Prior to 2014, virtual assistants were seen as cumbersome, inaccurate, and unfit for mainstream use. It certainly didn’t help that people didn’t really want to use voice activation. After all, talking to a gadget seemed fundamentally uncomfortable — and no one wanted to feel ridiculous.
The release and subsequent rise of Amazon’s Alexa system, however, changed the game for virtual assistants. Through providing robust and reliable functionality, giving a name to the device, and having enough market dominance to compel people to take the leap, Amazon managed to make its virtual assistant a household name.
Indeed, over the years since, Amazon has sold over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices. That affords the ecosystem a lot of reach, so it’s no surprise that marketers want to know how they can take advantage of it. What does Alexa offer for promoters? Is it something that can be used to bring attention to products, services, or brands — and if it is, how can it work?
Let’s look at some tips for how you can factor Alexa into your digital marketing strategy.
The Amazon marketplace is vast and incredibly influential, and if you want to market products, then simply having them available for purchase through that system is a potent tactic. When someone asks Alexa to suggest some product of a particular type, your product (or products) can be selected: it’s far easier said than done, but it’s possible, and thus valuable.
Furthermore, you can increase your chance of getting chosen by providing as much information as you possibly can. Settling for minimalist descriptions simply won’t suffice. The more relevant search terms you work into your descriptions, the more likely it’ll become that your products are thought to be among the most worthy of inclusion.
Even as you expand the detail, however, you must be careful to keep things succinct. Wherever possible, Alexa will serve a short and punchy response (rather than expecting the listener to endure several minutes of recital). Stick to the best practices for Amazon descriptions, answer questions (more on that later), and you should do well.
Alexa Skills are essentially apps for the Alexa ecosystem, and any brand can create one. So why would you want to go through that time-consuming development process? Well, there are two main reasons for offering an Alexa Skill:
- It builds your brand reputation. If you make your Skill extremely convenient, plenty of people will install it, ensuring that they’re consistently reminded of your brand. It can offer general value, or do something to enhance the usefulness of your regular business service: for example, Google Ads tool Optmyzr offers an Alexa integration (among others) that makes it possible for users to easily check how their ads are performing (something confirmed by co-founder Frederick Vallaeys on the Marketing Speak podcast).
- It allows you to sell more easily. Having your products listed on Amazon is one thing, but if you provide a Skill, you can make it trivial for someone to re-order. Even if you save someone one or two seconds per order through not requiring the system to search for your product, it can make a substantial difference in the perceived convenience.
In the early years of the internet’s popular ascendance, the SEO industry sprang into existence with vast quantities of keyword stuffing and artificial constructions. Everything was contrived, with the user experience left as a secondary (or even tertiary) concern. Thankfully, things have changed enormously since then — today, an excellent SEO strategy will primarily focus on making changes that work for search engines and the searchers themselves.
A huge driver of this change has been the marked improvement in NLP (natural language processing). The more easily search algorithms can figure out what content means, the less artificial the writers need to make it. Suppose you’re trying to sell shoes, for instance: instead of trying to force in as many keywords about footwear as possible, it’s best to just include the most valuable and relevant shoe-related content and trust that the algorithm will figure it out. The visitor gets a better experience, and the ranking doesn’t suffer.
So what does this have to do with voice search? Well, it lays the groundwork, because content optimized for voice search is built around questions and answers. People are now comfortable asking questions such as “Alexa, what types of shoe can I buy?” instead of typing in search terms such as “shoe types” — and “What types of shoe can you buy?” makes for a strong subheading in a long-form article about shoes.
If you want your content to be selected for Alexa’s response when someone asks a relevant question, you need to clearly and succinctly answer that specific question. Fully detail the types of shoe they can buy, keeping your bias to a minimum. Answer other questions from throughout the expected customer journey. The resulting content will stand a great chance of ranking in general, helping your business across the board — and whenever your answer is chosen by Alexa, your brand exposure and reputation will increase.
Can you take full advantage of the influence of Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem? No, of course not. It’s under Amazon’s total control, so as with regular SEO, all you can ever do is follow the recommendations and look for ways to stand out. But simply doing that will plausibly be enough to set you apart, because plenty of businesses haven’t even thought about targeting Alexa when marketing — so give it a try.