A Beginner’s Guide To Voice Search Optimization

Voice Search Optimization

In recent years, voice search has become an increasingly popular way of locating content. In fact, Google did a study back in 2014, and they found that more than half of all teens were already using voice search once a day.

Voice Search Optimization

There’s some sense to this growth – typing on smartphones and tablets can take longer than most people prefer, so why not use a faster, more convenient way of getting something?

Of course, the spread of voice search means you need to know how it works, how you can take advantage of it, and what sort of results you can expect. To start off, here is our beginner’s guide on how to optimize for voice search.

Step 1: Optimize Your Local Listings

People often use voice search to get information on physical products, services, or locations. Let’s break this down and look a little closer at each element of local listings.


Voice Search Optimization

To us, this is a simple question. But to a search engine, a product search is a specific sort of query.

  • Where tells a search engine that you are looking for a specific location. This means it should focus on places with physical addresses, and it’s going to ignore any online-only results. You won’t even have the chance to appear in the results unless you use something like Google My Business to let Google know you exist.
  • Can I Find tells Google that you are looking for something personally relevant to you. In many cases, this will also tell it to sort things geographically, prioritizing results in your vicinity.
  • The Best is a search modifier that provides criteria for narrowing down the results. In this case, ‘best’ is often determined by publicly available reviews, so companies with many good reviews are more likely to appear in the results. If you neglect getting reviews from customers, you aren’t as likely to show up in the results.
  • Pizza refers to a specific product that you are searching for. Naturally, any location that doesn’t sell the product being searched for will be excluded. This is why you should be as clear as possible about what products you sell.
  • In New York City modifies the first search term (“Where”) by providing additional criteria and context. You’re not simply looking for a product, you’re looking for a product in a set geographic area.

As humans, we understand the complexity of questions like this by instinct. However, you really have to think about what a voice search means if you want to optimize a search for products.

Product searches can be hard to separate from location services. The key difference is that people usually want to buy something when asking for a product, while they just want to reach a destination in a location search.


Voice Search Optimization

This is an example of a short voice search. Short searches are much like keyword searches, but Google is likely to guess at additional information relevant to the customer. Some factors it may account for are:

    People who want carpets cleaned aren’t going to hire a service from across the country. Instead, Google will almost definitely limit the results to a reasonable geographic area, even when people don’t tell it to.

    Results may also be sorted based on a user’s previous buying behavior and estimated income. A service that someone can actually afford is inherently more helpful than one they can’t, so it’s not rare for results to be sorted in this way.

    People don’t necessarily have to ask for the ‘best’ service to get results sorted by quality. Businesses with a good reputation are far more likely to show up at the top of search results than those most customers were unhappy with.

    Depending on what people are looking for, results may be sorted based on store hours. For example, if users are doing a search on Sunday, any store that’s not currently open may be moved down in favor of companies that people can visit right away.

The key point to understand here is that keywords are not the limits of a search. They are only one of several different factors. Although they are an important factor, but you can’t properly optimize your voice search SEO if they’re the only thing you focus on.


Voice Search Optimization

Location searches tend to be the easiest – people may be looking for a street address, a popular landmark, a transport hub, or anything else they might need. Optimizing for this isn’t important for most businesses, but if you have (or are close to) a landmark or other tourist attraction, you may want to try and get noticed in these searches as well.

Step 2: Target Long-Tail Keywords

When people use voice search, they often treat it like they’re having an actual conversation with their phone. This is quite distinct from the keyword-oriented searches people do when they’re typing.

Voice Search Optimization

Services like Answer The Public can help you narrow down your criteria and figure out what sort of intent people have when they’re searching.

Fortunately, most intents ultimately fall into one of the several major categories and figuring out which ones apply to your customers will help you optimize your content.

The major categories are:

    The searcher wants to buy something. It could be a specific product they’re already looking for, but they may also be interested in browsing ideas and learning about products before they buy.

    They’re looking to reach a specific place. There’s a lot of opportunities here for tour guides, airlines, and other businesses that are about getting people to the place they want to reach.

    They want to know a specific piece of information. Most people don’t like product-based results to an answer-focused search. In other words, they want the method (“here’s how to make a delicious pizza at home”) rather than just the tools (“buy these ingredients”). Products can be suggested as part of the method, but acquiring information is clearly the searcher’s goal.

    This is similar to an answer search, but Most people will follow the group consensus during a review search (that is, if they see most other people rate something 2/5, they’ll assume it’s bad without investigating further), which is both a problem and an opportunity.

    This is also similar to an answer search, but rather than looking for a website that answers a question, users tend to prefer a direct result when they’re asking for a calculation. For example, “How much is ten thousand yen in dollars?” will usually bring up the straight conversion. As a service-based answer, most companies won’t show up in these results, but particularly creative businesses may be able to find a way to get noticed here.

Step 3: Use Microdata

Voice Search Optimization

Microdata can help search engines understand more about your website and what kind of searches it would be an appropriate result for. This is a good thing. There’s no point in trying to get people to visit your website if they aren’t genuinely interested in what you have to offer – all you’re doing is wasting their time and increasing your percentage of bounce hits.

Instead, you’ll want to set things up so web crawlers like Googlebot can properly analyze and understand your site. If they understand you, that significantly increases the chance that you’ll appear in a voice search result.

As part of this, be sure to submit a sitemap to Google. This should include important information that people might ask for, including your physical address, phone number, store hours, and the prices of any and all products and services.

One More Thing…

While you’re at it, consider looking at the microdata of your competitors and seeing if they’re beating you in any way. If another company is open longer hours, charging lower prices, or generally having more of a presence online, you won’t get as many customers.

This does not mean that you need to change your business plan in order to match your competitors, but it does mean you may have some extra work to do. If you’re not sure how else to beat your competition, try improving the number and rating of reviews you can get.

Most people are looking for quality, after all, and might be willing to spend more if they see that a lot of people trust your business.

As always, never try to fake reviews. Search engines can and will punish you when they notice this, and that’s not worth the hassle. Instead, try incentivizing customers to share their thoughts and providing excellent customer service. Ideally, you’ll be able to get 200+ reviews in the 4-5 star range. At that point, most searchers will consider you a known quantity and fully trust the results.

Step 4: Focus on Mobile

Voice search is used almost entirely on mobile, with the majority of those coming from smartphones. Voice searches on tablets also occur, but not quite as often.

If people select your site from the results and find that it’s poorly optimized, all they’re going to do is head back and visit someone else. This increases your bounce rate and hurts your Page Rank at the same time.

The conclusion here is clear: Mobile user experience should be a priority for you.

One way to check this is using Google’s Mobile Friendly Test.

Voice Search Optimization

Google’s Mobile Friendly Test which can diagnose a web page and tell you exactly how it is or isn’t meeting mobile friendliness expectations.

Remember that mobile search results are almost entirely separate from desktop search results. Optimizing for voice search and SEO is important, but you don’t want to do it in a way that reduces your visibility in other areas.

Similarly, you should use PageSpeed Insights to figure out what might be causing your website to slow down.

Voice Search Optimization

Mobile users do not like slow sites, and if your page hasn’t loaded within a few seconds at most, you could end up losing a significant amount of your traffic.

In the same vein, the site should be easy for them to understand once they arrive. Here, for example, we broke up the content using easily-scanned headers to help you quickly see what this page is about and what specific topics are addressed. You can’t use this on every site, but it’s worth doing when you can.

The Limits Of Voice Searches

Most people don’t use special forms of searching when they’re making voice searches. For example, using “site:.edu” in a search tells Google that it should only display results from educational sites.

However, given the conversational way people make voice searches, people just don’t say things like that. Some may add similar criteria (“give me some scholarly articles about pizza”), but any complex searches are probably going to be left to desktop users.

As such, it’s better to focus on primary results instead of the complexities of specific searches.


By following these four steps, you’ll be ready to stay on top of voice search optimization and ensure that as many people visit you as possible. If you’ve been keeping up with normal search engine optimization, you’ve already done most of what you needed to.

The key point here is that voice search is an evolution of inbound marketing, not an entirely separate thing. Most of the same rules apply, but voice search is a little more focused on the physical world.

To help stay on the right path, make sure you’re using Google Analytics to monitor the differences between your mobile and desktop traffic.

What are your thoughts about this guide? Leave a comment down below – while we can’t respond to every comment people make, we do read them, and we’ll keep your thoughts in mind when writing more articles on subjects like this. If you’re having a problem with searches, we want to know about it.

Updated: 7/11/17


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