In a society that often caters to the most able-bodied among us, voice search is a potential lifeline for people with mobility issues.

For patients with conditions like ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or cervical spinal stenosis, voice search is a useful tool for information, communication, entertainment, and transactions. For doctors whose hands are busy, voice search serves as a bedside resource for research and decision making.

With 47% of U.S. physicians showing interest in using voice search in their professions, and with more than 47 million Americans owning a smart speaker, it is no longer possible for pharmaceutical brands to ignore the impact that voice search will have on their online presence.

While the method of information retrieval may have changed, one constant that hasn’t is that, Google and other voice-enabled assistants still try to retrieve the most relevant and useful results. This is true whether a person is searching via mobile, tablet, or computer, or if they’re using a smart speaker such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Apple HomePod.

Whether you have an assistant in your home or office, one thing is certain – voice search is changing the way people search online, and in the process, creating new opportunities for pharma brands to connect with patients and HCPs.

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How Voice Searches Differ from Text-Based Queries

As more data is collected on the way people voice search, we’re beginning to understand its potential impact on search results.

One discovery so far is that people tend to use more words when making a voice query compared with text-based queries. While the average length for a text search is 3.2 words, the average length for a voice search is 4.2 words.

In addition to being wordier, voice queries are phrased in a more natural waycompared with text searches, so this should be taken into account while formatting your content.

Finally, voice queries tend to be asked as questions. This is particularly useful for designing highly targeted landing pages. By understanding the intent behind the question, you can uncover where a user is in their health journey. Using this information, you can communicate in a way that speaks directly to your audience.

In summary, the current best practices for voice search optimization include:

  1. Lengthening your target queries
  2. Targeting question-based queries
  3. Focusing on natural speech patterns

While these three tips sound straightforward, it’s important as you develop these new queries, to consider other factors explained below.

Why is Voice Search Important for Pharmaceutical Brands?

Aside from convenience, voice search is first and foremost a tool for accessibility. This is something every pharma marketer should be concerned about. Patients who might have difficulty searching the Internet are using voice assistants to navigate the web, communicate with friends and family, and perform actions by voice, improving their ability to feel connected and their quality of life.

While none of the smart speakers can call 9-1-1 (yet), new features are constantly being unveiled. Through an AI system called Holly, patients can book medical appointments using Amazon Alexa. Google recently demonstrated its beta technology, Google Duplex assistant, an AI that can make calls and set appointments on behalf of a user. And, Northwell Health in New York is allowing patients to check wait times for urgent care via Alexa.

But pharma marketers shouldn’t overlook the simple utility others find of having a speaker that answers questions at a moment’s notice.

Patients, caregivers, and physicians are all using smart speakers. And the number of households who own smart speakers increased by 49% from June to November 2017, and that number continues to rise.

Keep in mind, anyone who owns a smartphone is most likely already carrying a voice assistant in their pockets. Half of all smartphone users engage with voice on their device, and 1 in 3 use it daily.

Some physicians are even using the technology in their practices (12%, according to one study), and more are likely to follow, which is even more reason for pharma brands to adapt. If a healthcare provider uses voice search to discover the latest drugs available to treat specific conditions, it would certainly be beneficial for your brand to come up first in search.

For drug and device manufacturers whose products help patients with conditions that limit mobility, voice search is an especially essential tool for providing educational information.

With drug manufacturers being the ultimate authority on their products, nobody is in a better position to educate patients and healthcare providers about treatment options, contraindications, potential drug benefits, and recommended dosage information.

By experimenting now, you as a pharmaceutical marketer will have the benefit of mastering the technology first. In time, your new strategy may lead voice searchers directly to your branded or unbranded websites, possibly capturing a larger percentage of search or, better yet, enabling you to leapfrog the competition.

How to Adjust Your Pharmaceutical Brand Website’s Key Phrases for Voice Search

Before you begin optimizing your website to provide this information as an answer to voice queries, you’ll first need to take a step back. In addition to lengthening your queries, forming them as questions, and making them sound natural, you’ll need to formulate them with the users’ journey and intent in mind.

Understand the Patient Journey

Marketers tend to frame a consumer’s journey in linear terms. First, a person becomes aware of a problem. Next, they consider their options. Finally, they take action. But as healthcare marketers understand, the journey is often much more complex than that. A person may enter and leave the patient journey multiple times, switching old medications for new ones, sometimes uncertain of exactly what they’re looking for, but looking for a solution nonetheless.

And often, the person doing the research is not the patient themselves, but a parent, family member, friend, or physician.

Still, based on their query, we can get a general sense for who they are, and where they are in their health journey.

The person who asks “What can cause tremors in my right hand?” has a different level of insight than the person who asks, “What are my options for treating Multiple System Atrophy?” Both are patients, and both are looking for information. But while the first patient is only just becoming aware of potential causes for their ailment, the second patient is searching for treatment options.

The patient who asks, “What are the benefits of levodopa in MSA treatment?” is closer to taking action.

Knowing where your patient is in their health journey will help you tailor content for each stage.

Once you understand where you’re meeting the patient in their journey, you should then consider the intent behind the search.

Understand User Intent

In general, searches are conducted with a specific intent behind them. The intent is usually informational, transactional, or navigational.

  • Informational Searches – The intent of an informational search is to gather knowledge about a topic: “What is Parkinson’s disease?”
  • Transactional Searches – The intent of a transactional search is to complete a specific action: “Where can I buy DrugX online?”
  • Navigational Searches – The intent of a navigational search is to find a specific website or web page: “Go to www.drugXwebsite.com.”

By analyzing both the journey and intent behind the questions, you can better understand who your audience is – caregiver, physician, or patient – and where they are in their health journey. With this information, you can make your content as relevant as possible for the user, and for search engines, too.

Let Journey, Intent, and Best Voice Search Optimization Practices Guide Your New Queries

It’s important to keep in mind that text-based searches are still relevant, and so it’s probably unnecessary to edit your entire site for voice search.

A better approach might be to create brand new content, optimizing for voice search behaviors (long-tail, question-based, natural queries) while taking into account journey stage and user intent.

Voice Search Venn Diagram

Here are a few examples of how you might craft your new voice-based landing page content toward intent and journey stage. You can use an H1 Heading at the top of your landing page that relates closely to the targeted voice search query (people don’t ask questions in identical ways, and Google is getting good at interpreting intent).

Intent: Informational

  • Voice Query: “What is the latest research on Parkinson’s in children?”
  • H1 Heading: What is the Current Research on Treating Parkinson’s in Children?

Applying User Insights to Content: The person asking this question may be a caregiver in the awareness stage of the patient journey. Knowing this, you can tailor your content towards educating a non-scientific audience. You might include links to support resources, research participation opportunities, or a newsletter signup form.

  • Voice Query: “What evidence does intravenous RO7046015 have for targeting α-Synuclein?”
  • H1 Heading: Evidence for Efficacy of Intravenous PRX002/RO7046015 on alpha-Synuclein in the Treatment of Parkinson’s

Applying User Insights to Content: The person who asks this question is most likely a physician or researcher in the consideration stage of their journey. With this in mind, you can adjust the rest of your page’s vocabulary to fit your medically savvy audience and provide links to supporting research.

Intent: Transactional

  • Voice Query: “Are there any Parkinson’s studies near me?”
  • H1 Heading: Looking for a Parkinson’s Clinical Trial Near You?

Applying User Insights to Content: The person asking this question may be a patient or caregiver ready to take action. Include clear instructions for where the user can sign up, or direct them to your contact information.

  • Voice Query: “Where can I get a free trial of DrugX?”
  • H1 Heading: Interested in a Free Trial of DrugX?

Applying User Insights to Content: The person asking this question is likely a patient, too, and they may not have talked to their doctor about the drug they’re interested in. But they’re still looking to take action. Knowing this, you may want to include an informational card on your landing page for the patient to take with them to their next appointment.

Intent: Navigational

  • Voice Query: “Read me the list from DrugX’s contraindications page.”
  • H1 Heading: Contraindications for DrugX

Applying User Insights to Content: The person who directs their voice assistant to your page is looking for specific information from your brand’s website. They may be considering their treatment options, or they might be experiencing side effects.

Either way, you’ll want your contraindications to be easily readable by search engines, and you can do this by making some changes to your website’s coding via schema markup (you can get more information about schema’s benefits for pharmaceutical brands by filling out the form below).

A Case for Not Optimizing for Voice Search

If you consider the advice for voice search optimization, it’s apparent that a lot of these insights apply to all types of search. Marketers should already understand the patient journey, and intent and the way real people ask questions. You should already get to know your audience on a deep level. If you don’t, start now.

Committing to take a user-centric approach to content will ensure that you’re always optimizing for your readership, that you’re always speaking to them. When you know your audience, you’ll know how they ask questions. When you know how they ask questions, you’ll know the best way to answer them. By taking this approach to content creation, you’ll always give Google (and users) the highest quality results.

And quality, ultimately, is what Google looks for in its ranking algorithm.


In the end, voice search creates an enormous opportunity for pharma brands to connect with their target communities, especially considering the value voice search has for increasing accessibility for people with disabilities.

Exploring this opportunity now can help your pharma brand stay competitive in an increasingly complex space, and position your brand as the market leader, improving brand awareness and answering questions authoritatively for people when and where they want to hear it.

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