There’s a lot of coverage in the media about Google,
Amazon and Apple (okay, AND Microsoft) regarding the race to dominate the voice
assistant space. Regardless of whether one of these behemoths wins the battle
royal in the near term, my belief is that we’re inevitably going to end up in
a platform-agnostic world where the voice functionality is no more than an
interface between you and an increasingly smart AI.
There’s going to be a point
at which all the major providers reach near parity when it comes to natural
language processing (the ability to understand the words you spoke and the
intent behind them). But what happens next is really what matters.
When Siri rolled out in beta on the iPhone 4S back in
2011, it wasn’t much more than a semi-functional novelty. We spent the majority
of our time interacting with the device by asking questions such as “Hey, Siri.
What’s zero divided by zero?” or “Hey, Siri. What’s the meaning of life?” to
which we knew we’d get a hilarious answer about Cookie Monster and a reference
to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,
To be honest, when you asked Siri to do anything remotely useful,
you'd often be disappointed in either her lack of understanding of your request
or her lack of capability to execute your command. This led to a relatively
slow adoption of the technology.
There’s a statistic that still gets thrown around in
almost every voice-related post. “At Google I/O 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai
announced that 20% of the mobile queries
on Google are voice searches.” But that was in 2016.
Subscribe to our newsletter below
years have passed, and 30 million smart speakers have been sold since then. We
now have a plethora of smart devices that are substantially better at natural
language processing, and, due to continued advancements in AI, they can actually
perform tasks that improve our life and make mundane tasks easier.
just smart speakers and mobile phones, either. Voice control is being embedded
in everything from cars to refrigerators. This is leading to a massive shift in
It really doesn’t matter whether Google’s Home and Android
products outsell Apple’s HomePod and iPhone, or whether Amazon Alexa and its
myriad flavors take over the world and start to be embedded in our
toothbrushes. What matters is that we’re all changing the way in which we
interact with technology.
We are moving away from needing to be tethered to a
device and having to provide tactile input and moving toward a society where we
can simply speak and let our increasingly intelligent devices take care of the
Because of voice integration, how we consume information,
how we make purchases and how we experience the world around us is different
today than it was a year ago, and it will be different again a year from now.
Most important, our expectations are changing along with our behavior. We want
everything readily available to us, we want it to work flawlessly and we want
it to work intuitively.
So how do we adjust our approach to travel marketing because of this shift in behavior?
How it all works
Before we get into that, it’s important to delineate
between mobile voice-enabled devices and smart speakers. If you look at the
data related to how people currently use their Amazon Echo and their Google
Home (and that one person who purchased the over-priced Apple HomePod), it’s
mostly for utility such as setting timers, getting the news, listening to music
and controlling smart devices within the home.
Sure, there is a small
percentage of folks who use it to repurchase items from Amazon, order a pizza or
call an Uber, but there’s really not much data that suggests that smart
speakers are being used for things like travel research … yet.
I say yet, because I can envision a day in the
not-too-distant future when this is more likely. The limitation in how smart
speakers are being used is not that these devices don’t have a screen; it’s
that they aren’t good at responding to complex requests. It’s going to take a
little more advancement in AI before we get there. We’re going to need to have
real two-way conversations with our smart speakers in order to provide them
with the necessary information to make a complex decision.
Today, if I said,
“Alexa, book me a hotel room in London,” she will respond, “Here are a few
top-rated hotels in London, England,” and then she’ll rattle off a list of hotel
names, with no context or useful information. It’s not very helpful, and it
will inevitably lead me to pick up my smartphone and do my research with a
However, we’re on the cusp of something that’s going to be much more
useful and much more frictionless. I believe that it will be between two to five years
before the conversation will go something like this:
Me: “I need a room in London.”
Alexa: “Sure. When would you like to travel?”
Me: “Arriving June 21 and checking out on June 26.”
Alexa: “Got it. Who will be travelling with you?”
Me: “Just me and my wife.”
Alexa: “Great. Is this a business trip or a romantic
Me: “It’s a bleisure trip.”
Alexa: “Urggh! I wish you wouldn’t use that word. Where
will you be visiting while you’re there?”
Me: “I have a meeting at Canary Wharf on the 22, tea
with the Queen on the 23, then we’ll spend the rest of the time doing
Alexa: “Ok. Based on your previous hotel preferences, I
found the perfect spot. The Fancypants Hotel. It’s ranked number 4 on
TripAdvisor, located just a block from the tube station close to where you’ll
need to get to, and it’s only 199 pounds per night. Do you want me to go ahead
and book it for you?”
Me: “Yes, please.”
Alexa: “You’re all booked. I emailed you a confirmation.”
Me: “Thank you!”
Alexa: “You’re welcome. Please don’t say ‘bleisure’ next
Ok, so maybe it won’t be quite like that, but you get the
point. It’s going to be like talking to a real person. If you don’t believe me,
check out the Google Duplex demo from the 2018 I/O event. The smart assistant of the
not-so-distant future is going to have access to your previous travel purchase
history and is going to be able to make meaningful decisions on your behalf
based on what it knows about your personal preferences. The more you use it,
the smarter it will become.
It will eventually know more about you than you do.
It will be able to make all of those tiny decisions along the research and
booking funnel on your behalf because it knows how you would answer. It will
save you time and it will, ultimately, make better plans for you than you could
have on your own.
The limitation in how smart speakers are being used is not that these devices don’t have a screen; it’s that they aren’t good at responding to complex requests.
Stuart Butler - Fuel
Today, smart speakers aren’t necessarily impacting the
travel industry directly in terms of how consumers research or book their
travel. So, rather than focusing on what our life is going to be like in the
future, I want to focus on something more tangible, the area in which voice
search can have a meaningful impact on travelers and travel marketers today.
know that people are using voice search on their mobile devices to find local
businesses, search the internet and compare prices. So, that’s where we should
look to gain the most traction. Just as we have always optimized our online
presence to maximize our exposure and to convert as many people through our
funnel as possible, so it should be the same with this new shift in behavior.
The good news is that many of the best practices that
savvy marketers have already been employing in order to maximize their organic
search exposure and to increase their website’s conversion rate are the same
things that are going to help your business when it comes to being visible and
performing well for voice search.
This means that you don’t need to hire one of
those opportunistic hacks who are selling “voice search optimization” services
all over the place. Your current provider is likely already focused on a lot of
the right things.
Here’s a list of some of the most important things that you
can be doing today that will help you gain more traction in voice search
4 simple steps to optimize your business for voice search
- Optimize your Google My Business
listing and other local profiles.
Many voice searches are local in nature, which means that
the results page will often be based on the results that rank well in local
listings. It’s essential that your Google My Business and all other local
directory pages are claimed and optimized.
But don’t stop there. You should
also make sure that your name, address and phone number are consistent
throughout the internet. We know that most voice searches are looking for
information such as directions, opening hours, etc. Be sure that your relevant
information is up to date and highly visible.
- Make your website blazing fast,
mobile-friendly and useful.
At the moment, the majority of relevant voice searches
that impact your business will be performed on a mobile phone as opposed to a
smart speaker. The logical next step for the traveler who doesn’t simply call
you is to visit your website. Make sure it is helpful. Think about what the
person making the search is trying to accomplish and try to make it easy for
them to find the information they need or to perform the specific task they are
looking to perform.
Savvy marketers are already on top of the things they need to be doing, and will likely continue to be on top of these things as they make iterative improvements to their marketing strategy.
Stuart Butler - Fuel
Think about each page within your website as the gateway to
your business. Look at it on a mobile phone screen and ask yourself whether or
not that page is providing everything it needs to in a clear and concise
manner. For example, using bulleted lists vs. paragraphs of text may make more
sense for consumers on the go.
Another factor that seems to influence voice
search results is page speed. Be sure that your images are optimized, that you
aren’t running any unnecessary scripts and consider using a content delivery
network (CDN) to offload some of your larger assets.
- Use conversational keywords and
build great FAQ pages.
Start writing down the questions that people actually ask
while making travel plans, and be sure to use the same language structure and
nomenclature in your content strategy. Use these questions as a starting point
to build out comprehensive information that covers all of the potential
When a question cannot be answered within a single paragraph, take
the time to build out robust and useful content that earns the right to rank at
the top of the search engine results page by being better than everything else
that’s currently available.
By nature, the types of keyword that we type into a
search engine are different than how we speak and think. As voice search
becomes more prevalent, the types of queries that people use to find information
will become more like everyday speech. Looking at your keyword insights within
Google Search Console already shows the beginnings of this shift, as fewer
people are landing on your site from simple keywords such as “hotels in
London,” and more are finding you through discerning keywords such as “show me
nice hotels in London near Canary Wharf with breakfast included.”
In order for your site and your information to be
presented to the consumer by these smart devices, the devices first have to
understand the semantics of your content in order to determine whether or not
you deserve to be displayed and whether or not you are going to be the most
relevant response for each individual query.
Defining the structure of your
content by encoding it in a language that the machines are taught to understand
is critical. This does get a bit technical, but it’s too important to ignore.
In order for our smart devices to be able to carry on a conversation with us about
the information it can find, that information has to be accessible in a manner
that it can be understood and related to other information.
The standard that
has become universally adopted is schema.org. Founded by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo
and Yandex, schema.org is a standardized vocabulary that can
be embedded within the markup of your website’s HTML code in order to label
your content. For example, if you are a hotel, defining that you are a hotel
and defining each specific room type and its bed configuration and amenities,
etc., will help folks who ask questions such as, “I need a hotel room close to
the airport with two queen beds that has a refrigerator in the room.”
Don't overthink it
As is often the case when technology causes a shift in
consumer behavior, many people within the travel industry will spend too much
time over-analyzing the technology itself and overthinking how to take
advantage of the situation before the competitors figure it out.
Truth be told,
savvy marketers within the industry are already on top of the things they need
to be doing, and will likely continue to be on top of these things as they make
iterative improvements to their marketing strategy.
As an industry, it’s important that we are constantly
evolving to meet the expectations of our consumers. The increase in volume of
voice search is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the beginning of the next
evolution of human-computer interaction, and we need to understand that with
that shift comes new expectations from our customer.
Rather than focusing on
the buzzwords that accompany new technology, we need to continue to remember
that we’re all in the people business. How we research and book travel may be
changing, but why they travel has always and will always be the same.
Before too long, we’ll be talking about the downturn of
voice search brought on by the onset of brain implants that decipher our
thoughts. Regardless of the technology, we always need to focus on what really
matters in the travel industry.
We need to focus on building one-to-one
relationships with real human beings. We need to focus on the emotional side of
what inspires us to travel. We need to make it frictionless to make decisions.
And we need to deliver on the experience. How we do some of these things may be
changing, but the reason why likely never will.
About the author...
Stuart Butler is the chief operating officer of Fuel