Over the next several years, searches by voice using an AI assistant — such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana or Google Assistant — are expected to skyrocket. ComScore, a global leader in measuring audience, advertising and consumer behavior, predicts that by 2020 half of searches will be done by voice. And recent stats show we’re already on our way.

  • According to Google trends, (via Search Engine Watch) Google voice queries are up 35x in 2016 vs. 2008.
  • ComScore (via Location World), shows that 40% of adults now use voice search once per day.

Now, you may think this is all very exciting. Or, you may be grumbling at the thought of optimizing your website for yet another medium. But, before we get into techniques for showing up in voice searches for legal services, it’s important to realize something: just because 50% of all searches may eventually be by voice, this doesn’t mean 50% of searches for lawyers will. There’s a big difference between asking Siri about a trivia question or the weather vs. finding a lawyer who is going to help you through serious life challenges like divorce, bankruptcy, criminal charges or estate disputes. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. In fact, thinking that potential clients aren’t really going to use digital assistants to do serious searching for an attorney reminds me of another popular technology for which we once thought the same thing... mobile phones.

Before smartphones really took off there was a time during early adoption when it was believed that searches for hiring lawyers were more likely to remain performed on desktop computers, where users could be more organized, see more information, and be more serious about the whole process. For a time that was true, but the proliferation of mobile phones continued and last year, for the first time, over 50% of traffic was consistently mobile across a wide sampling of our own law firm website design clients. In fact, odds are you’re reading this on a mobile device and if your law firm website isn’t mobile compatible you’re falling behind.

Voice search is in its infancy now, just like mobile was in 2007. It may not impact your business yet, but indications are that it will soon be hard to ignore. Interestingly, just like being the first lawyer to have a website in 1997, or having a mobile-friendly law firm website in 2008, taking some initial steps to show up in voice searches may be easier to do now before it inevitably becomes more saturated and monetized later. And, if for no other reason, it would be a pretty great ego boost if Siri said that you were the best lawyer in town.

Here's Why We Think Voice Search Will Grow

It’s easy. We all have mobile phones in our pockets and talking is something we know how to do.

Instant contact. Voice search results on mobile phones can put a user directly in touch with a recommended business in seconds.

Less cluttered. The results page of a voice search for a local business typically just shows one to four items and is easier to digest than page upon page of search results. Fewer results also makes them seem more definitive and authoritative.

Trust in the AI. Speaking with artificially intelligent assistants like Siri, Alexa or Cortana is a more human way of engaging — and there may be an assumption that some personalized thought or curation on the part of the assistant has gone into delivering an answer. Fun side note: In the movie “Her” the main character falls in love with his AI, it’s bound to be a classic. Check it out!

Not Monetized. For now, the search results for local businesses, like law firms, appear to be driven purely by organic search rankings and real consumer reviews. This won’t last forever, but for now, not monetizing the results will build trust with users. This is a pattern of tech companies where they do something for free, build trust and reliance on it, then monetize it. Drug dealers also follow this pattern.

It's Everywhere. Not only are all modern smartphones capable of listening to and executing searches for users, but so are the smart speakers and devices showing up in our homes. Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomePod and dozens more are flooding the market. Sonos speakers now come with Alexa built in. Just today Amazon is buying Ring, a company that makes a video and wi-fi enabled doorbell. Soon, your video doorbell may see your partner’s lover enter the house and have Alexa prepare a list of divorce attorneys to share with you along with video evidence. Well, maybe that scenario is a stretch, but it is technically possible. Point is, these voice enabled devices are starting to surround us, increasing our comfort with the technology.

How To Show Up for Voice Searches

Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant all treat searches for local business recommendations with similar intent. When a user asks a digital assistant something like “who is the best divorce attorney near me?” the assistants all return with local business information largely based on user reviews. They get their local business data from different sources, however.

  • Siri uses business listings on Apple Maps with reviews and data from Yelp
  • Alexa uses data from Yelp but thus far seems to only recommend restaurants, not professional services like law firms.
  • Google Assistant uses Google My Business listings
  • Cortana uses Bing business listings with reviews from Yelp

Beyond client reviews, there are other factors, not all of which we know, that weigh into how results are sorted. These include number of citations (the mentioning of your firm name, address and phone number on other websites), popularity of the business based on page views or check-ins, and proximity of the business to the user via GPS, to name a few. Further, even though several of the digital assistants get data from Yelp, they all return different results when asked the same question. This likely means they each have their own algorithms for ranking the results.

Here are the primary action steps we recommend you take to help ensure your firm is in the mix for voice searches for local law firms. Good news for our marketing clients: if you subscribe to our law firm local marketing fundamentals program, all of this — and more — is already taken care of for you.

  1. List and properly categorize your firm on:
  2. Encourage as many positive reviews as you can on both your Google My Business and Yelp listings.
  3. Perform a local listing audit of your law firm using our free tool to track down more databases you can be listed in.

There appears to be opportunity here for early movers. With the exception of Google Assistant, which uses Google’s own mature and well organized data and closely mirrors Google’s local search results, the other assistants are using local business data from sources where there is still a chance for early adopters to jump ahead, most notably, at this point, by collecting positive reviews on Yelp and Google. Of course, if you’d like help with any of this, please contact us at sales@themodernfirm.com or check out our law firm local marketing fundamentals service.