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“Siri, can you…Alexa, how much…Google, where is…Cortana, how far…?”

We’ve all used voice commands by now. Some of us more than others, and for many different purposes. The continued proliferation of voice-activated digital assistants, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home (and of course smartphones), is having a profound effect on many aspects of our daily lives. From informing and entertaining us to helping operate or safeguard our homes and cars. But one of the more commonplace ways it is changing our lives is through the explosive increase of voice search. Certainly, traditional text- or screen-based search isn’t going extinct, but voice search is growing by leaps and bounds, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what this technology will mean.

FindLaw addresses this topic in our latest white paper, The Future of Search: Preparing Your Law Firm for Voice Search.

How is voice search different from traditional search? Well, of course, you could say that the difference is in the tools the searcher uses: his or her voice or fingers, a microphone or a keyboard. And you’d be right. But, a closer look reveals that the differences are more complex and subtle than that.

Part of this stems from the fact that we simply don’t speak the same way that we write (and vice versa thank goodness), and this is reflected in how our searches are both constructed and conducted. “Constructed” as in how the original query is structured and articulated, and “conducted” meaning how the search is interactively played out toward a meaningful result. A spoken question will be constructed differently than a written search. And how searchers interact with the results will also be quite different.

This distinction isn’t purely academic. It’s important for you and your law firm because it may well affect how attorneys position themselves online in the future. After all, in order to build and execute your marketing plan, you need to understand how your prospects are looking for your services. With the advent of voice search, that process is bound to evolve.

Searches have tails. Voice searches have long tails.

If you’ve been reading these pages in the past, or if you were involved at all in search engine optimization (SEO) for your firm’s website, you’re likely familiar with short tail and long tail searches. A short tail search has typically been considered one or two words, while a long tail search is three words or more. A short tail search is more cryptic and general. A vestige of how we were taught to think when we’re typing searches in the old days. So, a traditional short tail search might be, “winemaking supplies.”

Voice searches, on the other hand, tend to involve much longer strings of words than even long tail text searches. A long tail search might be, “wine making supplies near Eau Claire, WI” with a voice counterpart sounding even more specific like, “Alexa, is there any place I can get winemaking supplies within a few miles from here?” See the distinction? Humans have been trained to write text searches similar to how we write reminders on Post-It notes. Voice searches are far more like conversations.

Voice searches are conversations.

Voice Search White PaperOur new white paper on voice search refers to the movie Her, in which a man falls in love with his operating system. While an exaggeration (at least for now – the movie is set in the future), there is a tendency to anthropomorphize digital assistants and talk to them as we might talk to a person. This extends beyond the long tail searches discussed above to include a back and forth with the devices that does not occur with text searches. A text search delivers a search engine results page (SERP) that is static. We can ask Siri to refine the results of a search, to provide directions, to call the business, to broaden the search, etc.

Another characteristic that sets voice searches apart and makes them conversational is their ease and accessibility. No keyboard, no typing, less proximity to a device (the Amazon Echo, for instance, is remarkably good at hearing a normal voice from across a room), all make them more convenient.

Is voice search the future of online legal marketing?

Yes and no. It is the future because it will only continue to grow as consumer adoption of these devices increases. (Not to mention consumer comfort and trust in their results.) If you are not already optimizing for voice search, you certainly should be. That said, traditional text input devices are most certainly not on their way out. So much of our world is built around the screen and keyboard paradigm. Fretting over its imminent demise would be a fool’s errand.

And yet, there’s an undeniable wave of voice search approaching. Law firms don’t have to toss out their existing marketing playbooks, but adapting to the trend now could make for a brighter future in the next few years.

We’ll look a little closer at the topic of voice search and legal marketing in the coming weeks. Until then, download our latest white paper and start thinking about how your law firm is going to serve future clients who may quite literally be asking to speak to a lawyer.

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