February 7, 2019

Pharma Marketers: Have You Found Your Voice (Search)?

Image of amazon echo dot

Think voice search is ‘just a fad’? Think again. The continued rise of voice search is changing the way people seek information, including health information. Driving this increase is a greater reliance on mobile phones to access online content, the meteoric rise of virtual assistants and the rapid evolution of the artificial intelligence (AI) driving them. In short, optimizing for mobile and voice search can no longer be considered an afterthought.

Over the last couple years something interesting happened — millions of people began having conversations with their speakers, cars, computers and phones.
— Scott Huffman, VP, Engineering, Google Assistant

For many, mobile phones are the primary devices used to access the internet. In fact, when it comes to online content, more than 50% is now consumed via mobile phones, with 20% of searches done via voice.

From a healthcare standpoint, we can’t ignore the practicality of using a voice-enabled device like a phone or smart speaker that answers critical questions about diseases and the treatments available. For patients with diseases like multiple sclerosis that impact their overall mobility or even just the use of their hands, or diseases like macular degeneration that affect vision, voice search can be an essential tool for gaining awareness and education.

Voice and Virtual Assistants: Real-World Opportunities
The number of smart speakers now being used is over 100 million, almost 2.5 times the number of devices used in 2017. Some estimates predict that over the next five years, smart speaker use could reach as high as 300 million devices. Those are impressive trends, but the “voice search” aspect of voice-enabled smart speakers only scratches the surface of the opportunities in front of us.

For pharma, the rise of virtual assistants and smart speakers presents a major opportunity, as they are being rapidly adopted across the healthcare industry in a wide variety of use cases. At last year’s Voice Health Summit, for example, five unique care setting use cases were presented, including a post-operative pain management voice assistant; an AI-powered virtual assistant that records, summarizes, approves and places the patient care note into the EHR; and an AI-powered virtual assistant that acts as a personalized companion for aging patients that can deliver reminders and monitor daily activities.

Show Off Your Skills
Skills are essentially specialized applications built for specific voice-enabled platforms and tied to specific knowledge bases. The Skills and Actions Intouch has built for Cognitive Core — the engine that powers our pharma-focused AI and maching-learning solutions — are examples of this type of application.

Amazon now has over 50,000 Alexa Skills available for the US market and has tripled the rate of new Skills added per day.

For pharma, the Amazon platform provides an interesting opportunity in the Skills applications and its customized knowledge bases (unlike Google’s smart speaker, which pulls information from its search engine) that can be designed to respond to specific pharma questions. Applications like Skills also open the way for pharma companies to deliver pertinent information directly to individual consumers.

Startups like ‘NowRx’ are providing patients the option to order prescription medication via Amazon Echo or Google Home. Patients can download the NowRX Skill, activate it with voice commands, order a prescription medication and have it delivered the same day.

Pharma companies like Merck and J&J are building Skills designed to help manage conditions like diabetes and environmental allergies, or answer pharma-specific questions about product dosing and indications. Cigna launched their Answers by Cigna Skill for Alexa earlier this year that answers more than 150 common healthcare questions.

For patients, brand-specific Skills are being developed that use voice to answer specific product dosing, administration, storage, or efficacy questions. “Alexa, I missed my medication today: what should I do”? or “Alexa, do I need to take my medication with food?”

Smart devices and applications are rapidly finding their way into the physician and HCP workflow, too. With an aging population and an expected shortage of nurses, devices like Amazon Echo are helping hospitals, physician offices, and health insurers better manage routine tasks, drive efficiencies, and also answer questions. For example, hospitals and healthcare organizations like Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, Northwell Health in New York, the Commonwealth Care Alliance in Boston, and Libertana Home Health in Los Angeles are using Skills in a variety of ways, including providing answers to patients, like, “Alexa? Ask BIDMC what is my diet?” or “What is the wait time to see a doctor?”

Shifting the Strategy for SEO and Content Marketing
SEO has always been about making content easy for humans — and the ‘bots’ that index that content — to discover. It’s all about brand visibility. But the increase in use of voice search requires a focused shift in strategy and optimization.

When compared with typed searches, for example, voice queries are usually more conversational and are often posed as questions rather than a fragmented grouping of keywords: “Alexa, which pharmacy is closest to home?”

It shouldn’t be a surprise, but in the development of these voice applications, content is still king.  Pharma companies who treat their website and content as strategic digital assets will see competitive advantages in the voice realm. For pharma companies with large amounts of content,  the upside is that content can many times be repurposed for voice.

Including short, concise answers in web content, using schema metadata, and writing conversationally to help search engines find content are becoming voice best practices. Further, using long-tail keywords in content can help make that content more relevant to voice queries and may provide better click-through rates.

From basic accessibility to on-demand disease education and management, voice and voice- enabled technologies are changing healthcare and have the potential to truly improve quality of life. It has never been more important for pharma companies to understand the patient and HCP journey and the specific intent of the searches they are conducting for online content.

How will pharma brands be found online in a voice-first world? What would happen if patients and HCPs interacted with a pharma brand only via smart speaker or voice-enable devices? Would your brand be ready? Through specialized applications like Amazon Skills and tools like Intouch’s Cognitive Core, pharma has an opportunity to get personal and build direct relationships with patients and HCPs. With these technologies, we can drive brand advocacy with valuable, structured content, centered around voice search, while at the same time providing a robust resource for the many questions and concerns seen across healthcare.

We see three approaches brands may consider in order to stay competitive:

  • For public-facing online content to remain visible, consider that voice search is rapidly becoming a brand imperative. The ‘mobile first’ design approach is giving way to a ‘voice first’ design. Foundational SEO strategies such as schema markups, long-tail keywords, and particularly semantic search are critical for pharma to remain visible in the voice search ecosystem.
  • Creating brand-specific Skills applications and pharma-specific content provides valuable communication opportunities with patients, physicians, and HCPs, and is another way to push brand-specific content into the voice channel.
  • Consider including voice-enabled devices as a critical component of the overall connected experience pharma brands can provide to patients and HCPs.

Is your brand ready for voice search? Reach out to your account team today to learn more.

David Cook is associate director, SEO, in the Kansas City office.