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Writing for a Robot? Try Sounding More Human

Hannah Overhiser • February 13, 2019

Even the strongest opponents of Siri will admit to, at least, one story in which they managed to get her to say something…alarming. But, like it or not, digital devices and AI voice assistants, like Siri and Alexa, continue to change the ways we interact with the interne and the way the internet interacts with us. As we enter an era in which we rely less on screens and written text to consume digital content, writing copy geared towards voice assistants will need to become second nature for anyone looking to drive engagement and visibility.

 

The Early Stages

In the early days of Google, when less sophisticated algorithms drove SEO and mobile technology was still in its nascent stages, users conducted searches primarily on desktop computers. Marketers and strategists relied on individual keywords to gauge their user’s search trends, and users were mostly expected to sift through endless pages of search results to find the kernel of information that held the answer to their question.

 

Voice Search – The New Frontier

Now, with nearly 50% of all searches occurring on mobile devices and refined algorithms bringing semantics and voice assistants to life, the SEO landscape has profoundly evolved. The convenience of voice search has spurred a new need for content that can fit seamlessly into the conversational interaction users now expect when they utter the words “Hey, Alexa”.

It should come as no surprise that as programmers continue to rewrite their voice recognition software, digital copy need to adopt a more conversational and direct tone. For example, when a user asks “Hey Alexa, when is the next Olympics?” She will choose the content with the most direct answer. This, not only allows her to respond to the user with an immediate and accurate answer, it also keeps the interaction seemingly human.

Now, the question of “how” to write in a more natural, less robotic way is relatively simple to answer: brands need to listen more closely to in-person interactions and integrate these nuances into their content. This task however, is much easier said than done. Speech patterns involve a multitude of confounding variables such as dialect, slang, inflection, emphasis, etc. that influence a specific person’s word choice. It is rather difficult to know exactly which word will allow writing to sound more natural to your target audience.

 

Knowing Your Audience

The golden rule of good content is simple: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. The same applies for voice technology. Now, this does not mean writing for a crowd. In fact, it means the opposite. Writing for a crowd promotes generic and unoriginal copy; the kind of writing we automatically delete in our inboxes or quit reading before we ever reach the bottom of the page. If nothing else, Siri, Alexa, social media, and all of these innovations have helped make the Internet a highly personal place. Boring, impartial writing just doesn’t keep our eyes glued to the screen like it used to.

Instead, visualizing detailed personas of your readership or customer base can help drive content that sounds equally personal and intriguing. For example, instead of writing to an audience comprised mainly of women in their mid to late thirties, write instead to Amanda; 33 years old, mother of two living in Washington; proponent of clean eating and living an active lifestyle. Instead of getting a cohort to click on a link, engage Amanda in an organic conversation: the more the writing fits Amanda’s interests, the more organic the topic will sound. It doesn’t matter if there is a sales motive at the heart of the material, readers, search engines, and now Siri and Alexa, will always search for content that is conversational and direct.

 

The Fluidity of Modern Search

It is also important to understand that a major component of this changing SEO landscape, and the increased use of voice search, is due, in part, to mobile devices. The increased popularity of this technology, coupled with a slight departure from desktop computer use, has led to longer and more specific search queries in the form of conversational questions.

This long-form search is not as conducive to keywords as the written shorthand we once saw when Google and Amazon were geared to the desktop experience. Instead, topic-driven content, as opposed to a single keyword, will help marketers maintain their coveted ranks among search results in addition to appealing to a wider audience.

 

Macro-Knowledge for Micro-Moments

Creating topic-driven content not only requires brands to understand their client base on a micro/personal level, but it also requires them to understand their industry on a macro level to anticipate trends and get ahead of customer expectations. This necessitates a fair amount of internal and market research that can be monitored with any number of metric-tracking tools on the internet or simply by creating customer-facing surveys and tests to learn what kind of content is driving engagement.

It isn’t enough, however, to simply write around the “what” anymore. In that past, drilling down into the underlying “what” at the heart of a shopper or user’s decision-making was a sufficient-enough strategy to create entire marketing campaigns. With the advent of smartphones and in-home voice assistants, however, SEO writers also need to consider the “where”.

 

Localized Experiences

Nearly 4 out of 5 consumers use search engines to find local businesses and services. With so many searches occurring on mobile devices, and so many of those requests occurring en route or in a car, retailers need to fully optimize their digital content to cater to user location if they want to optimize speech channels.

Accurately listing all business and service information in online directories like Yelp, for example, will greatly improve the likelihood that any associated content is found by a voice assistant device and if the user happens to be around the corner, promote an immediate transaction.

 

Voice search, and writing direct, conversational content has its many benefits. It will help users get information much more quickly and improve the personalized nature of our relationship to the internet. More importantly, for retailers with online sales or brands with a digital presence, creating written content that is easily accessed by Siri and Alexa will vastly improve site traffic. SEO can seem a bit nebulous and it is certainly always changing. As personal technology continues to improve and refine their user experience, so too will digital marketing to ensure content is dynamic and relevant, never robotic.


Hannah Overhiser

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Hannah Overhiser

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