With the growing popularity of virtual assistants like Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri, the way we interface with the digital world is changing.

As is, over 50 million people in the US own a smart speaker, and smartphones are the new norm. As time goes on, more people will begin to use – and ultimately rely on virtual assistants for things like inquiring about everyday questions to purchasing products. According to Statista, 82% of virtual assistant users commonly voice-search for information (weather, news, recipes, etc.), and 35% of them have voice-purchased products. Furthermore, with 50% of all searches predicted to be voice searches by 2020, it’s time to really start considering this medium.

This isn't some tech that's just available through smart speakers, it's accessible through many of the devices we already own. And although not all virtual assistants have voice marketing capabilities, all voice shopping is done through virtual assistants.

Here’s a list of the most relevant virtual assistants, a peek into the current state of voice marketing, and some insight into developing your voice marketing strategy.

Virtual assistants

By now we’ve seen the rise and fall of various virtual assistants

Many startups have tried their hand at making the perfect virtual assistant, only to be overshadowed by the titans of the tech world. Even then, those powerful companies have faced their fair share of hardship in this incredibly competitive space. Only a few have come out on top.

Although there may be some smaller, promising projects in the works, we’ll only be going over the notable assistants. After all, the most notable voice marketing opportunities stem from these few key players in the space.

Google Assistant

An extremely capable voice assistant that is constantly improved behind the scenes, Google Assistant is more than just some simple voice tech. It’s the backbone to Google’s IOT initiative and an integral part to Google’s ecosystem.

voice marketing with google assistant

There are over 500 million Google Assistant enabled devices in the wild – this includes: smartphones, tablets, PCs, wearables, displays, smart speakers, and cars. Google’s software suite not only comes pre-installed on many Android devices, but its apps are also available as third-party downloads on most other smart devices.

Inutitive, fluid, and highly capable, Google Assistant is currently the most naturally skillful voice assistant of the bunch. Once addressed with its signature “Ok Google” wake phrase, this assistant does an amazing job making sense of informal queries. Pair that with the wealth of knowledge offered by Google Search, an awesome app library, and the marketing extravaganza that is Google Shopping Actions and you have a platform worth investing in.

Amazon's Alexa

Just as noteworthy as (and a close rival to) Google Assistant, we have Amazon's Alexa.

voice marketing with alexa

As of January of this year, Amazon says over 100 million Alexa devices have been sold. That being said, Prime Day just rolled by, so that stat could be significantly higher.

It’s worth noting that much of Google’s 500 million active device stat considers many devices preloaded with Google software or those with the Assistant app downloaded – not just Google Home devices. This is particularly important, as that 100 million Alexa units number is strictly considering smart speakers and related devices.

Just as capable and nearly as intuitive, Alexa also does a fantastic job at most of what you’d commonly use it for. However, it's currently a tad bit sensitive to complex sentences and awkward queries – but Alexa does handle shopping queries a bit more effectively than Google Assistant does. Ultimately, Google has a whole software ecosystem of services to offer… while Amazon is primarily a marketplace leviathan that really wants to sell you everything.

Alexa and Google Assistant are at the top of the list because they have a competitive set of features that keep them both ahead of all other virtual assistants. That said, they don’t entirely invalidate the others in their space.

Apple’s Siri

Siri is the best example of a non-Google/Amazon assistant that is still very relevant.

The oldest of these AI companions, Siri has been picking up steam since 2010... but does that make it the wisest?

voice search and siri
Source: The Verge

Not particularly... but sort of – we'll get to that.

There are a lot of modern Apple products out there. As of January of 2018, there were a whopping 500 million Siri-enabled Apple products in the wild. Although dated now, this figure it's definitely higher and set to keep growing.

The thing is, unlike Alexa users (and Google Assistant users, which are similar in many ways), many of which buy Amazon smart speakers just to interface with Alexa, many iOS users don’t buy iPhones for Siri. Pair that with the fact that Apple’s HomePod makes up only 6% of the smart speaker market, and Siri's massive userbase starts to seem less potent. The stats on Siri’s active userbase are indiscernible, but there's no doubt that Siri is accessible to a huge chunk of the planet.

So how wise is it? Siri is very useful, especially for everyday micro tasks; it does what it can well enough. However, it is void of any applicable marketing capabilities and overall doesn't play nice with third-party apps. That's not unlikely Apple, though – after all, they're infamous for their "walled garden" approach.

But don't go ignoring Siri because of its current marketing capabilities and Apple's hesitation to open up its gates. Not only do they know what they're doing, but everything they release is polished to perfection. Apple's innovation capabilities, their massive userbase, and their dedication to perfection all matter here.

Strategizing for voice – even in a basic way – would apply if and when Apple decides to overhaul Siri’s voice search and marketing capabilities.

Microsoft’s Cortana

Unlike the previously mentioned virtual assistants, Microsoft has taken a different route with Cortana – as they've also done with much of their outlook (pun intended).

can i market my products through cortana

Cortana is a virtual assistant created for Windows 10, Windows Mobile, smart speakers, Microsoft Band, Surface headphones, XBox One, iOS, Android, Windows Mixed Reality, and Alexa. Yes you read that right, iOS, Android, and Alexa are part of that list.

Although Google Assistant and Alexa are available on countless smart devices, they aren't very welcoming of each other. Microsoft's approach is different, to say the least. CEO Satya Nadella recently revealed that Microsoft no longer sees Cortana as a competitor to Alexa or Google Assistant. Instead, Nadella sees Cortana as a service that will be available across multiple platforms – rather than Microsoft attempting to dominate the virtual assistant market. This is bold, distinct, and brave, but definitely not naive.

Instead of competing with Amazon, Microsoft has chosen to make Cortana a “valuable skill that somebody who is using Alexa can call." They now need to convince Google of the same concept. This direction embraces the reality of the challenge that is trying to compete with Google and Amazon in their space. By playing nice, those dominant forces have one less powerful competitor, and Microsoft has a unique place in the market – as well as two very powerful allies.

Cortana isn’t incredibly skillful... yet, nor are there any definitive marketing applications, yet... but Bing is still a major Microsoft property that lends itself perfectly to what Google has done with Shopping Actions. Keep your eyes peeled, this “open garden” approach that Microsoft has embraced is more tactical than it is considerate.

Samsung’s Bixby

The underdog of the notable assistants we’ll be covering, Bixby is a fairly robust, system-wide virtual assistant available on modern Samsung devices; essentially, Samsung’s version of Siri.

samsung bixby voice search
Source: CNET

In 2017, Samsung reported 10 million active users. Although the figure is dated (and probably much higher), there’s no doubt that Bixby is behind the previously mentioned assistants. Considering the ease of adopting another assistant and its Samsung-only (kind of – more on that below) limitation, it’s no surprise that it’s not a front-runner. 

The thing is, Bixby is still notable. Apple still owns the biggest chunk of the smartphone market, but they’ve been slowly losing their padded lead (24% Q1 2019, down from 31% Q1 2018) while Samsung has stayed relatively stable (21% Q1 2019, 22% Q1 2018). It's apparent that Samsung users are loyal to the brand.

Samsung doesn't take that dedication for granted, either. They've been working diligently to make their products (including Bixby) more reliable. They've also been working on their first flagship smart speaker, the Galaxy Home – which should usher in a series of Bixby improvements.

It's also worth mentioning that earlier this year, Samsung announced that they're working directly with Google to integrate Bixby into Google's most popular apps. So what does this mean for Samsung in the long run? What about Microsoft's intentions to integrate Cortana into Google Assistant? We're really not sure, but things are getting interesting.

Ultimately, Bixby Voice currently has no explicit marketing capabilities, but it still holds potential. Bixby Vision (a Samsung camera feature), lets you shop for products online, identify landmarks, translate foreign languages, and more. At the very least, this shopping-integrated pillar of Bixby – and the overall Samsung ecosystem – points towards an interest in shopping automation.

Bixby may not be immediately marketing-relevant, but don't sleep on Samsung.

Why it all matters

Even though right now only Google Assistant and Alexa have some form of ecommerce integration, all five of these virtual assistants are worth your interest (as is, consumers are definitely interested). Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung (as well as the big two) are all likely to greatly expand on the capabilities of their virtual assistants – voice search and ecommerce integration just being a portion of that.

virtual assistants and voice marketing
Source: Microsoft 2019 Voice Report

Considering the strides that have yet to be made in AI development, voice tech is still in its infant stage – which makes it that much more promising.

Right now you can go out of your way to optimize for voice in some focused, but mostly broad ways. Best of all, optimizing for voice can lead to a more organized approach to your product catalog and overall business procedures.

Developing your voice marketing strategy

There's actually very little voice optimization you can do that is channel-specific.

These best practices for voice search optimization are not only relevant for voice marketing, they'll also add to your general success across channels. As for the channel-specific portion of this, only Google and Amazon need extra consideration.

Optimizing for voice search

We’ve covered this before, you can reference that article for a more detailed approach.

Optimizing for voice isn’t complicated, you really just need to consider the ways people interact with virtual assistants.

Consider the conversational aspect of voice search and apply that logic to your product data. Try to not just mimic the questions being asked, but also answer them. Keep long-tail keywords in mind when writing out your product descriptions.

Bolster your products’ structured data. By providing and optimizing every aspect of your products’ details, you can give your products more search-friendly properties.

Know what products sell. This seems obvious, but such insight is needed if you’re trying to optimize for search. Currently, the types of items that people buy using voice tend to be entertainment-based, household items, and apparel. Research, research... research!

Sell your products on ecommerce apps/services. Right now there is no way to advertise via voice/virtual assistant, but that may change in the future. If you want to get your brand in front of people, the best way to do it is to promote your products on Google, Amazon, eBay, Walmart and other popular shopping apps whose listings appear in SERPs.

Optimize for local. Voice search can’t help but be weighted toward larger brands. The best way for smaller companies to stand out in voice search is to optimize for local, especially for “near me” phrases. Be sure to register your business with Google My Business if you already haven’t.

Maintain high ratings and positive reviews. Reviews and ratings are an increasingly important part of SEO; positive reviews add to your store’s overall credibility. Additionally, comparison shopping is not easily done without screens. Without a screen to compare, customers will find it easier to go with the highest-ranked choice if only because it’s listed first.

Optimizing for voice: Google

As for what you can do that is channel-specific, the best thing you can do for Google relevance is also ideal for your general online presence.

To be more relevant to Google Assistant, you'll need to target as many answer boxes as you possible can – this means you need to hone in on SEO. When you ask Google Assistant a question that warrants a Google search, it will reference the answer box that you'd see for a text search of the same question.

voice search optimization google answer box
If you ask Google Assistant this question on tents, it would yield this list and reference the source website.

Top-notch SEO should be your goal at all times, but it's particularly important to rank in this space. Keyword research goes a long way here – use to tools like Google's Keyword Planner, Google Search Console, Google Trends, SEMrush, Moz's Keyword Explorer, and Ubersuggest to hone in on questions your potential customers are asking. You'll want to create new content and optimize your old content to answer those questions.

In the case of voice search optimization and because you're targeting Google's answer box, it's important to structure your content in ways that apply to this medium. Bullets, tables, and lists are key here.

Lastly, be sure to use structured data for best results. Structured data is the best way to make sure content can be read out loud. To assist in that effort, not only does google offer a Structured Data Testing Tool, but they also helped develop Schema.org – a hub that allows brands to mark up their data so that search engines know exactly what's what.

Being the go-to answer for questions that pertain to what you do/sell is priceless. Aim to take over any and all questions that can lead back to your brand.

Optimizing for voice: Amazon

Finally, although not applicable to every type of business, you can (and maybe should) consider building an Alexa Skill.

Building an Alexa Skill for your brand can add to the convenience of your product and/or service, or it can create a new revenue stream for your business.

Hubspot has a fantastic guide on the matter.

The production costs behind this can definitely outweigh the benefits, but there are a few platforms that allow you to build Alexa skills without writing a single line of code. That includes: Voiceflow, Losant, Pullstring, Orbita, and even Amazon's own Alexa Skill Blueprints.

alexa voice marketing optimization building an alexa skill

The value here all depends on what your business does, how much work would need to go into making the best possible version of the skill, how useful the it would be, and to what extent it may support your goals.

Final thoughts

Virtual assistants are here to stay and they’re only going to get better with time.

As of now, only two of the top five virtual assistants: Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa have immediate marketing applications. But that doesn’t mean the other three: Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby should be ignored. Although currently void of marketing capabilities, those (as well as the big two) are almost certainly going to evolve in massive ways over the next few years.

Ultimately, optimizing for voice is fairly simple and agnostic. Just being aware of the opportunity that is voice marketing and proactively improving your product data for voice search – and maybe going the extra mile for Google and Amazon – can only benefit your business.