The popularity of voice search has been on a continuous rise for years and shows no signs of stopping. With the speed and ease of voice search, users are finding it to be the most convenient way to engage with search engines on their phones and voice-enabled devices, whether they are looking for the year “The Sound of Music” was released, finding directions to a new Vietnamese restaurant, searching for a recipe for Beef Wellington, or looking up answers for a math assignment.

You might be tempted to think that only youngsters are adopting this trend, but voice search is in fact more popular among retirees than school kids: users of all ages engage with voice search, but the largest demographic is the 65+ age group (75% of respondents use it more than once a day), closely followed by 18- to 21-year-olds (65%).

There are two basic types of voice searches that users complete:

  1. Voice searches on a device with a screen—usually a mobile phone—where the search query is made through voice, but the results are delivered visually like a text search.
  2. Voice searches made with a voice-enabled smart device, like an Amazon Echo or Google Home, where the result is spoken back to the user by the device’s AI assistant.

2020 was in fact the biggest year yet for smart speaker sales. We all must have been looking for someone to talk to while in quarantine because over 150 smart speakers were sold last year, including models from Amazon, Google, Baidu, Alibaba, and Apple.

As users become more comfortable with voice search on these voice-enabled devices, they are also more frequently utilizing voice search on devices that traditionally would operate with text input, such as mobile phones and even computers. As users incorporate voice-enabled devices into daily routines and information-gathering processes, search engine marketers are asking: how do I optimize for voice search and leverage this trend to grow my site?

The two types of searches mentioned above present two different opportunities for optimization and require related but unique strategies to capitalize on them.

How to optimize for all voice search

Before we get into the differences between types of voice search, there are some general principles to follow that will give rankings and visibility a boost across the board.

Conversational and Long-Tail Keywords

Voice search optimization, like any SEO, is about understanding user intent and matching that to a specific query. The formats of users’ queries, however, are different using voice search. Users engage with voice-enabled devices with natural language and longer sentences, largely due to the increased speed of speaking versus writing. Voice search queries are conversational and long-tail, such as “how do I build a garden with raised beds,” rather than “raised bed garden how-to,” and often begin with question words, such as “how,” “who,” “what,” “where,” or “why.”

It’s important to perform thorough research to identify the best long-tail keywords for your page and incorporate those into the title, headings, and content. Most keyword research tools include options to filter for long-tail or question keywords.

Page Speed and Core Web Vitals

As always, page speed and mobile-friendliness are key when trying to improve the ranking for any page, and especially when optimizing for voice search. Google has now completed its rollout of the Core Web Vitals update, so these “Page Experience” metrics are more important than ever to ensure solid rankings and a positive user experience.

Optimizing for Voice Searches on Devices with a Screen

Many voice searches are performed on mobile phones, computers, or other smart home devices with a screen, and strategies for voice search optimization have to keep the device in mind. In addition to the criteria listed above, optimization for voice search on devices with a screen have to take into account other factors that will influence user experience in the search engine results page.

google home device and cellphone

Local Search Optimization

A huge percentage of voice searches occur on the go, especially when users are driving and don’t want to type. For queries like, “best pizza restaurants near me” or “emergency vet near me,” users are looking for top results that match their criteria: quality, proximity, and easy access to further information, like contact info, menus, or services. Local search optimization is key for businesses looking to capture potential customers and clients in their geographical area and includes content optimization for geo-relevance, schema markup, and other strategies that provide search engines with information about your business’s location and services.

Google Business Profile optimization is also critical for voice search, as most “near me” searches direct users to the Local 3-Pack, or the three most relevant local GMB profiles.

Local Search Optimization

Featured Snippets

Many users who opt for voice search are looking for quick answers and are likely to utilize Google’s Featured Snippets at the top of search results, which are answers to questions, tables of data, or lists that Google pulls from a site and presents directly at the top of the organic search results. The best way to optimize for featured snippets is to make it easy for Google to identify that your content is trying to answer a question, provide ordered steps to a process or unordered items in a list, or give data in a table. This can be done by formatting your content well and marking up your page with the proper schema (discussed below).

Optimize for Voice Searches on Other Voice-Enabled Devices

As previously mentioned, many voice searches take place on devices that do not have a screen and cannot display a page of search results to the user. These devices will read back an answer to the user using text-to-speech.

Ranking has always been important in SEO—by most measures, a user is about twice as likely to click the first result than the second, and half again as likely to click the second than the third. But assistants like Google Home and Alexa utilize featured snippets to deliver the top answer to the user, and all other results are omitted. This makes ranking first through featured snippets even more crucial.

When targeting these kinds of results, it is important to maintain a conversational style and get right to the point. Include the exact query you expect users to search in titles and headings, and concisely answer that question or provide a definition immediately after the headline. Fill out the rest of the page with useful and robust content that goes into further detail, in order to signal to search engines that your page is authoritative (remember to E-A-T!).

FAQ sections can also provide content for voice-enabled devices to utilize. Make sure to mark up your pages with the correct FAQ schema so that Google, Bing, and other search engines can easily identify your questions and answers.

Leverage Voice Search for Your Business

The SEO team at Forthea is always keeping up to date on trends and movements in the search world, so our clients don’t have to! If you’re looking for new strategies to capitalize on the growing popularity of voice search, give us a call to find out how the Forthea team can help you succeed in your SEO efforts.

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