products on the Internet. This is why we speak of a ‘pull mechanism’ here. For this it is particularly important to have good visibility in search engines when customers enter search terms that are relevant to a company's products or services. Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, the founders of the marketing software platform HubSpot, described this new marketing approach as 'Inbound Marketing' in their book in 2009. They argue that content, social media, and search engine marketing play a huge role in generating demand. Wastage is reduced with this approach, because interested parties are proactive and chose for themselves, what they want to find out more about. Content and search marketing can be used in this context to speak to interested parties with a defined need. However, this brings new challenges, as marketing experts have less control over their desired target group than in traditional ‘push’ communication. If the company does not offer what is being searched for, then the potential customer switches to another website, which may have more meaningful content for him, offers greater added value and gains his trust more quickly.
So, on the one hand, inbound marketing is about increased visibility in digital media, such as search engines and social networks. On the other hand, it is also about the efficient generation of leads, i.e., leading a visitor to a desired action, such as the immedate purchase of a product or filling out a contact form. But how do marketing professionals know which content is relevant at which point for the target group and leads to action? To this end, the concept of the customer journey can be used, which is described hereafter.
The concept of the customer journey is one of the basic models of digital marketing. It is based on the knowledge that the customer goes through several complex phases from the first interest in a product or service to the purchase. A customer journey shows how users interact at different points of contact called ‘touchpoints’ over a longer period of time, what they do there and, how the brand experience is gradually intensified. In every phase of his journey, the customer has specific communication needs in different channels. Some of these touchpoints can be specifically influenced by marketing measures, e.g. through the design of the company website, specialized content or suitable apps.
This marketing concept thus fulfills several purposes:
· It allows the description of the highly complex development of the customer from the initial interest to the purchase and beyond.
· It helps to determine the reasons how and why a simple page visitor becomes a lead, i.e., a potential customer.
· It helps companies to categorize their potential and existing customers based on their position in the buying process.
· It enables the development of individual communication strategies for each visitor, lead or identified customer, taking into account all physical and digital points of contact with the brand or product.
The company’s task is to align the content at the touchpoints as precisely as possible both to the corresponding phase of the customer journey and to the requirements of the channel chosen by the customer. The more relevant the content created and the better it is optimized for the respective channel, the more likely it is for potential customers to actually convert. The period of the customer journey depends on the considered scenario. Ideally, the customer journey develops into a long-term business relationship between a company and its customers, called ‘customer life cycle’. Customer journeys can be used both as an analytical tool for precise purchase process analysis and as a planning tool for future scenarios.
Another view that has been increasingly adopted in online marketing in recent years is the concept of agile marketing. Basically, this is an adaptation of agile project management to online marketing projects. The new workflow model has its origins in software development, which for many years has been based on the waterfall model. Linear workflows such as the classic waterfall model have proven to be too rigid in recent years. With the waterfall model, the requirements for the project must be defined long time in advance and it is only with difficulty that adaptations to new market conditions can be made in the course of the project. When using the traditional model, projects repeatedly failed because the requirements were too complex or were not defined clearly enough in the start-up phase. In order to counter the problems of this model, agile process models were gradually developed, which are characterized above all by their high adaptability. A particularly successful agile method is Scrum, which describes a framework for agile process management. While the waterfall model is valued for the high planning security and the structured environment, Scrum is valued for the high flexibility and the iterative-incremental approach. Through the use of agile workflows both innovation and results are faster and easier to reach. In marketing, the creation of the annual marketing plan follows a pattern that is very similar to the waterfall model. Marketing managers initially deal with the analysis of the company situation, based on which they define the strategic goals and then decide on the activities that will be implemented in the next phase. In classic marketing, the findings on the campaign’s success are only available at the end of the process, when the phase of marketing controlling is completed. The creation of a detailed annual marketing plan therefore requires that one can predict which marketing measures will be most effective in the next twelve months in order to achieve the strategic goals. Because new trends are difficult to anticipate, marketing often leads to the execution of ineffective plans, exceeded budgets or missed opportunities.
With agile marketing, marketing managers can intervene in the ongoing process in an optimizing way, because instead of long and strictly defined project phases, work is carried out in shorter project cycles, called ‘sprints’. In addition, the agile method affects the marketing planning process, because instead of long planning periods, short cycles are strung together. In the most common cases of agile marketing, the marketing concepts are created for one month, so that insights are available faster. This ensures that the company’s goals are efficiently achieved. The tools which can be used in online marketing are set out below.
2.4 Online marketing tools
Online marketing has various means, which over time have developed into disciplines of their own. Each instrument has a specific purpose and requires different skills. Depending on the strategic objective and target group, various online channels are differently prioritized differently, and new methods are tested. Marketing plans typically use multiple tools when aiming for a relevant and coherent communication along the customer journey.
The most common online marketing practices include, for example:
· Content Marketing,
· Search Engine Marketing,
· Mobile Marketing,
· Social Media Marketing,
· Affiliate Marketing,
· E-Mail Marketing,
· and more.
All of the mentioned instruments allow a certain degree of agility, since results can be measured relatively quickly. This means that optimizations can be carried out within a planning year in order to maximize the benefits of the respective activities. With regard to the objective of this thesis, three instruments are examined more closely, namely content marketing, search engine marketing and mobile marketing.
As already mentioned, there are increasingly proactive customers looking on their own initiative for information about products or companies. These customers use different channels and devices (such as their smartphone) to search for a restaurant during a vacation trip in a new city or using online shops and social media to compare different electronic devices. The more relevant the content is arranged along the customer journey, the more likely it is for potential customers to actually convert, and for existing customers to develop a long-term relationship with the company, leading to increased customer value and loyalty. For example, a new customer in an online shop may like to find more technical details about the product and possibly read opinions from other customers. A customer who has already made his decision may want to order accessories with the base product. An existing customer may want to share his experience with the service or return a defective product. Companies should therefore develop a content strategy to ensure that the content served to the customer is aligned with the corresponding phase of the customer journey. The challenge of content marketing lies in delivering many different types of content in different forms in different places and on different access platforms. The starting point of an effective content strategy is therefore to audit existing content. Here it is important to not only review the content on the website, but all existing content relating to the company and its products (e.g., the dwell time on a product page, the product’s conversion rate, the interactions on social media, the efficiency of ads on search engines, etc.). In case of recurring questions to customer service, on forums or on social media, it can also be checked whether relevant content is missing on the website.
The creation and management of high-quality content is therefore an essential part of customer relationship management and development of efficient marketing strategies. Based on the results of the content-audit, a content strategy can be developed to make better use of existing content or to test it against other types of content. If necessary, new content can be created, provided the necessary resources are available.
Online marketing activities also include optimizing content for mobile devices. With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and broadband internet access, customers are becoming increasingly mobile and can access information on the go. The discipline of mobile marketing therefore deals with the optimization of content for mobile devices, their technological development and the potential for cross-media campaigns. By determining the location using GPS (Global Positioning System) location-based ads can be placed on mobile devices in order to attract customers to shops in the area. Another relevant development is the invention of the two-dimensional code, better known as QR code or quick response code. This enables companies to invite customers to receive additional information about the scanned product, for example by placing a QR code on the product packaging. Furthermore, mobile marketing deals with the creation of mobile applications (short: app). With a mobile app, companies can integrate further functionalities of the smartphones or tablets into their own application in order to offer the user added value via the preferred device. With an app, companies achieve a constant presence on the user’s device and thus create greater customer loyalty. The challenge with mobile applications lies not only in the display of relevant content, but also in the user-friendliness of the app. In mobile marketing, marketing managers therefore increasingly have to deal with the development of user interfaces and work closely with software developers.
Search Engine Marketing is also increasingly looking into search options through GPS-enabled location determination. Search engine marketing basically consists of two parts, SEA (Search Engine Advertising) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Search engine advertising is all about ensuring visibility for certain search terms. This is done by means of paid ads, which can be billed according to different models: costs per click, costs per acquisition or costs per viewing. Hence, SEA takes care of the efficient optimization of the content and targetting of the campaigns. For example, by determining the location, a shop can run a campaign in which the content specifically alludes to the proximity of its business. Search engine optimization, on the other hand, deals with organic visibility in search engines. The work carried out in SEO aims to ensure that the content of the website itself is recognized by search engines as the most suitable result for a particular search query. In the spirit of inbound marketing, customers should be able to find the company with ease. This is one of the greatest challenges of online marketing, as the rules of the search engines are constantly being adapted to new market situations.
The following chapter takes a closer look at the challenges of search engine optimization in order to later discuss the negative or positive effects of voice search.
The previous chapter summarized marketing tasks and introduced some new concepts in the field of online marketing. It was indicated that high visibility for certain search terms is a major challenge for marketing. Therefore, this chapter elaborates further on the the discipline of search engine optimization in order to discuss the challenges of voice-controlled search in the later course of the work. The following pages first explain the importance of high search engine placements for online marketing. Then, the methods of search engine optimization are presented while emphasizing on the on-page and off-page optimization options. Furthermore, new developments are discussed which may change search behavior again in the future. In the next chapter, the findings from the field of search engine optimization should help to work out marketing measures for voice-controlled search.
As previously illustrated in the target pyramid, the ultimate goal of commercially operating companies is usually an increase in sales and profits. In order to generate strong sales, a company needs to attract a large number of visitors, convert the greatest possible number of those visitors into customers, and then retain as many customers as possible for a long period of time.
One of the most important factors to win a customer for a business is the company's location. In traditional retail, questions of location are primerily expressed in terms of the geographical distance between the customer and the store. Bernardo Trujillo, one of the world's leading management consultants, emphasized the importance of the location since the 1950s and explained in his MMM seminars in Dayton, Ohio: “It is where traffic is that you can do commerce“. At the time, he was referring to road traffic to indicate that the location of a store is key to its sales success. His words inspired some of the most famous entrepreneurs of his time and founders of today's global retailers such as Carrefour. Today you can apply his statement to the Internet and online data traffic. One might even guess that it indirectly inspired some of the biggest online retailers like Amazon.
In the digital network, location problems are expressed primarily in relation to visibility in a now highly competitive environment. Website operators want their digital location to be where a large number of Internet users are (e.g., search engines). The website should therefore be located in the vicinity of natural traffic flows, especially on websites or portals with high data traffic volumes. Because more and more website operators exist, the competition for the most visible positions on much-visited websites increases. Increased visibility on the internet means that users looking for a specific product first encounter the retailer website so that the user can take note of the site and its services. The visibility of the website is thus probably the most critical factor in explaining the Internet traffic volume. Visibility in the digital network is particularly important in cases where the potential customer is actively looking for information. Consequently, the visibility of a website is measured based on its general presence on the Internet: search engines, partner websites, blogs, price comparison portals, social networks, etc.
Search engines like Google or Bing are known to have a very wide reach. With over 3.5 billion searches per day, Google is the global market leader (72% market share in desktop search and 90% market share in mobile and tablet search), followed by Baidu, Bing and Yahoo. Due to this high reach, it has become particularly important for companies to also be present in search engines and to appear as the first result for certain search terms. Most important is the first search results page that a user sees after entering the search term and especially the search results that are visible without scrolling (‘above the fold’), as they get the highest attention of users. More than 90% of all clicks happen on page 1 of the search results pages. Only a small proportion of searchers also look at the second or even third search results page.
This can be clearly seen in eye tracking studies in which the movements of the searcher’s eyes are observed. Some studies from 2005 to 2009 found that the vast majority of eye tracking activity during a search is in the top left corner of the results pages, called the ‘golden triangle’ (see Fig. 4).
Fig. 4: The golden triangle of the Google search results pages
However, the latest eye tracking studies show that user behavior has changed in recent years. The majority of users nowadays are aware that the first hits on the search result list are often paid ads and therefore direct their attention specifically to organic search results. With the organic hits, however, a well-known pattern can be recognized: the intensity of the user's attention decreases as he scrolls down (see Fig. 5). Companies that want to remain visible on search engines must therefore increasingly deal with the optimization of their organic visibility. The topic of SEO is therefore within the core of online marketing activities.
Fig. 5: How users perceive the new Google results page
Search engine optimization is about the implementation of measures that help to achieve the best possible position in the organic, that is, the unpaid results of the search engines. With the increasing number of websites and seemingly limitless options for search terms making it impossible to be in the first place for every search query, SEO has become a strategic activity that requires continuous effort. It is the job of the marketing manager or SEO manager to achieve this optimal positioning by influencing various factors accordingly. At Google, for example, the relevance of a website for a specific search result is determined using more than 200 factors. Despite the required human resources, SEO is considered a very cost-effective channel compared to other online marketing activities, as you can drive a large number of visitors to your own website in the long term without regular campaign budgets. The basic factors for determining the relevance of a website are similar with most search engines, so that with most optimization measures one can be found equally better across all search engine providers. This also applies to specialized search engines, such as the product search on Amazon. In the following, some basic principles and SEO methods for better search engine placement are presented.
The challenge is SEO is that there are many different ranking factors which keep evolving as search engine providers are constantly striving to improve the quality of search results. However, there are four general factors that influence search engine rankings and that can be managed as part of an SEO strategy in order to improve natural positioning and thus increase visibility. Generally in SEO a distinction is made between on-page and off-page factors and their respective optimization. Everything that can be influenced on your own website falls into on-page optimization. This includes texts, images or the source code. There are essentially three aspects to take into account when looking at on-page-optimization: technical, structural and content-related aspects.
The structural optimizations include some specific elements of the HTML code, called ‘metadata’. HTML is an abbreviation for Hypertext Markup Language and is used to describe a website structure. In HTML, metadata provides search engines with a certain amount of information about the content of a website. The search engines use this information to determine whether a website is a relevant result for a specific search query. The three most important types of metadata are the title tags of the document (<title> and <h1> to <h6>), the meta tag for the document descriptions (<meta name=‘description‘ content=‘content to the describe the page ‘/>) and the meta tag for key terms of the document (<meta id=‘keywords‘ content=‘key terms relating to the page‘/>). Over the years, this data has lost its relevance for search engine operators because website operators hid too much unwanted advertising in this content. The content of the title and meta tags should still be written by marketing managers, as this text content is used by search engines for the visual results.
The content-related on-page optimizations include all content of the website that can be seen by the user himself. Search engine operators use this content as the main criterion for their ranking. When optimizing the content, marketing managers use strategic search terms for which the website operator would like to be more visible in the search results pages. Here, too, companies abused the tactic: editorial content lost its quality and users did not find the information they expected on the pages they visited. As a result, the search engine operators changed the rules around the ranking factors again, so that the quality of the content came back to the foreground. User behavior signals became particularly important for the content. These signals consist of data that is recorded in the background by search engines such as dwell time and link clicks. The logic of the search engines behind this is that websites with strong user behavior signals are probably more appealing, so the quality and relevance of the content is likely to be higher.
A similar logic is also followed with the off-page optimization, which deals with all external factors that take place outside of the own website. These are in particular external links from other websites. The founders of Google recognized that the number of links to a page and their quality were a good way of determining the relevance of a page for the searcher, especially in combination with the key terms on the indexed page. As a result, increasing the number of external links has become one of the most important SEO measures. The aim of off-page optimization is to get ‘backlinks’. These are links from other websites to your own website. Ideally, the linked pages should already have a high relevance in the search engines. An interesting approach is called ‘linkbaiting’, in which interesting content is written in the hope that other websites will pick it up and link to it. An alternative is to contact other website operators directly with the request to be linked from them. Cross-links can also be created, i.e., an exchange of links with one or more pages. For a merchant's website, it is advisable to create smaller websites with editorial content around the strategically most important product ranges in order to build bridges between the search engines and the actual website. Alternatively, blog or forum entries with links to the sales page can be used. Although the Google algorithm is continuously updated and refined, the number and quality of external links is still one of the most important ranking factors. Basically, natural links are generated when the content of a website is useful. However, in highly competitive markets, a proactive approach to link building may be required.
As a summary of the relevant SEO measures, the French SEO expert Olivier Andrieu suggests the rule of the ‘four Cs’:
· Contenu (eng. content): The website should contain user-relevant content that makes indexing easier for search engines.
· Code: Search engines need to be able to read the HTML code. The code should also be easy to analyze.
· Conception: The programming of the website should allow indexability by search engines and provide a flawless user experience (e.g., through fast loading times).
· Célébrité (eng. celebrity): The website should have high-quality inbound links to highlight its content in order to convey popularity, reputation and trust to the search engines.
As mentioned before, the challenge of search engine optimization is that the ranking factors keep changing because search engines constantly strive to improve the quality of the search results. Accordingly, it makes sense for an SEO strategy to find out about the latest trends or changes in user behavior. As illustrated in Section 3.1, users adapt their behavior to changes in the search engines. A few years ago, companies were able to buy the visibility for certain search terms and thus gain the attention of users. Today, the view of the users is increasingly deviating from the paid placements and companies are gradually being forced to earn their good ranks through inbound marketing. With this in mind, some developments in the field of online search will be presented here, that may affect SEO efforts in the future. First, the changes to the Google algorithm with regard to mobile optimization are considered. Then the concept of semantic search is discussed, which is closely related to the topic of voice search.
One of the best sources to find out about changes to the Google search engine algorithm is Google’s own blog. With the increasing number of users using Google via mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets, the popular search engine operator gradually introduced changes to optimize mobile search. In November 2014, Google introduced the label ‘Mobile-friendly’, with the intention to make it easier for searchers to recognize whether the website behind the search result is designed for mobile devices. Two years later, Google went one step further and introduced ‘mobile-first indexing’. With this change, Google’s algorithms primarily use the mobile version of the content of a website to classify its pages, understand its structured data and display ‘snippets’ from these pages in the results. For the website operator, this means that technical and structural SEO are no longer sufficient to attract users' attention. Through the ‘mobile-first indexing’, marketing managers were asked to integrate content for mobile devices into their content marketing strategy. Even websites that achieved a high position in the desired search results on desktop PCs had to create content for mobile devices in order to avoid a deterioration of their position. In many cases, this has resulted in the reuse of the exact same content as on the desktop websites. For the visitor of the mobile website, the user experience did not necessarily improve as the loading time became longer with the increase in content. Google is trying to counteract this with a new change in the algorithms, in which the page speed will also be taken into account for the mobile search ranking from July 2018. One of the future SEO challenges will be to test the loading time of the content on mobile platforms and, if necessary, to shorten texts or upload images and videos in reduced resolution without reducing the quality of the content.
Another change in the algorithms affects the way in which search engines determine the intent of a search query. The purpose of a search service is to show results that are relevant to the user’s search intent. The relevance of search results can therefore be defined as a measure of how well the results meet the user's search intent. In order to ensure a qualitative improvement in search results, search engines not only have the difficulty of weighing the relevance and quality of the information on a website, but also the challenge of determining the exact search intent of the user. For this purpose, Google released a new update of the algorithm called ‘Hummingbird’ in 2013. With Hummingbird Google started using other factors to determine the user's intent, such as the consideration of previous search queries by the same user. The fundamental change that Google is introducing with Hummingbird relates to the manner in which searches are interpreted and how these are related to one another. The new algorithms are intended to help Google not only understand the users' exact search terms, but also what exactly users want to search for with the terms. In large part, this has to do with the fact that Google is deliberately preparing for mobile search, where users are less inclined to type traditionally formatted queries, and in many cases, prefer to use voice search. When using voice search, they formulate their search queries in sentences rather than keywords (e.g., ‘Where is the nearest pharmacy?’).
In order to provide meaningful answers, the search service must be able to understand the search query. The meaning of words in natural language often depends on the context created by the preceding and following words and sentences. With Hummingbird, Google is now concentrating on contexts and meanings rather than separate keywords. This approach is known as semantic search, named after the branch of linguistics, that studies the meaning and relationships of words and sentences. The concept of semantic search enables, for example, the personalization of search results on the subject ‘Golf’, depending on whether the user is a golf player and is looking for information about the sport, or is a car fan and means the car model ‘Golf’ from Volkswagen. The results are therefore adapted to the context of the searcher.
From an SEO perspective, this means that the user's exact search query is less important than the intent behind it. In order to encourage website operators to help search engines determine search intent, Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex decided to jointly develop a vocabulary for the implementation of semantic HTML markup on web pages. The result is the website Schema.org, where all the necessary references are made available, which companies and website operators can use to mark their content semantically appropriately. The most visible advantages of using Schema.org are ‘rich snippets’‚ which are visual enrichments of search results, such as star ratings, the price range of products offered or headlines about famous people. For Google, the benefit of HTML markup lies not only in the improved visual experience, but rather in optimizing voice search and improving the user experience with digital voice assistants such as Google Home.
After optimizing the websites for smartphones and tablets and editing the content for the semantic search, the future challenge will be to optimize the entire end-user journey for voice user interfaces. This is summarized under the term ‘conversational commerce’, which aims to lead the consumer directly from the conversation to the purchase of a product. For example, when the customer books a flight ticket, the digital voice assistant may suggest an upgrade to the next booking class or a subsequent hotel booking. On websites, such suggestions are displayed via recommendation widgets. The technology behind the digital voice assistant is currently not optimized for such possibilities of up-selling and cross-selling. For this purpose, product vendors must think beyond the direct benefits of their product and supplement their content in such a way that a sales opportunity is recognized by the digital voice assistant out of the situation. Vendors on Amazon already have to optimize their product descriptions for voice user interfaces, increase conversion rates, improve warehouse processes and get as many positive reviews from customers as possible in order to even be mentioned by the digital voice assistant Alexa.
The next chapter will explain the technology behind digital voice assistants in more detail and discuss its consequences for marketing, especially the effects on online marketing and its SEO activities. Through the better understanding of voice user interfaces, new challenges and potentials become visible, which can possibly serve as the basis for a new, voice-oriented discipline of online marketing.
- Quote paper
- Patricia Gomes Fernandes (Author), 2019, Voice Search Marketing. Strategies for the successful use of digital voice assistants, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1012352