Voice is taking over search. As more people use smart speakers, search engines are improving how they serve up search results. It’s tempting to want to ignore massive shifts like this one and hope for the best. But health care marketers can take heart: optimizing for voice search will help you improve your traditional SEO and provide a more accessible experience for users and patients. In this guide, you’ll learn exactly how to optimize your site for voice search and accessibility and why it’s especially crucial for health care providers.
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3 Reasons Voice Search Will Change Health Care
Before we dive into the particulars of voice search optimization, it’s essential to have an understanding of why voice search will help health care progress toward consumerization, personalization, and accessibility.
1. Consumerization in Health Care
Hang out in health care circles for long, and you will hear this term: consumerization. It’s a buzzword that has started to lose its power. Still, one thing is clear: innovation-savvy health care organizations are trying to figure out the secret sauce to make patients – the real consumers of health care – happy and satisfied.
What is Consumerization of Health Care?
Consumerization of health care means that as patients pay more of their medical expenses out of pocket, they become the target buyers of the health care industry. Instead of focusing on insurance payers, health care organizations need to tailor their services and experiences to make care convenient for patients.
The Rise of Consumerization of Health Care
Value-based care plays a huge role in why consumerization is such a big deal. Perhaps more importantly, consumers have been trained by Amazon and Google and Uber to expect companies they do business with to make their lives faster, easier, and more enjoyable.
Increasingly, they want to make sure all the hard-earned dollars they are spending on health care are getting the results, as quickly and simply as possible.
In the past, health care organizations often focused more on making payers and regulators happy. But to survive in the 21st century, health companies realize that patients must also be satisfied with their care.
So what does this have to do with voice search?
Consider for a Minute These Voice Search Statistics:
- Three-quarters of voice searchers use it to find nearby businesses.
- Nearly half use it to shop.
- By 2025, smart speakers will be found in 75% of American households.
- A majority of American smart speaker users between 25 and 49 talk to their devices daily, and users say one of the reasons why they use voice search is because it makes their lives easier.
- In 2020, at least 50% of searches will be performed using voice.
Consumers Want Fast and Efficient Searches
One reason voice search is expanding so quickly is that consumers are accustomed to getting answers quickly and efficiently. Think about it – the average person can type about 40 words a minute, but most people can speak a hundred or more words per minute. In a fast-paced world, it only makes sense that consumers would opt for a faster way to search if they could.
Consumers Want Search to Be Easy
Voice search allows users to search hands-free with words they use in everyday speech. Instead of having to pull up Google, they can simply say, “Hey Siri, find me the best deal on apples nearby.” This ability to multi-task frees them up to search while they cook or workout.
The Opportunity for Health Care
How is this great news for health care companies? Nearly half of voice searchers want brands to build relationships with them through their voice-activated speakers. This willingness is a wide-open door for health care to foster stronger relationships with patients. And since few are taking advantage of this opportunity, the early adopters will win big.
Examples of How Voice Search Can Consumerize Health Care
The possibilities are truly endless, but here are a few ways health care organizations can use voice search to offer better patient and consumer experiences:
- Make your site voice-search friendly. Many health care brands haven’t taken this simple first step. Make sure that when your local patients search for “a hospital near me” or “a pediatrician near me,” they find you. (More on how to do this later!)
- Optimize your blog content for search, so when a patient asks Alexa a question using one of the 25 most common voice search starter words, your content is the first answer given.
- Add more voice options for contacting your billing department or scheduling department simpler via voice to make accessing these services easier and more convenient for all patients.
2. Personalization in Health Care
Another buzzword in health care? Personalization. Health care should be personal. But few have figured out how to make it happen at scale. While voice search alone won’t solve the complex problem of personalization, it’s one channel health care companies can use to personalize their brand and the care they deliver to patients.
Just over 40% of smart speaker owners like talking to their device because it almost feels like talking to another human. Have you ever told Alexa, thank you? Then you understand what I’m talking about here.
Health care organizations can apply this humanization to their brands by using voice search as a channel to deliver customized content that makes a patient’s life easier. For instance, voice-assistant apps allow you to send out regular flash briefings that could include customized information to help specific patient populations achieve better health outcomes. It’s also not difficult to imagine a future where patients use Alexa or Siri to book their appointments or send their doctor a message. Some hospitals have even begun using smart speakers in patient rooms so patients can ask questions about their care.
3. Website Accessibility
Not only is voice optimization taking over search, but in the past decade, large health care organizations have faced lawsuits for websites that did not conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
While there will always be a commercial aspect to website and search optimization, health care organizations that care deeply about the people they serve need to find ways to make their sites accessible to all – including the 1 in 5 Americans with a disability.
Many health organizations, from scrappy startups to large enterprises, offer valuable, helpful information on their websites, but this information is rarely accessible to people with varying kinds of disabilities.
Your website or any other online asset needs to comply with the ADA in the same way your hospital, clinic, services, or any products would. Noncompliance puts you at risk of lawsuits and keeps these patient populations from accessing the information they need to live better, healthier lives.
Your website needs to be accessible to people who have difficulty typing or navigating on a smartphone as well as to people with hearing, visual, or mental and learning impairments. To improve the user experience for all patients and users, you need to ensure your site, and any apps meet accessibility guidelines.
The good news is that voice search and accessibility overlap. We’re going to get to voice search and accessibility strategies in a minute, but first, let’s take a look at how voice search will change how your customers find you.
Voice Search Will Change How Patients and Customers Find You
Customer and patient expectations are changing, as they expect companies they do business with to make the service provided convenient and accessible. Just as important, however, is how these customers and patients will find you.
As Google and other search engines race to provide the best voice search experience, they are changing who users will do business with by giving higher rankings to sites that are easily accessible for voice search algorithms.
As a result, the health organizations that optimize for voice search will be the ones who most easily attract consumers to their brand, clinics, and centers.
Consumers Use Natural Language to Search
Smart speaker users talk to their devices as if they were human – they say “thank you,” “please,” and may even apologize. But this phenomenon goes even farther than please and thank you. People search differently by voice than they do when they type a search query into Google. There are two critical differences between how consumers voice search and how they search traditionally.
Natural Language Voice Queries
First, voice searchers use natural language to talk to their devices. When a person searches for a care provider with traditional search, they may type in “pediatrician near me” or “best family doctor.” When they use a voice-enabled device, however, they talk to it like they would a human: “Hey Alexa, who is the best pediatrician near me?” or “Siri, find me the closest hospital.” Voice queries tend to be longer and more conversational than online searches.
Asking Fully Formed Questions
Another difference between voice search and traditional search is that consumers ask fully-formed questions instead of typing a short phrase. Asking questions affects the length of searches and the length of keywords search engines use to generate results (more on that later).
Google Serves Up Different Results
Voice search is also changing the results search engines serve to users. Since voice search is often performed over smart devices, search engines are limited in how many and what types of results they can provide.
It is still essential to show up on the first page of Google. But with voice search, you can’t just be in the top ten results or even the top 3. To get featured in voice search results, you need to be number one. Voice search results have limited space, and are usually limited to just one result, though some allow up to 3. To make sure you get featured, you need to be in first place and optimize for voice search.
It makes sense that the majority of voice searches are location-specific. Users are looking for local businesses, restaurants, and events. For location-specific health companies like hospitals, clinics, and private practices, optimizing for voice search is a powerful way to get in front of your target audience.
Nearly two-thirds of voice search results were from a featured snippet. A featured snippet is a result you often see at the top of Google that includes an excerpt from the blog post, article, or website. The majority of the time, a snippet is pulled from the first three search results in Google and typically have higher click-through rates than the rest of the search results in a traditional search.
However, since voice searches may include only one search result and are often pulled from the featured snippet for that query, it’s critical to try to grab that valuable real estate in the search results to have the greatest chance at being the top result in voice search.
What Won’t Change with Search
The thing to remember about all search optimization is that Google (and Bing, for that matter) are always going to serve up search results that provide the best user experience for the searcher. Whether users are searching via text or voice, Google wants to provide them with reliable, contextually-appropriate results that match their search intent. To learn more about how Google determines what results to show on a results page, you can read our in-depth article on how search engines work.
For a brief overview, you can start applying now, keep the following in mind:
Google Delivers Reliable Results
To ensure optimal user experience, Google wants to make sure the results it offers aren’t going to be spammy or unhelpful. It looks at domain authority and popularity to make sure users are getting valuable content. If your page is difficult to use, doesn’t contain enough information on a topic, or isn’t linked to often by other reliable sites, you will likely struggle to show up in search results.
As search engine algorithms get smarter, they can start to match intent to different types of search queries, to understand why a user is searching for that particular topic. It doesn’t matter whether users are searching with voice or text; Google wants to deliver results that are contextually relevant to their search.
For instance, if a user searches for “best hospital near me,” they most likely aren’t going to see informational results like the dictionary definition of a hospital or a website covering the history of hospitals in the United States. Instead, they’re most likely going to see a list of hospitals near them, possibly in order of their Google reviews.
How to Optimize for Voice Search and Accessibility – 9 Strategies & Tactics
Health companies that want to get found need to optimize for voice search, which we are going to dive into now. However, it’s important to remember that voice search is still fluid. As search engines get smarter at matching results to voice queries, algorithms will change. The optimization tactics we’re going to cover may change, so it’s essential to stay flexible rather than getting too caught up in the “right” way to optimize for voice search.
#1. Do Keyword Research Differently
Not so long ago, you could cheat Google into sending traffic onto your site just by stuffing your content with relevant search terms. Your content sure wasn’t pretty or fun to read, but it worked to get you traffic.
Then, Google got smarter and realized that keyword stuffing didn’t make for great user experiences, so it started looking at other factors to populate its search results.
You could still get by with ranking for search terms that didn’t match how people spoke, however, because that’s how they typed their search query into Google.
That’s about to change as Google begins to look for search results that use natural language instead of awkward sounding search queries because it realized as voice search rose, that’s how people were going to search. To keep up, SEO-smart health companies need to start looking at keywords differently.
Review Previous Keywords to Optimize for Voice
Your new keyword strategy begins by considering search terms you currently rank for or have ranked for historically. These are keywords that your target audience has already used to find you. And the good news is that these are STILL the search terms your target audience will use to find you, but they just need a little tweaking to optimize them for voice.
- Review this list of the most common voice search trigger words.
- Use one of those trigger words to turn your search term into a natural language search term.
- Since many of the trigger words are questions words like “how” or “what,” you can turn search terms into questions.
One thing to keep in mind – it used to be that you needed to avoid insanely long keywords, but now that users search on smart speakers, search queries are longer than they used to be.
Once you have your newly voice-optimized natural language keywords, you are ready to move to the next phase of your voice search keyword strategy.
Know Your Negative Keywords
Now that you have your list of search terms you want to rank for, it’s time to think about what keywords you don’t want to be associated with your brand. For instance, if you are a hospital in Portland, Maine, you don’t necessarily want people from Portland, Oregon finding you in their search results.
#2. Answer Questions
Closely related to changing your keyword strategy for voice search is the fact that now most queries will come in the form of a question instead of a random phrase. Content that best answers the question will rise in search rankings. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Answer Questions that People Are Searching For
It doesn’t do you any good to answer a question no one wants the answers for. Use a free tool like Answer the Public to find what questions around your topic people search. Another way to find what people search for is to type your topic into Google and look at the “people also ask” section to see related questions.
Answers Should Be Short
While search queries are getting longer, answers to searches are getting shorter. As we discussed above, many voice search results include Google’s featured snippet. These are short snippets of content that answer the search term. Typically, these snippets are under 30 words long and provide a brief, concise response.
To optimize content to answer questions, take your voice-optimized search queries from the previous step, which are most likely now in the form of a question, and answer those questions in about a sentence. Include this question and brief answer near the beginning of your content.
#3. Optimize for Featured Snippets
To show up in voice search results, you need to capture the featured snippet on related voice pages. Hubspot has an excellent article on just how to do this, so we will only recap briefly here:
- Look at the search results for your target keyword. Is there a featured snippet?
- If yes, is it a list or paragraph?
a) List: If the featured snippet is a list, include your keyword in the H2 tag at the beginning of the article and then list answers or relevant facts in bullet form.
b) Paragraph: If the featured snippet is a paragraph, include the question in the H2 tag at the beginning of the article and then answer the question in 30 words or less.
Other Featured Snippet Tips
Just because you include the answer to a featured snippet at the top of your content doesn’t mean you’ll get featured. Google will also look at other important ranking factors, like bounce rate, time on page, site authority, and site popularity.
#4. Don’t Ignore FAQ Pages
Your FAQ pages are perfect for voice search optimization. In fact, a decent percentage of voice search results come from FAQ pages. Sometimes these get neglected and sent to the backwaters of the site, but it’s time for FAQ pages to have their day.
Follow the format listed below for FAQs:
- List the question in the subheader.
- Answer the question in a sentence. Feel free to expand in later paragraphs, but the first sentence or two should be a brief response to the question.
Your FAQ pages should also follow other SEO best practices, such as including optimized meta descriptions and image alt tags.
#5. Optimize Site for Local Voice Search
A large number of voice search results are for local businesses or events. Sites that are optimized for local search will be more likely to appear in voice search results if the searcher is looking for something nearby. Here’s an overview of how to optimize for local search.
Optimize Your Google My Business Page
Create a page if you don’t already have one, ask for reviews, and engage with users who leave reviews. This guide, Best Practices for Your Google Business Listing, goes deep into how to accomplish your business listing.
Use a Consistent Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) On Your Site
If your company has multiple locations that a patient could come to, for instance, make sure to have a page for each location.
Use Consistent NAP Listings Across the Web
Google and Apple verify directory information with data aggregators, so you want to make sure to avoid misspellings or incorrect addresses or phone numbers.
Publish Local Content
For instance, you could publish a guide to heart-healthy eating in Milwaukee or an article about the best ways to exercise outside in Minnesota’s winter months. Local SEO optimization best practices also include general SEO best practices like getting backlinks and optimizing your site’s HTML.
#6. Incorporate Longer Content
Longer content wins the voice search game. Gone are the days of short 300-800 word blog posts and site pages. Voice search serves up content with an average of 2,312 words.
Longer articles mean your content needs to be thorough and well-thought-out. Even if you hit that 2000+ wordmark, Google won’t rank your page if it’s a bunch of fluff. Instead, create long-form guides (like this one!) to give users valuable content.
#7. Optimize Video Content for Search
One of Google’s types of featured snippets is the video featured snippet or carousel. Because featured snippets are one of Google’s favorite places to pull voice search results from, it’s crucial that any videos you include on your site be optimized.
Optimized Video Title: Include your keyword in the title of the video, just as you would with blog or website content.
Video Description Optimization: Youtube’s video description character limit is 1000 characters. Use this space wisely to make your description engaging and to include keywords.
Tags and Categories: Tags and categories tell search engines the context and content of your video. Include them to help Youtube and Google group your video with similar content.
Custom Thumbnail: Create an engaging thumbnail with 1280 x 720 dimensions. Keep the file size under 2mb.
Closed Captions: Closed captioning is especially crucial for health companies. It’s essential for search and keyword optimization, but perhaps, more importantly, it makes your video content accessible for all.
#8. Beef Up Your Domain Authority
Among the over 200 ranking factors Google looks at, domain authority is possibly the most important. Search engines want to know that your site is reputable and an authority in your category. Domain authority helps the algorithm determine whether or not your content is high quality, will provide a good user experience, and give the user trustworthy information.
Here are two ways to improve your domain authority:
Create High-Quality Content
Fill your site with engaging, valuable content. This content can include video, audio, or written content. In the case of written content, especially, opt for longer content rather than short blog posts.
Get High-Quality Backlinks
Search engines use backlinks, especially from trustworthy sites, to verify that your website is reputable. Audit your existing backlinks to make sure they don’t include spammy links and determine a white-hat strategy to get more high-quality links.
#9 Secure Your Site
Make sure users and data on your site are secure by adopting HTTPS on your website. Over two-thirds of Google voice search results were from secure sites, so this is an important factor in getting ranked.
Non-Negotiable SEO Optimization Priorities for Health Care Companies Who Care About Accessibility
If you follow the above voice search optimization strategies, you’ll be on your way to a site that appears in voice search results. And while this will make your content much more accessible for all patients and customers, you need to consider the following factors to provide the best digital experience for everyone.
Along with improving your site’s accessibility, each of these SEO optimization techniques will also improve your search ranking across the board. And as search algorithms continue to get smarter, providing a better user experience for everyone, the more likely you will rank.
#1. Use Structured Data
Structured data helps search engines understand the context of your page. Used correctly, it helps Google know when (and when not to) display your page in search results. Done poorly, and it will limit your site’s visibility. Structured data also helps accessibility tools navigate your site. These are critical elements to pay attention to for both voice search optimization and accessibility:
Title tags help both search engines and accessibility tools quickly and easily understand what information will be on your page. Don’t keyword stuff the title tag and do accurately describe what your page includes in the title.
Headings communicate the topics and subtopics as well as the structure of a page. These bits of code make navigation easier and faster for accessibility tools. Make sure your H1 through H6 tags include information about what comes after them to help all users navigate your site.
Other types of tags like or help search engines and accessibility tools navigate your content as well. Make sure your HTML tags correctly describe what they contain.
Correctly structure your page for an optimal experience for all users. For instance, H2 should not come after H3, and should come after H1 to help both search engines and accessibility tools navigate through your site.
Your site map can also help improve navigation for accessibility tools. Include one that matches your site navigation with the correct links to each page.
#2. Use Alt Tags for Images
Alt tags provide alternate text that accessibility tools read to describe the image. Informational images should include a description of the photo, while alt tags for images containing text should consist of the same text as the image. Use this helpful decision tree to determine the best alt tag for your pictures to improve accessibility.