Commentary

Virtual Assistants Could Create New Life For Paid Search

Juniper Research forecasts that more than $12 billion of annual ad spend will come through voice assistants by 2021 -- up 3,000% on estimated spend for 2016 -- bringing new paid-search opportunities.

While there are plenty of opportunities for brands and apps digging into voice search, Juniper's assertions linked to paid search are a little unclear in the synopsis the research firm provides.

The Juniper report shows that increased use of digital assistants like Siri and Cortana on smart devices will provide the fodder in the coming years, and about 80% of assistants in use will be through mobile devices. 

For paid search that could mean a continually swinging door to retail Web sites, only through voice commands. But in my opinion the real opportunity comes through organic mobile -- local searches like those that prompt results by saying "Siri, find me all the retail stores near me."

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This fall consumers will have a lot more to talk about with Siri, reportsThe Wall Street Journal. Built into iOS 10, Apple will allow Siri to become the user interface that controls third-party apps like WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Square Cash, Slack, Looklive, and The Roll.G.

For photo search on Pinterest, Vogue Runway, Looklive, The Roll and Pikazo, commands can include contents of the images and when they were taken. For instance: Hey Siri, show me my best photos of sunsets taken last summer using The Roll.

For chat and messaging in LinkedIn, WhatsApp,WeChat, and Slack, if someone's full name escapes the user, Siri can help by listing all the Michaels connected to the user within their network before asking the person to identify the correct one.

In addition to integration into devices like smartphones and PCs, digital assistants will become part of many home and automotive devices. Those devices will sync with mobile devices, creating what Juniper analysts call "new spaces for human-computer interaction" and giving new life to paid search advertisements.

Juniper's report suggests that improvements in artificial intelligence in Siri, Google Now, Amazon Echo, Nuance, SoundHound, and Vi continue to fuel the shift.

But the shift isn't without challenges. Voice presents a unique twist to this sensitivity over data, per Juniper, because the machine-learning processes used by digital assistant programs require recordings of users’ voices to improve their service.

The voice clips are stored in various ways depending on the device and the company’s privacy policy. Juniper reports that while Amazon stores Alexa requests on the device and in the cloud and users wanting to remove their data have to remove it manually from Amazon’s cloud servers, Apple keeps Siri voice data linked to a unique identifier in Apple’s internal cloud for six months before completely anonymizing it for another 18 months, after which it is deleted altogether. Google allows users to go online and delete the data through My Activity.

Without concreate ideas from Juniper on how voice search will support paid-search advertising, for now it just seems like a hodgepodge of ideas that will eventually work their way to maturity. 

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