Ads in voice searches could frustrate shoppers. But there are steps to take today to prepare for the inevitable evolution of voice search.

Eric Marcy, president, AdGooroo

Eric Marcy, president, AdGooroo

It’s hard to remember the day when you could visit an industry news site and not see a headline trumpeting a new development in voice search. The latest blockbusters include Walmart and Google partnering on voice-activated search to take on Amazon, and Amazon and Microsoft partnering to allow their digital assistants, Alexa and Cortana, to talk to each other.

More power to them. But what does voice search mean for marketers at large?

Search engines are trying to come up with a model for paid advertising in voice search, but it doesn’t look like one is coming anytime soon.

The main issue standing in the way may be the very nature of how consumers use voice search.

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How do you interject an ad into this conversation and still provide a good user experience?

Typically, people are performing voice searches for convenience and speed, i.e., to get a quick answer to a specific question while they are on the go or otherwise occupied and don’t necessarily have time to type out questions on a small keyboard and screen.

Outside of the home, voice search is conducted on a smartphone while the consumer is in the car or walking around. Inside the home, voice search is increasingly conducted via voice-activated smart speakers, while people are engaged in another activity—preparing dinner, taking care of a child, watching TV—and it’s inconvenient to stop what they are doing and start typing into a desktop computer or phone.

In-home searches most often skew toward more general questions, but from a commercial perspective both in- and out-of-home users are primarily focused on local search questions.

They may want to know where a business is located, for instance, asking questions that range from the general (“Where is the nearest hardware store?”) to the specific (“Where is the nearest Home Depot?”).

Voice searchers are also looking for food—nearby places to eat, a specific restaurant, or a type of cuisine—with out-of-home searchers looking to visit the establishment and in-home searchers looking to order for delivery or pick-up.

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Often they ask a series of specific questions until they get the answer they are looking for: “What’s a good Thai restaurant near me? Do they deliver? Can you call them? Can you give me directions?”

And, importantly, consumers using voice search generally expect a single, authoritative answer that they can trust to be accurate.

The question is, how do you interject an ad into this conversation and still provide a good user experience?

In simplified terms, if an ad is placed prior to the voiced response to a question, it will likely frustrate users looking for that quick, reliable answer. If an ad is placed after a voiced answer, it could frustrate users asking multiple, specific follow-up questions to get their desired information or action.

That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. And the danger is turning off consumers and stifling not only the growth of voice search as an ad medium but consumer usage of voice search itself.

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Of course, consumers’ voice searches can and likely are currently being used to target and re-target advertising, as with traditional typed searches.

But in terms of what voiced paid search ads will look (sound?) like and when we can expect them, it may be helpful to consider the evolution of traditional paid search ads.

It was not until 2000—two years after the Google search engine launched—that ads began appearing in consumers’ search results. And, those ads were sold by salespeople on a CPM basis [cost per thousand impressions]. It was not until two years later, in 2002, when Google AdWords’ instituted its winning cost-per-click and self-service bidding model as well as an important innovation that’s apropos of current considerations around voice search ads—its model would judge how relevant ads are to the consumer’s search in order to ensure a good experience for its users.

During the four-year period in between the launch of Google’s search engine in 1998 and AdWords’ appearance in 2002, searching on Google became so ingrained in consumer behavior that “Google” entered the popular lexicon as a verb.

We will likely see a similar pattern in voice search ads—experimentation will be followed by standardization in ad format over a period of years, with special consideration toward providing a strong user experience that will allow for consumer usage to flourish.

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So what can marketers do in the meantime?

Although there are still many unknowns in the area of voice search ads, one thing is certain: Consumers are using voice search for local search inquiries. Advertisers who optimize their paid and organic campaigns for local search now are going to be in a far better position to take advantage of voice search ads when their time finally comes.

For paid search, getting started can be as simple as including local search keywords in your desktop and mobile campaigns. This sounds obvious but it’s not necessarily a common practice; over the last six months ‘food near me’ was the No. 3 keyword in the dining category by desktop ad spend, according to AdGooroo data, yet we found only four advertisers sponsoring it during this time.

Another simple, effective tool for local paid search is utilizing location ad extensions, which can include your address, a map, and a clickable call button or your phone number. Location extensions can also click to more detailed information about your business, including directions, hours, photos and reviews.

For the ever-evolving world of SEO, local search can get complicated quickly. One easy place to start is claiming your business on Google My Business, which shows your listing in search results and Google Maps when consumers search either for your business or a business in your category. Once claimed, it’s important to make sure your business listing has your correct address, phone and hours. In addition, you can optimize your listing/make it more attractive to consumers with photos, pertinent updates and special offers. And best of all, it’s all free.

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AdGooroo, a Kantar Media company, provides competitive intelligence about search marketing, such as companies’ search marketing spend, performance and top keywords.