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    'Okay Google': How to Harness Voice Search

    Savvy lawyers can capitalize on consumers' fondness for voice searches, by tailoring their firms' online content to the special characteristics of spoken requests for information.

    Laurence Bodine

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    Everywhere I go, I 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 lawyers can harness it to generate more calls online and leads from their websites.

    Voice Searches are Increasingly Popular

    Consider these statistics:

    • By 2020, 50 percent of all online searches will be voice searches on “OK Google,” Siri, and Microsoft Cortana, according to ComScore.

    • Americans own 40 million “smart speakers,” such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. This is double the number owned in July 2017, and Apple just came out with its HomePod.

    • Nearly one-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 is so much easier than typing a search on a cell phone with your thumbs. It’s faster, too – people can speak approximately 150 words per minute versus an average typing speed of 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 percent.

    Larry Bodinecom Larry LawLytics Larry Bodine, Seton Hall 1981, is a Wisconsin-licensed lawyer and the Senior Legal Marketing Strategist for LawLytics.com. (520) 577-9759.

    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.

    Today, people are less inhibited about using voice search in public. We are less self-conscious when speaking a voice search on public transportation, at a restaurant with friends, in the office with coworkers, and at the gym, according to Stone Temple Consulting.

    Who, Where, and What of Voice Searches

    The Pew Research Center found that nearly one-half of adults (46 percent) 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.

    Siri is the most popular option (used by 45 percent of people), followed by Google Assistant (33 percent), Cortana (27 percent), and 10 percent for Alexa or Amazon Echo.

    The typical voice searcher is a college-educated, married man, 25-44 years old, making between $50,000 and $99,000, according to Stone Temple. See how you compare with how most others use voice search, according to an NPR survey:

    • 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.: get news about traffic, weather, and sports

    • 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: add to the to-do list

    • 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.: find restaurants, businesses, and recipes and order food

    • 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.: send messages to other devices and find children’s stories

    But here is the kicker: people also 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.

    This means that some of the 60.5 million Americans who use voice search probably are looking for lawyers. Therefore, it is important now to make your website content compatible with voice assistants.

    Marketing for Voice Search: Dos and Don’ts

    DO …

    • Answer frequently asked questions on your website.
    • Answer questions directly and concisely.
    • Blog about current legal events and trends.
    • Write in a natural voice and at an eighth-grade level of reading.          
    • Write about things that concern potential clients.
    • Keep it local.

    DON’T …

    • Engage in obvious selling of your services.
    • Feature your jury verdicts.

    Marketing to Harness Voice Searches

    The advent of voice search creates an opportunity for lawyers to update their website content to more effectively bring in new calls and clients. It’s also an excellent time to start a blog answering the questions that clients ask and to write an FAQ page.

    Law firm websites that currently contain only boilerplate practice descriptions and attorney bios will benefit the most. Marketing-oriented lawyer websites, which are written to capture the attention of people searching the web using particular key words, will also benefit from an update.

    Nearly one-half of adults (46 percent) use voice-controlled digital assistants, primarily on cell phones.

    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, a person typing on a computer may search for “DUI attorney Madison Wisconsin.” But using Google voice search, the same person is likely to ask “I just got a second DUI in Madison. How will that affect my pending case?”

    The voice search is an example of a “long-tail search.” There are three ways to capitalize on these longer inquiries, and each is discussed below.

    Create an FAQ Page

    Smart lawyers will answer frequently asked questions on their law firm websites, because help-focused content will match up better with voice searches. To build these pages, lawyers should listen closely to the exact 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, Domer Law in Milwaukee has an FAQ page with 25 questions, including the following: What does worker’s compensation pay? Why do I need an attorney? and Can I sue my employer for a work injury? The Grubb Law Firm in Beloit has 20 questions about divorce law including these: How is child support determined? Is property in a divorce always divided 50/50? and What is the difference between custody and physical placement in a divorce or paternity?

    Write Blog Posts

    Writing regular blog posts is a great technique to generate business because the more you blog, the more clients you attract. 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.

    Lawyers 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.

    McLario, Helm, Bertling & Spiegel S.C., Menomonee Falls, has a thorough blog on many topics such as the following: advancements in car technology: aids or distractions; semi-truck rollovers – what drivers can do to help avoid accidents; and considerations when choosing a guardian for children.

    Answer the Question Succinctly

    Your FAQ or blog post 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 40-55 words long.

    This is also referred to as a Google “Featured Snippet,” a short summary pulled from a website. To see what it looks like, type or say “what is the penalty for DUI in Wisconsin?” When I asked the question, I got the answer from Grieve Law in Brookfield. Google read the answer out loud on my cell phone and included a link to “7 Surprisingly Painful Truths About Your First Offense OWI in Wisconsin.”

    By providing succinct, direct answers online, a law firm’s website can also appear in Google’s “People also ask” box, which appears below the Featured Snippet. In this section, Google displays, for the question above, 1) Is a DUI in the state of Wisconsin a felony? 2) What are the penalties for DUI in Wisconsin? and 3) Is a DUI a felony or misdemeanor in Wisconsin?

    Write in a Natural Voice. Lawyers are trained to write precisely using language that can be defended from attack. This works great in a brief but is unreadable online. For online content to be found in a voice search, lawyers should write their 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.

    Lawyers should aim to write at an eighth-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.” Lawyers 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, see 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 word “best,” “top,” or “easy” in the answer you provide.

    Blogging about current legal events and trends is an excellent way to capitalize on voice search.

    Minimize Promotional Copy. By playing down the direct promotion of your own practice, you’ll reach a wider audience. Of course, it’s tempting to write online copy that explains how terrific your law firm is and why a person should “Call now!” However, a sales-driven approach doesn’t play into voice searches.

    For example, if your website describes bicycle safety tips, it will be found by more people in a voice search – because it’s not about the law firm as much as it is an answer to an important question. Potential clients are less likely to search for a page highlighting your jury verdicts in bicycle accident cases.

    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 firm’s online level of engagement.

    Mobile voice-related searches are three times more likely to be based locally 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 naming your city, state, or region.

    Positive Google reviews – or a lack of them – will be a factor when Google assesses your law firm for local name recognition. For example, the Action Law Offices of Milwaukee have five 5-star reviews on Google. The firm’s home page features “What Our Clients Are Saying” with reviews in Yahoo, Yellow Pages, and Yelp.

    The more reviews you get and the better those reviews are, the higher you’ll rank in local results.

    A Disruptive Force

    We’re entering an era when search will be dominated by voice. We are on the verge of a full-scale search revolution that will change lawyer marketing. The world can’t get enough of voice-enable virtual assistants: 40 percent of adults now use voice search once per day, according to Location World; 60 percent of people using voice search have started in the last year, according to MindMeld; and 65 percent 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 lawyer 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.