Google announces Assistant app-discovery channels, broad ranking factors

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Google is making the Assistant available via SDK to third parties to integrate into their appliances and devices. It’s also quickly ramping up third-party content integration into the Assistant. The company announced this week at its developer conference that the Google Assistant is available on more than 100 million devices and has more than 70 smart home partners.

Alexa has more than 13,000 skills, already creating an app discovery problem. While the number of third-party Google Assistant apps is currently much smaller, it will grow rapidly because of the strength of Google’s assets and ecosystem.

Google formally launched an Assistant Directory yesterday where users can discover third-party content. Some of this can be done through the Google Home app as well.

Yesterday, in a Google I/O session called “Building Apps for the Google Assistant,” company speakers outlined the three primary ways that developers can get their Assistant apps in front of users. Google’s Vera Tzoneva also spoke broadly about some Assistant app ranking factors that might apply when there are multiple apps that can fulfill a request.

Here are the three primary discovery channels:

  1. Verbal app invocation (explicit or implicit)
  2. Assistant Directory
  3. Weblinks, which can be promoted or shared as another URL would be

The last category, weblinks, is the most straightforward. Just like any URL, a developer or publisher can put this link on social media, a search landing page, direct mail, on TV, on a website and so on. You get the weblink from the developer project overview page.

The Assistant Directory, which is accessed through the Assistant itself, features numerous categories (e.g., Music, Productivity, Education, Local). The categories will likely grow, there will certainly be a growing number of apps in each category. These apps can be manually discovered by browsing, or they can be invoked verbally.

There are no downloads or apps to install per se. All Assistant apps are available to the user at any time. They can be explicitly invoked by asking for them by name: “Let me talk/speak to OpenTable” (among other phrases that can be used). They might also be presented in response to a request or question without a specific app mention (implicit invocation). An example would be, “I want to fly to New York next week.”

What about Assistant app SEO?

Now come the interesting SEO questions. How will Google decide when to use its own knowledge base vs. third-party apps for a category query or implicit invocation (travel for example)? If there are numerous third-party apps in the same category to choose from, which one will get the nod? Which Travel app would be used to fulfill a question such as, “I’d like to make a hotel reservation in Seattle next week”?

Beyond this, will Google allow me to choose a default app for certain categories? It sort of does now, with a feature called Shortcuts, in which customizable trigger phrases invoke specific Assistant apps.

Google’s Vera Tzoneva said that a number of signals would potentially be considered in presenting third-party content to users. Among them she identified:

  • the quality of the app.
  • user preferences and context (though neither of these were elaborated).
  • reviews could also matter, as might the quality of the app’s presentation (e.g., descriptions and images).

Google Play has a ranking algorithm, and some of those considerations (e.g., user engagement) might influence ranking factors for Google Assistant. Regardless, there are multiple questions and scenarios that Google will need to consider in presenting and ranking third-party content.

I got a very strong sense from talking to several people at Google that it was actively thinking through all these scenarios but hadn’t figured everything out. For marketers and publishers, however, it pays to get in early and learn what works.

Google Assistant is likely to be the front door to content on across several platforms and may ultimately eclipse the search box itself.

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