Google Home’s arrival ushers in the era of the virtual assistant

It won't really matter if you own Google Home or Amazon Echo; the point is that you will own one of them.

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Google Home is a powerful new search and discovery device. I like it, though I didn’t find it in normal usage to be dramatically better than Amazon Echo/Alexa (as Danny Sullivan does). Regardless, its appearance is significant because it will help accelerate voice search adoption and virtual assistants.

As Google’s emphasis on its Assistant (across devices) has shown, search has become much more ambient, transactional and less about traditional search engine results pages. It’s also about a range of content experiences and capabilities that go well beyond screens. Indeed, the virtual assistant concept transcends search into much broader territory.

Apple is rumored to be working on a Siri-based standalone home assistant. If that in fact happens, I predict that Microsoft will also build one for Cortana. By the time those appear in 2017, however, Google and Amazon, especially, will have sold perhaps millions of assistant devices this holiday season. (I now have an Echo, an Echo Dot and two Google Home devices in various rooms in my house.)

Amazon hasn’t disclosed sales figures but hinted that volumes for Echo and the lower-priced Echo Dot are huge. Third parties have said that Echo devices are outselling Kindles for Amazon.

This obviously matters to marketers because of the very different user experience these virtual assistant devices offer, which is mostly screen-free. With both Home and Alexa, there are companion screen experiences but they’re secondary. In various articles and conference sessions, I, along with others like Bing’s Purna Virji, have been talking for some time about the growth of voice search and the potential impact of virtual assistants on users and marketers.

Optimizing for voice and virtual assistants is about answering user questions and structured markup. It’s also about integrating your transactional capabilities into these platforms — ASAP.

While the battle of the virtual assistants will continue to heat up, in one sense it doesn’t matter whether you prefer Home or Echo/Alexa. What matters is that you’ll own at least one of them — or a Siri- or Cortana-based voice assistant if they appear. Of course, Google has the advantage of its search index (over Amazon and Apple), and its lock on mobile search usage gives it another network advantage.

Voice search took a lot longer than I expected to take off, but it’s now becoming mainstream. I have good information about Siri usage and voice search, which is growing tremendously. The larger point here is that these devices will further condition people to use their voice to search or ask for information and conduct transactions.

While smartphones are and will remain the primary internet access devices in our lives, our activities will be distributed across screens and access points: the PC, tablets, smartphones, in-car, TV and standalone virtual assistants. Voice is a more intuitive and natural interface, and it will become the preferred way to access information for millions and millions of people. Get ready.

See our other related coverage of Google Home:

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

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