Amazon Echo: The Future of Search Content

Me and My Echo

I have now owned the Amazon Echo for well over a month. In late April, I brought the Amazon Echo with me to the iProspect Client Summit as a prop for my “Outside the Search Box,” Insight Lab. I created a simple app (or, what’s called a “skill” in Amazon Echo terminology) quiz that asked the audience, “Should brands consider Amazon Echo as part of their search strategy this year – yes or no?” The correct answer was, and still is, “Yes.”

Amazon Echo: the Future of Search Content

Alexa, the voice engine behind Amazon Echo, went on to introduce Jessie, my colleague in the lab. The audience got a real kick out of this. As we closed out our session with discussion about voice search (including Alexa), apps, and local, I brought the conversation back to the Amazon Echo again. I wanted to emphasize the power and potential of a device like this, which doesn’t need a search engine, it just needs “content layers.”

By “content layers” I mean API data that enables you to personalize your experience with news, updates, and product information fed from your preferred brands and news sources; access points to control your local smart devices; and local data to deliver the personal assistant and local experience you want. All of these are built with skills. Oh, and did I mention Amazon has more than 40 Million US subscribers as well. Amazon Echo has changed the game.

How do I Leverage this Internet of Things (IoT) for My Business?

Before we explore that question, I want to provide a brief overview of the Amazon Echo and how it operates. Amazon Echo is powered by an Alexa app that you download on your phone (iPhone or Android). In order to setup the Echo and add skills (mobile apps), you must install the Alexa app first. The Alexa app stores all the voice-powered searches and content requests you make on the Echo. The core tasks the Echo can run out of the box include things like:  streaming music, voice weather updates, and voice traffic. Also, the local content layer on the Echo is powered by Yelp to deliver local results  (a fact that should intrigue brands with local listings).

For general search requests that it cannot answer, the Echo defaults to the app that then links to Bing to power further search if required. In its current state the Amazon Echo search experience is very poor, but it’s only one good search-engine partnership away from changing that experience. (I will return to this point later.)

In order to have relevant user engagement on the Echo you need to build a skill. A skill is an application that can take the form of a game, news feed, quiz, or other content application that a user can access by a verbal command. In addition – and this is a key differentiator – you can make purchases through Amazon with the Alexa.

Content Strategy

But let’s get back to the original question of how you can leverage these IoT technologies for your business? Building a content experience (skill) on the Amazon Echo is really not very different from building a more traditional digital search experience or standard mobile application. The process involves looking at your existing audience segments and potential target markets, researching the gap opportunities in the Echo app market, developing key content to present to your audience as a differentiator (game, quiz, news feed, account management), and then building it. One advantage for brands that want to begin building and testing on the Amazon Echo is that few brands have ventured into this space at this early stage. Very few brands are using this technology for content engagement, so the field is wide open. Imagine, for instance, if you built an app in Google Play or iTunes and yours was the only app that showed up.

Do SEO and SEM Still Apply? 

Brands can apply organic search best practices for Amazon Echo skills in the Echo app store. They can use SEO-friendly skill titles and descriptions, and then add keywords and other content so the skill shows up for appropriate Alexa app searches. Brands can also promote their Echo skill the same way they promote other content online: leveraging paid search, social influencer outreach, and paid social campaigns to reach and engage audiences for whom the brand’s Echo skill experience might be relevant. In addition, brands can deploy a deep-link content strategy to ensure that users are redirected from app content to the Echo App store, making it simple and easy for users to quickly install the brand skill.

Why Should I Prioritize this?

We are fast reaching the mid-point of 2016, and entering a digital era in which it’s not enough to have the best content in search. Today, the best content is not only appearing in search, it also must be voice accessible, app friendly, and specially developed for the IoT. Content is evolving to become a layer of information that a digital personal assistant can access and prioritize based on behavior of its end user.  Brands that are ahead of the curve recognize this reality and are developing content strategies that understand this user. In mid-2015, Capital One® became something of a pioneer by offering online banking and login services thru Amazon Echo. This was an important development at a time when Amazon Echo was still mostly just a cool IoT device that told jokes, delivered news and weather, and could play music.

Fast-forward to 2016, and we’re seeing brands create their own Amazon Echo experiences. Uber now has a voice experience for the Amazon Echo, Domino’s® created a pizza-ordering app, and just recently Kayak offered up their travel engine to research travel plans. TechCrunch has created a new feed for Amazon Echo and NBC News has created an election coverage app for it as well.

Future State

While Amazon was first to market with an IoT personal assistant device that’s driven by content layers, which are in turn customized by user-defined preferences, the device is far from perfect. This first generation device is like the airplane that the Orville brothers managed to get off the ground (without crashing), but which bears little resemblance to today’s streamlined aircraft. We will call this Digital Assistant 1.0. Amazon clearly has the upper hand right now, and (as noted above) is only one search partner away from sustaining the current momentum. Odds are, however, that Google’s Home product (recently announced on May 18th) will level the playing field by providing a much more robust search experience built into its product.

Final Thoughts

Though Amazon gave us Digital Assistant 1.0 with their Echo product, Google is bringing Digital Assistant 2.0 with it’s recently revealed Home product. Google’s entry into the voice search space will boast both a digital assistant and a robust search experience powered by Google. With their virtual assistant, dubbed simply “M,” Facebook has leveraged some interesting technology advancements that could integrate a digital assistant and search with a social element. The questions burning in everyone’s mind now are how fast will Google catch up with Amazon, what does the Digital Assistant 3.0 look like, and how will search integrate in this experience?