Jon Fletcher 2020-08-20

Alexa, what are Voice User Interfaces (VUI)?

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The TL; DR 


  • Voice User Interfaces are growing in popularity and complexity 
  • The big five tech companies want users to pick a side and stick to it 
  • Publishers can capitalize on this war for user loyalty 
  • But a lack of branding and attribution of content should be a concern 
  • Publishers need to build products designed around Voice User Interfaces to become preferred partners

If you’re not familiar with the decidedly un-evocative name ‘Voice User Interfaces’, you will probably know them by their first names. Alexa and Siri are now bonafide household stars in over a billion homes.

What are Voice User Interfaces?

A Voice User Interface (VUI) is the technology that makes verbal communication with computers possible. Speech recognition allows computers to register and understand spoken commands and use text to speech to play the reply. A voice command device (VCD) is the device that is controlled with a voice user interface. It is 'speak to control' technology that has the power to reply back.


A Voice User Interface (VUI) is the technology that makes verbal communication with computers possible. Speech recognition allows computers to register and understand spoken commands and use text to speech to play the reply. A voice command device (VCD) is the device that is controlled with a voice user interface. It is ‘speak to control’ technology that has the power to reply back. 

These devices and voice user interfaces have now reached an inflection point in popular culture. They’re on our phones and in our homes. We’re used to devices being able to understand us and major tech platforms are now racing to get a controlling market share of the voice-activated market.




Are you an Alexa or a Siri person?

It sounds stupid to ask which robot AI you feel more affinity to, but Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook want you to pick a side. That's why they give their AIs a name and a touch of personality to make you connect and stay loyal to it. 

It sounds stupid to ask which robot AI you feel more affinity to, but Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook want you to pick a side. That’s why they give their AIs a name and a touch of personality to make you connect and stay loyal to it. And the race for users is growing so fierce that Amazon even sells their digital assistant, the Echo Dot, at a loss. 

They really want the device in your home. Whenever a company does this, you can be sure there is a major incentive to get users hooked on their particular brand of technology.


But Voice User Interfaces need publisher content to stay competitive.

Getting devices in homes, getting people used to the name is a long term plan to buy an audience. They either become loyal or just get tied into the technology from having bought that specific voice command device. 

But— just selling a cheap way in won't capture a market. Every mobile user is so used to search results knowing exactly what they are thinking, let alone searching for. If the networks behind the Voice User Interface can't access the content that keeps users engaged, they will lose their audience share. 

Getting devices in homes, getting people used to the name is a long term plan to buy an audience. They either become loyal or just get tied into the technology from having bought that specific voice command device. But— just selling a cheap way in won't capture a market. Every mobile user is so used to search results knowing exactly what they are thinking, let alone searching for. If the networks behind the Voice User Interface can’t access the content that keeps users engaged, they will lose their audience share. 

In the short term that means better accuracy, more normalized speech, and content that is designed to be read aloud and can engage just as well from a speaker as from a screen. This is where tech platforms need publishers to help them differentiate themselves from other competitors on the market. So, let’s take a look at the ways that online publishers can use the voice user interface competition to their advantage.


So, let’s take a look at the ways that online publishers can use the voice user interface competition to their advantage.


How can publishers use Voice User Interfaces? 

If the biggest sources of publisher traffic are leaning hard on voice search and Voice User Interfaces, publishers need to move quickly to be the companies associated with these channels. 

The first way publishers can start to get traffic is to optimize their content to appear in more voice search results. We recently published a full guide to appearing in more voice search results here. 

If the biggest sources of publisher traffic are leaning hard on voice search and Voice User Interfaces, publishers need to move quickly to be the companies associated with these channels. 

The first way publishers can start to get traffic is to optimize their content to appear in more voice search results. We recently published a full guide to appearing in more voice search results here

But, this only covers searches done by voice. The true beauty of voice user interfaces is that they allow users to perform specific actions on their device. One of the earliest and most relevant tasks voice user interfaces could perform was to read the news on command.


Hey Siri, what's the news today?

This is where things get interesting for publishers. Ask Siri for the news and you get what Siri considers to be the news. 

Siri will play news from a range of media outlets including ESPN, NPR, Fox News, CNN, Washington Post, CNBC, and Bloomberg — and you can change this in your settings — but it is still a much more limited scope of stories for a major section of publisher traffic. 

This is where things get interesting for publishers. Ask Siri for the news and you get what Siri considers to be the news. Siri will play news from a range of media outlets including ESPN, NPR, Fox News, CNN, Washington Post, CNBC, and Bloomberg—and you can change this in your settings—but it is still a much more limited scope of stories for a major section of publisher traffic. You might have a loyal audience that has been locked out of your content because they asked through a voice user interface rather than a normal search.



The real beauty of Voice User Interfaces is that you can often program them to understand specific commands and add more skills that it can perform. 

For publishers to be a real part of voice user interface content, they need to build connections between the interface and their app or content pages. Amazon offers its own Alexa Skill Builder, which makes it easy for designers to create new Alexa Skills. Google offers an SDK; however, this is aimed at Google Action developers. Apple has SiriKit, a developer tool to build custom intents into the Siri platform.


Once created, you can educate your users on how they can use Siri to perform certain specific tasks, known as Shortcuts.

But, far out ahead in terms of usability and adoption seems to be Amazon’s Skills Market place. Here you can easily add specific skills to your Alexa enabled device and simply say the command. Publishers can create a skill and enter it to the marketplace where users can add it to their device.


By building a specific skill that users can add, the Washington Post is able to bypass the Alexa definition of 'news' and give users direct access through the interface. This is going to help give users exactly what they want. 

By building a specific skill that users can add, the Washington Post is able to bypass the Alexa definition of ‘news’ and give users direct access through the interface. This is going to help give users exactly what they want. When I ask Siri for the same thing, I get a single story from Breitbart.


This is not an ideal user experience and it makes Siri appear less connected than its rivals. It also prevents me as a user from accessing a specific news platform that I requested by name. 

This is not an ideal user experience and it makes Siri appear less connected than its rivals. It also prevents me as a user from accessing a specific news platform that I requested by name. In addition, when voice user interfaces are used to collect information from content sources, publishers have the right to ask about attribution.


While Siri may have answered my question about the football there is no sign of where this content actually came from. Does the user know the source of the news headlines? Can the publisher register this as a visit? Can the publisher monetize this visit? Publishers have the rightful concern that their content will be skimmed and effectively packaged as the platform's content. 

For now, voice user interfaces are a challenge for publishers to attract traffic, attribute visits, and monetize. For publishers to actually get traffic from voice user interfaces, they need to jump through their hoops at the moment. So in order to get content to users that can be easily accessed, can be branded and recognized.

There are two main ways to do this:

Short-form content bulletins

One way to create content that stands out from voice user interfaces is to create an audible summary of the news, or a short (10 min max) audio content snippets. These are known as ‘flash briefings’ and can be enabled on Alexa devices.



Most major news outlets have at the very least developed a daily briefing that can be played on command. Other news publications have enabled the specific options within their apps to play entire stories, hands-free with a command to a voice user interface.



Create branded content formats

Rather than selecting the headlines from Apple’s preferred selection, creating news or entertainment with a specific name and title can help your audience find it when using voice user interfaces rather than traditional searches. 

By branding your content, you encourage users to ask for it by name and make the voice user interface search for it. Siri, play the latest TEDtalk is a very different proposition to asking Alexa to just find the news.


Should publishers build their own voice user interface?

The problem with relying on technology from a big platform is that you get locked into their rules—which can change. The technology was supposed to give equal access to all types of content but the battle between different voice user interfaces has led to more closed circuits.


Many big media groups see this as a chance to go in-house and create their own version to cut out the middleman and give their own audience direct access. Instead of ‘Hey Siri’, why not ‘Hey WashingtonPost’? 

Publishers could build voice user interfaces into their own apps in order to keep the users that are moving from typed searches on their platform. But it’s unlikely that anyone but the largest media groups will bother investing in creating their own voice user interfaces. It’s too niche, too expensive. 

The beauty of a voice user interface is that they can do everything the device can do. They’re not confined to a single app. Even a company the size of Salesforce abandoned their own Voice User Interface, Einstein, in favor of utilizing Amazon connect. 

With the infrastructure from the big four tech companies already so established, it makes more sense to find ways to capitalize on them than trying to convert users to your specific interface.



You can see from this Statista study that 94% of surveyed companies are planning to invest more in voice technology next year and 90% already have resources in place to implement voice experiences. 

Despite the difficulties for publishers to make themselves known on voice user interfaces, it will be a challenge that they will have to overcome as user reliance on voice technology grows and platforms add functionality. 

While there are still early-mover advantages to be had for publishers to start short-form audio-only content, the real challenge will come from monetizing and attributing visits and information from this new technology. 

Alexa, play Descapito.






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