Over the past few years you may have noticed that voice technology has blossomed from a novelty to something closer to an everyday necessity. Voice assistants now come built-in to every smartphone and tablet device, and as adoption of these devices has become nearly universal, voice search and voice commands have become more ubiquitous. What’s more, the influx of connected speakers on the market has further entrenched voice search in daily life.
As of July 2019, Adobe reported that 44% of survey respondents reported daily use of some form of voice technology, and that 48% use voice technology to conduct general web searches. These numbers indicate that the outlook for voice technology and voice search is positive, and we expect growth in adoption in the years to come.
The rise of voice search will impact businesses in every sector of the economy, including higher education. In this article we discuss why institutions should make voice search a priority now, and cover practical tips on how to adapt a text-based optimization strategy to a more voice-forward world.
Why now is the moment for higher education institutions to make voice search a priority
Over the past two decades we’ve seen more and more aspects of everyday life shift online, but the COVID-19 outbreak has pushed that far further than anyone could have imagined even six weeks ago. Our lives are lived almost completely online at the moment -- we are learning, connecting, shopping, communicating, and conducting business via virtual means at unprecedented levels.
For educational institutions, the current moment is a challenging one as the pandemic has forced a very quick pivot from traditional models to online learning. Attention and resources are being redirected to initiatives designed to make such a pivot viable for both students and educators.
However, for marketing teams this crisis also presents an opportunity to dedicate more focus to digital optimization efforts. Now is the time to invest in digital, both in order to reach audiences that are living online more than ever before, and to enable your institution to bounce back even stronger when the crisis resolves. If voice search hasn’t previously been a priority for your institution, capitalize on this moment to make it one.
What does voice search optimization look like for higher education?
With a solid understanding of why voice search is an essential part of any higher ed institution’s marketing strategy, the question becomes how you can optimize for it. Below are three ways to make your content more voice-friendly:
Search for longtail opportunities
When we conduct searches on text-based browsers, we have greater control over the viewability of results. The search engine will return a variety of results and we can skim each to decide which one best answers our query. The same is not true of voice search, which only returns a single result at a time. This often ends up meaning that voice searchers rely more heavily on longtail queries in order to prompt the voice assistant to return the most relevant result.
Institutions should conduct research to understand what kinds of longtail searches users are conducting related to their programs, classes, and research initiatives. This research should then be used to inform content creation.
Use natural language search terms
Another thing to know about the way people engage with voice-based search is that they often use more natural language speech patterns than when they engage with text-based search. Think of the difference between typing the search “best engineering degree” and speaking the question “which colleges have the best engineering programs?” The former is a typical text-based query, while the latter reflects a more typical voice query.
For this reason it’s important to try to reflect such natural language speech patterns in the content you create and, specifically, in titles and headers of articles, videos, and other content.
Create conversational content
Consider that if you achieve your goal and your content ranks well in voice search, the end result is that it will be read aloud (either partially or in its entirety) by a voice assistant. In order for your content to be useful to the searcher, it needs to be easily read and understood. Ask yourself: how does this piece of content sound when it’s read aloud? Is it enjoyable to listen to? Does it reflect patterns of human speech and conversation?
Voice search is an important part of the current search landscape, and its share of the market is growing. Higher education institutions need to start building voice search strategies now in order to be able to continue reaching their target audiences in screenless moments.