OK Google: “What is Voice Search & How Does it Impact SEO?”

  • As of 2019, nearly 40% of all US internet users and one-third of the American population use voice search features.
  • 71% of searchers prefer to speak rather than type their query.
  • Smartphones and smart speakers remain the most popular devices for voice search, but voice search on other devices like smart watches and TVs is slowly increasing.
  • Voice searches are more likely to be simple and local, meaning marketers need to optimize their content accordingly.
  • To keep up with voice search, make sure your content is conversational, use structured data, and optimize your content for local “near me” searches.

Can you believe voice search turned 10 years old in 2021? With everything else going on in the world, it was easy to miss, but we can’t bear to pass on the opportunity to highlight such a major moment in the history of SEO.

Since the launch of iPhone’s Siri in 2011, voice search has slowly climbed toward the top of the list of ways people engage with search engines. And Apple no longer dominates the game, with Amazon’s Alexa joining a small but growing cadre of virtual assistants designed for voice search. Today, nearly 40% of all internet users utilize voice search features and 71% of searchers prefer to speak rather than type their queries. 

With voice search becoming the new normal for a significant portion of internet users and types of searches, it’s a trend that can’t be ignored when it comes to SEO. Here’s our guide to making sure your content can be found through voice search.

Voice search quick facts

Voice search has expanded and evolved significantly since its inception. Before we dive into tips for voice search optimization, let’s go over some basic facts:

What do people use voice search for?

Voice search is typically used for quick, fact-based queries. A study by eMarketer found that 73% of smart speaker users were “inquirers,” putting them in second place after audio listeners. Inquirers may be users looking for information or asking how to do something. E.g.:

  • “What’s the weather in Los Angeles today?”
  • “What year did The Beatles release their first album?”
  • “Show me how to make pancakes.”
  • “How many pints are in a gallon?”

Though they don’t make up a majority of voice search queries, shopping queries are becoming surprisingly popular in voice search. According to eMarketer, 40% of smart speaker users are shoppers, while 27% actually make a purchase. This means that voice search optimization shouldn’t be reserved only for informational content like blogs and YouTube videos, but should also be considered in shopping content like product pages.

What devices are used for voice search?

The majority of voice searches are still done on mobile phones, not smart speakers. This means that the major players for voice search are Apple (Siri) and Google (Google Assistant). Mobile phone voice searches include the types of queries listed above, but also tend to include a high volume of local searches – e.g., “OK Google, show me taco spots near me.”

Smart speakers are likely the second most popular device for voice searches, with over 37% of U.S. households sporting at least one smart speaker in 2019. The most popular smart speaker by far remains the Amazon Echo, making Amazon the major player for smart speaker voice search.

While mobile phones remain the most popular voice search devices, followed by smart speakers, voice search capabilities are expected to grow on devices like smartwatches, TVs, and more in the coming years.

Why voice search matters 

If we haven’t already made it obvious with the facts and figures above, let’s reiterate: voice search is fast becoming the new normal. Though it certainly hasn’t replaced typed search and probably never will, voice search has proven to be a more convenient method for certain types of queries: namely quick informational searches and local, “near me” searches on mobile phones.

So, if you don’t want to miss out on a sizable chunk of search traffic – particularly if you’re a local business or create lots of specialized, informational content – you’d be wise to optimize your content for voice search ASAP.

How voice search works

When optimizing for voice search, it helps to understand how voice search actually works. Don’t worry – for marketing purposes, you don’t need to know the technical details of how Siri and Alexa interpret human language. But you should have a basic understanding of how queries are formulated and where virtual assistants pull their information from so you can get your content in shape.

  • The anatomy of a voice query: Again, voice search includes questions and commands given to a virtual assistant like Siri or Alexa. Question-based queries and local, “near me” searches tend to be most important to businesses, who can then format their content to answer the relevant questions. Note that voice search queries tend to be conversational and include more long-tail keywords.
  • Where answers are pulled from: Once the query is posed, the virtual assistant will source possible answers from the internet. Where exactly depends on the assistant/device. Studies show that Google dominates the vast majority of voice search for queries posed both to Google Assistant and to Siri – except for local searches, in which Siri pulls from Apple Maps, which in turn pulls from Yelp. Much of the time, fact-based answers are pulled from Google’s Featured Snippets, also known as “Quick Answers,” so optimizing for these features is a great way to capture more voice search traffic. On Amazon Echos, Alexa pulls answers from several third-party sites like IMDB, AccuWeather, Wikipedia, and Yelp.
  • How voice search improves: Programmers use machine learning to continually improve the accuracy of virtual assistants’ interpretations and responses, while Google changes its algorithms and experiments with SERPs in order to improve user experience.

How is voice search different?

Now that we’ve reviewed how voice search works, let’s look at what that means for your SEO strategy. As we hope we’ve made clear, voice search is a different beast than traditional searches, and that means your strategy has to be different too. Here are the four key characteristics that set voice search apart:

Voice searches are conducted in normal language.

A typed search query sounds nothing like the way a person would talk—we typically just enter a few words (maybe “pizza restaurant”), or a string of concepts (like “pizza restaurant late-night delivery”), and submit the search.

But we don’t talk to our phones or smart speakers that way. It doesn’t feel natural, and since we can talk way faster than we can type, there’s no need to cut corners. So in a voice search, we tend to use queries that we’d use if talking to another person, like “OK, Google, are there any pizza restaurants near me that deliver past midnight?”

Voice searches are more likely to be simple and local.

People don’t ask their virtual assistants to explain the primary causes of the War of 1812 – they ask them for help finding local businesses and short answers to simple questions. Searches for in-depth information will likely stay in the world of laptops and desktops for the foreseeable future.

Searchers see fewer results.

It’s an obvious but very important point—the smaller screen size of a phone compared to a laptop or desktop computer reduces the number of results a user will see after a search. While this isn’t exclusively a voice search issue—it applies to any search done on a phone—the vast majority of voice searches are done on phones, so the smaller playing field will become increasingly significant as voice search increases its share of total search volume.

Often, users don’t see any results at all.

When Google or Siri, or any other voice search technology, finds a good enough answer to a voice search query, it gives a spoken response, reading back the answer it’s found. If the user is happy with that answer, he or she probably won’t even bother to look at the phone to see what else might have shown up on the screen. And when searches are done via Amazon Echo or other screenless devices, the entire process happens via voice.

How To optimize your content for voice search

Now for the good news. Even though voice search is a completely different world than typed search, you can optimize your content for voice results without sacrificing your desktop and laptop results. In fact, the strategies listed below will help boost your performance in traditional searches as well as voice searches.

  • Make your content more approachable. Just as voice searches are conducted in natural language, web content that sounds conversational will perform better in voice search results. If your content is too choppy or too dense with keywords, this is one more reason to give it a refresh.
  • Use structured data to make it as easy as possible for Google and other search engines to understand what your site is about and what information you’re trying to provide. Using structured markup is especially important to define physical locations, scheduled events, and information about specific individuals. This is one of the best things you can do to ensure your placement near the top of the results, or even in a featured snippet, the holy grail of mobile searches. Additionally, as of 2019, two types of structured data automatically create an “Action” for Google Assistant, making them essentially designed for voice search: HowTo and FAQ schema.
  • Optimize your content for local, “near me” searches. According to one study, more than 50% of all voice searches are done while driving. If your business caters to walk-in customers, this is an audience you can’t afford to ignore. In addition to using structured data, you can optimize your pages for “near me” searches by making sure that you include relevant information about the cities and neighborhoods where you have a presence.

“OK, RMG – Help!”

Voice search may be changing the SEO game, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay successful in search. Capturing voice search traffic is possible with a little knowledge and some tweaks to your strategy.If you’re not super excited about adapting your SEO strategy for voice search, don’t worry – we are. Get in contact with the experts at Redefine Marketing Group and we’ll be happy to help you identify your biggest voice search opportunities today.

Author avatar
Michael Gomez
Michael was an in-house and freelance content writer before joining the team at Redefine Marketing Group. He is now the Content Manager at RMG, where he focuses primarily on content creation but helps with SEO and Social Media. Michael graduated from CSU Channel Islands with a degree in English.
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