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"As technology evolves, so should an independent agent’s approach to marketing. And one aspect of technology that’s a bonafide game changer is voice search. What initially seemed like more of a novelty is now an integral part of how users extract information from search engines. In fact, 40 percent of people are now using voice search once a day, marketing director Stephen Kenwright at customer engagement solutions provider Edit explains. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, Microsoft search evangelist Christi Olson adds. Roughly half of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. This means that voice search presents a tremendous marketing opportunity, and targeting content appropriately will soon become necessary to remain competitive (at least when it comes to SEO). This is something that independent agents need to prepare for.  

What’s Fueling This Trend?

There are two main factors that are propelling voice search: the increased use of mobile devices and the prevalence of smart speakers. Mobile adoption is already widespread and continues to grow. The average American adult spends well over three hours a day on mobile devices in 2018, and mobile will surpass TV as the primary medium by 2019, Yoram Wurmser, analyst at eMarketer, writes. Rather than manually typing in search queries, many people find it more convenient to perform a voice search instead. Currently, one in five mobile queries are voice searches, Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land notes. It’s especially popular with people who need a hands-free way to find what they’re looking for. Ownership of smart speakers is definitely on the rise too, IT expert and TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez says. She points out that 39 million Americans — one in six — now own a smart speaker. And the vast majority of these individuals truly enjoy the experience. Using a smart speaker is part of the daily routine for 72 percent of people, Sara Kleinberg, Head of Research & Insights, Marketing at Google, writes. Of those, 41 percent feel like they’re talking to a friend or another person when engaging with voice-activated speakers, she adds. This may be because voice search technology has improved by leaps and bounds and is becoming increasingly sophisticated with each passing day.  Google AI can now understand human language with 95 percent accuracy, marking a 20 percent improvement from 2013, tech reporter April Glaser says. This means that Google can understand your voice query nearly as well as another human. And as it inevitably becomes more mainstream, you can expect the error rate to diminish even more.  

What About Demographics?

At first thought, you might think that voice search is something primarily limited to younger generations. The reality is that over a third of individuals 50 or older are now using voice search Lauryn Chamberlain at GeoMarketing points out. The main reason is simply because it doesn’t require as much touch screen interaction as typing queries. Many people find it easier to give verbal commands than entering text and swiping. So this is certainly something independent agents will want to keep in mind. It’s not just millennials and Gen Z using voice search. A sizable percentage of baby boomers and beyond are using it as well. And this is good news if this age group accounts for a large chunk of your customer base.  

Typical Voice Search Format

Some examples of voice searches a potential customer may use when searching for insurance information include:

  • OK Google, what are some home insurance providers near me?
  • Alexa, how much does homeowners insurance cost?
  • Siri, find me some affordable auto insurance policies.

Notice how these differ somewhat traditional text-based searches. For instance, a person typing a search query might input something basic like “cost home insurance.” But with a voice search, they’re more likely to use a full sentence and a more a conversational tone. The average text search uses between one and three words, while a voice search is significantly longer with seven and more, search specialist Jill Goldstein elaborates. Voice search usually involves the use of natural language and often begins with questions such as who, what, how, where and when. “Mobile voice searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text search,” Goldstein adds. “In fact, two of the biggest use cases for voice search is calling someone and asking for directions.” In other words, there’s a strong local component here where prospects are using voice search to find insurance providers in their immediate area. The team at Bipper Media says that “near me” searches have really exploded in popularity. Adding that phrase to your location page and throughout your content will help optimize your site.  

What This Means for Independent Agents

It’s simple. The way prospects find insurance providers through search engines is changing, and this shift presents opportunity. The evidence is already in: Voice shopping sales in the US was $1.8 billion in 2017 and is predicted to reach $40 billion in five years, Bret Kinsella at writes. Your independent insurance agency can definitely benefit from voice search as long as you adjust one critical aspect of your marketing campaign — your content strategy. Here are some specific steps you can take.  

Use Long-tail Keywords

Make it a point to incorporate long-tail keywords into your content. As we previously mentioned, there’s a strong emphasis on natural language and queries formatted as questions. “Voice search is tailor made for longer, niche keywords that match the somewhat wordy questions people might speak to Siri,” SEO specialist Susannah Noel explains. “A great way to leverage these long-tail keywords is to create a healthy library of blog posts that each answer a specific frequently asked question.” For instance, you might create blog posts entitled “How Much Does P&C Insurance Cost?” or “Where Can I Find the Best Deal on Flood Insurance?” Noel also recommends using keyword variations because this helps search engines better understand user intent as well as the overall context. This does not call for a massive content overhaul. And you don’t need to worry about creating individual pages for every single search query. Voice search results rarely contain the exact query in their title, Backlinko founder Brian Dean says. So creating individual pages is unlikely to be an effective strategy.  

Keep Content Simple

He adds that the average voice result found on Google is at a 9th grade reading level. So there’s no reason to try to sound overly intellectual or jampack it with complicated industry jargon. Instead, simple, straightforward, conversational content is your best bet.  

Write Longer Content

Dean also points out that the average word count of a voice search result page is quite long at just over 2,300 words. This is tangible proof that Google has a preference for displaying voice search answers sourced from long form content. And this is a technique that seemingly transcends just voice search and applies to SEO in general. Some of the internet’s top-ranked pages are around 2,450 words, Dan Shewan at WordStream writes. So you’ll want to make it a point to create robust, longform content at least for some of your posts.  

Optimize for Featured Snippets

Featured snippets — otherwise known as an answer box — are selected search results that appear at the top of Google search results below ads, online marketing consultant Ann Smarty explains. The purpose of a snippet is to immediately answer a person’s question so that they can gain a baseline understanding. Getting your content in featured snippets is a coveted position because it stands out above all of the other results — even the number one ranking. A snippet gives you the potential to gain a ton of voice search traffic. In fact, Brian Dean found that over 40 percent of all voice search answers actually came from a featured snippet. Add voice search ready —and featured snippet ready — text to your content to help Google find the surface answer they’re looking for, Amanda Zantal-Wiener at HubSpot suggests. In terms of length, Brian Dean found that short and concise is your best bet with 29 words being the average voice search result.   Images by: grinvalds/©123RF Stock Photo, prykhodov/©123RF Stock Photo, highwaystarz/©123RF Stock Photo"

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