Optimizing for voice search grants your business new opportunities to reach potential customers. But how does voice search differ from traditional search? And how should you adapt your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy to fit? In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know and more about this exciting dimension of digital marketing.
What Is Voice Search Optimization?
Voice search uses speech recognition technology to turn users’ verbal commands into search queries. In response to a search, a virtual assistant (like Siri, Alexa, or Cortana) offers a brief spoken reply or displays a small web page snippet. Voice search optimization involves tailoring your content for these spoken queries and the search results favored by virtual personal assistants.
Voice search is distinct from traditional search, but don’t consider them competitors. Instead, think of voice as an expansion of typed search — an expansion that creates opportunities for reaching potential customers by providing a new level of rapid convenience.
Who Should Optimize for Voice Search?
As more smartphones and smart speakers enter more hands and homes, more people are using voice search. In 2020, 38.5% of the US population used a voice assistant at least once per month. Experts anticipate that number will grow as speech recognition technology continues to evolve.
So, the simple answer is this: Everyone should optimize for voice search to some degree.
That said, voice is particularly vital for businesses that serve specific customer segments. You should pay special attention to voice search if you target these kinds of audiences:
- Local customers. Voice is hugely convenient and can deliver location-based results rapidly, making it a popular choice for customers looking for nearby businesses. If you have a local storefront and rely on foot traffic, voice optimization should be a serious part of your digital strategy.
- Gen Z or Millennials. Research shows that people of all ages use voice search. However, younger audiences are more enthusiastic, with 35% of respondents reporting they prefer voice over typed search. If you target younger customers, you need to optimize for voice.
- Visually impaired users. Users with low or no vision have used screen readers to browse the web for decades. Voice recognition technology opens new doors for visually impaired users to interact with the web, so optimizing for voice search should be a priority for companies focused on accessibility.
You might be wondering: What about ecommerce?
While shopping isn’t one of the most popular smart speaker activities, Comscore reports many consumers use their devices to make purchases. Their research shows that in 2021, 8.9 million people purchased health and beauty products, 8.8 million opted for electronics, and 8.5 million people put in an order for household supplies like paper towels, dish detergent, and glass cleaners.
These numbers are only expected to grow, so be sure to optimize your product descriptions!
Voice Search vs. Traditional Search
While voice and traditional search are built on the same foundations, key differences exist between who uses them and how results are served. Your conventional SEO methods have likely gotten you 80% of the way to being voice-optimized, but you’ll need to keep these differences in mind to close the gap.
Typers vs. Talkers
Voice search experts often place web users into two categories: the typers and the talkers. A user might be one or the other depending on the information they seek in a given situation.
In general, typers:
- Are happy with doing research, reading long-form answers, and spending time hunting for information.
- Use desktops, laptops, or smartphones to conduct traditional typed searches.
- Are more likely to make purchases or manage money in their households.
On the other hand, talkers:
- Look for quick results.
- Use smartphones or smart speakers to conduct voice queries.
- Are more likely to have a more apparent search intent.
- May be on the move or otherwise out of the house.
For a truly effective campaign, you’ll need to appeal to both types of people. That said, these typer and talker behavior trends can help you build better buyer personas and create content that more effectively meets users’ needs.
Voice search queries tend to reflect our actual speech patterns. Conversely, we might omit certain words in text searches. I would verbally ask Alexa “what’s the height of Mount Everest in inches?” but type “mount everest height inches” into Google.
Conversational keywords are typically long-tail and are posed in the form of a question or a command (like “show me used bookstores” or “show me how to french braid”). In general, it’s easier to discern search intent when dealing with conversational keywords.
Context & Personalization
Big tech companies like Google and Apple are incorporating more and more AI features into their voice assistants. AI can better predict what users want and offer personalized results based on the context surrounding a voice search query.
Here’s an example. In a traditional scenario, typing “What’s Sarah’s address?” into Google will not yield any meaningful results. However, verbally asking your iPhone that same question will prompt Siri to browse your contacts list and offer the address you’re seeking.
AI allows virtual assistants to consider the context of a query in terms of previous searches. After searching “Apple store near me,” you might follow up with “How do I get there?” Virtual assistants use AI to understand what you mean by “there” based on the previous query.
So, what does that mean for your voice campaign? I think it highlights the importance of strong internal linking, article tagging systems, and creating a “rabbit hole” of related content for readers to pursue — i.e. topic clusters. As users search for related information by asking follow-up questions, your site should be there to provide answers to their line of inquiry.
Vicinity & Location
A major draw of voice search is its ability to provide immediate answers, which is particularly convenient for on-the-go consumers looking for local results. A driver might ask Siri for directions to a nearby store; a pedestrian might ask Alexa if a restaurant across town is open; a tourist might use voice search to hail an Uber or Lyft. Traditional search can provide location-based answers, but voice search emphasizes offering the same results faster.
Best Types of Content for Voice SEO
Rich snippets (also called rich results or rich answers) are similar to featured snippets but come in more interactive formats than just selections of text. They appear throughout SERPs as recipe cards, star ratings, Knowledge Graphs, event data, and so on. Studies show that rich results have a higher CTR than standard blue link results.
Pages are not automatically guaranteed to appear in a rich snippet simply because they contain the right content. Eligible content must be labeled using schema markup to appear in rich results.
I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the kinds of rich results and keeping them in mind when planning future pages. You should also review existing pages to determine if any could benefit from rich snippet optimization.
FAQ sections are the bread-and-butter of voice search results. They’re ideal for users who want quick answers and have a chance of appearing in People Also Ask features in regular SERPs, too.
To increase the likelihood of appearing in voice results, FAQs need to be labeled using schema markup and be as concise as possible. Schema markup also gives FAQs a chance of becoming featured snippets.
I’ve discussed how voice search is popular with users looking for local results. That makes location pages prime candidates to capture “near me” voice searches.
You may already have a local SEO strategy in place, but there are a few things you can do to fine-tune your location pages for voice.
- Double-check your local SEO basics. For companies with physical storefronts, create only one location page per storefront. For service area businesses (SABs), create one page per geographic region served. Include the name of each location in the page titles and URLs.
- Research long-tail keywords. Expand your keyword research process to hunt down any location-specific long-tail keywords that may appear in voice queries. Most keyword research tools allow you to filter or sort results by length.
- Stay on top of accuracy. Your contact details and operating hours must be easy to find, accurate, and consistent with your Google Business Profile(s). Don’t risk serving customers wrong or conflicting information.
Map Listings & Local Citations
Many voice search queries have local intent, often as users seek information while on the go. Search engines serve information from map listings and other local directories, so ensure your Google Business Profile is up-to-date and give your local citation strategy a review, too.
How To Optimize for Voice Searches: 6 Methods
1. Identify Voice-Friendly Keywords
Voice search keywords are unique. As I mentioned in the section about conversational keywords above, voice queries are typically longer and more specific than traditional searches. That means you’ll need to adjust your keyword research strategy — and reconsider what a “good” keyword might look like.
Here are the types of keywords you should be looking for:
- Long-tail keywords. Voice search and long-tail keywords go hand-in-hand as people use complete sentences when speaking to Siri and Alexa. Remember that long-tail keywords naturally have lower search volumes than short-tail queries but conversely tend to garner more clicks and better engagement. Long-tail voice search keywords may be complete sentences.
- Question keywords contain words like “who,” “what,” “where,” and so on. Question keywords are ideal for voice search optimization because they have an obvious search intent. Answer questions in blog articles or a page’s FAQ section.
- “Near me” keyword queries have skyrocketed in recent years, according to a Google report. They’re commonly used in conjunction with time-sensitive modifiers (“near me now” or “open near me”). Target “near me” and other local keywords in your location landers and by keeping your local citations and Google Business Profile up-to-date.
2. Use Keywords & Questions in Your Headings
A simple question-and-answer style format casts a wide search net. This style is what virtual assistants are looking for when determining which results to display for voice searches. It also works for featured snippet optimization and People Also Ask optimization on traditional browsers.
I recommend following this general outline for both FAQ sections and regular body sections:
- A heading (h2 or h3) phrased as a question and containing the keyword you’re targeting
- A 2-3 sentence answer (or a short bulleted list)
- Further context or internal links to related pages
3. Keep Content Short (But Still Sound Like a Human)
Simple, natural-sounding content is essential when it comes to voice search. Conversational language matches the tone of long-tail keywords and better captures the attention of searchers who want quick answers. The more concisely you answer a question, the more likely you are to appear in voice search results. After all, the average voice search result contains fewer than 30 words.
Here are some tips to consider the next time you sit down to write:
- Answer first, then provide context. After posing a question in a heading, answer in the following sentence. Supporting details and context should come after. By formatting content this way, you’re more likely to appear in both voice search results and regular featured snippet results.
- Remove fluff and filler content. Every sentence should contribute to the overall value of your article, so don’t try to pad your word count with extraneous information or detail. When it comes to voice search, quality is better than quantity.
- Be conversational. Remember: your writing should match the natural tone of voice queries. Use contractions, swap jargon for shorter words, and write in simple sentences. If it fits into your brand style, consider using personal pronouns like “I” or “we” in your writing.
Tip: Use a tool like Grammarly to help clean up your content. In addition to standard proofreading, Grammarly can offer suggestions on how to make a piece sound friendlier and less formal, depending on the tone you select.
4. Add FAQs to Relevant Posts & Pages
As I mentioned above, an FAQ section is a powerful way of increasing your chances of appearing in voice search or featured snippet results. They’re also handy for adding to an existing page without necessarily editing any of the page’s existing content.
Your FAQ is also an opportunity to include internal links to other parts of your site, but don’t simply link to another page instead of writing out a real answer to a question. I recommend including at least a brief 1-3 sentence answer before directing users to another page.
5. Use Schema To Highlight Questions
Implementing schema markup is like pointing a big arrow at your FAQ section for search engines to notice. In fact, to be eligible at all for a Google Q&A rich result, pages are required to include properly labeled Q&A markup.
By labeling FAQ entries in the HTML of a page, search engines will have an easier time understanding the page’s content. You’ll also increase your chances of appearing in featured snippets or People Also Ask boxes.
6. Don’t Forget Traditional SEO Recommendations
At its core, voice search relies on many of the same quality indicators we’re used to seeing in traditional search contexts. These SEO basics should remain a foundational part of your optimization strategy:
- On-page optimization tactics. Voice search may prioritize specific quality indicators differently, but that doesn’t mean voice omits them entirely. Pay attention to traditional on-page optimization best practices, like including image alt-text and incorporating internal links.
- Page speed. Voice search users often use mobile devices and want their answers quickly. That makes fast page loading more critical than ever before. Be sure to follow our page speed optimization recommendations to maximize mobile friendliness.
- Local citations. Voice search brings a new dimension to local SEO and relies on the information you publish on your Google Business Profile. Read our complete guide to Google Business Profile optimization for more.
- High-quality content. A page needs well-written, informational, and valuable content to keep rank. You should never compromise content quality in an attempt to appeal to search engines or virtual assistants.
Improve Your SEO With a Trusted Partner
Voice search is an evolving part of SEO. By focusing your efforts on your search visibility and following our voice search recommendations, you can reach more of your target audience.
Our SEO agency can identify optimization opportunities for your business and help you be the answer to your future customers’ questions. Schedule a free consultation to learn how a combination of our keyword research services and SEO content writing services can help propel you to the top of search.