Can search survive in an age of conversational UI?

4 Minute Read
Blog banner

The latest interface connecting us with the online world is one we don’t necessarily see or touch. Devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo are the first of many to bring conversational UI into our living rooms and the likes of Facebook, Apple and Microsoft will soon follow suit.

The future web will be one powered by voice technology and conversational UIs are already changing the way we interact with the internet. Which raises questions about the nature of search as we know it.

Are the days of search coming to an end?

The truth is search already plays a smaller role in our online habits than it did five years ago. We don’t need to search for news stories anymore; Google collects them for us, based on our interests, location and browsing history. In fact, we don’t really need to search for content at all. We have Facebook, Twitter and countless other apps that do all the discovering for us – all we have to do is scroll and take it all in.

We’re not far from a point where these platforms will be recommending to us clothes and other products, based on our style and previous purchases. This is already happening with chatbots and it’s the logical next step in a more interactive online shopping experience.

So, yes, we can expect the role of search to change further over the years, but this certainly doesn’t mean it will disappear altogether.

Conversational UIs can’t do it all

From a search marketing perspective, conversational UIs are a scary concept. There are no SERPs and you can forget about paid results for the time being because even Google doesn’t seem to know how that’s going to fit into things. So how are you supposed to rank for voice searches and how many places will be there to fight for?

Those are very real questions and we don’t have much in the way of answers right now.

However, one thing is clear: conversational UIs can’t do it all. Search may be on the decline but there are times when people really do need to search – and these happen to be the most commercially valuable searches.

You can’t compare six pairs of shoes or check the interior of a hotel using voice search. You also won’t have much luck trying to watch video reviews of consumer tech gear or browse through the images of cars at your local dealer. Aside from ordering a pizza from your regular takeaway joint, there isn’t much more you can do on Amazon Echo or Google Home right now.

Perhaps, instead of asking how we can rank for voice searches, we should be asking if we’ll ever need to.

Where are the business opportunities?

The big problem with conversational UIs is they don’t present a lot of business opportunities. First of all, people aren’t booking flights or doing their Christmas shopping with these things – at least not yet. They’re using them to set their alarm clocks, play some music and put appointments in their calendar. What few people are doing is using them to buy anything.

How people use Alexa (graph)

Source: Statista

A conversational UI can’t provide the full buying experience on its own and for the tech giants producing these devices – most notably Google – this presents a much bigger problem.

Google relies almost entirely on the money it makes from advertising and this business model isn’t guaranteed to work with voice search. Your average SERPs can have as many as seven paid ads and ten organic listings on each page, which doesn’t translate too well in conversational UI.

If conversational UI is going to become our primary way of interacting with the web, then the tech giants creating them will need to find a way to monetise them. And they’ll also need to create platforms that actually get people buying products.

How can we prepare for the age of conversational UI?

You’ll see plenty of articles with advice on how to prepare for voice search marketing, but I wouldn’t take these too seriously. There are too many questions still hanging over the technology and even the companies making these devices aren’t sure what direction they’re heading in.

I recently read an article on Moz claiming the key to surviving voice technology is ranking in featured snippets. But, once again, these searches aren’t the kind of queries that hold any commercial value to online brands.

Who has walked on the moon? Search result

The most important thing is to understand how your target audience is using conversational UIs – the kind of queries/tasks they’re doing. This will change over time, too, so you’ll need to keep tabs on user behaviours. Once people start using voice technology to make commercially valuable searches and buy products, being discoverable on platforms like Google Home will be a core part of your marketing strategy.

Related reading

How voice technology is shaping the future of search marketing

Chris Pitt profile picture
Chris Pitt

Chris is Managing Director at Vertical Leap and has over 25 years' experience in sales and marketing. He is a keynote speaker and frequent blogger, with a particular interest in intelligent automation and data analytics. In his spare time, he enjoys playing the guitar and is a stage manager at the Victorious Festival.

More articles by Chris
Related articles
5 conversational UI examples from the best travel bots

5 conversational UI lessons from the best travel bots

By Chris Pitt
Technology background

How voice technology is shaping the future of search marketing

By Chris Pitt
Marketer's guide to chatbots

Conversational UI: The marketer’s guide to chatbots

By Chris Pitt