The Amazon Change Engine

amazon-search-dogI’m a big fan of Amazon Echo. Its voice recognition capabilities are pretty amazing. I’m also completely fascinated with the impact that voice search is starting to have on natural query language. Put both of these developments together and you had me at “Hello Alexa” and “OK Google.”

Nowadays, Google is distracted by many other things than just producing relevant search results. To be certain, Google is continuing to roll out its revised mobile ranking algorithm worldwide and grow its Twitter Firehose-influenced temporal search results in line with its regular referral listings. Relevancy remains Google’s core focus – along with its avarice for being evil.

All the same, Google is also cleaving Google+ into two different parts because it just doesn’t “get” social. Google does, however, now understand the difference between streaming and photo sharing. Google is also laying Google Fiber, which should not to be confused with its wireless initiative dubbed Google Fi.

Since Google is distracted with other non-core search projects, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at another engine that is taking search relevancy very seriously. As a matter of fact, this other change engine is quietly usurping shopping market share from Google.

No, it’s not Bing or Yahoo. It’s not Yext or Yelp. It’s not Pintrest or Facebook. It’s Amazon online search that when combined with Amazon Echo voice capabilities, mobile devices and readers, video streaming services, and cloud computing – along with all of our personalized search and sales histories – that is quietly eating into the search pie.

Basic Search

Amazon is a lot of things. It is one of the top 10 U.S. retailers overall (Fortune, July 2014). Amazon net sales in 2014 totaled approximately $29.3 billion (Digital Marketing Stats, April 2015), and Amazon’s worldwide paid services grew 54 percent last year (TechCrunch, Jan 2015). Amazon is also the starting place for 43 percent of online buyers, according to Media Post. When it comes to ecommerce search, Amazon is definitely eroding Google’s marketplace market share.

The big difference between the two change engines is that Amazon focuses on conversions while Google on user satisfaction. Optimizing for Amazon search means you need to focus on accurate content for feeds – in terms of structured data, and popularity – in terms of crafting content to win conversions.

Factors such as price, availability, selection, and sales history help determine where any one product appears in a customer’s search results. Performance factors indicate that a product will sell well when prominently ranked only if it has a good conversion rate, is affordable, available, and has solid sales history based on “good” user reviews.

Unfortunately, sellers have indirect control over the performance factors detailed above. The search relevancy factors that digital merchandise optimizers do have complete control over include image titling and quality, product features lists and descriptions, and Amazon’s category based filtering options for size, color, price, etc., all help refine relevancy factors for the searcher.

To put it another way, Amazon’s recommendation engine is the amalgamation of positive user experiences – one that Google strives to impersonate by interpreting intent of contextual search query cues. To be certain, Amazon remains way (way) too weighted toward past purchase history when serving up personalized search results. Consequently, Amazon has to allow users to adjust their purchase histories. Amazon understands that the best way to produce relevant search results is to extend users ultimate control of their own intent. Which brings me back to voice search functionality and the Amazon Echo device.

Listening to Your Inner Voice

I’ve really enjoyed playing around with Alexa’s search functionality for weather updates, as well as preparing shopping lists, setting alarms, and other banal lifestyle features. I also enjoy the prepared music playlists, along with other new functions recently added to the device, including access to my Pandora playlists and real-time sports updates.

Yet it was Amazon’s most recent announcement that added IFTTT channel to its repertoire that made me step back and respect just how much this little tubular device is fast becoming my favorite lifestyle hack. With IFTTT coordination I don’t have to search for misplaced grocery lists or value spend weekend time sorting photos to add to Dropbox. This is another way that Amazon is acting as a change engine to make its search functionality better.

Now if “Alexa” search could only understand I want to listen to X Ambassadors’ current song rather than Journey’s original version of the tune when I say “play ‘Renegade,'” I’d be really impressed. Wait a minute … Amazon knows my age. Never mind! Amazon Echo’s song search functionality is spot-on.

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