As voice assistants and voice search have entered the mainstream, marketers need think about how and where their brands live within the voice landscape. From voice skills and actions to voice search and advertising, marketers have a few options to increase prominence in voice.

Voice Assistant Trends and COVID-19

COVID-19 is accelerating trends and we have seen surges in telehealth and online meeting software usage. We could see smart home, voice, and voice assistant usage increase as well​. As more people stay home, more people are making use of devices and apps to work, live, and socialize remotely. Voice and voice assistants have the benefit of being hands free. We may see people gravitate towards more hands-free devices, including assistants to avoid germs. We should see deeper usage of voice assistants and smart home devices as people become more familiar with them, a trend that will likely stick around post pandemic.

Voice usage may begin to plateau, however, most notably due to frustrations with performance. Alexa, Siri, and Google still do not recognize everyday questions, never mind those related to difficult-to-pronounce drug names and/or conditions. Google has been investing heavily in updating their results so they can provide more reliable answers to natural language queries. Google launched a major update in late 2019 called BERT, but that impacted less than 10% of search results. Surprisingly, Microsoft’s Bing may have been ahead of Google here and has had better natural language results for some time.

Voice Search

Marketers currently have two avenues for obtaining a presence in voice—voice search and voice assistants. Getting results in voice search requires that content is optimized for search, and particularly voice search. In order to obtain a voice result, a property needs to obtain a featured snippet (aka position zero) for a particular search, which is read by Google, Alexa, Siri. If there is a screen, regular search results can show as well, including paid search ads and organic rankings.

In order to build a presence in organic voice results:

  1. Do your research: Think about what your customer would ask to find your content. Make sure you mine Google keyword tools and search results for searches in the form of questions. Review “people also ask” listings in Google for relevant searches. Use this research to inform content development for your website or skill/action.
  2. Use natural language keyword phrases within your content: Natural language should be used within your page titles and header tags for example. FAQs are key. Build useful content around questions people are asking and provide a useful and concise answer.
  3. Use schema markup: Schema markup is structured data that gives the search engines more information about content. Search engines use this meta data to help categorize content and provide more useful search results. Pharma marketers have a variety of schemas at their disposal, including drug, generic name, drug class, condition, symptom, manufacturer, FAQ.
  4. Follow SEO best practices: Include key terms and topics in content; create useful, unique content; develop good meta data; use a clear hierarchy and structure; make sure load time and user experience is good. Follow SEO best practices and guidelines for best results.
  5. Promote your brand and content: Promoting your content—whether through PR, SEO, paid search, display, or TV—will help it get more traction, more authoritative links, and, in turn increase organic visibility.

Voice Skills/Actions

The second avenue is within voice assistant applications known as “skills” for Alexa and “actions” for Google devices. These voice-activated programs can be downloaded and triggered by users’ voice commands. Marketers can create FAQs, educational programs, medication reminders, or programs that command an action on a device or the internet, such as purchasing a product or activating a connected device (“turn on living room light”). As with any new property, that property will have to be promoted and well optimized to gain visibility, traction, and usage.

Advertising in Voice

So far, marketers can optimize their properties for search and voice, build a skill or action, but little ad opportunities exist directly through voice assistants. Advertisers can’t currently buy the voice search result that is read aloud—organic results are used for that. Advertisers can ensure their paid search ads show for voice searches that are done when a screen is present. For voice-activated paid search, identifying those natural language searches and ensuring they are included in keyword lists is the first step. Then creating ad copy and content that can respond to those questions is key to pulling through those hand-raisers. Marketers can create inventive skills or actions but will still need to promote those applications in order to gain traction.

The final option is to purchase ads within, or sponsor skills/actions that already have built that audience. Ad options are available in audio-streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, including audio ads, sponsored playlists, and podcasts. Pandora can further target specific audiences with Crossix overlays and vendors like ReachMD can target healthcare professionals with sponsored podcasts. Overall, researching where the target audience is spending time and what they are doing is key to determining what tactics to employ and how. As tactics remain limited, we may see an increase in competition within the voice landscape.

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