Millions of people visit Canada.ca daily seeking answers from the government. Voice interaction is a new channel we can use to deliver those answers. To kick off the new year, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) is doing a short blog post series dedicated to voice technology. We’ll share what we learned about conversational agents and voice search from our Contact us optimization project with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

We all want to deliver modern, efficient, and reliable services to Canadians. Building a conversational agent to help users solve their tasks seems like a great opportunity to be innovative and effective.

However, in our experiment on the CRA project, we found that people were a little cautious of the conversational agent we built. In fact, not one test participant tried it of their own accord. They all had to be prompted to use it.

Over this series we’ll explore why and what practical steps you can take to set yourself up for creating successful voice interactions.

We’ll start with the essential first step: Optimize your content for voice search.

The fact is that most voice interactions are still very simple: one question, one answer.

Instead of jumping to building a conversational agent, start by optimizing your content for voice search:

  • first apply good content design practices on all your top tasks
  • then experiment with adding structured data

Content design practices for voice search success

Here are 6 content design practices that will mean voice search success for your users:

1. Use traditional content design practices: New technology won’t fix bad content

Start by using good content and task design practices. Voice search is still search. In most ways, optimizing for voice search is the same as optimizing for any other search. At the end of the day, even if it’s boring, start by improving your content if you want to help people complete the tasks they do online.

Canada.ca Content Style Guide: 1.1 Help People complete tasks

2. Start with search engine optimization (SEO)

Voice search might be new, but it relies on the same algorithms as traditional search.

Generally speaking, voice search is a simple search query…done by voice. It’s a single-turn interaction: the person asks something, the device responds with something found on the web. Single turn interactions are best handled by Google voice search.

Traditional SEO techniques apply. Focus on optimizing for featured snippets (answers at top of results). Google often uses the featured snippet for voice answers.

Top considerations for voice SEO

  • Create concise answers (don’t mix details with summaries)
  • Use words Canadians use (look them up on Google Trends)
  • Include amounts, times, phone numbers, addresses, etc.
  • Make your headings concise, descriptive answers
  • Use lists

3. Adding structured data will help with voice search optimization

Structured data is code that you add to a page in a standardized format to help search engines interpret your content. It allows for more meaningful search results.

To improve voice search results:

  • Add Speakable structured data as it indicates what content is best for a voice answer and helps with displayed search results
  • Apply and test Google’s Rich Results and structured data guidance - it’s not always perfect for governments but there are lots of improvements they can help you make
    • Gov.UK has added HowTo schema to their step-by-step journey pages
    • we are working with the Canada Revenue Agency to add rich results to the Canada Child Benefit content

4. Provide answers, not information

Information is what your organization writes for internal program management. Answers are what people are looking for.

When designing content, use an inverted pyramid. Put the most important information first. Figure out what question most people are trying to answer when they come to your page, and put the answer at the top of the page.

Canada.ca Content Style Guide : 2.1 Start with the most important information

5. Use descriptive page titles and effective headings

Use page titles that describe the content and the task. What you can do on a page should be evident just by looking at the title.

Effective headings:

  • structure the page content
  • provide the necessary information scent for page scanning
  • help search engines figure out what the page is about

Don’t turn all of your headings into questions. Search engines aren’t looking for questions, they’re looking for answers.

Canada.ca Content Style Guide: 5.1 Write useful page titles and headings

6. Make your content readable

Plain language and good readability help both real people and machines understand the content. Voice search algorithms seem to be inclined to use answers written in a “conversational” tone.

When writing:

  • use simple and common words
  • be direct, concise, and clear
  • use verbs
  • avoid jargon
  • use short words and simple sentences

Canada.ca Content Style Guide: Plain language

Final Word

Don’t jump ahead to flashy stuff.

We know that chat and voice are the technologies of the future; and that the future is now. Continuous usability testing allows us to better understand how new technology works and where gaps exist. It helps us develop empathy for our users and ensure we’re building the right tools…the right way.

The Canada.ca design team wants to continuously improve both Canada.ca and the guidance that the Government of Canada design system provides to help departments make the best use of new technologies.

As we keep moving forward and experimenting with new approaches, we must always ask ourselves, is it:

  • useful—does it improve digital self-service? Will Canadians benefit from having it?
  • usable—is it easy to use? Will success rates on Canada.ca improve?
  • sustainable—can content teams easily maintain it?

Next in the series, we’ll talk about building wizards. Sign up for the DTO mailing list to get the post delivered to your inbox.

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