The growing use of voice search creates some unique challenges for marketers. And the time to start preparing for those challenges is now: according to Gartner, about 30 percent of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020; comScore predicts that by 2020 half of all searches will be by voice.
“Voice is a significant change from web and mobile,” says Matt Hummel, President of Red Privet, a design and research firm. “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.”
Two Types of Voice Search
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 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. Additionally, 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?”
All of this means you want your content to be rich in keywords; to feature critical meta data like title tags, descriptions, and alt tags; and to effectively surface answers to users’ questions. Getting there requires that you optimize content on both the front-end and the back-end.
Optimizing Content on the Front-end
For front-end content, you’ll want to consider the following:
• 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? Make sure your content answers questions that users will be seeking answers for.
• 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, most voice search results are pulled from pages averaging about 2,312 words. That doesn’t mean you should start 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, Head of Evangelism for Search at Microsoft, 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.” (Source: Just say it: The future of search is voice and personal digital assistants.)
Optimizing Content on the Back-end
Back-end considerations include the following:
• Structured data: By placing your content into your CMS in chunks, it can appear anytime, anywhere, on any device. 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”—the results that appear on the search page results 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. Be sure to check your download speeds, and address any glitches or slowdowns promptly.
• 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 for web writing.
• Speed and security (HTTP→HTTPS): Search engines want to know your pages are secure, private and protected to prevent hackers. Make sure you’re using this invaluable technology.
Be Prepared to Do the Work
Getting a website optimized for voice isn’t easy—there’s a lot of work involved. But that’s the fun of what we do as healthcare marketers—we stay ahead of the curve, so we give our patients and their families the best possible experience.
To help you get started, and to sum up, here are three key guidelines:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. SEO. You always want to use best practices for SEO, but for voice-activated search it’s imperative. Remember, content that is pulled for featured snippets will be the content read back by the voice assistant. That’s the coveted spot, and writing high-quality, search-friendly copy can move your content there.
Ahava Leibtag is the president and owner of Aha Media Group, LLC, a content strategy and content marketing consultancy founded in October 2005. She is passionate about content and prides herself on tackling the toughest content projects—from healthcare to higher education to hip-hop (seriously).