If you think you're hearing voices, you're not alone.

With mobile devices in everyone's hands and so-called “voice assistants" in more and more people's homes, there's been a corresponding surge in the use of voice search as consumers look for information online.

According to one recent estimate, at least 50 percent of all internet searches will be conducted by voice by 2020. The increasing popularity of voice search, another study notes, closely correlates with improvements in speech-recognition technology. As our smartphones get better at digitizing the spoken word, and as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and similar products make typed-out queries seem slow and obsolete, we're moving toward a world where voice search rules the day.

So what does this mean for healthcare marketing departments that have optimized their hospital websites for text-based search? The good news is that SEO for voice doesn't require you to reinvent the wheel. Here are just a few important considerations to keep in mind.

Learn the Language
First and foremost, think about the difference between speech and text. When a person types a query into a search engine, they usually need only two or three words to find the results that they need. In a voice search, on the other hand, the speaker might frame their query as an actual question: “Alexa, where can I find a pediatrician in Atlanta, Georgia?" Or, “Is there a doctor near me who specializes in foot surgery?" Voice searches are typically longer and more conversational than their text-based counterparts. And they're also more likely to include granular detail, with the “who, what, when, and where" all in the same question. If a searcher asks their smartphone, “Do any providers offer speech therapy services in Dayton, Ohio, and what are their office hours?" they're providing their search engine much more information than they would with a text query like “speech therapy."

For this reason, it's important that healthcare marketers create online content offering detailed information related to the queries that may be relevant to their organization. Think in terms of keyword phrases and sentences instead of focusing solely on specific words, and attempt to give searchers exactly what they're asking for as clearly and concisely as you can. One way to do this is through an FAQ page, although just how effective such a page might be is a matter of debate among marketing pros. Another (and possibly better) approach: Reevaluate the site content you already have and add material as necessary to fill in the gaps.

Lean Local
While smart speakers and similar home devices account for a slice of voice-search traffic, the bulk of voice search is conducted on the go. Voice-search optimization, therefore, should focus on the visibility of your pages via mobile and pay particular attention to all things “local." The surest way to do this, of course, is through a combination of paid advertising (Google AdWords, for example), local listings (Google My Business, for example), and website content designed to drive organic traffic. Add your organization's address and phone number to all facility pages, and include provider names and locations in your directory listings. The overarching goal: When a prospective patient asks, “Where is the nearest hospital," your facility — which is just down the road — will consistently snag the top voice-search result.

The bottom line when it comes to voice search is that every organization should develop its own strategy to capitalize on this developing technology. Voice search today may look somewhat different than it will just a few years down the road, but the fact of the matter is, those voices you hear are real — and all signs are they're here to stay.

For more guidance on how to win the search race, download our eBook, “The Quest to be Found."