Content marketing in the age of Alexa

What does the the rise of voice search mean for content marketers? Waste of time or marketing must-do? And if it’s time to get Siri about voice, how do you even get started?

BY Linda Formichelli
Contributor

Say someone types “What’s the difference between a direct deposit and a wire transfer?” into Google. The desired journey is clear: You hope your beautifully SEO-optimized content on that topic soars to the top of the search engine results. The consumer reads or watches it and then takes the next step in your brand funnel goal.

But what about when someone says, “Hey, Alexa, what’s the difference between a direct deposit and a wire transfer?”

Are you ready for that?

Should you be? Is voice a content marketing opportunity your brand should even be going after?

You don’t want to be that brand—the one that said “Why bother?” to digital marketing in 1999, and then had to scurry along behind the early adopters. But you also don’t want to be the one who threw major resources into Google+ in 2011 and ended up regretting it.

We got top voice marketing experts on the line to share their insights on whether content marketers should be involved in voice marketing—and if so, how to get started and how to measure results.

The rise of voice

Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant are virtual assistants that perform tasks for users, such as doing internet searches and ordering Uber rides. They’re the “voices” of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google, respectively, and they work across many devices, from phones and tablets to video game consoles and smart speakers. Because they’re called up when the consumer can’t conveniently use a screen—or don’t have access to one—the user receives a voice result to their query.

The stats tell us that many consumers would rather talk than type. The March 2018 Voicebot Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report states 19.7 percent of U.S. adults have smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, up from less than 1 percent of the population just two years ago. And by 2020, 30 percent of web-browsing sessions will be done without a screen, according to Gartner.

Why voice?

Research shows a growing trend, but for content marketers important questions remain:

  • Will your hard work even get found? (The answer: Maybe.)
  • Can you track results? (The answer: No.)
  • Should you jump on board despite the answers to the first to questions? (The answer: Yes.)

Here are four compelling reasons to get involved with voice, even if you can’t guarantee—or even track—the results.

Voice will be big ... probably. Since 2016, Google has been signaling in presentations and keynotes that it’s investing heavily in voice. When the 800-pound gorilla of search makes a move, industries follow.

You could adopt a wait-and-see attitude, but if you do you, you may miss out on what’s shaping up to be the voice revolution. “I think you want to be involved now to gain knowledge and experience in the medium,” says Erik Newton, vice president of customer marketing and head of SEO at BrightEdge, an SEO and content management platform business. “That way you don’t risk being left behind on a channel that grows to, say, 33 percent of interactions.”

Rowena Track, former global vice president of digital for Cigna and current CEO of iVitalité, urges content marketers to look back to the advent of social media—and not make the same mistake now that many businesses did back then. Track was in financial services when social platforms started cropping up, and industry leaders joked about the idea of financial services companies using these “teenager” platforms. “And now, as we all know, Twitter can move markets,” Track says.

Voice search boosts brand awareness. When a voice device reads an answer to a user’s question, it mentions the website the answer came from. “In a way, it’s like a radio mention,” says Newton. “When you sponsor content on NPR, it’s not the most commercial message, but you do get brand awareness.”

Brand awareness is already difficult to measure, and with voice it’s devilishly difficult. After a radio sponsorship, you can measure the lift in engagement and purchases, but with voice, it’s so early that accurate measurement doesn’t yet exist. (We’ll talk more about measuring results later.)

Voice search sends locals to your door. Working to appear in voice search results is crucial for local businesses like retail stores, banks and restaurants. “People often use voice search because they’re in their car and their hands are busy, and they’re looking for food, things to do or an item to purchase,” says Newton. “Local searches have very high purchase intent, so being the result that comes up is particularly beneficial.” To take advantage of this fact, he recommends that content marketers make sure the local details on their websites are up to date, accurate and optimized. Also be sure your Google My Business listing is current and complete.

Your efforts do double (and triple) duty. Even if they don’t pan out in terms of voice, all the strategies we’ll talk about next will most likely improve the results of your traditional content marketing. Even better, it’s not too difficult to repurpose content you already have for voice.

“I think you want to be involved now to gain knowledge and experience in the medium. That way you don’t risk being left behind on a channel that grows to, say, 33 percent of interactions.”

Erik Newton
VP, BrightEdge

How to give voice to content

Voice search is much more competitive than text search because consumers get only a single result for a search. The big players in voice haven’t revealed how their virtual assistants decide which Google search result you’ll hear. In some cases, it chooses a result that’s in either position 1 or 0. In other cases, the virtual assistant rotates through the top four results.

However it works, what it means for the content marketer is clear: If you’re not in the first four search results, in terms of voice you simply don’t exist. Here’s how to help your brand rise to the top.

Write like you talk. Voice searchers use more casual phrasing than they would in a text search, says Sherry Bonelli, owner of Early Bird Digital Marketing. Content professionals should strive to write in a conversational tone to push content to the top of the results. Train your content pros to swap stuffy language, $10 words and jargon for an easy-to-digest (and -speak) writing style.

Create FAQs. Voice searches are more likely to be a question than a keyword search, says Newton. For example, while a consumer may type “pineapple peeling tips” into a search engine, with a voice search they’d ask, “What’s the best way to peel a pineapple?”

Content marketers can appeal to both types of searchers by using long-tail keywords with the question words: who, what, when, where, why and how. FAQs are the perfect type of content for this. For example, a produce marketing association may create an FAQ page on how to peel and chop particularly difficult fruits like mangoes, avocados and pineapples.

The more FAQs you have—and the more specific they are—the better. “If you have 50, 100, 200 pages of FAQs about your space and your products, that’s good content for the internet. And it’s also good content for voice,” says Newton. “When people do long-tail keyword searches, they’re much more likely to convert because they’re looking for something that’s very precise. As Google gets better at interpreting intent, it’s going to reward you for this type of content.”

Wondering what your target market wants to know? Bonelli recommends the tool AnswerthePublic.com. Just type in a keyword, and it will show you the questions people are entering into Google and Bing around that topic.

Grab position 0. Ever notice how, on some searches, Google pulls up the answer to your question directly from a website? For example, type “How do I shop for a mortgage?” and the top search result (below the paid search ads) is an actual list of tips from investopedia.com. That’s called position 0 or a featured snippet. And it’s the result a virtual assistant will read in response to a voice search—so you want to get it.

Calm down and write on. If you’re ready to make the leap into voice but worried about the time and resources it will take, relax. You don’t need to overhaul your content department or even create new content for voice: Simply repurpose and tweak what you already have. “Make it voice-friendly, the same way you made your content YouTube friendly or Twitter friendly,” says Track. For example, you might go through old blog posts and optimize them for voice by adding featured snippet copy or repurpose content from your newsletter into FAQ pages.

Reconsider ROI

The call to action is a key component of content that converts. It also gives you something to measure. With more traditional forms of content, like blog posts and social media, it’s easy to articulate your CTA: Visit this webpage. Sign up for that financial newsletter. Download this industry guide. Then you measure how many people visited the page, signed up for the newsletter or downloaded the guide.

But voice-first search results don’t allow for visiting, signing up or downloading. Some devices, like Google Home and Amazon Echo, let the consumer send a search result to their phone or tablet, but the extra step makes it difficult for content marketers to track conversion. Measuring results is tricky enough with traditional content.

So how can you do it on voice?

Redefine success. Bret Kinsella, publisher and research director at voicebot.ai, says we need to stop trying to use the same KPIs for voice that we use for other content. He likens websites to cathedrals, and social media and landing pages to the bazaars we built around our cathedrals to feed people into them.

“Content marketers who attempt to cram voice into their cathedral, to simply imitate their website and track to similar metrics, will quickly become frustrated. Voice is different,” says Kinsella. “Sometimes voice experiences will be about new user velocity combined with conversion and other times they will be about the level of engagement. In fact, user attention per session as a corollary for engagement is often much better on voice than you will ever see on the web.

“If so,” adds Kinsella, “what is that value, and how can you measure it? Are there new metrics you need to set up? Content marketers need to start thinking about how they can define success within a voice-only environment, and they should design their voice apps to align with those objectives.”

We got this, content marketers. Just as we did with the internet, social and mobile, in the end we’ll figure out what metrics to measure for voice and how to track them.

Budget for disruption. Even if it takes years for content marketers to hash out the right metrics and ways to evaluate them, Track recommends setting aside 1 to 2 percent of your marketing budget now to try innovative and disruptive ideas. “We’re not talking millions of dollars,” she says. “We’re talking about a small amount of money that every marketer, I think, should set aside for disruptive technologies if they want to be a modern marketer.”

Newton agrees that content marketers need to stay on the cutting edge—and that this sometimes requires taking risks.

“It’s always good to be aware of new things, reading about them and running experiments,” he says. “Voice is large, and it’s growing fast, so businesses should double down on what they’re doing with content marketing for voice.”

Bonus: How Cigna found its voice on Alexa

Setting aside 1 to 2 percent of your marketing budget for disruption and revamping your current content to be more voice-friendly are easy and economical ways to get started. But if you want to be a leader in the voice revolution, consider creating content specifically for voice.

Alexa Skills and Google Actions are the voice equivalent of apps that people can install on their devices, which give those devices more capabilities and access to more websites and information. They’re not difficult to develop: You consider a need that your brand can fulfill in a voice-only environment and build your action or skill using the relevant voice assistant’s developer platform.

That’s what health insurance company Cigna did with its Answers by Cigna Alexa Skill. The skill launched in March 2018 with answers to 150 common consumer questions, such as “What’s a formulary?” Within a few months, the skill garnered 3,142 users, 11 five-star customer reviews and tons of media attention. “We were not expecting the media reaction we got,” says Rowena Track, former global vice president of digital for Cigna and current CEO of iVitalité. “That was very positive.” By September, Cigna had expanded Answers by Cigna to 250 questions and answers.

Before she moved to her new company, Track had been working on a road map for Answers by Cigna to answer Medicare-related questions—proving that voice marketing isn’t just for millennials, even though research from CapTech reports that 53 percent of smart-speaker owners are millennials or younger, and 32 percent are Gen Xers. “All you need to have is a voice, and most people have a voice,” says Track. “For seniors, who may have dexterity and mobility issues, voice is a very attractive application to offer information and to engage them.

“We made our information available in as many channels as we can. Some people prefer to call the call center, some prefer to engage us on voice and everything in between,” says Track. The benefits are many: Answers by Cigna is showing consumers that the company is progressive, innovative and customer-centric.

“Answers by Cigna was a huge brand moment for us,” says Track.

published: February 04, 2019

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