Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is a pragmatist. Unlike his predecessor, he embraced iOS and Android for Microsoft software distribution when Windows Phones failed as a platform. And he’s been seeking to do the same thing for Cortana with Alexa and potentially the Google Assistant/Home.

Let’s get interoperable. Nadella has for some time been pursuing a reciprocal partnership with Amazon for assistant interoperability. It went live last August with mixed results so far. In the past Nadella said he wanted this sort of relationship with Google and Apple as well.

Amazon and Microsoft’s respective interests are aligned in that each wants access to the other’s audience for distribution. Amazon has now sold more than 100 million Alexa devices globally (most in the US). And Microsoft has, according to the most recent public figures, more than 500 million monthly active Windows 10 users.

The battle for reach. Amazon is pursuing an “Alexa everywhere strategy” and Microsoft similarly needs and wants additional exposure and usage for Cortana. (Microsoft previously said Cortana has just under 150 active Cortana users.) Yet Nadella is also philosophically oriented toward partnerships. For their part, Google and Apple are likely to be less inclined to do a deeper integration than what is already available today: Cortana apps for both iOS and Android.

Voice assistant market share (predominantly smartphones)

microsoft-seeks-more-cortana-distribution-deeper-integration-on-android-ios Microsoft seeks more Cortana distribution, deeper integration on Android, iOS

Source: Voysis/Voicebot.ai (n=1,203 U.S. adults, May 2018)

Since the survey referenced in the graphic above, Google has said its Assistant is available on a billion devices. According to Apple, Siri has more than 500 million active users around the world. There are fewer benefits to Google or Apple in providing deeper integrations for Cortana. 

Regardless of who has more reach and usage, virtual assistants and voice interfaces have already become a cross-platform UI, whether it’s on smartphones, smart speakers, in-car infotainment, smart TVs or other smart appliances in the home. And the ubiquity of voice will only reinforce its usage across all these device categories.

Optimize for snippets. Rather than thinking of voice as a single channel, as it’s often seen, marketers should think holistically about the device and usage context. Smart speakers currently see relatively narrow usage patterns compared with smartphones, where voice is being used expansively to search and accomplish more kinds of tasks.

Nearly all “voice shopping” — mainly voice initiated search queries — is happening on smartphones. Over time more “v-commerce” will happen through other voice-first channels. But right now, voice-based transactions on smart speakers haven’t taken off.

Multiple obstacles must still be overcome for smart speakers to realize their potential as a shopping and marketing channel. At the same time, virtual assistants will require marketers to think in new ways and adapt their strategies.

For the SEO community, the way forward with voice (at least in the near term) is clear: optimize for snippets. According to one study a year ago, 80 percent of answers on Google Home were derived from snippets. The remaining 20 percent were from other structured data sources (e.g., local, flight search).


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