Voice search provides some unique challenges for healthcare marketers in the coming years. Now is the time to start thinking of your strategy. According to Gartner, about 30 percent of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020; Com Score predicts that by 2020 half of all searches will be by voice.
“Voice is a significant change from web and mobile. For the first time, we need to plan the user experience without a graphical interface. The good news is, the principles are the same, but the applications are different.” Matt Hummel, President of Red Privet, the design and research firm
Before you start planning your strategy, it’s important to understand a distinction in voice searches. There are two types—those answered by skills and those answered by search engines:
- Skills are applications built for voice assistant devices like Google Home and Alexa. Skills can include trivia games, guided meditation, health questions and wait times at emergency rooms.
- Search engines power all answers from voice assistants that are not answered by skills. By default, Google Home is supported by Google and Alexa is supported by Bing. These search engine contingencies help voice assistants answer a much broader range of questions.
Although both types of voice searches are ways your consumers can interface with your brand, this article will focus on gaining visibility for voice searches that are answered by search engines. These searches are more prevalent and have a much lower upfront cost to pursue.
It’s all about the content
Content that ranks highly in desktop search is likely to be used as a voice search answer. According to a major study conducted by Backlink, 75 percent of voice search results are from the top three desktop results.
Therefore, you want your content to be rich in keywords, feature critical meta data like title tags, descriptions and alt tags, and surface answers to users’ questions. Search engines are moving toward natural human language patterns; five years ago, someone may have searched for “tying a tie”. Now they search for “How do I tie a tie?” Note: The following information is focused on voice-activated search, not building a skill.
Front-end vs. Back-end
Preparing your content for voice requires you to optimize both your front-end and your back-end.
For your front-end, you want to think of:
- Write the way people talk: Think conversationally but still on-point for your brand (for your answers, not their questions)
- Information satisfaction: Did the user get the information they wanted?
- Length: It has to be short and quick, or it won’t work in a voice world. Voice search prefers concise answers; the average response is 29 words long. However, the most voice searches are pulled from pages with long articles with around 2,312. That doesn’t mean you should go rewriting your pages for length. It just means that longer pages with more diverse keywords often get noticed by the search engines.
- Formulation: Context needs to be paramount. Think of information versus task. And, as Christi Olson writes, those question words (who, what, how, when, where, why) often indicate the searcher’s intent.
“For example, if a consumer asks, ‘What is the difference between an infant car seat and a convertible car seat?’ they are likely just researching. But if they ask, ‘How much is a Mesa car seat?’ or ‘Where can I buy a Mesa car seat?’” they are much closer to taking action.
For your back-end, you want to think of:
- Structured data: By coding your content using structure data (outlined at schema.org), search engines can more easily understand your content. Publishing your content according to search engines’ best practices will rank your pages higher in search, leading to being included in the prized “featured snippets”, which are the results that appear on the search results page itself. Those are typically the pieces of content that are used to answer voice-activated questions.
- Speed: Voice answers come from pages that load as quickly as possible. This is because most voice searches are done on mobile devices. Make sure your website is downloading faster than Evil Knievel.
- Mobile optimization: The search engines prefer mobile optimization, as more than half of searches are done on a mobile device versus a desktop device.
- Follow best practices for SEO: This cannot be stressed enough. Make sure you’re using the right metadata and that your pages follow best practices web writing.
- Speed and security (HTTP→HTTPS): Search engines want to know your pages are secure. Make sure you’re using this invaluable technology
There’s a lot of work into getting your website optimized for voice. But that’s the fun of what we do as health care marketers—we stay ahead of the curve, so we give our patients and their families the best possible experience.
To summarize, here are three guidelines for preparing for voice-activated search on major search engines like Google and Bing:
- Use natural human language patterns: People think in terms of questions and answers when they engage with the internet. Use questions and answers in your writing.
- The back-end is more important than the front-end: Work closely with your developers, CMS authors and IT teams to ensure that your content is structured appropriately. Speed and security are also key factors for setting your content up for success.
- SEO: You always want to use best practices for SEO, but for voice-activated search it’s imperative. As we said above, content that is pulled for featured snippets will be the content read back by the voice assistant. Writing high-quality, search-friendly copy can move your content into that coveted spot.
Ahava Leibtag will present ” Getting Your Content Ready for Voice-Activated Search“ at the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network 2018 Annual Conference. To learn more from Ahava and other expert speakers, please join us!
Before founding her company in 2005, Ahava worked in the corporate communications department of Russell Reynolds Associates, a leading international executive recruiting firm, as well as for two major advertising agencies, a commercial production company, and also served as metro beat reporter for The Jerusalem Post.