A couple of decades ago, the idea of talking to robot assistants on a daily basis seemed like science fiction. Today, if we need to find the nearest taco stand, dog park, or day spa, we have no problem asking Siri or Alexa for recommendations.
From smartphones to smart speakers to smart TVs, conducting web searches with a virtual assistant is now a very normal thing. In many cases, it’s faster, more convenient, and easier than typing in a query.
Here’s the catch, though: A typical voice search isn’t the same as a text search. When we talk to our devices, we phrase our queries differently, closer to how we speak in real life. This fact means that SEO experts and marketers have needed to adapt to capture this growing group of searchers.
As if that weren’t enough, ranking for voice search is not easy. Devices that allow voice search tend to only list the top one to three results for a given query. To land that spot, you need top-notch content and a top-notch voice SEO. In this guide, we’ll show you how to do it.
What is voice search optimization?
Voice search optimization is a set of SEO techniques that make your content more likely to appear in voice search results. The goal of voice search optimization is to address common verbal queries in your content so that voice search technologies and virtual assistants present your page to users in voice search results.
In a standard voice search, a user initiates a search with a phrase (e.g., “Alexa” or “Hey Siri”) followed by a question or statement (e.g., “What are some good spas near me?” or “When is the food truck festival?”).
The device then responds with a spoken answer or, if the device has a screen, it may display top results from a search engine results page. Voice search optimization aims to capture a spot in this specific kind of search.
Why optimize for voice search?
Voice search isn’t a craze — it’s slowly becoming the norm. About 40% of U.S. internet users use a voice assistant at least monthly, primarily through smartphones and smart speakers. The number of smart speakers in the U.S. alone is expected to surpass 200 million by 2023.
Voice search presents another critical opportunity to capture organic search traffic, no matter what industry you’re in. By tapping into voice search, you’ll access a new cohort of users who rely on smartphones and smart speakers to find businesses and purchase products.
Targeting voice search can also help your site’s overall SEO and ranking. Search engines like when websites optimize for voice searches, which can give your site more authority and thus higher spots on results pages, maybe even high enough to land in a voice search result.
How is voice search different from text search?
If you’re any kind of web professional, be it a marketer, website owner, or SEO specialist, you’re probably familiar with general SEO techniques for ranking higher in search results, and you might wonder why voice search needs its own category of optimization.
While there is overlap between on-page search optimization and voice search optimization, there are also fundamental qualities of voice search that make it unique from a text search on a website like Google.com.
Namely, voice search queries are more conversational than text searches. They’re closer to how we talk in real life. In a voice search, you may ask “What are some good spas near me?” In a text search, queries are phrased more along the lines of “spa near me.”
As voice search became more prominent, search engines improved at picking out the meanings of longer, more conversational queries and producing relevant results. Google’s Hummingbird and BERT algorithm updates shifted focus toward searcher intent, detecting the underlying meaning of queries (instead of just individual keywords in a query) and providing more relevant results to more conversational voice queries.
Now, the work falls on you to make content that’s deemed relevant to voice search users. Fortunately, you don’t need to overhaul your existing SEO strategy to capture voice search traffic. In the next section, we’ll cover some techniques to help you.
Voice Search Optimization Best Practices
- Target question keywords and other long-tail keywords.
- Use conversational language in your content.
- Prioritize local SEO.
- Try to capture Google featured snippets.
- Use schema markup.
- Optimize for mobile.
- Keep your site fast.
1. Target question keywords and other long-tail keywords.
As mentioned, voice searches tend to be worded differently than text searches. They’re longer, more specific, and more likely to be full questions than simple keywords. When we speak, we’re used to using full sentences with more detail than when we type.
This also makes sense when we think about interaction cost: For most people, it takes more time and effort to type out a query than to say it out loud. Voice search queries are longer because speaking is less physically and cognitively demanding than typing.
To optimize for voice search, one of the best things you can do is target long-tail keywords, especially question keywords, in your content. By doing this, you’ll capture traffic from users who submit lengthier, more specific queries.
Long-tail keywords contain three or more words and are a major component of keyword optimization in general. They attract high-intent traffic because they’re more specific to the user’s intent. You can also make them more specific to your business (e.g., “spas in the Denver area” instead of just “spas”), which means less competition on the results page.
To find question keywords, think of “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “how” questions that users are most interested in. Include these in the copy on your pages (like in an H2) and give them a concise, satisfying answer afterward. You can also go into more detail in the body of your content after your initial answer.
When identifying long-tail keywords, you don’t need to go off instinct alone. You can leverage one or several keyword research tools to find the most relevant keywords for your target customer. You can also take inspiration from the “related searches” or the “people also ask” sections of the Google results page to see which questions your audience asks the most. Enter a search about your business and see what Google recommends.
Trying to pack a bunch of questions and answers onto the copy of your page might feel awkward at times, which is why many websites include a frequently-asked-questions section or dedicated page.
An FAQ section lets you list out every common search question related to your website and provide an answer that can compete for a spot in voice search results. This content format is also optimal for Google featured snippet placement, which we’ll discuss later on.
2. Use conversational language in your content.
I’ll say it again: Voice searches are conversational. Therefore, you should give your content a conversational tone to meet users where they’re at. In addition to feeling more authentic and easier to read, a less formal writing style is interpreted as more relevant to voice queries.
Some ways to make your content more conversational include incorporating more conversational words (e.g., “I,” “me,” “you,” “we”) in blog posts, refraining from jargon and overly technical language, and adding touches of humor to support your points. If you have an established brand voice that you have to follow, make the tone of your content fall toward the more casual end of that voice.
This isn’t a license to downgrade the quality of your content, though. You should keep a more casual writing style while ensuring your content delights and provides value to users. Google still values this kind of high-quality content — just write it (almost) as if you were saying it aloud.
3. Prioritize local SEO.
Local SEO is the process of improving search engine visibility for local businesses, primarily brick-and-mortar businesses. Local SEO is crucial for these businesses, as it targets potential customers in nearby areas who are very likely to buy. It’s also one of the best ways to optimize for voice search.
Think about it: When someone conducts a voice search on their smartphone, there’s a good chance they’re on the go and looking for something nearby, like a restaurant or store.
There are many ways to improve your local SEO, but the most important one is creating and maintaining a Google Business Profile. This is the listing that appears when you search something like “______ near me.” It tells visitors where you’re located, contact info, hours, directions, and other useful information.
Here’s what business listings look like in local search results:
Your Google Business profile is relevant here because voice search results often pull information from these profiles. Therefore, a complete listing means your business is more likely to rank for these local voice searches.
This is one of the most effective steps to take for your site’s overall SEO if you haven’t already, especially if you’re a brick-and-mortar business. In many cases, your Google Business Profile is the first and only way searchers get information about your business. Make sure it’s always accurate.
4. Try to capture Google featured snippets.
Google featured snippets are short pieces of content displayed on the Google results page above organic search results. They’re pulled from a web page that ranks highly for the query and, if captured, can offer a major traffic boost. They could appear as a paragraph, a numbered or bulleted list, or another format.
This is relevant to voice search because, if a featured snippet exists for a query, a virtual assistant will probably read that featured snippet as its answer. To win the query, you have to try to capture the featured snippet.
I say “try to” because, unlike a Google Business profile, landing in a Google featured snippet isn’t something you can guarantee. But, there are steps you can take to capture featured snippets: See our guide on how to optimize for Google's featured snippet box for an in-depth explanation.
5. Use schema markup.
Schema markup is another technique that benefits your site’s on-page SEO in general, not just voice search SEO.
Schema markup is a type of structured data — essentially, it’s code you add to your website’s HTML that helps Google and other search engines provide more detailed results. Schema markup typically includes key information about your business including hours, address, contact info, pricing info, reviews, and more.
Schema markup is invisible to human visitors. Instead, it helps indexing bots better understand your content, improving visibility in search results and getting you more clicks. Because search engines will see your site as more relevant, it also means your site has a better chance of landing in voice search results.
6. Optimize for mobile.
Mobile devices generate over half of all global internet traffic. If that’s not enough to convince you that mobile optimization is important, consider that 27% of mobile users are using voice search on their smartphones.
Google considers the mobile user experience integral to a good website and factors it into its rankings. To land in results for both text and voice search, embrace responsive design and find other ways to make your website mobile-friendly. It’s one more step that helps you stay competitive in voice search.
7. Keep your site fast.
How much do you think about your website’s performance? Hopefully, you’ve given it at least some thought — it’s commonly agreed that a page must load in under two seconds before the user experience is affected.
Like mobile optimization, page load time is another Google ranking factor that affects how well your site shows up in voice search results and beyond. Again, it’s all about the experience: Google wants to show results that will make us happy, and nobody wants a slow website.
There are many improvements you can make to speed up your website. First, we recommend using a speed-checking tool like Website Grader to find out where your site currently stands. Then, go through our list of performance optimization steps and see if they make a difference.
Voice Search Optimization: Get your voice heard.
Over the past decade, voice search has evolved to become a major player in the SEO world, and it won’t be going away any time soon. Not only should you be aware of voice search queries — you should actively work to capture this important segment, especially if you’re a local business trying to raise website traffic and foot traffic.
By following the tips above, you’ll put your site in good standing with search engines, which in turn helps you capture more voice search traffic. Even if you don’t see immediate results at first, these steps will benefit your site’s overall SEO, too. Siri, that sounds like a win-win.