“Alexa, where can I find an attorney near me who specializes in…?”
This scenario might have sounded farfetched just a few years ago. It might sound farfetched to you now.
But think of how Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant have been changing the ways people interact with digital technology. It’s very likely you use a digital assistant yourself. And the same technology more and more people are using to request background music, get the day’s weather, turn lights on and off, and buy merchandise is poised to change how consumers search for legal answers and representation.
In other words, voice-activated legal searches are coming, and probably faster than you expect. According to one source, 52% of smartphone owners in the US are using voice assistants on their mobile devices. And media analytics company Comscore projects that half of all online searches will be voice-based by 2020.
In a very real way, the future is already here. Digital assistants are examples of artificial intelligence (AI). That’s a term that might make you think of The Terminator or self-driving vehicles. But AI’s current uses are more down to earth, and certainly more practical. And because AI-driven algorithms can “teach themselves,” voice-search results will become more and more useful. That usefulness will extend in many other areas—including law.
So how should your firm get ready for a future that could arrive any day now? One way is to download a new white paper from FindLaw, “The Future of Search: Preparing Your Law Firm for Voice Search.” Here are four key ways to get started, now.
Be Prepared to Listen
The first thing to keep in mind: Voice searches are more conversational than traditional searches.
Most websites provide information. But voice searchers are looking for answers. The difference might be subtle, but it’s important. Your site’s content might well describe your firm and its services. But it might not have the answers potential clients need for their legal queries and quandaries.
Put another way: Voice searches typically have very long tails. A short tail search has typically been considered one or two words, while a long tail search is three words or more.
Here’s an illustration. A homeowner’s tree falls onto her neighbor’s house after a big storm. The worried homeowner turns on her laptop and types “liability tree neighbor” into the search line. With a voice search, she’s more likely to search by asking a question: “What is my liability if a tree in my yard falls on my neighbor’s house because of a storm?”
In other words, with voice search, potential clients will be starting a conversation. They will want you to listen. So your site needs to be ready with the answers that respond directly to their questions and concerns. As you re-evaluate your firm’s website with that in mind, study up on legal consumers. You could even ask recent prospects and clients what they wish they’d known or asked about their legal issues.
Change Your Site’s Content
Google has long adjusted to this long-tail approach to search. Type a question into the search line, and you’ll get an answer without having to click on a link. At the top of the SERP (search engine results page) is what’s called a featured snippet—a quick and direct answer to your question. That snippet is typically what a digital assistant will cite when someone asks that same question using a voice search.
Featured snippets come from sites that the search engine has determined provide the most direct and reliable answers to the questions searchers ask. Voice searches look for answers that the search engine can present in a natural, conversational tone.
In order to attract a search engine’s voice “request,” your website’s content should be written in a similar tone. That’s where an FAQ page can be extremely helpful – and that goes for text searches, too. Consider how a potential client might ask a legal question to Alexa or Siri. Then craft concise, informative, and jargon-free answers to those FAQs.
(FindLaw’s white paper also offers insights into crucial issues that law firms will need to address when it comes to voice search, including those involving online marketing and client privacy.)
Get Familiar with Schema Markup
You don’t need to be your firm’s webmaster to benefit from knowing this. Schema markup is a global standard digital vocabulary that search engines use to determine a website’s content. Schema code works by providing context to that content. If your firm specializes in patent law, for instance, schema code tells search engines that the “patent” your site references concerns intellectual property ownership, not shiny leather.
Here’s why a basic familiarity with this concept is useful: If your site’s schema markup is properly structured, your content will be optimized for voice search.
Get Ready for Action
Here’s another important distinction between voice and text. By and large, voice searchers aren’t just looking for answers—they’re preparing to act on them. They want to know what to do, where to go, whom to call. Potential clients typically need answers and help very quickly. By providing those answers in a clear and concise manner, your site’s content can gently steer them in the direction of your firm.
The coming of voice search doesn’t mean that text searches—on laptops, PCs, tablets, and smartphones—are going away. But it does mean that law firms need to optimize their websites for voice as well as for text. The use of voice search will continue to grow, and the answers voice searchers receive will get better and better.
With the future just around the corner, now’s the time for your firm to take action of its own. You can find helpful answers and strategies by downloading FindLaw’s free white paper on voice search here.