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Everywhere you look you'll see people talking to their devices. They are asking questions of their cell phones, issuing verbal commands to their smart speakers and even telling their cars what they want.
Voice search is the hot new trend in technology, and attorneys can harness it to generate more calls online and leads from their websites. The 60.5 million Americans who use voice search are looking for attorneys.
- 50% of all online searches will be voice searches on Google Assistant, Siri and Microsoft Cortana by 2020, according to ComScore.
- Americans own 40 million smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. This is double what it was last July, and Apple just came out with its HomePod.
- Nearly half of people are now using voice search when researching products, according to Social Media Today.
We like talking to our devices. For starters, talking so much easier than typing a search on a cell phone with your thumbs. It's faster too -- people can speak 150 words per minute versus typing 40 words per minute. Also, you don't have to spell anything. Further, the artificial intelligence behind voice search has gotten so good that it has an error rate of only 5%.
Voice search has been around since 2008, but Google Trends shows that it took off in 2013. Google voice search queries have increased by 35 times compared with 2008.
Pew Research Center found that nearly half of adults (46%) use voice-controlled digital assistants, primarily on cell phones. We like being able to use our phones without using our hands -- especially in states that ban using a cell phone while driving. In addition to answering questions, we use our voices to open car locks and turn on home lights.
The typical voice searcher is a college-educated, married man, 25 to 44 years old, making between $50,000 and $99,000, according to Stone Temple. But here is the kicker: people are using voice search to make buying decisions:
- 31 percent added an item to their cart so they could review it later for purchase.
- 29 percent researched an item they might want to purchase.
- 22 percent reordered an item they have previously purchased.
- 22 percent ordered a new product they have not previously purchased.
Therefore, it is important now to make your website content compatible with voice assistants.
Marketing to harness voice searches
The advent of voice search creates an opportunity for attorneys to update their website content to bring in new calls and clients effectively. It's also an excellent time to start a blog answering the questions that clients ask and to write FAQ pages (“frequently asked questions”).
Law firm websites that are boilerplate practice descriptions and attorney bios will benefit the most. Marketing-oriented attorney websites, which are written to capture the attention of people searching the web using particular key words, will also benefit from an update.
The reason is that potential clients, when using voice search, phrase their inquiries differently than when they type. “We unconsciously change our behavior when using voice search,” writes blogger Victoria Blute at LawLytics.com. “While a text query would typically be one to three words, a spoken query is often three or more words.”
The majority of voice searches tend to be long and conversational. For example, an in-house counsel typing on a computer may search for “New York employment class action.” But using Google voice search, the same person is likely to ask “what is the trend in labor and employment class actions affecting New York financial services companies.”
The voice search is an example of a “long tail search.” There are several ways to capitalize on these longer inquiries:
Create FAQ pages. Smart attorneys will answer frequently-asked questions on their websites, because help-focused content will match up better with voice searches. To build these pages attorneys should mirror the wording that clients use when they ask questions on the phone or in the office. It also makes sense to listen to incoming calls and voicemails to capture the way potential clients ask for help.
For example, Phillips & Associates, a New York City sexual harassment plaintiff's law firm has some 60 FAQs on every aspect of sexual harassment, using titles that track what a person would ask in a voice search.
Write blog posts. Writing regular blog posts is a great technique to generate business because the more you blog, the more clients you get (see https://goo.gl/PNbsuo). Blogging about current legal events and trends is an excellent way to capitalize on voice search. To find topics, get into the head of your ideal clients and write about what affects them.
Many AmLaw law firms publish blogs. For example, Latham and Watkins has five blogs on a wide variety of topics: the Al-Mirsal middle east blog, clean energy law; environment, land & resources; global privacy & security; and Latham.London
Attorneys should see if they can find their own law firm by speaking a question into a cell phone. Describe the event that prompts a potential client to call you -- but don't include the name of your law firm in the inquiry. The search results should be instructive.
Answer the question succinctly. Your FAQs and blog posts should answer the question directly and concisely. The point is to get your answer to be chosen by Google's verbal answer to a verbal question. Google Assistant tries to find the answer in a sentence that is 40 to 55 words long.
This is also referred to as the “Featured Snippet” in Google, which is a short summary pulled from a website. To see what it looks like, type or say “cost to incorporate in Delaware.” When I asked the question, I got the answer from the Bend Law Group in Oakland, CA, with a click-worthy article “The Top 4 Drawbacks to Incorporating in Delaware.”
By providing succinct, direct answers online, a law firm website can also appear in Google's “People also ask” box, which appears below the Featured Snippet.
Write in a natural voice. Attorneys are trained to write precisely using language that can be defended from attack. This works great in a brief but is unreadable online. To be found in a voice search, attorneys should write their online marketing content in a natural voice. One way to accomplish this is to dictate your web content -- it's a sure way to produce conversational English.
Attorneys should aim to write at an 8th grade level of reading. One approach is to imagine you are explaining the law to a 13-year old. Another is to use Microsoft Word's “Show readability statistics” feature, which is found under Word Options in Proofing, by checking the box under “When correcting spelling and grammar.” Attorneys can also test the readability score for free by plugging a web address into https://www.webpagefx.com/tools/read-able.
Once you've written your answer, listen to what it sounds like when spoken out loud. Ask yourself if it makes sense this way and whether there is enough content to answer the question.
Another optimization technique is to use the words “best,” “top” or “easy” in the answer you provide.
Minimize promotional copy. By playing down the direct promotion of your own practice, you'll reach a wider audience. Of course, the temptation online is to write copy that explains how terrific your law firm is and why a person should “contact us now!” However, a sales-driven approach doesn't play into voice searches.
For example, if your website describes how to avoid premises liability claims, it will be found by more in-house counsel in a voice search -- because it's not about the law firm as much as it is an answer to an important question.
Make it local. Google ranks websites according to “entity authority,” which includes three signals: a firm's name recognition locally (determined by online mentions), its reputation (do consumers and the media have positive things to say online) and the level of engagement that the firm gets online.
Mobile voice-related searches are three times more likely to be local-based than text, according to Search Engine Watch. “When people are on-the-go, or looking for fast answers, they're often seeking an immediate fix for something, such as a restaurant recommendation or a nearby store,” according to Forbes.com.
In your online answers, try to incorporate more references that have a local angle, such as a case history about a local client.
A disruptive force
We're entering an era where search will be dominated by voice. We are on the verge of a full-scale search revolution that will change attorney marketing. The world can't get enough of voice-enabled virtual assistants:
- 40% of adults now use voice search once per day, according to Location World.
- 60% of people using voice search have started in the last year, according to MindMeld.
- 65% of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home device can't imagine going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, according to Geomarketing.com.
Voice search is causing a significant disruption in attorney marketing, but it's also leading to significant opportunities. The law firms that create FAQ pages, publish blog posts and answer potential client questions concisely will be the ones that come out ahead.