The increasing popularity of smart speakers logically dictates that more people would use them for search while lounging in the living room. Not so fast. According recent research by Fluent, just 25 percent of smart home device users holler to their speaker for search, while nearly half prefer to use their smartphone’s voice assistant. Why are people shunning their smart speakers and what does this mean for marketers?

Smart Speakers are Still Too Simple

One reason that smart speakers haven’t supplanted the mobile phone for search is that they’re still only good at completing fairly simple searches and transactions. Say you ask Alexa “what’s today’s home mortgage rate?” It will tell you that it’s 4.99 percent, and that’s about it.

But you probably weren’t asking for mortgage rates out of pure fiscal curiosity—you’re likely shopping for a house and a mortgage. If you use voice search on your phone to ask the same question, you’ll get the rate plus ads and organic results for mortgage providers on the screen. From a mobile device you can go straight from the rate to a provider’s site, or even click to call if you’re ready to start laying down picket fences.

While consumers aren’t shy about cross-platform shopping, it currently takes too many inquiries on a screenless smart speaker to get from point a to b. Until smart speakers can complete more complex tasks, they won’t be able to fully replace the smartphone for search in the home.

Mobile Still Rules for Complex Search & Transactions

Marketers are scrambling to get relevant results to consumers using smart speakers, and that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean that mobile search can be shunned in favor of it. This is particularly critical in considered purchase categories where many searches will at some point be followed by a phone call. For example, we found that when consumers are researching a loan, they call multiple banks multiple times, and 72 percent make at least two calls. 

When voice search fails, people want to call

When searching for that mortgage rate, Alexa can’t immediately follow up with “do you want to call LendingTree?” to drive high-intent phone calls to your business, even though customers would prefer to be connected to a human when voice search fails.

While you can now make phone calls straight from Google Home and with Alexa Calling, paid search ads and call extensions are not yet a part of the voice assistant marketing ecosystem. “The problem is how to make paid work,” said Michael Nicholas, co-founder and partner of artificial intelligence agency Born. “Amazon is rightly very protective of user experience — it won’t introduce any advertising on Echo until it is perfect.” Paid search will come to a smart home assistant near you eventually, but Google and Amazon are moving slowly to avoid eroding user trust in the nascent technology. For now, it remains the realm of the mobile and desktop experience.  

Optimizing for Smart Speaker Search Still Important

Just because mobile device voice search still has the upper hand doesn’t mean that you can put off SEO for voice search. Even if consumers can’t get the all answers they need or complete a complex transaction on a smart speaker, they can and will cross devices to do it.

Google Home in particular makes this an easy journey — when it answers a question it will cite the source of the information by saying the website’s name, and it can send a link to the searcher’s Google Home app, which they can access from their phone. Viola, the customer went from voice search to your website, and could soon be on the phone with your call center.

Smart home assistants have yet to be perfected and the implications for marketers are still up in the air. For now, your voice search focus should rightfully remain on mobile, but the smart assistant cannot be ignored, either.


Owen Ray

Posted by Owen Ray

Owen Ray is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Invoca. Prior to that, he worked with SaaS companies like Aria Systems, Glassdoor, and Mindjet. Owen sharpened his writing tools at San Francisco State University and Bay Area newspapers before working his way into the Silicon Valley creative services set. He hails from Petaluma, California and definitely does not leave work early on Wednesdays to go drag racing at Sonoma Raceway.

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