As we step into the era of voice search, the opportunities for affiliate marketing continue to expand. In 2019 over a fifth of the UK users are expected to have a smart speaker. Can publishers even integrate with these smart devices? What can they do to take advantage of voice search?

What is voice search anyway?

Let’s start with the basics: technically your Alexa is not ‘voice search’, although it does have such a feature. Voice search equals voice recognition plus text search. There is no speech simulation, no hard semantic analysis, and no requests beyond the website it is attached to.

Virtual assistants, on the other hand, might include all of the aforementioned, as well as have access to multiple ‘internet of things’ appliances, be able to manage your payments and more. Yet all by itself, voice search is worthless. You can purchase a corresponding library and install it on your website, but it will bring you neither new clients nor extra sales. You would have to rely on big search engines and virtual assistants to do so.


Since the search queries are purely text-based, there is but one thing publishers can do, which is to optimise their content and ad campaigns so as to comply with the search engine’s policy.

Publishers with paid traffic (Google Ads, etc.) can focus on more human-like queries rather than short combinations of keywords, like ‘where can I buy tomatoes?’ instead of ‘tomatoes buy’. Long-tail keywords are what differs every-day speech from manual input. The costs and the competition are relatively lower for long tails compared to that of regular contextual ads.

The website owners are expected to keep to the same SEO strategy, so FAQ pages and guides, for instance, may help you get to the Google top snippet. In addition, you should make your content useful to satisfy the immediate needs of your potential customers. Although improving your SEO takes time, it’s nothing a publisher cannot handle.

The hidden catch

Each smart artificial intelligence has a different base search engine. Google Assistant can Google, Cortana had Bing, whereas Alexa searches at Amazon and Chinese DingDong uses Baidu.

Right now, you must be thinking there is some kind of pattern to that and indeed there is. Those that have a search engine (or a rather extensive store) tend to create a virtual assistant. Those that have both are doomed to release smart speakers, but this is not the point.

The point is, there are over a dozen different voice helpers in the world and none of their search engines are completely transparent. For most of us, it is a black box. And the fact that some search providers change their algorithms two times a day does not make the situation any better. Though most of the changes are harmless, major updates can turn the tables with a bang, resetting all adaptation progress and making it ultimately impossible. It’s not that the updates are bad, it the fact they are unpredictable.

Future of publishing?

In theory, any publisher can make their own closed-source smart speaker and take advantage of voice search on their own terms. It will not even qualify as abuse of the algorithms if you use your own speaker to earn via cost-per-action.  

The publisher, however, would have to be open about this so that advertisers treat their smart speakers as an advertising platform rather than ‘suspicious fraud’. Developing their own voice assistant from scratch, however, is no trivial matter. Open source solutions might be the future of voice search publishers but are publishers ready to take advantage of that? Hardly so. Are advertisers ready to take advantage of voice search? Yes, they are.

The other side

All in all, the marketing niche for voice search is relatively smaller than the general e-commerce. You may order a pizza via a smart speaker, but most likely – from a company you already know. Voice search is not about the discovery of brands, it is about loyalty. This puts certain restrictions on publishers’ chances to attract new customers as the companies mostly prohibit brand bidding at CPA-campaigns.

From this point of view, the question we should really be asking is “Are advertisers ready to take advantage of voice search?” This, however, is a topic for a completely different article.