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With special thanks to Hans Kaspersetz from Arteric who kindly shares this blog post. Hans will be presenting and chairing at our forthcoming (and currently in production) 2020 BioPharma eMarketing Summit on May 5-7 2020 in San Diego.

We’re aggressively preparing our clients’ brands for a world of screenless, browser-free online search. If you’re not doing the same for your brand, you risk falling behind your competitors. 

Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Report cites data from Google reporting that 20% of all mobile queries in the United States were made by voice.1 In a recent survey by DRG Digital, 23% of physicians use a voice assistant for professional reasons. More than three-quarters (78%) of respondents in this segment searched for essential information—drug lookups and dosing, diagnostic guidance, disease information, and clinical practice.2 And the Gartner group predicts that by 2020, 30% of all Web browsing will be done without a screen.3 

Consumers aren’t waiting for 2020 to embrace voice search. Google reports that 72% of people who own a voice-activated speaker indicate that their devices are often used as part of their daily routine.4 A 2017 consumer survey of 21,000 people in 19 countries that measured ownership of voice assistants reported year-over-year growth greater than 50% in all countries. If this growth rate continues, more than one-third of consumers in these countries will own a voice assistant by the end of 2018.5 

Voice assistants from different manufacturers use different search engines and knowledge sources to answer search queries. The experimental data and tactics discussed in this article are specific to Google’s search engine.

5 smartphones. Each smartphone represents a digital voice assistant and includes a caption that lists the database that the voice assistant uses to execute a search query.
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Impact on Marketing Campaigns

Voice search carries huge ramifications for marketers. Voice-driven online search produces 1 spoken winner, not the 10 to 15 winners that a marketer could count on if their brand appeared on page 1 of an onscreen search result. Winning at voice search adds another layer of urgency for marketers to leverage multiple tactics to optimize the quality and the authority of content so that the content more closely matches the searcher’s query intent. As we have written previously, Google’s mission is to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.6” Google has stated, that they will rank content that answers a searcher’s question or helps them to complete a task. The following insights specifically address how healthcare marketers can take advantage of Google’s mission and guidance to organize and produce their content in a manner that helps the search engines’ crawlers and algorithms match the content to the searcher’s query intent. 

Voice Search Essential: Make it Easy for Google to Interpret Your Content 

Best practices for optimizing content for voice search are evolving as new devices and algorithm updates are launched. However, it’s essential that marketers do everything feasible to optimize content so that Google’s algorithms conclude that the brand’s information is the ideal match to the intent behind a user’s search query. 

When Google determines that your brand’s content is the best candidate to answer a search query, Google may insert it into a featured snippet, which is a search result that appears in a prominent box at the top of a search page. Featured snippets are important to voice search because content in a featured snippet is often the spoken answer provided by a voice assistant.7-10 In one study, featured snippet content provided the spoken answer to approximately 80% of voice search queries.11 Because featured snippets appear in a minority of searches — 12.29%, according to one study — other factors yet to be determined will have to be considered to optimize content for voice search.12  

Illustrated example of a Google featured snippet. Includes commentary explaining that a featured snippet summarizes an answer to a user's query and is displayed on top of Google search results.
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Marketers can treat one fact as gospel. Your content has to rank and be authoritative to succeed in a world driven by voice search.

Generally, we recommend to our clients to optimize content quality:

  • Apply current best practices for on-page, off-page, and technical SEO, including but not limited to
    • Optimizing content length based on subject matter and competing sources
    • Creating content that is of superior informational density and quality, creating a unique and valuable perspective on a topic
    • Supporting the thesis and data in the content with deeply referenced authoritative primary sources and research
    • Organizing the content into both long-form and short-form segments on page that implement semantic markup that will facilitate the extraction of informational snippets that search engines can display as succinct answers to questions
    • Organizing the content in a logical outline with headlines, sub-headlines, paragraphs, lists, block quotes, and callouts that create structure and a digestible flow that can be consumed by eye scanning and deep reading simultaneously
    • Promoting the content to interested parties, seeking feedback, and enhancing the page over time, adjusting for traffic and engagement
  • Follow Google’s advice and apply structured data to website content

When you use structured data to mark up content, you help Google better understand its context for display in Search, and you achieve better distribution of your content to users from Search. You do this by marking up content properties and enabling actions where relevant. This makes it eligible for inclusion in rich results. 


Structured Data Add Context to Website Content  

Based on Google’s recommendation, we aggressively encourage our clients to author and include relevant structured data.

Google defines structured data as “a standardized format for providing information about a page and classifying the page content; for example, on a recipe page, what are the ingredients, the cooking time and temperature, the calories, and so on.13

Structured data for a disease-education website include information that defined causes, treatments, pathophysiology, epidemiology, risk factors, and differential diagnosis, among other properties related to the medical condition., a standards organization that is sponsored by Google LLC, Yahoo!, Microsoft Corporation, and Yandex NV, defines the properties for each topic. (eg, recipe vs disease education). 

Structured data help search engines understand website content

Search engines are effective at evaluating the meaning of website content and aligning it with the intent of a user’s search request, but search engines aren’t perfect. The ability of the machine learning algorithms to understand a specific topic is dependent on the total volume, authority of content, and interconnectedness of available web or print content for the search engine to train itself. For topics that have tens or hundreds of millions of pages of content (think “treatment for psoriasis,” which returns 41,000,000+ results), the search engine will have sufficient material and user-behavior feedback to train itself and organize the content in a manner that matches user intent.

With topics such as a specific novel therapeutic topic (think “PDE4, ”which returns 330,000 results and the search volume is very low), the search engine’s machine learning algorithms may struggle to figure out what matches the searcher’s intent.  This is where structured data, deep rich referencing of primary journal-published research, and smart copy writing can create a durable competitive advantage.

Content is king. But the context that structure provides is queen.

Structured data add rich information to search results 

In addition to providing context for search engines, structured data enable marketers to include specific, high-value information in search results that appear on a screen. This high-value information is referred to as “rich information.” Search results that include rich information are referred to as “rich snippets.” Some authors apply the terms “rich snippet” and “featured snippet” interchangeably. To be accurate, a rich snippet is a featured snippet only if it appears at the top of the search result page. 

In the example below, the brand team behind marked up their website content with a schema property called ratingValue that enables users to see Tylenol’s nearly 5-star rating. Rich information is applied by marketers to add persuasive information to search results, to inspire users to take action that leads to a conversion, even if they do not click through to the page linked within the snippet. This would lower the click-through rate, but that’s a subject for another discussion.

A Google search results that includes an example of rich information. In this case, the rich information is a 5-star rating and the number of reviewers (136) who provided the rating.
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Illustration that shows the appearance of structured data in the source code of a Web page
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Watch for Updates 

Voice search has become a primary search method. Content that isn’t optimized for voice search will be at a competitive disadvantage. Applying structured data to website content is an essential supplement to today’s best practices to help your content rank and become eligible for inclusion into a featured snippet. 

I share additional insights during this video, but optimizing content for voice search is in the very early stages of research. New insights appear weekly, but we’ll keep you posted. Until then, contact us at 201.546.9902 if you have questions or want to discuss how to optimize your content for success no matter how your audiences search for answers online.



  1. Meeker M. Internet 2017 Trends – Code Conference. Accessed March 22, 2018.
  2. Decision Resources Group. Paging Dr. Siri. Physicians and the rise of voice assistants. Accessed March 20, 2018.
  3. Levy H. Gartner predicts a world of exponential change. Accessed March 22, 2018.
  4. Kleinberg S. 5 ways voice assistance is shaping consumer behavior. Think With Google. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  5. Accenture. Time to navigate the super myway. 2018. Accessed January 31, 2017. 
  6. Google. Accessed March 19, 2018.
  7. Robbins M. Voice search: Content may be king, but context is queen in the new voice-first world. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  8. Muller B. Voice Search: Is your content prepared for the verbal revolution? Accessed January 25, 2018.
  9. Sterling G. Study: 80% of Google Home results come from snippets. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  10. Sullivan D. A reintroduction to Google’s featured snippets. Accessed March 19, 2018. 
  11. Roast. Voice search. Reporting at keyword levels. Roast Web site, 2018. Accessed March 22, 2018.
  12. Soluo T. Ahrefs’ study of 2 million featured snippets: 10 important takeaways. Ahrefs blog. Accessed January 25, 2018.
  13. Introduction to Structured Data. Google Developer Website. Accessed January 25, 2018

    Can you hear me now? is a service mark of Verizon Wireless.

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