Preparing for Voice Search

Source: Jesse Collins, Friday, Jun 1, 2018

The rapid growth of smart home speakers (expected to penetrate 55% of US households by 2022, according to voicebot.ai) has enabled retailers and brands to tap into voice as a viable way to reach consumers. Shoppers are beginning to use voice assistants to search for and learn about products, as well as make purchases or add them to digital shopping lists to view later. 

Since digital assistants require a device purchase, user adoption is a key barrier. As smart speaker popularity grows, voice assistants Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant will remain industry leaders, while emerging platforms will take share.


As consumers become more comfortable shopping via voice, retailers and brands must ensure they are there to meet this growing source of spend. However, without the screen provided by online and mobile websites, product discovery on voice platforms becomes an even greater challenge. Voice assistants remove opportunities for brand and retailer intervention, often recommending just one option, and don’t offer a clear marketing or advertising model. This means understanding and excelling in voice search is essential. 

Differences in Voice vs. Text-Based Search

PlanetRetail RNG conducted a brief research exercise, in which search results for four categories (paper towels, toothpaste, cereal, printer ink) were compared across voice and text-based search methods on Amazon platforms and devices. Google Home was not included in this study.

  • Voice: | Echo | Echo Show | Alexa in-app           Command: “Alexa, I want to buy e.g. Cereal” 
  • Text: | website | mobile site | mobile app        Query: “Cereal”


Organic Search Winner (Result #1) by Amazon “Channel”

To see the top four SKUs in each category across all search channels, access full results here

While some results were consistent across Amazon platforms, many had considerable differences. Ultimately, the search experience is most distinctly affected by whether or not a screen is available, as Alexa encourages the support of visual cues where possible. Much like text-based searches on Amazon, previously purchased items, sponsored brands, Amazon’s Choice, and Best Seller products all perform well in voice searches. 

Voice is far better suited to specific product search than discovery

Voice is a poor platform to explore options, product content, and prices. When the Echo is asked to provide product options in a category, Alexa struggles to vocalise multiple options or ask for more specific criteria, preferring to send search results to a mobile device. The user experience is far more accommodating when specifying a product or brand, meaning that shoppers are incentivised to request a specific product, but won’t be able to effectively explore a category. 

Implication: instead of relying on voice as a place for inspiration or browsing, brands and retailers will focus on digital marketing efforts and building brand awareness outside of the voice platform to guide a shopper toward their product or brand when using voice.  

User experience remains highly tailored to text search

When voice searching on a device with a built-in screen like the Echo Show or using Alexa in the mobile app, Alexa visually presents product options to compare. When searching only with voice through the Echo, Alexa vocalises a single recommended option, but pushes search results to a mobile device when asked for more options.

Implication: accurate and visually-engaging digital product content remains an important aspect of the voice-enabled ecommerce environment. Product information such as titles and descriptions must be tailored to voice searches, which are more specific and personal than typed ones.

Sponsored results still surface first, but appear to have less impact with voice

In any search with a screen, sponsored products dominate top results. However, when searching on a screen-based device by voice (Echo Show or Alexa in the mobile app), while the first result is sponsored, the following top SKUs include organic results. When searching by voice through the Echo, Alexa suggests a sponsored brand (“I can search for different kinds, like Bounty”), but when asked for more options, it includes organic results in those pushed to a mobile device.

Implication: winning in voice does not require being first in search, however brands that do not occupy the top four of five results will fail to be seen. 

Replenishment outperforms other voice search results

Voice clearly favours products that were previously purchased or even searched. The key to increasing prominence in voice search is being in a shopper’s previous purchase history. Reorder products are the prompted brand by voice, and also occupy the top results when visually displayed.

Implication: suppliers that prioritise getting into shoppers’ carts and previously ordered lists will be rewarded with unmatched search visibility that creates a feedback loop with performance. 

Web-based search performance will aid voice search performance

After previously purchased items, Amazon’s Choice and Best Seller items are almost always top performers in voice search. Other products can still achieve a high search result by performing well in Amazon’s search algorithm. 


For example, Plenty achieved a high organic voice search ranking by executing well against many of Amazon’s most important SEO variables:

  • Product Title: Concisely includes brand, function, key material, color, size, quantity
  • Multimedia: Images/Videos
  • Description and Bullet Points: Keywords, detailed, concise
  • Price & Promotion: Competitive price, options for coupon and subscribe & save
  • Rating & Reviews: High rating, leading review count

Plenty’s nearly 900 reviews and 4.3 star rating have helped performance across web-based and voice searches.

Regardless of device, the best way to achieve results on Amazon is by focusing on the fundamentals, including exceptional product content, high conversion rates, strong ratings and reviews, and low return rates. Utilising a solution like Clavis Insight’s 6Ps Ecommerce Intelligence framework can support ecommerce analytics that help to identify what are drivers of your performance and therefore where to improve execution.


Clavis Insight – 6Ps Ecommerce Solution

Learn more about Clavis’ Ecommerce Intelligence solution here.


Winning voice in the future requires action now

Though not currently a significant revenue stream, the rapid pace at which voice is gaining traction as a retail channel indicates the importance of preparing for it now.

Optimising voice SEO on Amazon is key, but only solves one piece of the expanding and complex voice landscape. It is equally important to win with the next largest platform, Google Assistant, whose network of retailers presents its own unique set of challenges.

Meanwhile, some of the highest growth in voice assistant adoption is coming from newer platforms, as ecommerce and tech giants around the world race to establish their own voice ecosystems.

Retailers and brands that take a test and learn approach with Amazon and Google now, familiarising themselves with building a voice presence, will be better equipped to take advantage of future voice developments and other voice platforms as opportunities emerge.  






















RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SUPPLIERS

  • In order to compete in organic voice search, prioritise Amazon SEO, aiming for higher conversation rates, improved ratings & reviews, and lower return rates.
  • Given the unmatched visibility of previously purchased items across all search channels, combine customer acquisition and replenishment tactics to capture high value customers. Consider running advertising campaigns promoting temporary aggressive price cuts on bulk voice-orders, preferably essentials. 
  • Update product titles and descriptions to include the most relevant details and keywords likely to be used in voice search, which is more specific and personal than text search, ensuring the right products surface.
  • Maintain visually-engaging digital product content, as it remains an important aspect of the voice-enabled product discovery experience.
  • Engage with customers and build loyalty outside of the voice platform. Consider using physical print ads to paint a use case that prompts specific voice orders such as ordering food, or out-of-home advertising to encourage voice orders for nearby store pickup.