The verdict’s in: Smart home speakers are a hit, with 25 million devices sold as of 2017. The market isn’t slowing down, either: Apple’s HomePod launch this month will help grow that number to around 36 million in 2018. Smart home speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home and their live-in digital assistants have transformed homes all over the globe, allowing people to turn off their lights, lock their doors, get quick answers to questions and find local businesses with just their voice.
Smart speakers and digital assistants aren’t going anywhere, so is it possible for businesses to intentionally acquire a brand presence when users ask their Google Assistant or Alexa where the best place to get pizza is, or how to avoid razor burn or how to make the best chicken parmesan? Yes! All through the magic and power of search engine optimization.
The question remains, though: Which of the two will actually deliver your content in spoken word when users need it, and which should you expect to provide the most return for your efforts? Amazon Echo and Google Home both pull information from a variety of sources, but where they pull it from differs greatly. To answer this question, I asked my Google Home and Amazon Echo Dot a series of queries to learn where their wealth of knowledge stems from, which is smarter and what someone can reasonably expect from optimizing their content for digital assistants.
Which are each’s strengths? Each’s weaknesses? And how likely is each to pull your site’s content to answer one of the millions of voice searches performed each day? Let’s break this head-to-head down by type of query.
“Where can I find good Chinese food?”
The first question I asked my two smart speakers was where I can find good Chinese food around me. My Google Home gave me a brief list of a few “top-rated” local places, calling out their names and addresses. Unfortunately, what it didn’t do was provide me a resource to revisit these listings, so unless I had a pen and paper handy and was able to write with lightning speed, I wouldn’t have been able to remember even half of the places it told me. I asked Google to send those locations to my phone, but it didn’t understand my request.
Of course, Google allows users to look back on their queries through the “My Activity” page, accessible on a browser or through the Google Home mobile app. However, this doesn’t seem to be the most user-friendly solution – not when compared to the way the Echo Dot handles things. Not only did the Echo Dot verbally list out locations for me, but it also laid the information out in an attractive format in my Alexa app.
The only questionable piece of this would be how Alexa doesn’t source where these star ratings are coming from. For all I know, these could be from Yelp or from the Echo development team’s own internal rating system. Why they were food touring Chinese restaurants in the Sherman Oaks area, I dunno. But it’s a possibility. A more elegant implementation would be to not only list the source of these ratings, but also link to their Yelp or Google+ business page so users can easily access it through an app link or their browser.
When searching for local businesses, the winner here for brands would have to be the Amazon Echo. While both Google Home and Amazon Echo let users verbally select from a list and call a local business, the Echo’s way of handling things seems to put users on a more solid purchase path, allowing them the option to visually review shops and restaurants before deciding on one.
“I need a smog check.”
The next request I had for my Dot and Google Home was the conversational, “I need a smog check.” Google was immediately able to identify that I was looking for local auto shops that perform smog tests, but Alexa struggled, replying with an oddly proud, “Sorry, I don’t know that one!” Alexa struggled with a lot of these same types of queries while Google excelled, thanks to its ability to decode and understand natural language.
As smart assistants become, well, smarter, and owners of smart home speakers become accustomed to talking to them like they would another person, Google Home will have a major advantage if it’s able to understand a whole bevy of different ways to ask a question. Local businesses will gain greater exposure through Google Home, which can interpret search intent to an almost-T and dole out information as it sees appropriate. Meanwhile, Alexa will remain crippled if it can only understand basic queries like, “Find me smog test stations nearby.”
“Who’s the wife of the 44th president of the United States?”
I asked my Google Home and Echo Dot for some facts, one of which was the above query. They both responded with the correct answer, Michelle Obama, able to identify the relationship between the entities “wife,” “44th president” and “United States.” To test the capabilities of these two further, I started a new line of interrogation with both.
I asked both, “Who is the 44th president of the United States?” Easy: Barack Obama. Unsurprisingly, both gave me the correct answer. Next, I asked, “Who’s his wife?” Again, they were able to answer correctly. Next, I asked, “What are the names of her daughters?” Alexa tapped out, unable to understand what I was asking. Google, however, responded quickly: “Her daughters are Natasha Obama and Malia Ann Obama.” Sweet. Next, I asked, “How old are they?” Google only interpreted this as a question of Sasha Obama’s age, but gave me the right answer regardless. Lastly, I asked Google, “Where were they born?” That’s when Google gave up, too.
Something else notable was that while Alexa simply provided an answer to my questions, Google also cited its sources. When I asked it who the wife of the 44th president was, Google began with, “Here’s a summary from the website brittanica.com…”
While some consumers may not care for this added level of detail, and may actually prefer Alexa’s straight-and-to-the-point approach, it gives brands the added benefit of a spoken mention. Alexa seems to pull a lot of its information straight from Wikipedia while Google uses text found in its featured snippet blocks.
Because of this, brands may find more value in products equipped with the Google Assistant and, correspondingly, see the need to optimize for featured snippets. With Amazon Echo, unless you’re a Wikipedia editor, there’s little opportunity to have your content served up when a user asks a question. Meanwhile, since Google Home grabs info from featured snippets for a query, there’s a world of opportunity to ensure your content is what Google’s using as its trove of wisdom.
Imagine you owned AllAboutRoaches.com and your five-star, A-plus content had nabbed you featured snippets for every single roach-related query out there. For that Google Home user whose house is infested with cockroaches, you can bet Google Home would be solidifying your website name in their head with every answer to the dozens of roach-related questions they ask. Then, later, while they’re at work, stressing over the thought of their pending extermination, they’ll type in AllAboutRoaches.com in their browser to help ease their anxiety, securing both brand loyalty and traffic.
Even later, while at a fancy dinner party with a group of their closest friends, they’ll see a little brown bug crawl across the table, up and over their wine glass, and straight into their soup, where it’ll drown. And they’ll understandably freak out and, for a moment, consider advising their friend to just burn their home down. But then they’ll stop, and think, and remember all the amazing advice their Google Home gave them just before referring their friend to AllAboutRoaches.com.
It may seem like there was an uncomfortable level of detail in that story, but I assure you, it was only hypothetical.
“Tell me a joke.”
The last, but clearly most important, request I had for my smart speakers was to tell me a joke. Google Home responded with, “What do you call a snake wearing a hard hat? A boa constructor!” Alexa gave me, “Knock knock. Who’s there? Lettuce. Lettuce who? Lettuce in – it’s cold outside!”
Both were just awful.
While it has some shortcomings, Google Home is the clear winner in this battle – as far as value to brands and SEO potential goes. Amazon’s Echo line of smart speakers certainly has a lot of tricks and cool features available to it, including integration with Amazon Prime. But with the most advanced search engine in the world powering Google Home, it’s far more capable of promoting discoverability of your brand or website.
As of 2017, Amazon is dominating the smart speaker market, with 70 percent of users owning Echo devices. Although Google trails far behind with only a 24-percent market share, that margin is expected to shrink as years go by. Google Assistant, the brains behind Google Home products, isn’t limited to speakers, either: it lives on smartphones, smartwatches, laptops and more, too. Meaning if your website is optimized for smart speakers, it’s optimized for all those other platforms, as well.
Aim to gain featured snippets. Optimize your content based on the long-tail, conversational searches users are making. Tidy up your Yelp and Google+ presence. Claim your Google My Business page. Whatever methods you can use to structure your content and/or business information in a way that’s easily digestible by search engines will help immensely when it’s time for Google Homes and Amazon Echoes around the globe to answer questions.
With all the new ways users are searching, proactivity is vital. Otherwise, when a smart speaker owner wants some Italian food or a car tune-up or information about dealing with a roach problem, you’ll be left out in the cold. Just imagine a world without a strong voice search presence for AllAboutRoaches.com: The global cockroach epidemic would be catastrophic.