Almost all American adults have a voice search tool with them at all waking hours. You probably have one on your person right now. For iPhone users it’s Siri, which also is on MacBook and iPad. For Samsung users, it’s Google Now. Last year, people completed 250 billion searches with their voices. That’s one in eight searches.
To help illustrate how this could impact campaigns, I recently conducted a public experiment where I asked a roomful of practitioners to ask their voice assistant campaign-related questions. One woman asked Siri where to vote. Siri pulled up Vote.org.
Another person asked, “Who is Elizabeth Warren?” Her iPhone brought up Safari’s top five results. The second was a website called, “The Dangers of Elizabeth Warren.” Then I asked my phone, “Who is Tulsi Gabbard,” and it began to read Tulsi’s Wikipedia profile. There’s no question the demand for voice search is growing significantly. But how can you ensure you take advantage of it? Here are 10 ways to capitalize on the trend line.
10. Start by developing your SEO.
The most common response from voice assistants is to connect a user to Google’s top results. For example, when you ask a device a specific question like, “What is Tom Steyer’s position on the economy?” it will often direct you to five results in a mobile web browser.
Therefore, ensuring your campaign ranks at the top of Google has never been more important. Hire a digital team or consultant who is well-versed in Search Engine Optimization. Focus on gaining authority for your site through blogs and backlinks from well-respected websites. Next, make sure each page has completed keywords and metadata.
9. Use Schema.org
Voice assistants increasingly use microdata from Schema.org to surface results. So, make sure your pages have metadata from that site inputted.
8. Get Off Twitter, and instead build for Google.
Campaigns and consultants spend so much time on Twitter. But it’s worth remembering, just 22 percent of American adults are on Twitter. Meanwhile, 73 percent of them are on YouTube (the world’s second-biggest search engine). It’s a habit and a mindset change, but spending less time on Twitter and more time on Google/YouTube, where voters are, will pay huge dividends for campaigns who can prove they are disciplined.
I was recently walking back from lunch when I saw, “Google Andrew Yang” spray painted on the sidewalk. I thought this was a great message from a dedicated member of the Yang Gang. It cut to the core of where voters spend their time and where they go to have questions answered.
7. Create an extended FAQ.
What is the primary input into voice assistants? Questions.
Put yourself in your voter’s position, and ask yourself, what will my target voters ask their voice assistant about my candidate and voting in general.
Then use AnswerThePublic.com to produce a tree of all of the questions people are asking about your candidate, cause or issue. You should have a page on your website that answers all of those questions and more. Then use the above-mentioned Schema.org to create microdata for the page that will help voice assistants populate the information to voice searchers.
6. Answers FAQs about voting.
Compare Andrew Yang’s Answer The Public results to those of people searching for “voting.” People are more focused on voting than they are on one candidate. Make your website a hub for voter information and you’ll rank higher in Google and voice search results.
5. Build an Alexa skill.
An Amazon Alexa skill is a voice application. Similar to how Apple has apps on its App Store, Amazon has apps that work on the Alexa and can be created by anyone. Alexa represents the potential for what voice technology, especially for campaigns holds.
On a recent trip to Seattle, I met with two Amazon Alexa staff members. They explained to me that practitioners in voice should focus on building for two distinct purposes. The first is consumer voice experiences. These are voice applications that answer questions or provide information for commands.
The second purpose is conversational AI. These are advanced applications that make you feel like you are having a conversation with a person. If you have ever seen the movie, Ex Machina, the robot in that is an example of highly advanced conversational AI. This type of experience requires a greater investment of time, money and resources.
There is a great opportunity in conversational AI. Imagine having a conversation in the comfort of your own home with any elected leader or candidate you want. And they respond with an accurate answer to your question, in their own voice. They may naturally ask you what else you want to know, and they relay more information to you, perhaps using your name as well.
This type of conversational AI is possible today, but is expensive, and likely only accessible to well-funded organizations and companies, and not campaigns. But, through an Amazon Alexa skill you can build a consumer voice experience with reasonable resources.
4. Develop CFIRs for your Alexa skill.
CFIR stands for Can Fulfill Intent Requests. CFIRs populate Amazon Alexa’s database with information and are like keywords or key phrases that may invoke your skill.
Example: I was laying on my couch one day and feeling tired. So, I said, “Alexa, inspire me.” And a skill started playing and offering me inspirational quotes from Oprah, Muhammed Ali and other leaders. The creator of this skill had programmed “inspire me” as a CFIR.
These are similar to the questions and answers you put on your FAQ as well as commands and responses you want that users could invoke.
This is also where the possibility of misinformation reigns. Candidates could potentially manipulate what voters hear when they ask about a candidate’s opponent. For example, how would voters be impacted if Warren controlled what users heard when they asked about Joe Biden’s position on healthcare?
Amazon seems to have anticipated the potential exploitation of CFIRs and has really limited them from being accessed by Alexa users. Still, they remain in Alexa’s database.
3. Publish keyword-rich videos on YouTube.
Remember, YouTube is the world’s second-biggest search engine. Start supplying content for it. Publish answers to FAQs in video form. Publish campaign ads. And in your keywords, post the questions that voice searchers might ask their assistants. Google pulls heavily from YouTube for results, and this may cause your content to rank near the top.
2. Embrace brevity.
Similar to people, voice assistants that talk too much and for too long can be annoying. Keep your answers brief — 29 words brief. That goes for answers to FAQs on your website, incorporated answers to FAQs in your Wikipedia page and your Alexa skill answers. Those 29 words are about 10 to 12 seconds. Meanwhile, make your questions a bit longer — about 9 words, as this is the average length of questions people ask their voice assistants.
1. Develop your Wikipedia profile.
Voice assistants regularly look to connect inputs (what people are asking and commanding them) to trusted sources of information (outputs). Wikipedia is a highly trusted source of information. Therefore many voice assistants will read aloud what is written on a candidate’s Wikipedia page. Make sure yours is compelling, persuasive and error-free — yet still objective. Also, consider what your Wikipedia page will look like throughout the campaign. What will be your introductory paragraph the primary vs. the general? If you’re a presidential candidate, how does Wikipedia page change from Iowa to New Hampshire to Super Tuesday? Campaigns should know the answer already.
As Brian Young of ACRONYM wrote in a recent piece for C&E: “Next cycle’s campaigns ignore voice search at their peril.”
So don’t get left behind. Follow these tips to optimize your campaign for voice, and take advantage of the billions of people who will be searching for election information this cycle and in the future.
Nick Brown is the Co-founder of Effct.org and Effct.co. Effct.org helps campaigns win elections with digital. Effct.co makes content on Amazon Alexa easy, helping more than 1,000 users enter the world of voice technology.
Prior to Effct, Brown was a Fulbright Scholar in Colombia and a teacher with Teach For America in Mississippi. Nick graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in political science.