Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod and Google Home.

Finding your voice: why charities need to embrace voice assistants

Our Digital Assistant, Ricky Staines, explores how voice assistants improve accessibility and create new ways for charities to interact with audiences.

Black Mirror warned us of the dangers, but digital voice assistants are here to stay. Whether we’re asking Siri for the whereabouts of the nearest restaurant, or simply checking the news, chatting to digital assistants is now a part of everyday life.

recent survey found that 2.7m households in the UK currently own an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, and it’s easy to see why. As well as improving accessibility (and making our lives easier), voice technology is changing the way we interact with the web.

Comprised of a single speaker and a microphone, devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s HomePod allow us to interact with the web by asking simple questions, such as, ‘What’s the time in Jamaica?’ or ‘How many astronauts have been to the moon?’

We’re big on accessibility at Macmillan, so the potential for voice assistants to lower the barriers to entry is exciting. Unlike screen readers, which use a website’s semantic elements to ‘read’ a webpage, voice assistants can harness the collective power of the web – so only the best results are chosen and read aloud.

In the evolving digital landscape, charities will have to decide how voice technology fits into their digital ecosystems to stay relevant. We’ve identified three key areas where voice technology will have the biggest impact on the charity sector.

Voice search

A man speaking to a Digital Assistant on a smartphone.

We’re all familiar with typing sentences into Google, so asking questions is the logical next step; yet studies show that people use voice search differently. In fact, Google reports that 70% of voice searches consist of natural language. It’s a key difference, and one that says a lot about intent of the searcher, allowing brands to match queries to highly relevant answers.

In the future, charities will need to groom their copy to provide the best answers. This means being clear and concise, writing copy in the way that people search for it. For example, if somebody asks, ‘What is breast cancer,’ then copy starting with ‘Breast cancer is…’ is more likely to be featured.

A good answer, mentioned in a voice search, has the potential to drive traffic, direct customers, and increase the reach of your website. What’s more, with 50% of searches coming from voice in 2020, it would be foolish not to optimise content for voice search.

Voice donations

Comic Relief noses below an Apple Pay logo.

Gone are the days of long and confusing phone donations. Now, we can donate to our favourite charities with the power of voice alone.

Last year, Comic Relief teamed up with Apple to take this idea one step further. By using the power of Apple Pay, supporters could tell Siri to ‘Donate money to Red Nose Day.’ Siri then fires up the online payments platform, without the need to get bogged down in forms.

It’s a bold new move that mirrors the simplicity we’ve come to expect of online shopping, offering a safe and trusted payment method. So, now we can worry less about the how-tos of donating and get back to watching Dermot O’Leary dancing his socks off for a good cause.

Mobile app integration

An image of a person scrolling through content on The Red Cross' First Aid App.

British Red Cross

In 2017, British Red Cross launched a new first aid education skill for Amazon Alexa to allow people to access spoken first aid advice in their home.

The ‘First Aid by the British Red Cross’ skill delivers spoken instructions that helps to educate people on a range of first aid techniques, including how to treat a severe bleed, a burn or a seizure.

Once the skill is enabled, users can ask Alexa to give step-by-step first aid lessons. For example, users can say: “Alexa, open first aid” or “Alexa, ask first aid how to treat a nose bleed.” The app then selects the most relevant content for the situation.

While this might sound like voice search on the web, content is drawn directly from the app, and doesn’t require an internet connection. It’s a move that gives charities the option to prioritise their own content, without the need to compete for search rankings.

Arthritis Research UK

Arthritis Research UK is also exploring voice technology for accessibility reasons. For many people living with arthritis in the UK, finding answers about their condition can be a physical challenge due to the prevalence of touch-based interfaces.

Searching by voice offers a hands-free solution. Building upon the existing chatbot, the updated virtual assistant will learn from user interactions, offer information and support, and eventually harness the power of IBM’s voice technology to respond to questions.

It’s another great example of how voice assistants can lower the barriers to entry and improve accessibility, while helping to meet key objectives.

The future of voice

An image of two voice devices sits behind a graphic of a question mark.

While the technology is still relatively young, voice technology will play a vital role in the digital ecosystems of the future. The rise of voice search will offer new ways to access information and support, increasing both accessibility and brand awareness.

Voice donations will also make it simpler for us to donate to our favourite causes, without getting bogged down in online payment forms. What’s more, the integration between voice assistants, apps and skills means that the technology can be used to talk directly to supporters, raise awareness and support charity objectives.

At Macmillan, we want to make sure our web content reaches and inspires as many people as possible, so the potential to reach new audiences is very exciting. Though we won’t be ditching manual search any time soon, the possibilities of voice technology certainly have us intrigued.

Want more digital insights?

Check out our interview with Senior Digital Editor, Rebecca Cryan, on the importance of accessibility at Macmillan Cancer Support.

Follow us on Twitter @Mac_Digital to keep up to date with the latest digital trends, and be the first to hear when our next blog post is live.

Plus, check out to see our digital work in action.


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