Voice’s Local Impact in 2018 and 2019

This post is the latest in our “Beyond the Screen” series. It will be an editorial focus for the month of January, and you can see the rest of the series here


As Amazon reports growth of over 200% YOY for holiday purchases via Alexa and as we head into the new year, it’s an opportune time to talk about the latest advances in voice and how the medium will shake up local in 2019.

Street Fight’s Mike Boland explained in a white paper on the topic this year that there’s a number of misconceptions regarding how voice will play out in local search and commerce, and there’s plenty of research out there to illuminate where the medium is really headed. Below, I outline some key insights about voice as brands and SMBs alike make plans to tackle it in the months to come.

Where’s Voice Happening? 

Though Amazon’s Echo devices are a novelty, voice will primarily impact search in on-the-go use cases. Consumers will naturally turn to voice in cases where typing out a query is inconvenient or dangerous, meaning mobile will be the go-to channel, with newcomer channels like connected cars entering the game as well. 

Due to the relatively high utility of mobile for voice queries, media tech consultancy Activate predicts that smart devices will actually decline in sales by 2020, as consumers turn to improved voice interfaces on the devices they already lug around 24/7: their smartphones. For the effect improved smartphones will have on in-home smart devices, think of the decline of standalone GPS for cars.

This means brick-and-mortars should optimize for mobile, paying particularly close attention to the growing “near me” searches. 

What Will Optimizing for On-the-go Voice Search Entail?

Marketers will need to be specific to reach on-the-go customers with specific queries that currently yield unhelpfully vague or off-the-mark responses from smartphones. The key is to create great content, as Collin Holmes wrote in Street Fight earlier this year.

Suppose, as Holmes did, that someone cruising along a highway asks for the best vanilla soy latte near her. Surfacing your business as a top result for this query—and being a top result will matter more than ever, as the phone may only convey the top result, or the searcher may hit the top result quickly so as not to stare at her phone while driving—will require creating content that allows Google to recognize this specific offering on your business’ menu. Smart businesses are getting active on Google Posts and the Knowledge Panel to get out in front of this need for increased specificity.

Which Company Will Dominate the Voice Ecosystem?

As I began to suggest just above, the main company for which to optimize will be Google, which stands above its big tech rivals thanks to a massive pool of data on locations and smartphone users and has a strong hold on the global smartphone market to boot. That means optimizing for Google’s search channels should be top of mind.

That said, there are wild cards and specific verticals where other companies hold strong hands. Amazon can be expected to take the lead on product search, and the intersection of AR and voice could present opportunities for innovation from the likes of Facebook, Yelp, and Waze. This is something to come, called audio AR, that Mike Boland discusses in his white paper and will break down as AR evolves going forward.

When it comes to voice and AR’s impact on local, we’re just getting started.

Joe Zappa is Street Fight’s managing editor.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He joined Street Fight as a contributing writer in 2015, has compiled the daily newsletter since 2016, and has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Follow him on Twitter @joe_zappa, and shoot him an email at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.
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