Shouting into the void: How voice search is changing the way pet owners find veterinarians

Shouting into the void: How voice search is changing the way pet owners find veterinarians

Dr. Google is so last-decade—these days clients are taking their pet-related queries to Siri, Alexa and other voice technology assistants.
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May 24, 2017

Photo: Shutterstock.comIt’s official: Computers now talk back. More importantly, with the sudden explosion of voice-driven technology assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, Bixby and Cortana, how pet owners find your practice is forever changed. Let’s take a closer look at this new trend, how it impacts local search, and some quick things veterinary practices can do to continue to show up in this brave new search-engine world.

So, what is voice search technology?

In its simplest form, voice search technology is the ability to ask a device, like your smartphone or your smart-home controller, a question by speaking aloud and having it answer you back. Originally, the answer came in written as well as spoken form; however, more and more platforms are moving toward spoken results first.

OK, got it. How does voice search give me answers?

Depending on the device you’re using, “answers” are pulled from a variety of digital sources, such as Google’s search result pages, Yelp, Kayak and other “experts.” However, instead of seeing a long list of possible resources to click through, searchers are given either a single answer or a shorter list for convenience. In many cases, these lists and rankings have to do with additional directories—like your practice’s Google My Business, Bing or Yelp pages, for instance.

Here’s an example: If I ask my Google Assistant, “Who is the best veterinarian on the Upper West Side?” I’ll get a list of three highly rated practices back. I can refine that by asking, “Are they open now?” and Google Assistant will retain the first search and tell me the hours for the first practice listed.

But why does voice search matter?

While the world of search engine marketing evolves daily, few changes have affected how pet owners are searching—and the ones that have haven’t been adopted as quickly as voice search. Here are some quick facts:

> Use of voice search is exploding. Voice search technology has been significantly enhanced in the last few years, and pet owners are taking notice. Google reports that 20 percent of all mobile searches are already voice searches. Share of searches by voice-based programs is increasing exponentially with the growing use of smart-home technology—think Alexa and Google Home. In fact, experts believe that a third to half of all web-based searches will be done without a screen by 2020—that’s 33 to 35 billion voice-activated searches every month.

> It’s not just millennials who are doing it. In a recent study by Thrive Analytics, investigators found that the number of individuals using voice search grows 30 percent each year, and not just among tech-savvy youngsters. In fact, nearly 40 percent of people over 44 years old are using mobile personal assistants (compared with 71 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 59 percent of 30- to 43-year-olds). Suffice it to say, whether your veterinary practice targets baby boomers or millennials, voice search is going to impact how your customers find you.

> Voice search is changing how pet owners ask for and get answers about local services. “We’ve taught ourselves to think like computers when we use search engines through a keyboard,” notes SEOPressor.com, but this is evidently changing.

Beyond the fact that pet owners no longer have to look at a screen to enter a search or get results, voice search lends itself to some key differences in how pet owners ask for help finding local businesses in the first place. Break away from the screen and a much more conversational approach to a search is adopted. “Consumers aren’t going to be typing in individual keywords,” Jayson DeMers recently wrote for Forbes magazine. “Instead, they’ll be asking questions and giving commands.”

Veterinary practices that cater to these longer search strings and address the natural way people ask questions stand a better change of showing up in the results. For example, practices that include landmarks as key indicators on their website or sites like Yelp are more likely to appear when a pet owner asks for, say, the best veterinarian near Washington Square Park.

> Voice search is changing how pet owners are given answers about their pet’s care. “The world of search is evolving and veterinary practices need to be prepared to be present within the results of the modern searches,” says Bill Schroeder, senior vice president of InTouch Practice Communications. While on-screen search engine results pages show a snippet of the answer Google assumes the searcher is looking for, below that the user can quickly find other sources of info answering typical pet care questions. This is not so easy when Alexa or Google Home just begins reading aloud the first result.

Whoa. You’ve sold me. Now what can my veterinary practice do about it?

To get a leg up on your voice-search-friendly competition, Schroeder suggests including Q&As on your practice website that relate directly to questions pet owners might be asking their devices. Include terms like “who,” “what,” “where,” “how” and others that someone would use in normal conversation.

Above all, think local. While your practice website may not ever be the No. 1 result for “Why is my dog limping?” you still have a good shot at “Is it safe for my dog to swim in the pond near me?”

Something else to keep in mind is that the world of search is ever-changing. While voice-search technology is the most recent and seems to be here to stay, the technology of how search engines help consumers find answers will continue to evolve—which means your practice’s digital media needs change as well. Unfortunately, “set it and forget it” websites are a thing of the past.

The bright side? These same changes make it easier for you to find an abundance of tools, resources and experts to help you. Don’t worry. You’re not alone—Alexa is listening.

Jane Harrell is president of ’cause Digital Marketing. She previously served as head of pet owner communications for IDEXX Laboratories and senior producer for Petfinder.com.