November 16, 2023

Healthcare: What You Know About Voice Search in 2020 and beyond

Get practical advice on how to implement a Voice search strategy for your healthcare brand

Recently, I saw an article on MM&M focused on Voice search.The author poses the question “voice search has arrived, but our healthcare marketers ready to take advantage?” Voice represents a once in a decade opportunity to reach your audience in an entirely new way and will have a dramatic impact on marketing. With over 10 years of healthcare and pharmaceutical marketing experience, my response is that most Pharma Marketers are not ready to take advantage of Voice search yet and that’s okay. 

Voice represents a once in a decade opportunity to reach your audience in an entirely new way and will have a dramatic impact on marketing.

There is an underlying reason why most healthcare marketers aren’t ready to take advantage of the emerging world of Voice search. Most Pharma Agencies of Record don’t fully understand Voice search and its implications as well as they should. This results in a lot of high-level views of the landscape but not enough direction what to do next. Most AOR’s are talking about Voice search in terms of search on phones and the impact it has on a search engine results page(SERP). This smartphone and website search focus ignores what Voice search means in the larger sense. Smart speakers like Amazon Alexa or Google Home and the assistants that power them change things in a major way.

Since that information isn’t coming from AOR’s, I am going to go deeper and give you some practical advice on how to implement a Voice search strategy for your brand. If you are in pharmaceutical marketing and you want to take that next step and learn how to create a voice search strategy or take advantage of Voice in general, listen up.


Before I get to the recommendations, I want to start with the basics. Voice is any interaction with a computer or digital device that allows you to control it with your natural language. This includes devices like your smartphone, laptop, tv remote control and a new class of devices that are referred to as smart speakers.


The consumer adoption of smart speakers is happening faster than any other technology in human history. It’s happening faster than what we saw with smart phones or personal computers and even the internet. What we’re seeing is the birth of an entirely new way for brands to engage with their audiences.

There are two main competing platforms here in the US - AmazonAlexa and Google Home. Amazon has the overall lead in smart speakers but when you include smart phones, there’s more Google Assistant users. Most people assume Amazon uses Google search as well but, it’s not the case. Amazon is actually using Microsoft’s Bing search product. This, in and of itself requires a slightly different approach when it comes to Voice search for web content.  

As a brand it goes without saying but it’s imperative that when someone is looking for information on your product, your answers come up and not answers from, or your competition. The default to Wikipedia or Yelp (or others) isn’t some sort of conspiracy to unseat established brands. Quite simply, Amazon and Google both want to provide some sort of an answer. So, if the assistant can’t find your content, it will use those other sources because any answer is better than giving no answer. There isn’t much tolerance for “I’m sorry. I don’t know the answer to that” before a user stops using their assistant so it’s a matter of survival. The good news is there are ways to address this.


Over 100 Million devices have been sold

Search Engine: Microsoft Bing



Over 500 Million monthly active users (smart phone and smart speakers)

Search Engine: Google Search


Last year it's estimated that there were over 250 billion voice searches that were conducted in the US which accounts for between 13 and 15% of the overall search. What that means is even in these early days of smart speakers and voice assistants on the phone, we're already seeing a large percentage of the population using their voice to search. As people “get comfortable”using their Voice to do searches on their phone, they start to do the same on their desktop and on smart speakers as well. I’ve seen the data that supports this theory and it’s clear that this trend is well under way.


Illustration of how people ask questions when typing vs. speaking (keyword vs. long tail phrases)


How is Voice search different than traditional search you may ask? With a normal Google search on the web, you submit your request and you get a page with 10 blue links on it. Everyone knows that right?  With a Voice assistant however, it’s one answer for one question.

If your branded content doesn’t come up when someone asks, you effectively don’t exist. Where do most of those answers come from you ask? For the most part, Google assistant is pulling the information from the knowledge graph on the right side of a results page or from the result in position zero in web search. 


When it comes to Amazon Alexa, it’s critical to know that when you ask a question, there are three places it looks to for an answer. We visualize the way Alexa seeks an answer similar to the rings of a tree.

The innermost ring is Alexa’s own database of information which is checked first for the answer. Basic queries like weather, traffic or sports scores are examples of the types of questions that will be answered via that “first search” ring.


Illustration of how Voice search works on Amazon Alexa

If the device doesn’t find the answer internally, it looks out to a second “ring”which we refer to as the “Voice Web.”

In that ring, Alexa is widening the search to include any apps or skills to find the answer. If an answer to the question exists in the “Voice Web” and it meets all these different criteria, that’s the answer that Alexa gives.

Let that sink in for a moment. If someone asks a question and the answer is in the“Voice Web” Alexa never looks at content on the general Internet. Over time, this could have a serious impact on organic web traffic. If it does have a negative impact, wouldn’t you rather your audience find your voice content instead of your competitors? In the new world of voice search, whomever provides the best answer to your audience’s questions wins.

If Alexa doesn’t find the answer on the “Voice Web,” it opens up the search to the widest “ring”: the general Internet. At that moment, the quest for the answer becomes a long tail web search.

If your content is not optimized for voice search or long tail keywords, it’s likely the voice assistants won’t find any of your content.In those instances, what will be found and served is either coming fromWikipedia or Yelp.

That is a scary proposition for a lot of people that we talk to, brand managers especially. Often when we explain that the voice search content about their brand is coming from Wikipedia, they often respond “Wait,I’ve spent Millions of dollars building my brand. What do you mean Wikipedia is the answer when someone asks about my brand?” As an experiment, if you have as mart phone or smart speaker, ask Alexa or Google Assistant about your brand you can think of and see what answer is provided and its source.

If you have both assistants, you can see that they handle these searches differently because again, one's using Google search, while the other is using Microsoft Bing. Unless you’re the chosen answer in the knowledge graph, there's really no good way to control what information comes if you rely solely on web content. There is however a way that you can control the message and we cover that more below in #4.


What does that mean for a pharmaceutical marketer? Better yet, what can you start doing right now to start to position your brand for this shift toVoice search?

  1. Shift from a keyword based search strategy to a long tail based strategy if you haven’t already  

What I mean by that is actually using full phrases and the way that people would normally ask questions. So, it's not “Humira” or “Humira dosing” it’s “What is the ideal dosing amount of Humira for RheumatoidArthritis” The more specific you can make the phrases you’re trying to rank for, the more likely your answer will come up. You need to figure out what longer phrases people are using to find information about your product and then you need to provide a 1-2 sentence response.

  1. Make sure your FAQ content on your website is based on actual questions from your audience

Make sure the FAQ content on your websites are based on what your audience is actually asking because Google has started to index the FAQ pages.The goal is to provide short answer snippets to common questions that your audience asks. If your FAQ pages aren't really based on actual questions that your audience has, your answers are just not going to come up at all when they're actually looking for that information.

  1. Create Podcast content based on the questions your audience has

Start creating audio content based on your audience’s questions. Podcast content that covers topics that your audience cares about will reach them when they’re looking for podcast, it’s also going to be served up by Google in the search results. Google has started to index podcast content much like they do with YouTube videos. If the answer exists within a podcast, users will be able to hear the audio snippet from a podcast as the answer.  

  1. Create an Alexa Skill and/or Google Action

The only way you can control the answer a smart speaker provides is by creating a native application on Amazon Alexa and Google Home. On theAlexa side, they're called skills. On the Google side, they're called actions.When someone asks a question of your Voice experience, they get your approved answer.  

  1. Branded vs Unbranded - ISI, fair balance and HIPAA

There currently is no way to easily display ISI or balance claims made on smart speakers. Branded experiences are going to be incredibly tough to do right now and there are no examples of how other brands handle balance on smart speakers or smart speakers with screens. Depending on your regulatory team’s appetite for risk, it might be better to start with unbranded voice experiences to get everyone comfortable with these new platforms.

The other thing to know is HIPAA compliance while available on theAlexa platform isn't necessarily available across the globe. There are currently 6 HIPAA compliant skills within the closed beta program from Amazon. If you want to create HIPAA compliant skills, you need to apply and work directly with Amazon. This program will continue to evolve but just know it's just not something that everyone's going to be able to take advantage of right this second. There is no equivalent HIPAA compliant program on the Google platform as of this writing. 


I hope you have found this information helpful. If you’d like to learn more, we’ve created a few resources to help you get started with Voice.


My wife (and co-founder) wrote a book called Voice Strategy, CreatingUseful And Usable Voice Experiences. This is your playbook to understanding what voice is, what the opportunities for businesses and for marketers are. We also go into our processes, our frameworks, all the tools that we use to actually create work for our clients. To learn more about the book, please visit


Another resource that we’ve created is an online learning platform called Voice Masters. This platform is a collaboration between our company Pragmatic Digital and our friends at Vixen labs in London. We recently released a Voice 101 for Business course to help you get an understanding of what voice is, what voice search is why it's significant and why it's compelling to your audience. This program is created specifically for marketers and strategists so they understand the opportunity of Voice and what they can do about it. If you’d like to learn more or to purchase the course, please visit:

Finally, if you have questions and would like to have a conversation with us, please contact us.


About the author

Scot Westwater is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Pragmatic, an expert in conversational AI and Voice technology with over 24 years in design, UX, and digital strategy. His work focuses on enhancing marketing and customer experience through the use of Artificial Intelligence. A notable figure in the industry, Scot co-authored 'Voice Strategy' and 'Voice Marketing' (2023), and contributes as an Open Voice Network Ambassador and an instructor at the Marketing AI Institute.

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