Are Paid Ads the Next Frontier of Voice Search and Assistants?

Google has long been a strong player in the field of Voice search. Always keeping the next move close to their chest, everyone wonders what new opportunities the tech giant will introduce – and for search nerds like myself, I’m constantly trying to find answers to the future of “conversation design” and voice advertisements.

Recently we have noticed a number of retracted articles pertaining to the Google Assistant serving local ads and paid ads through voice queries. The keyword here is “retracted.” There is a lot of misinformation out in the ethos leading us to the age old phrase, “there is not smoke without fire.” In fact, just this week Google released a survey to Google My Business customers to understand their appetite for a paid solution. This will be interesting to continue following from an SEO perspective, as the once sacred ground where only Organic exists today, may at some point have a paid component tomorrow.

So, let’s take a moment to focus on Paid Search. Voice search does drive ads. This is a fact. Sit down. Breathe. Let it settle in. Then once you have gathered your thoughts, go to Within the search bar is a multi-colored microphone icon and, when you click it and conduct a voice search, voila, there are ads. This search bar and accompanying microphone is also installed on every Samsung smart phone. In fact, if you pull a search term report in your Google Ads account, more than likely there will be a collection of terms which contains the phrase “hello/hey/okay Google.”

However, this is not what we are discussing today. Rather, we are examining the capabilities for voice-powered digital assistants to return Paid Ads as a result of a voice search. A quality Paid Search ad will provide information relevant to the search term as it pertains to a number of contextual signals. Google’s current voice results are largely driven by Google’s Knowledge Graph, which provides information relevant to the search term as it pertains to a number of contextual signals. The leap to envision a world where digital assistants offer a Paid Ad element to them is not a leap at all. It’s barely even a skip.

That is, until we discuss retail. Digital assistants already play a role in the path to purchase, but they notoriously have commitment issues when it comes to that final step within the purchase journey. When somebody is shopping for a luxury leather handbag, they want to see the products, compare them and review them. Visual Search is growing at a huge rate and Google has even introduced their Paid Shopping Ad format across multiple entities, such as Image Search and YouTube. Google is constantly developing tools which keeps the user within the Google ecosystem for longer than ever before. Google Shopping, Google News, Google Flights, Google Hotel Search and, more recently, Google Express. Google Express contains all desired retail product information within the Google ecosystem, thus making it easier than ever before to surface that data to the right user, in the right place, at the right time, with the right product.

One final element we want to touch on, but by no means dive into is privacy. User behavior will change, tools will change, capabilities will change, and along with this digital evolution, privacy policies will also change. GDPR, ITP, CCPA, all acronyms which narrate a story of vast behavioral changes pertaining to the desire for users to take back control. Search is innately private by nature and people deem the monitoring and utilization of their search behavior to be immoral. The number of homes which have a digital assistant in them is ever-increasing, but would the introduction of digital assistant ads impair this? Would digital assistants go from being helpful tools with fantastic natural language processing capabilities, to an alarming intrusion into one’s personal life?

Voice powered ads on digital assistants are inevitable and we are truly excited for the advances. New processes will be required, new ways of working, evolved SQR analyses, innovative keyword strategies and additional intent analysis based on new contextual signals. When utilized effectively, we will find powerful ways to interact with audiences and integrate them accordingly to reach larger business objectives. We believe the voice-powered eCommerce element of retail is still further down the road and will most likely include an image-based element, but this does not dampen our curiosity and motivation to be forward-thinking and prepared.

In regard to privacy, we should not ask “what can technology do,” rather “what should technology do?” As we build principles to ensure new tech continues to build trust, privacy fears will be alleviated. As an agency, iProspect is excited about these privacy discussions and embraces the disruption that is bound to continue to happen within the industry.

Future of the Market

As this market continues to grow, and as some consulting firms have projected voice behavior to account for more than $40 billion in buying power by 2022 (OC&C Strategy Consultants), the market will have a need for both informational and transactional voice conversations. Building and optimizing content for Organic voice conversations will need to take place to influence users, as they will still seek out top-of-the-funnel answers to help them solve customer and business challenges. The big question will remain, where and when does Paid fit into this model? The search nerd in me says it should be there today to address transactional needs, while my natural human instinct questions how it will work with informational needs down the road.