The future of search: can image and voice search cater for paid results?

Search has been at the forefront of conversation for advertisers in recent months as the likes of Google, Pinterest and Asos announced their move away from the traditional search to focus on image and voice search. The step back from key words and search engine optimisation (SEO) has also brought around many questions about the use of data, machine learning and the morality of paid search.

At The Drum’s search breakfast, Daniel Wilkinson, head of paid media at Jellyfish, explained why he is worried that brands and marketers might be overlooking image search. Noting Asos’s recent image search update, which allows shoppers to snap an item they like in a shop and find similar items on Asos.com, he said: “I think, especially for fashion brands, image search is a great new way of providing an enhanced customer experience.

“But it can be used for other industries as well, and I think this ties into discovery using image search and discovery. As humans we respond better to images and videos, rather than seeing a text. The search pages, there are more images and videos now. And I think that is going to continue to grow.”

Moving on from image search

While also excited about the advancements in search, Thom Arkestal, head of insights EMEA, Microsoft Advertising, said: “image search will be one of the searches of future,” but noted that this is nothing new dubbing it “a big industry secret.”

He added: “If you look at where the industry is heading in digital advertising in general, search is becoming core to almost everything.”

However, while image search is expected to become important to brands and marketers, he also believes the future is automation and machine learning. “I wouldn’t talk about AI necessarily, but machine learning. It has automated bidding which is core as a search advertiser. I actually think in one or two years from now, it will question what I am going to do on a day to day basis.” Arkestal said.

“AI and machine learning are all about image search and voice search. Those capabilities and technologies are going to be core to search and that is where search and consumer engagement is headed.”

Due to a surge in customer data, brands and marketers alike are now able to use AI and machine learning to find a customers need and promote better results in search using these insights. This is something the likes of Amazon is already promoting with its repurchase function.

Can digital assistants provide paid search result?

A point that seems to be echoed throughout the industry however is how brands will be able to monetize voice search. While Google is the most trusted place for searches, Jon Hunter, search director at Every1, explains that this is due to their years of generating natural search results. While Google does use a user's data and machine learning capabilities to perhaps promote ads, the search results are predominantly natural.

However, when it comes to voice search, there is the problem that very few people will want to hear a list of results and will therefore result in only one response spoken back - this could be an issue which will bring to light the integrity of a digital assistant's search results if they are to promote paid search. Hunter asked: “How are search engines going to be able to deal with one value? All you’ve got to do is give one paid result that is bad and the trust is gone.

“There is a certain element where the natural search results are so important and based on trust that if we replace too much of it on advertising it will damage the overall trust values.”

Earlier this year, Amazon dipped its toe into paid voice search however as it stands nothing has come of the trial. Arkestal noted the attempt and suggested that all digital assistant companies are working to solve the problem of paid voice search. He said: “The fact is that the core of digital assistants future is consumer trust. If there is no trust, people are not going to use them and then they cannot be monetized.

“It might actually be more of what Amazon is doing with Alexa at now with a repeat purchase prospective and a chance to reengage with a customer. It is further away from discovery and current search but it is about building a loyalty with customers.

“If you already are using your voice, then the digital assistant will already be learning what your preferred brand is.”

The Drum's Future of Search breakdast event was sponsored by Bing. To attend a future breakfast held by The Drum check the regularly updated calendar of events.

Jenny Cleeton

Jenny Cleeton is The Drum's video and social media content creator working across the The Drum's digital platforms based in London. She produces, films, presents and edits the title's social video output while also reporting on the creative marketing sector.

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