Amazon Steps Further Into Search With Amazon Echo

You remember the Google Nexus Q, a futuristic digital media player Google launched a few years back, don’t you? No? Me neither.

Unfortunately for Google, the Internet does not forget, and we can step back in time to read about one of the biggest tech fails of 2012. Indeed, the Nexus Q promised to bring a social music experience into your home by letting different users add music from their Google Play account to Q’s queue. While interesting in theory, and beautiful to look at, the device was expensive at $300, limited in functionality, and impractical to use.

If Google had waited two years to release Nexus Q, combined it with Google Now, and made it a cylinder instead of an orb, you’d basically have Amazon Echo.

Amazon Echo… Echo… Echo…

Amazon Echo is a cloud-connected room speaker with a built-in digital assistant. The assistant’s name is Alexa. Like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now, Alexa will cater to your digital needs, patiently waiting for a command such as, “Play Bruno Mars” or to answer a question like, “How tall is Mount Everest?”

Alexa’s capabilities are slightly better than par for digital assistants these days. She can play music, tell you the weather, set alarms, answer factoids, deliver news, manage to-do lists, and can connect to your phone via Bluetooth. Priced at $99 for Amazon Prime users and $199 for non-Prime, Echo could be an attractive device for those looking to add a futuristic touch to their home.

How Does This Affect Search?

Every time you activate Alexa, or any personal assistant for that matter, you’re performing a search. A good portion of those queries will be in the form of commands, such as “Add baking soda to my shopping list,” but many will be questions such as, “Who was the lead actor in Top Gun?”

Now before the age of digital personal assistants, one would have to laboriously walk over to a computer to manually type in their Top Gun question into a search engine. That search engine would have given them a list of websites to visit, and the user would probably have ended up as a visitor to IMDB. IMDB would have shown them ads, and a small percentage of those users would click an ad or two.

Today those users never make it to a website; instead, the answer is returned almost instantly by the digital assistant. And it’s not just factoids, spellchecks, and calculations that are hijacked – many product queries which would have once landed users on retail and brand sites will presumably be directed by Alexa to Amazon product pages.

Will Echo Succeed Where Q Failed?

If you’re concerned about Echo taking a bite out of traditional search volume, I would take a wait-and-see approach before doing anything rash. As we saw with the Nexus Q, just because tech giants release a shiny new product to great fanfare doesn’t mean consumers will buy it. In fact, take a look at Amazon’s recent foray into mobile phones with their Amazon Fire smartphone. Right now AT&T is practically giving it away for $0.99 with a two-year agreement.

But let’s say Echo grabs the attention of early adopters, and has enough momentum to make the leap to mainstream consumers’ living rooms. Amazon is still asking consumers to change their search behavior from using their phone or computer to walking into their living room and speaking their query into thin air. That in itself shows a few shortcomings.

  1. Lack of accessibility – I’m sure the “far-field voice recognition” works like magic, but if I’m upstairs, and Echo is downstairs, I’m not going to yell across the house to find out the weather. To make this work, Echo would need to connect through other Internet-connected devices throughout the home, such as smart light bulbs or appliances.
  2. Lack of privacy – Let’s face it, you don’t always want others knowing what you’re searching for. Even innocent searches such as birthday gifts require a level of privacy.
  3. Shared tastes – What are the chances that a mom, dad, teenage daughter, and kid brother will share the same music tastes? Or that you’ll want to stay in one location to listen to a song. Isn’t this why the iPod was created?
  4. Creeper Effect – I guess nobody else is weirded out that Echo is always on, listening to your conversations. Now it may not actually transmit data to Amazon without users activating it with their “Alexa” code word, but will that also stop the NSA from listening in?

Predictions

I can see a lot of early adopters having fun with Echo, but given the shortcomings, I find it unlikely that your neighbors will be buying one anytime soon. For that reason, I’m not concerned about Amazon stealing much traditional search volume from Google with this product.

However, Amazon has managed to build a bridge from digital personal assistants on your smartphone to your home. With Google’s acquisition of Nest in January, it won’t be long before we see Echo-like functionality making its way into thermostats, smoke detectors, and other Internet-enabled devices in the home.

With that push into the home, digital personal assistants will start to cannibalize traditional search at an alarming rate. Google, Bing, Amazon, Apple, and one day I’m guessing Facebook, will each have their own Knowledge Graph filled with instantaneous answers for what used to result in traffic and customers for websites.

Conclusion

Digital personal assistants are here to stay, and at some point they’ll most likely become our primary interface for performing searches. Since they don’t need your fact-based content any more, focus on developing experiential content. Experiential content, such as product demos, testimonials, and how-to videos, are subjective in nature, and therefore unlikely to make their way into these digital assistant’s knowledge graph. The best they can do is point a user to your content, which is exactly what we as search marketers want.

In fact, try taking it a step further by dabbling with augmented reality. Google just invested half a billion dollars in a little start-up called Magic Leap, which could signal where Google things the future of content is going.

Digital assistants may render a lot of fact-based websites useless now, but I guarantee you, if you have a solid liberty of experiential content on your site, it will be many decades before Siri, Cortina, Google Now, or Alexa poses any threat to your traffic.

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