It’s going to be hard for any company to push the boundaries of a new mobile phone by just focusing on hardware. However, a combination of software, hardware, and artificial intelligence (AI) together will create truly ground-breaking products.
That was the main purpose of the recent Google event where chief executive officer Sundar Pichai once again reiterated Google AI's first approach to all development streams. Most of the mainstream coverage of the event would have been about the new Pixel 2 phone. But for us search specialists, we are interested in the new Google Home speaker products which all have the Google Assistant built in.
Rishi Chandra, vice president of product management for home products, explained how in the past year 100 million new questions have been answered by the Google Assistant, using featured snippets from search, songs from Spotify and videos from YouTube.
Handsfree calling has been live in the US for a while on Google Home device, a feature that allows you to call a landline or mobile phone for free from your Google device. This feels like the final nail in the coffin for both landline and mobile network providers – slowly eradicating the need for the traditional phone contract.
Google announced that handsfree calling will be coming to the UK later this year. When calling via Google Home you can set it so any calls will appear on the recipient’s phone as your own mobile phone number. For example,“Ok Google call Dad” through voice recognition will be deciphered by sound of voice, so Google knows that it’s me speaking, not my wife and then call 'dad' from my contacts list.
This functionality is a huge advantage over competitors such as Amazon’s Alexa, by allowing only one set of devices for a household or office.
Google also gave the example of calling a local business, eg “Ok Google, call the bakery on 24th Street”. Google will work out the bakery on the 24th Street and call them. This is another example of why it’s so important to have your Google My Business account setup correctly and optimised.
This could make for interesting competition. If two bakeries are located on 24th street, which one will Google call? Here you could use your past location device history to see which of the bakeries you often visit. Failing that, Google could use rating and reviews from Google My Business to pick the one most relevant.
It appears Google has implemented a strategy similar to that around phones, in order for it to drive the usage of voice share. Over the years, Google has driven its share of the mobile phone market by producing the Andriod operating system and providing mobile phone manufactures with a free iOS to go in their phone.
We can see a similar strategy with voice search; Google has opened up the API for hardware manufacturers such as Bose and Sonos to integrate the Google Assistant into their products. However, this time Google are forefront of hardware production.
Newly launched products
Google Home Mini
A mini version of the Google Home speaker, this time less focus on using for listening to music but more for answering questions, controlling your Chromecast, smart lights etc. Very much a direct competitor to the Amazon Echo Dot.
With the cheaper price point of £49 (compared to £129 for Google Home) this could be a great way for Google to gain a larger share of the market over competitors such as Amazon.
Google Home Max
At the opposite end of the Mini is the Google Home Max, which is a supersized version, featuring two 4.5 inch woofers alongside tweeters. Still with Google Assistant built, the focus here is on the quality of the audio and volume. Sound is the main focus of this device and there are added connectivity options including Bluetooth connectivity and 3.5mm audio jack in.
The Google Home Max will be launched in December.
Google Pixel Buds
It wasn’t just the Max and Mini launching with Google Assistant built in. The new wireless Pixel Buds headphones include a button that lets you activate the assistant. A similar feature that Google launched in partnership with Bose on the Bose QC35 II headphones.
The Pixel Buds are Google’s answer to Apple’s AirPods, wireless headphones but Google’s version are technically ‘Neckbuds’ with the string connecting the two buds.
The assistant works in a similar fashion to Google Home, allowing you to ask for songs and artists but also ask questions while you listen to music. It’s a shift in user behaviour because the button eliminates the need to say “Ok Google”, (which out in public can be a little embarrassing). Again, a first step in bringing voice search to a new device type but with a high price point of £159 the Pixel Buds might not make the impact as much as the Google Mini.
By diversifying the product base, they have appealed to the mass market – music connoisseurs, virtual assistant fans and those that simply enjoy the ease of audio use.
The impact on Search Optimisation
In regard to SEO and PPC, the Google event confirmed the more devices Google can deploy into homes and offices (which includes the Google Assistant) the more interest there will be in voice search activity.
For SEO, featured snippets (such as answer boxes) provide the assistant with the data to read out. Part of our SEO strategy for many clients is gaining and maintaining answer box results, thus gaining a prominent listing on web results and also the chance to have your brand name read out on devices such as the Google Home Mini.
Although it’s great to see Google continue to improve the technology, for the digital marketers Google hasn’t been updating its reports to reflect the change in search behaviour.
In Google Search Console we are unable to split queries by those done via voice search versus standard web search. How do we know if it is counted as an impression when our answer box snippet is read out? We can’t see the split between voice search on a mobile where the user will see a selection of search results compared to a voice search on Google Home which this is no screen for the user to see?
Until the reporting catches up its going to hard for us to understand the quantity of voice searches, a set of reporting metrics and quantify the amount voice searches in a particular vertical.
John Campbell is head of SEO at performance agency Roast.