Local Search and The Personal Assistant

In the lead-up to the March 18 Silicon Valley Comic Con, conference host and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak took a timeout from preparations to talk digital assistants with CNBC. The technology he’s most excited about, Woz said, is Amazon’s Echo. A combination of Amazon services and third-party developed voice experiences within the Alexa Skills Kit drives Echo. It arrived first on the scene in the personal digital assistant space.

But hot on its heels comes Google Home, Alphabet’s new always-on, voice-activated personal assistant. It was announced at I/O last week. Moreover, Google Home promises to connect to other devices and personalize the assistant experience. It will do this according to user preferences, among other features.

Of course consumers are excited as the digital assistant market heats up. Two major players already in the game and Microsoft and Facebook expected to announce their own offerings shortly.

But what does the proliferation of digital assistants for consumers mean for local marketers? And what about the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence?

The short answer is: plenty.

Data Quality Increases in Importance (Again)

Digital assistants don’t have a whole lot of opportunity for differentiation. After all, the purpose of each is essentially the same: to provide accurate, timely answers to consumer questions.

To that end, the one key differentiator is data quality. Bing powers Echo. Google Home will use Google Assistant, of course.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the following in the product announcement:

“You can be in front of this structure in Chicago and ask Google who designed this and it will understand in this context that the name of that designer is Anish Kapoor.”

It knows this because of the vast, complex mass of data to which Google has access. And this may ultimately give them the stronger position.

It’s more important than ever that local search marketers ensure that the data they’re feeding into data aggregators, search engines and directories is complete, accurate and current. Digital assistants are omnipresent, there to offer a solution in whatever moment of need a consumer is experiencing. Regardless of the actual personal assistant device brand, that platform is going to be drawing its answers from a data source.

Brands & Retailers Are Challenged (Again) to Keep Up Online Customer Engagement

One of Woz’s favorite personal assistant features, the ability to speak directly to it rather than typing out each need, is surely shared by the masses. He told CNBC, “It’s just become such a wonderful part of our life, not having to lift anything up and speak to things, and just speak to it anywhere across a room. That is such a luxury and freedom.”

Just a generation ago, we would gladly have spent hours with a human travel agent exploring destinations, or plotted out a cross-country route on a paper map.

No longer.

At our recent #LSS2016 conference, Greg Sterling shared that 60% of polled adults have started using voice search just in the last 12 months, according to Local Search Association research. Consumers expect answers instantly, wherever and whenever they have a need. Most importantly, when they’re seeking information, the answers better be accurate, or user experience will suffer.

Open Platform and Clean Structured Data Are Critical as Technology Advances

The major tech players are all vying for dominance in the personal assistant space. However,  it’s up to local marketers to ensure their location data is clean and available across platforms and networks.

It’s up to local search marketers, to ensure that their data is clean and optimized for whatever platform may display it across the local search ecosystem.

So the real question is: Will Google Home be a real contender for Amazon’s Echo, which has already sold 3 million units in its two years on the market? That remains to be seen, but what’s clear is that opportunity for local marketers has never been better. The key now is not to keep up with every emerging contender in the personal assistant space, but to perfect systems to clean, optimize, and distribute local business listings data to the various platforms using this data to power voice search.

As consumers search for instant answers in the spaces around them, the local businesses who have ensured their visibility across mobile search, maps, apps and most recently, voice search, will be the winners who get the spoils.

Kick-start your local business presence on connected devices with some simple steps:

  • Claim and optimize all of your Google business listings on search engines as these assistants tend to pull from their parent’s data source
  • Distribute far and wide using data aggregators and niche directory listings. This ensures that your business listing can be found, no matter where the device pulls it from.
  • Tackle voice search through unique content on local landing pages and local listings much like you would for SEO purposes

Looking to learn best practices to fuel your search and customer engagement marketing efforts? View the takeaways from our latest webinar with Digital Marketing Depot: “Local Strategies to Capitalize on Voice Search.”

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