Always on the lookout for new information, consumers are increasingly using their smartphones and other smart devices such as smart speakers. They give brands access to a history of searches that includes all products consulted. Algorithms then take over to generate recommendations and influence purchasing decisions. Here is a look back at the past to understand the transition underway between the age of SEO and that of VEO (Voice Engine Optimisation).
At the beginning of the 90’s, Internet users browsed from one website to another looking for information (or entertainment), but without really knowing where to begin. Two students from Stanford rapidly understood that users needed to be assisted. They therefore designed a starting point for the journey through this rapidly growing information network. In 1994, they published a list of hyperlinks to other websites, grouped together by theme, which they named ‘Yahoo!’.
This approach revolutionised Internet use and was rapidly adopted, leading to the creation of a myriad of ‘directories’, or web portals, which dominated the Web. These portals became all-powerful, being able to determine which websites would be the most visible on their pages. In this way, they developed a predominant influence over the popularity of websites and began to generate revenue from their rankings, by selling the best positions, advertising space and part of the traffic. This was the beginning of Internet advertising.
This domination lasted until 1998, when two other former Stanford students introduced the idea of indexing pages that could be consulted: Google. The premise was simple: the importance of a website is evaluated accurately if it is objectively measured by an algorithm.
Many marketing specialists rapidly understood that the introduction of this PageRank algorithm required a new approach. They therefore began looking for ways to influence and get round the algorithm calculations in order to be more relevant than their competitors. An entirely new branch of web marketing soon emerged: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), followed by Search Engine Advertising (SEA), when search engines began selling advertising space based on keywords.
In 2019, we have entered the age of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. The blistering pace of progress of technologies such as voice recognition and language processing has given rise to ‘smart assistants’. Improving with each passing day, these assistants are deployed by devices that are in constant contact with their users. By collecting huge amounts of data, these technologies are able to predict the needs of users, evaluate them and, perhaps more disconcertingly, influence them.
As these devices have become precious allies in the constant quest for information, smart assistants now control a significant part of product searches. Ultimately, consumers’ purchasing decisions are increasingly dictated by algorithms.
In a way, all of this reminds me of the situation in 1994, when portals such as Yahoo! were the main points of entry to the Internet. 25 years later, they are virtual assistants, with the major difference being that the algorithms are no longer linked to a computer screen.
Once again, marketing specialists are realising they must respond to changing consumer behaviour. Their aim is to ensure that their products stand out from the crowd and are noticed by smart assistants. They now need to market to digital platforms.
I am therefore convinced that a new branch of digital marketing, called Voice Engine Optimisation, or VEO, will become an essential part of most marketing plans. Elsewhere, it is estimated that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be done by voice. Not to forget that the stakes at play in the area of smart assistants and search result optimisation are still just as high.
On computers, appearing on the first page of results can sometimes be enough. Even though the highest ranking few get the greatest number of clicks, there are still some gains to be won by those at the bottom of the page. On mobiles, the chances are considerably reduced and the lion’s share is taken by the top 3. With voice searches, the next stage of this evolution is clear: the top position will be more crucial than ever.
At the same time, there is also fierce competition between the platforms themselves. Just as Apple Macintosh and Microsoft competed for the PC market, and Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) have done battle in the field of mobile technology, technology giants are now attempting to dominate households with their smart assistants. From Apple with Siri, to Microsoft with Cortana, Amazon with Alexa and Google Assistance, the question is: who will be the winner?
Watch this space…