Could Amazon be a match for Google as it edges its way into paid search?

Could Amazon be a match for Google as it edges its way into paid search?
Friday, February 17, 2017
DJowett

Amazon is planning to give Google a run for its money, as it barges its way into the world of paid search.

“There’s an expectation from people who visit Amazon [that] they’re going to find anything they want,” Seth Dallaire, VP of global ad sales at Amazon Media Group, said at AdExchanger’s Industry Preview conference in New York City. “If you have the confidence that we’re going to meet that expectation, you might just come to Amazon to start that search.”

It’s an intriguing move, which follows hot on the heels of the unexpected explosion in sales of Amazon’s digital assistant, the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, over the Christmas period, which has opened up myriad new monetisation opportunities for the ecommerce giant. The announcement also hints at where the Amazon ecosystem is heading, which creates plenty of reasons for Google to keep watch, particularly since Amazon’s Echo extends search beyond the toolbar and into AI enabled voice search.

Amazon isn’t acting on a whim; there is plenty of evidence to justify its gravitation towards paid search. According to a recent study by internet marketing firm BloomReach, 55% of US consumers go to Amazon first when searching for products; an increase from 44% a year earlier. Search engines were the starting point for 28% of those surveyed, declining from 34% a year earlier.  The research went some way towards proving that Google is rapidly losing ground to Amazon, which is arguably strengthened by its 65m-strong Amazon Prime subscribers.

If shoppers are bypassing Google completely, it makes sense that Amazon is keen to monetise this trend and make use of these engagement opportunities. And since most searches on Amazon aren’t brand-specific, there’s the opportunity for brands to pay their way to the top of product listings. Of course it’s too soon to judge the impact this will have upon the overall user experience.

Branded queries will also be monetised, even for products that Amazon doesn’t sell, such as cars. “We don’t sell cars, but we know customers have an expectation that they’ll be able to consider a car or read about customer experiences on Amazon,” Dallaire explains. Auto marketers will be able to create detailed product pages on Amazon that offer consumers information on make, model, specifications and other details. Amazon will then pass these leads and reviews to the auto manufacturer so they can help consumers set up test drives, etc. Based on previous purchase history, Amazon will also know the car a customer drives, and so if it sees them researching a different car brand, for example, it will be able to share that sort of intelligence with car makers too. “That might be a way for Nissan to look at a customer in a way they haven’t particularly thought of with Amazon,” Dallaire said.

The implications for voice search

Amazon had sold an estimated 5m Echo devices since the product launched in 2014.  According to comScore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. In the future, home hubs such as Amazon Echo will be able to provide companies with myriad information about the user’s daily life and habits, interests, purchase histories, disposable income and more, and it’s an opportunity too good to miss. It makes sense that Amazon will also be looking for ways to integrate paid search into voice, moving forward. For example, Amazon recently worked with Allrecipes, to create a “branded skill” (on Echo, Amazon refers to apps as “skills”) with a recipe search and discovery function through Alexa featuring 60,000 meals.

The voice search market is unchartered territory, which will require new ways of thinking about how ads can be filtered into the environment without causing too much user disruption. The obvious problem is that the voice search and digital assistant trend makes having a screen optional, which in turn reduces the amount of real estate available for brands to sponsor. Voice search is also yet to reach tipping point and John Greenough, senior research analyst for BI Intelligence, argues the smart home market is currently stuck in the “chasm” of the tech adoption curve: “the crucial stage between the early-adopter phase and the mass-market phase, in which manufacturers need to prove a need for their devices”. Another problem is technology fragmentation, where consumers are using a range of devices, operating systems and networks within the home, which creates confusion and interoperability issues. These problems need to be solved before AI voice assistance can truly take off among consumers, and paid search will then be able to follow.

If Amazon wishes to usurp Google’s overall dominance in paid search, it has a big mountain to climb. Consumers are used to turning to Amazon for product-related search, but Google inhabits a much broader landscape and its algorithms have been years in the making. How this battle pans out is anyone’s guess right now, but Amazon’s foray into paid search is not to be ignored.