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Strategy

Voicing Opinion – Why and How Universities Should be Using Voice Search to Help Recruitment

Estimated read time: 9 minutes

Voice search continues to gain influence. That means you need to be thinking about it. Thankfully, we can help – or, more specifically, Thread and Fable founder Rebecca Roberts can help!

Whilst we’ve been able to use voice to search on our smartphone for years, the boom in voice-controlled devices has sharpened the focus on what voice could mean for content and user experiences.

Whether you’ve got an Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri or Cortana to lend you a hand – or sing you a song and tell you a joke (endless fun) – systems are increasingly capable and content creators continue to take leaps for audio consumption, making the search experience seamless.

As early adopters to tech, students are already utilising voice search in their homes, cars and on their phones. Reason enough for universities to assess how they can use voice in their engagement plan.

In 2017 20% of mobile searches were by voice and ComScore estimates that by 2020 more than half of all searches will be – so making sure you’re ready for voice makes sense.

If students are using voice (now or in the next couple of years) to research their higher education options, the type of careers they want, courses they’re interested in or what student life is like at any given institution, how can we serve relevant, useful information that helps and where do more creative opportunities exist?

The main starting block would seem to be getting your site in order to provide the useful answers students are looking for. Once that’s sorted, integrating voice into your campaign activity and digital assets, particularly where screen output is available, could really provide some engaging opportunities whilst delivering useful content.

Here’s a few things to consider to get you started.

It’s 2018 but is your website optimised for mobile?

Seriously, we are still having this conversation and if you want to ensure your content is accessible via voice, you absolutely need to make sure you’re working well for mobile. Not only does this make sense to reach your mobile-first audience, Google’s mobile-first indexing favours websites that offer a good experience for mobile devices.

Mobile’s share of total search volume is over 51% and is increasing, so helping your audience find you by searching by voice on their mobile should be a basic consideration when it comes to your content.

Speed is key to keep them engaged too. Backlinko reported that “the average voice search result page loads in 4.6 seconds (52% faster than the average page)”. This is also important to Google so keep a check on how speedy your pages are.

It’s all about the long-tail

Most tech guru’s point to long-tail keywords in search engine optimisation (SEO) activity as key for good voice search results – so I’m taking that as a good place to start! Longer phrases, with several words, usually in a conversational sentence-based format is the holy grail here.

This is where you need to use some social listening to understand what students are asking about across social media, at open days, on live chats, via email, your website and via search engines etc. Then you need to look at how your website content is matched to these questions; what page content, articles, blogs etc are needed to better answer these questions?

Say what you see – nicely

In answering an array of student questions, you’ll also need to write in a natural, conversational voice as you’re more likely to optimise for keyword phrases that students will search for.

Whilst FAQs are usually lack-lustre they can be a good start (and may also help to prepare you for chatbot support if you’ve not considered this already). Even better if you are able to formulate a knowledge base with focused content to address user questions – get this together and you are also likely to be streets ahead for user searches.

Keeping it local

Whilst you won’t be catering for search from students just within your locality, a lot of searches are done by people looking for something near to them (taxi, takeaway, shops etc), so search is optimised based on locality so there are a few things you can do to give you a boost.

Local keywords, even your address and contact information on your footer, can help. User reviews and ratings on third-party apps and local directories are useful too.

Getting some SEO tactics won’t harm here either. Plenty of in-bound links to support your authority and optimising your site as best you can all play a role.

Meet search intent

Google likes to describe the mobile and voice interactions as involving “micro moments” that align with particular desires, or intents, the user might have; to know, go, do or buy.

voice search screenshot

For universities, typically you’ll be focusing on information for recruitment, perhaps more navigational for those students who are visiting, preparing to start or currently studying and there may be some transactional moments but more in relation to engaging specifically with someone.

This can help to shape the type of content you respond to your long tail search terms with and where to place it throughout your site.

Input versus Output

Google says it’s years away from monetising voice search but whilst we’re working out how we can improve our content for voice, it’s worth making the distinction between voice as an input and voice as an output.

There’s a difference in approach needed for those searching for something by voice but wanting to look on screen at results, versus searching by voice and listening to a voiced answer.

The latter is where brands need to be particularly careful not to serve essentially ad content, instead remaining genuinely useful for customers – see all the points above. Solving prospective students’ problems in relation to what they’re trying to find out about your courses or university life, should be the focus.

Where there’s a screen for output, there’s perhaps more creative solutions we can provide for prospective students such as video tours, 360 pictures, vlogs to answer specific question or live chat opportunities even if these are initially triaged via a chatbot.

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