How Medical Marketers Can Optimize for Voice Search to Boost Local Search Rankings

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As voice recognition software improves, consumers are increasingly relying on their phones for common health questions.

In the next five years, consumers seeking out information about their health and well-being will increasingly rely on voice search to get the answers they need. A full 41% of American adults use voice search on a daily basis, and by 2020, 50% of all mobile queries will be spoken instead of typed.

The benefits of voice search are clear — it’s hands-free and faster than typing out a query on a small screen. Word recognition errors are down to 8% from 20%, and Google’s software leads the pack at a mere 4.9% error rate. As that rate continues to decrease, people will feel more comfortable asking complex medical questions to their phones. Medical marketers will need to account for this behavior change to keep their SEO rankings high.

Voice Search on the Go

Voice search optimization is inextricably tied to mobile search. Despite the popularity of devices like the Amazon Echo, the future of voice queries resides within smartphones. When you follow best practices for mobile search, you’ll simultaneously improve your success with voice. Make sure that your mobile site runs as smoothly as possible by reducing load speed where possible and improving your mobile UX. Actively monitor key metrics in order to figure out what is and isn’t working.

Since Google’s “Pigeon” update in July 2014, location information has become an increasingly important determinant of mobile — and therefore voice — SEO rankings. Pigeon revamped the company’s algorithms to prioritize local search as a way to provide users with more individualized results. This especially holds true for mobile, where a third of all searches are tied to location in some way. Ensure that your hospital, clinic, or practice shows up to local users by confirming that your name, address, and contact information are up to date and consistent across platforms. Better yet, define that information with schema markup so it shows up directly in search results, allowing users to contact you without even clicking into your site.

Asking — and Answering — the Right Questions

It’s common knowledge that the right keywords are critical to SEO success, but voice search requires a different approach. People tend to forego short phrases, preferring to ask fully-formed, specific questions. For example, instead of typing in “OBGYN,” patients may ask, “Where can I get a pap smear?” or “What’s the next available gynecology appointment near me?” By anticipating the questions potential patients may ask, you’ll be more discoverable.

The cornerstone of these longer questions is the use of long-tail keywords — three- or four-word phrases that are highly specific to a customer’s needs or to your offerings. These keywords have multiple benefits for medical organizations looking to attract patients. If your smaller practice faces competition from larger, regional hospitals, include cities or neighborhoods in your long-tail keywords to improve search rankings for users in your immediate area. You can also choose keywords describing procedures or medical specialties, which will direct more targeted traffic toward your site. Determine how people would think or ask about your products or services, and invest in those phrases.

Google is paving the way to ubiquitous voice search by adding a Q&A feature within Google My Business (GMB) listings. Hospitals and clinics can assemble lists of their most common questions and provide detailed answers rich with long-tail keywords. If customers can’t find the answer they’re looking for, they can submit questions to your business listing, giving businesses the opportunity to respond. Though this feature is only available on Android — and isn’t yet integrated with voice search — it’s only a matter of time before the Q&A will allow more effective voice searches across multiple platforms.

The advent of voice search presents an exciting opportunity for medical marketers to reach a highly targeted set of interested prospects. As patients take more control of the path to treatment, voice search will determine which organizations are — and aren’t — found in search results going forward.

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