Google brings local lead generation to Google Assistant and Google Home

Google is bringing new forms of local search to the Google Assistant and Google Home. The company announced it’s working with local home service providers “like HomeAdvisor and Porch.”

On any platform where Google Assistant is available, users will be able to ask for contractors (e.g., “Ok Google find me a plumber”). That initiates a structured interaction which generates a lead or contact with a local service provider.

In the case of IAC-owned HomeAdvisor, which now also owns Angie’s List, users can ask to be connected by phone at the end of the process to a contractor or receive a list of relevant, pre-screened contractors. The following graphic depicts part of the user experience and the structured Q&A that’s used to refine the lead.

This is a highly structured local search and lead-generation experience that will bypass conventional search results (i.e., business listings). Google said the new functionality would be rolling out in the next week or so.

Google itself offers local lead generation for contractors and service providers with Local Services ads that appear in search results. What’s unclear is how providers from HomeAdvisor, Porch (and perhaps Google) will be prioritized or presented for a given query.

In its blog post, Google didn’t say anything about its own advertisers or how many third-party directories might eventually be involved. There’s also no word on whether Google will collect a share of the lead price or any sort of “toll” otherwise.

Currently, if you ask Google Home for a local service provider (e.g., “I need a house painter”) you’ll get three “thin” listings with address information but little else. The coming experience will supplant that, offering a more personalized result based the specific request and subsequent information provided.

Because it’s not yet live, we don’t know how well it will work. It has the potential to be effective both for the consumer and the contractor. Generally speaking, this is going to be bottom-of-the-funnel activity.

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Voice search: Content may be king, but context is queen in the new voice-first world

In 2016, Google said that 20 percent of all mobile queries were voice searches. Since that time, the number of virtual assistants in US households has continued to swell, with tens of millions of voice-enabled home devices projected to be in use.

Voice as a primary search interface — beyond mobile phones — is a reality. Marketers need to rapidly iterate on their mobile-first strategies, to adapt to the voice-first marketplace. And as the aptly titled e-book released today [registration required] suggests, voice search changes everything.

I sat down with the book’s author, Yext VP of Industry Insights Duane Forrester, to discuss the landscape of voice search, how it will impact the business of search marketing, and what marketers can do to prepare for this evolution in search user interfaces.

“Voice engagement is the most likely scenario that will challenge the biggest players in search for supremacy.”

Michelle Robbins: What inspired you to put this e-book together?

Duane Forrester: The work we do at Yext is focused on helping businesses understand what data they can control, and empowering them with ways to manage that data. So from that point of view, there was a lot of support for exploring this developing space. Personally, I’ve always been an early adopter. The last decade of my life I’ve been fortunate enough to see the leading edge of technology up close and interact with it personally, so as “voice” developed to what we have today, I’ve been engaged and watching its progress.

MR: The major players in the space have been established. Do you see room for any other competitors to enter the voice arena?

DF: Absolutely. There is a boom happening in China right now with dozens of new companies entering the smart speaker space. While most won’t survive, it’s inevitable we’ll see new devices reach our shores next year, driving prices down and adoption up.

Most of that expansion will be white-labeled products (Google Assistant built into a Samsung TV, for example), but from the consumer’s point of view, it’ll be less about buying because of the embedded assistant and more about brand awareness around specific products. People don’t buy the Samsung TV because of Google Assistant (or Siri, or Cortana, or IBM, etc.), they buy it because Samsung makes excellent televisions. The voice assistant is a nice addition. That’s our immediate future. Over time, however, this could change if one or more of the leaders make significant technology breakthroughs that bring obvious differentiation and improvements.

MR: Is there anything holding back even greater adoption of voice-enabled devices?

DF: We’re starting to see the end of people’s reluctance to speak to their devices. This was a major factor in adoption over the last five years. Couple that with less than stellar services and results, and adoption was predictably sluggish — right up until Amazon landed in millions of living rooms around the world.

The biggest factor in voice adoption remains time. As services surpass an accuracy rate of 98%+ and consumer upgrade devices, or have their first contact with new devices that are voice enabled, the growth will continue. Voice will conquer all.

MR: How can marketers, and search marketers in particular, shift from a ‘content is king’ focus to competitively prepare for the ‘context is queen’ world and surface as the one primary voice result?

DF: The beauty of this is clear. All the investment that’s been poured into content continues to pay dividends in a voice-first world. If anything, in order to truly get to the context-first scenarios we have today, you need deep, detailed, rich content. But even here, context plays a role. If the request is for the temperature, the platform being engaged will determine location as part of the relevancy factoring. The answer (let’s say “72 degrees”) in any other context might seem “thin” by nature. But as an answer to “What’s the temperature outside?,” it’s a perfect fit.

A more complex scenario might look like “Who is Harry Potter?” and “What is Harry Potter?” The former should bring back an answer about a fictional person, while the later should elicit a response about a fictional series about a boy wizard, etc. The answers for the latter would be deeper, and pull from richer “answers” provided by websites.

To be included in the “spoken answer” column, we have no set best practices from the engines to follow, but we do have some common best practices we know they respond to for things like the Answer Boxes. And increasingly, it’s those answer box contents that are being spoken aloud to inform consumer queries.

As for specific tactics people can employ, here’s a short list. This is in addition to the usual quality content production and SEO best practices.

    Adopt a long tail/conversational phrase approach to targeting what to produce content around.Build out detailed answers to common (and even uncommon) questions related to your products and services.Use Schema to mark up your content (where appropriate).Clean up your own house — be sure crawlers can find your content.Make sure your site is mobile-friendly — not really an option these days.Make security a priority — becoming more of a trust signal.

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

MR: What additional innovations in voice are coming into play?

DF: If you’ve shopped via a voice device, you’ve encountered an area that will improve significantly when visuals are added. Ask the system to buy a blue sweater, and you immediately realize without being able to see the sweater, you’re missing a lot of information needed to make an informed purchase.

This is where visual search comes into play, and it’s here now as the logical next step from voice search. We see initial products from Amazon in the market now (Show and Spot), and I expect to see more companies fielding visually-enabled voice devices soon. In terms of e-commerce, this expands the usefulness of current content investments like product videos.

MR: What kind of technology investments should marketers be making to address this new playing field?

DF: Things that were optional even just a couple years ago, are no longer optional. Being mobile-friendly is a requirement. Being secure is rapidly becoming a differentiator. Marking up your content is no longer a nice-to-have. Every day adoption of those technical items grows, which means the playing field is changing. If a search engine suggests a protocol is worth using, it’s worth paying attention.

Things like Schema markup help an engine grow trust in your website and content, so take advantage of that. Being secure shows an investment in protecting consumers, again an area the engines favor and actively support. And if you really want to walk a mile in your customer’s shoes, to really learn what their journey is like, you’ll buy the main voice-enabled devices on the market today. Set them up and use them all day, every day. This practice will uncover new features and highlight new opportunities for you to align with the customer’s journey.

MR: What kind of personnel investments should organizations be making to effectively compete in a voice-first world?

DF: It’s highly likely that a business already has the skill sets they need on hand. If they have an SEO person or team, they’re off to an excellent start. To truly take advantage of new environments like voice and visual search, though, you need to have someone who has a broad understanding of emerging opportunities, has the reach to influence across and within your company, and can offer guidance based on experiences in discrete areas. That’s the role of a Digital Knowledge Manager (DKM).

The DKM can help ensure all assets in a company are aligned to best effect, while also keeping the company up to speed on emerging technologies. From the top, it’s the DKM that guides. From a more tactical level, it’s likely a technically proficient SEO aligning efforts across research, content development and deployment. That combined effort can help a company get started and take a leadership position in their verticals.

Join us at SMX West this March in San Jose, where we’ll feature industry leaders sharing tips and tactics for search marketing success in voice search, local and mobile SEO and much more!

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Target expands voice-commerce relationship with Google to battle Amazon

Google announced nationwide expansion of its Google Express relationship with Target. Users in the Continental US will now be able to buy from Target through the Google Assistant and receive Google Express delivery. The voice-commerce relationship extends to Google Home devices.

Features and capabilities are nearly identical to those announced in August with Walmart. And while the deal isn’t yet fully operational, ultimately you’ll be able to:

order and reorder from Target with free shipping on orders exceeding $35.opt in for personalized recommendations (as an existing Target customer) and a “quick re-order experience based on past Target purchases.”shop on any device (including Android TV) where the Google Assistant is available.

Google is doing battle with Amazon on multiple fronts, and so are its Google Express retail partners. Google sees voice-based shopping from an array of branded retailers as a point of differentiation vs. Amazon. By the same token, retailers need to make themselves accessible through virtual assistants and smart speakers. There’s an alignment of interests, creating an anti-Amazon alliance of sorts.

A recent ad campaign for Google Express promotes the notion of “all your favorite stores in one place.” In addition to Target and Walmart, the service offers access to Kohl’s, Joann, Sur la Table, Walgreens, Staples, Toys R Us and numerous others.

Target is a top 10 e-commerce site, but it badly lags Amazon, and it has no voice-commerce capability today. It’s wise for Target to work with Google to leverage the latter’s distribution. However, the question in my mind is: Will Google retail partners like Target benefit in a meaningful way from these deals, or will they eventually turn into little more than suppliers for Google Express?

Echo and Home will probably have to tell you they're always listening — in Europe

A number of Google Home Mini devices that were distributed to members of the press had a defect that caused them to record everything being said around them. This discovery renewed privacy concerns surrounding smart speakers as surreptitious listening devices in our homes.

The problem was first discovered by Android Police. Once being notified, Google investigated and fixed the issue:

The Google Home team is aware of an issue impacting a small number of Google Home Mini devices that could cause the touch control mechanism to behave incorrectly. We immediately rolled out a software update on October 7 to mitigate the issue.

Who is affected: People who received an early release Google Home Mini device at recent Made by Google events. Pre-ordered Google Home Mini purchases aren’t affected.

As a general matter, Google Home and Amazon Alexa devices must “listen” to surrounding conversations to capture “wake words” (e.g.,”Alexa,” “OK Google”) that activate them. Some privacy advocates have sounded alarms about this and expressed concern that these devices could be abused by unscrupulous law enforcement or other malevolent state actors (see Orwell’s Telescreen).

In a well-publicized criminal case in Arkansas, local prosecutors sought recordings on an Amazon Echo in a murder investigation. Amazon fought to prevent authorities from getting access to these recordings without a warrant. The defendant in the case ultimately consented to the release of any stored data, so the warrant issue was never formally ruled on by a court.

As Internet of Things devices proliferate, privacy warnings about personal data collection will intensify. It’s very likely that there will be more than 30 million smart speakers in US homes by year-end. Google and Amazon are competitively discounting and aggressively marketing them. Google’s $49 Home Mini was introduced as a low-cost answer to the Amazon Echo Dot, which Amazon just discounted to be $5 cheaper than the Mini.

These devices are also widely available in Europe, which raises the question of how they will be addressed under the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) taking effect in May 2018. Millions of smart speakers will be installed in European homes by then.

In order to process “personal data,” companies must obtain opt-in consent from users:

Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​ Explicit consent is required only for processing sensitive personal data — in this context, nothing short of “opt in” will suffice. However, for non-sensitive data, “unambiguous” consent will suffice.

It’s safe to say that these devices will be “processing sensitive personal data” and that explicit consent will be required in every case.

There’s no explicit mention of smart speakers in the GDPR documentation. However, artificial intelligence is addressed to some degree in Article 22 (“Automated individual decision-making, including profiling”), which says:

The data subject shall have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her [unless explicit consent is provided].

Most consumer-facing AI technologies, including smart speakers and self-driving cars, will require explicit opt-in consent in Europe. For Echo or Home, it might be as simple as a verbal statement played upon setup, which asks for the owner to OK use of his or her personal data. Alternatively, there might need to be ongoing or periodic disclosures and consent.

There’s currently a lack of clarity about what will be specifically required from smart speaker makers. We’ll likely see some guidance, however, from the EU or NGOs in the next several months. The consumer question will be: how do I feel about a third-party recording device in my home?

Google's 'Manhattan project': Home device with a screen to compete with Echo Show

Google generally doesn’t do as well when it builds “follower” products — think Google Plus or Allo. But there are other examples where Google has excelled with later entries (e.g., AdWords, Maps). Right now, Google Home is a follower product seeking to break out of Amazon Echo’s shadow.

On paper, Google should win in this market. It has a larger developer ecosystem. And it has a better assistant. But Amazon is being very aggressive by innovating quickly and offering a dizzying array of devices at different price points. Amazon also has a more powerful sales channel. Overall, Amazon is out-innovating the rest of the “smart speaker” market at the moment.

Amazon now has two devices with screens: Echo Show and the new Echo Spot. According to TechCrunch, Google is also working on a Home device with a touchscreen:

Two sources confirm to TechCrunch that the Google device has been internally codenamed “Manhattan” and will have a similar screen size to the 7-inch Echo Show. One source received info directly from a Google employee. Both sources say the device will offer YouTube, Google Assistant, Google Photos and video calling. It will also act as a smart hub that can control Nest and other smart home devices.

A Home with a touchscreen could run Android apps and offer a stronger screen experience than the sub-optimal Echo Show. It would also enable video calling and be compatible with entertainment services such as Netflix.

Echo Show, right now, doesn’t fully utilize the screen and creates consumer expectations it doesn’t fulfill. An Echo Show 2.0 will likely be an improvement. (I haven’t been hands-on with the new Echo Spot.)

Apple is also well-positioned to offer a smart speaker with a screen — like an iPad Mini embedded in a speaker. It’s not clear whether the company will develop one. Both Amazon and Google are trying to preempt Apple’s HomePod by bringing out smart speakers with better sound that cost less than the $349 price tag Apple wants to charge.

YouTube will be something of a differentiator for Google’s new device. It has withdrawn from Echo Show, allegedly for violating Google’s terms of service.

It remains to be seen how popular touchscreen-enabled virtual assistants are, although preliminary survey data suggests there’s meaningful consumer interest. Regardless, there will likely be in excess of 30 million virtual assistant devices in US households when the smoke clears after holiday shopping is over. You can bet that Amazon will be aggressively promoting its own devices with discounts on its site and mobile apps.

Consumer data also suggests that virtual assistant devices are driving related smart home accessory purchases. The company that wins the smart speaker market will likely also control the smart home ecosystem.

Amazon just upped the ante in the battle of the virtual assistants

Yesterday, at a pre-emptive event in Seattle, Amazon introduced new Alexa devices to keep its lead in the battle for the smart home. Google is having its own hardware event on October 4.

Amazon introduced six products. First and foremost, it presented a more compact, cheaper Echo with better sound. It comes in six different colors or skins. It starts at $99, which is much cheaper than the original Echo’s price ($179). Many people will likely compare this price to Apple’s forthcoming HomePod and opt for the less expensive device.

The company also introduced Echo Plus, which is being marketed as a smart home hub. The device looks like the original Echo but is also less expensive at $149 and includes upgraded speakers. The $99 Echo also works as a smart home hub, but the Echo Plus includes additional hardware that reportedly makes smart home device connections easier and entirely voice-activated.

The novel Echo Spot is a rounder, smaller version of Echo Show. It’s like a Dot with a screen but looks like an Alarm Clock that would sit beside your bed. It has a 2.5-inch screen to provide visual information and will cost $129. It will also support video calling.

Speaking of which, the Echo Connect is a square black box that looks like Apple TV. It allows Echo devices to make calls to any phone and is designed to play catch-up with Google Home, which can already do that. Current Echo devices can only call other Echo devices or smartphones with the Alexa app.

It will cost $35 and is a kind of retrofit for current Echo owners. Next-gen Alexa devices will have this capability built in.

Perhaps the most curious of the products unveiled are Echo Buttons, which connect to other Echo devices but enable families to play games together. They will cost $20 each and are reportedly the “first of many Alexa Gadgets” that will connect to and extend Echo devices in “fun and playful ways,” according to the company.

The final two announcements yesterday were an enhanced Fire TV with 4K support ($70) and Alexa integration into BMW vehicles. Even though Amazon doesn’t have a successful smartphone, it’s trying to keep pace with distribution of Apple and Google virtual assistants in the car.

Google is expected to make a number of virtual assistant-related announcements next week. On October 4, Google will reportedly be introducing its answer to Echo Dot, the $49 Google Home Mini. It will also be rolling out a Home device with improved sound called the “Home Max” that will compete with these improved Echo devices and Apple’s forthcoming HomePod.

Amazon has had great success with Alexa devices and is getting more aggressive by rolling out many devices at more price points. In this way it’s like the anti-Apple, which would be more careful and selective about what it introduces, wary of potential failure.

Amazon is innovating quickly and trying things. Some of these new devices will fail, but some will succeed. There are as many as 20 million smart speakers and virtual assistant devices already in US homes, with predictions that the number will grow to 30 million by the end of the year. With all these competing new offerings, I suspect 30 million may be conservative.

Looking narrowly at just these smart speakers, one might find all the new Amazon devices frivolous, unnecessary or amusing. But in the larger context of the smart home, the stakes and the strategy become clear. Research from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners shows how Google Home and Echo are accelerating the adoption of smart home devices. In its most recent research release, the firm said:

The growth in smart home devices has promoted the connected accessory market. In home lighting, more than 70% of Amazon Echo and Google Home owners with smart lighting in their home, report purchasing the system after owning an Echo or Home device. Over 80% of smart thermostat users reported installing and setting up their connected accessories themselves. Over 70% of smart door lock and smoke detector systems report using Echo or Home to control the system.

For years, the “smart home” has been hyped and consumers have yawned. With the advent of Echo and its competitors, consumers are becoming more interested in controlling lights and thermostats with their voices.

In other words, voice-controlled smart speakers are becoming the front door to smart home adoption. And while companies making smart-home accessories can design them to be compatible with multiple systems, the winner of the smart speaker market will control the smart home market — literally and figuratively.

Apple, Microsoft and Samsung are all well behind Google and Amazon, but especially Amazon, which has perhaps a 75 percent market share of the smart speaker market today. Microsoft has been the historical proponent of smart-home gadgetry. Now, the company risks being marginalized unless it can create its own compelling new devices/software or convince more small appliance, electronics and other hardware companies to make Cortana (and not Alexa or Google Assistant) the virtual brain inside.

Amazon’s powerful sales channel and its crazy quilt of devices at a range of price points — an Echo for every budget — give it major advantages against competitors. It’s also innovating, iterating and responding quickly to competitor device features (like better sound and landline calling). Think of these many Echo and Alexa devices like Campbell’s Soup flavors dominating shelf space in the supermarket — capturing mind share and pushing others out of view.

Report: 57% of smart speaker owners have bought something with their voice

There are roughly 20 million smart speakers now in the US. And more than half of device owners have used them to buy something, according to survey data from NPR and Edison Research.

The data released this week is part two of a report first introduced in July. Called “The Smart Audio Report,” the data are based on a survey of 800 people who owned at least one smart speaker and an equivalent number who did not.

Part one of the report found very high levels of satisfaction among device owners: 65 percent of smart speaker owners said “they would not want to go back to their lives before getting one of these devices” and 42 percent said they were now “essential” to daily life.

But the core of the second report is demographics and purchase behavior. It’s somewhat surprising is that consumers have started to buy things through these devices. But the report confirms their potential as e-commerce drivers.

The survey found that 57 percent of smart speaker owners have ordered something using the device, while a majority of them have bought something they had never purchased before (as opposed to just reordering a regularly used product).

People aren’t spending trivial amounts of money either. Almost 25 percent of these voice-purchasers said they spent between $100 and $199 for single purchases. I’m speculating but I suspect most of the purchase behavior is through Amazon, though the study doesn’t discuss purchases made via Google Home vs. Amazon devices or their specific sources.

Among those making purchases through smart speakers, the largest single group is the coveted 18 to 34 cohort (45 percent) followed by those 35 to 54 (39 percent). Among those over 55, 16 percent of owners had made a purchase.

Clearly smart speakers are taking hold. The holiday quarter should see more of these devices as gifts and more voice shopping as well. In roughly a week Google is expected to introduce a lower-priced “Home Mini,” while Apple is bringing out its higher-priced HomePod at some point in the next couple of months.

There will also be an array of third party, virtual assistant powered hardware devices available for holiday shoppers — some powered by Google Assistant, some by Alexa and some by Cortana. And all these cumulatively are training people to conduct more voice searches across the board.

Report: Google to debut 'Home Mini' smart speaker for $49 on October 4

Google is set to reveal the Pixel 2 smartphone and potentially other hardware at an event on October 4, in time for holiday shopping. While the Pixel 2 is set to be the star of the event, a prominent supporting role will be played by the new “Google Home Mini.”

This is apparently Google’s answer to the low-cost Amazon Echo Dot. According to Droid Life, it will be priced comparably at $49 and be available in three colors.

Image credit: Droid Life

The device will support the Google Assistant and reportedly will provide the same functionality as Google Home. It’s all but certain the sound quality won’t be as good. And there may be other hardware compromises to bring costs down. It will very likely broaden the market for Google Home and the Google Assistant.

Amazon has created multiple Alexa devices for different budgets:

Dot — $49Echo Tap — $129Echo — $179Echo Show — $229

Amazon often discounts the devices and offers multiple purchase incentives, including on the Dot. To date, Google has only introduced the Home, which retails for $129 but is often discounted to $99. Apple’s Siri-powered HomePod is going to retail for $349 and is positioned as a higher-end smart speaker for the Sonos demographic.

According to one estimate, Amazon dominates the US smart speaker market today. It has also been projected that by the end of 2017, there will be 30 million of these devices in US households. Assistant-enabled smart speakers are the cornerstone for the smart home ecosystem, and we’re in the midst of a land-grab right now.

ComScore has projected that roughly 50 percent of US search queries will be voice-initiated by 2020. More smart speakers in more American homes will help accelerate that trend.

When it 'can't answer that,' Alexa begins recommending third-party skills

Most of the random questions you ask Alexa devices will be met with “Hmm, I don’t know that” or “Sorry, I’m not sure.” By comparison, Google Home, with its search index access, typically does a better job on general knowledge and information queries.

To better compete with Google over time, Amazon devices have started to recommend third-party skills. Voicebot.ai reported on this in the context of stock price information. I was able to duplicate the scenario for skills associated with stock prices (“Alexa, what’s the 52 week low for Apple stock?”). I got a skill recommendation.

I also got a recommendation tied to horoscopes. I asked for my horoscope  and it recommended Elle Horoscopes. “Would you like to add that?” Alexa offered. Yet I had difficulty finding other examples beyond these two.

I asked dozens of travel-related questions — I have the Kayak skill installed — and not only did it not provide direct answers, it didn’t say that Kayak could answer these questions.

For example, I asked, “What’s the cost to fly to New York?” It responded with flight duration information. It didn’t refer me to Kayak or invite me to add that skill. However, when I ask, “Alexa, ask Kayak how much it costs to fly to New York” I get the information.

Source: NPR-Edison Research (n=1,600), July 2017

Still, the fact that Alexa is starting to recommend skills is important. It will help the device better compete with Google Assistant on general information and search queries. It will also help with skills discovery for developers (but which skills will be recommended?). And, generally it will make Alexa devices more useful.

Right now, most “regular people” aren’t sitting around relentlessly quizzing Alexa devices on obscure facts the way that tech bloggers are. According to a recent NPR survey, most people are using smart speaker devices for specific tasks such as playing music, getting weather information, setting timers, checking news and so on. And user satisfaction levels are relatively high.

Despite this the category, “general question” is one of the top use cases, according to the NPR survey. That suggests that these devices need to be prepared to substitute for search engines over time.

If consumers continue in the “specific tasks” pattern, Alexa can go head-to-head with Google Home, especially given Amazon’s sales-channel superiority. However, if consumers begin to use these devices as search substitutes, Amazon will need to greatly step up its skills.

Google Home partnership with Condé Nast's Vogue offers new model for publishers

In what is sure to be a model for other publishers, last week Google and Vogue magazine announced a partnership that offers “behind the scenes” audio content from selected Vogue magazine interviews. Most of these are monologues from the writers about their subjects.

By asking Google Home to “talk to Vogue” (one of several ways to invoke the content), users hear a brief introduction and then a menu of choices, which in this case includes five articles from the September issue on Jennifer Lawrence, Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, Serena Williams and Megyn Kelly.

There’s a corresponding indicator in the print magazine about which articles offer Google Home companion “behind the scenes” audio content. Each piece is split into shorter and longer segments. The speaker in each case is the author of the article initially answering the question, “What is [interviewee] like?” Then there’s an option to hear more in-depth information.

Julia Chen Davidson (Partner Marketing Lead, Google Home) told me that it was Google’s idea to approach Condé Nast but that the company was already in the process of exploring other content expansion and distribution options. When I suggested the experience was analogous to podcasting, she pointed out that the content from Vogue is more interactive, with the opportunity to select specific pieces in a non-linear order. “It’s more conversational,” she explained.

While this is the first such partnership for Google, the company is already talking to other publishers and partners. “There’s lots of curiosity,” Chen said. Indeed, this is something that many more publishers should explore sooner rather than later.

Google’s Chen wouldn’t discuss specifics but said that she and Google were “really pleased with the response” to the launch. To promote it, Google did a social/influencer campaign, and Vogue offered pages in the magazine (image above). The still photograph at the top of this page comes from a video, which shows a variety of women listening to the content as some browse the magazine.

This dual-media opportunity is very interesting because it could make some print content interactive and “trackable” in new ways (e.g., articles that drive Home engagement). It very quickly opens the door to voice-based commerce as well. One can imagine a partnership between Google (Express), a retailer or brand and a publisher to enable selected items in print ads to be easily ordered and delivered.

This is my speculation, however. Google didn’t talk specifically about monetization. As always with a new product, Google is focused on the consumer experience and “voice UI optimization,” as Chen described it.

Magazines have suffered significant subscriber and ad-revenue declines in the past decade. Publishers might be able to use Home (and other smart speakers) to extend their brands and content into this new medium and, in some cases, connect print and audio — to “digitize” the traditional print medium. (This is not unlike what out-of-home advertising has done with mobile-location data.)

But the model isn’t limited to traditional publishers. One can imagine brands and retailers creating entertaining or instructive audio content for smart speakers that is exposed or marketed via other channels: print, outdoor, TV, and even radio.

The Google-Vogue partnership points the way to a great many provocative scenarios ahead.