Will Virtual Assistants Dramatically Change Local Discovery?

How will voice and virtual assistants (in particular) impact the local market in 2018 and beyond? This is a question that many people have been asking over the course of the last year and now are actively considering as we wait for the holiday sales figures to come out and to determine how many virtual assistant devices are in US homes.

My sense is that we’re somewhere north of 50 million devices in US households as of today. The question then is: is voice search on virtual assistants purely additive or does it disrupt local search in some form? Below is an excerpt from an extended conversation I had on Twitter about it:

I have long believed that some sort of menu or wizard-driven Q&A approach could prove really effective for virtual assistant devices. Some of that is available today in flawed form (e.g., Kayak on Alexa). You could start with a category and then the follow-up questions (category specific) effectively become “filters.” I’m not an engineer but this seems like a structured data issue. 

Today you can ask for the top (local business category X) from both Google Home and Alexa and get three (or more) results. Those results are then available on the Alexa app for further investigation and the Google Home app (though buried and poorly presented there). With some minor improvements, virtual assistants could be a very effective tool for initiating local searches — and for making contact with businesses. 

The calling capabilities on Home and Alexa are weak right now but, presumably, will improve over time. (Sound quality is an issue on Google Home.) But then you could potentially initiate, filter and call a local directly from one of these devices. Here’s a search I just performed on Google Home to illustrate what’s possible today: 

Me: “OK Google, I need to find a house painter.” 

Google: “I can help you find a painter, to find a good fit I need a few details. What do you need help with?” 

Me: “Someone to paint the inside of my house.” 

Google: “Is this for San Francisco?” 


Google: “I’ve found five painters and I’ve emailed you their details.”

Here’s the email: 

Google Home Local Results

These are all over the place because Google looked across San Francisco count (I no longer live there so it wasn’t doing a radius search from an address). Still, it’s a decent result. These results will get better over time; and this creates new ad inventory for Google as well. The top of this list will likely become an ad if Google can build awareness and get people to start doing local searches on Home. 

I suspect that we’ll eventually be able to message and email businesses as well using voice-controlled virtual assistants. You can do a version of this already of course on your smartphone. 

But what are your thoughts? How disruptive will virtual assistants be in local search? How viable as an alternative tool to the PC or smartphones? 

2 Responses to “Will Virtual Assistants Dramatically Change Local Discovery?”

  1. Josh Porath says:

    I believe voice will be hugely disruptive for local search.
    Who will be most effected?
    In the immediate term – categories which are:
    1. low on consumer involvement
    2. Cater to immediate needs
    3. (As mentioned) Where the consumer knows what they need.

    Combinations of voice and vision (Alexa sending visual content accompanying it’s voice result) will eventually do the kill for other categories to follow…


  2. Greg Sterling says:

    I certainly agree it has the potential. Would like to see better consumer experiences.

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