A CMO’s Guide to Optimizing for Voice Search
For many brands, optimizing for voice search is uncharted territory. I’m here to give you a high-level overview of what to consider and how to get it done. Start competing for your share of visibility in the growing trend that is voice search. In this article:
- How does voice impact search?
- What are voice search ranking factors?
- How do you optimize for voice search?
(If you’re new to voice search, it will be useful to review the CMO guide to voice search, which includes key definitions and trends. But if you’re ready to learn the next step about how SEO and voice search work together, you’re in the right place.)
How Does Voice Impact Search?
Google once said that voice search represented 20% of queries on its app and Android devices. That was 2016. Since then, research suggests that the percentage has grown much higher. It’s obvious that this is an area that Google will continue to invest in.
Let’s look at a couple of ways voice is impacting how the search engine works …
In 2015, Google launched RankBrain, an artificial intelligence system applied to the search results that better understands the meaning of a searcher’s words.
Mobile usage and voice search were primary drivers of this, as voice queries are typically more conversational than typed queries. RankBrain deals well with those longer, unique queries (often three or more words).
The second concept to know is that voice assistants like Google Assistant make decisions for searchers on which result is the most relevant to answer a question. This is unlike the traditional way of letting the searcher choose a result from the search results page.
Voice search could mean more complexity for brands with local brick-and-mortar locations, too.
For example, someone who has a broken water pipe might simply tell their Google Home device “my plumbing is broken” versus a more traditional voice search like “show me plumbers near me” or “who are the best plumbers in my area?”
What Are Voice Search Ranking Factors?
There are different ways a voice assistant retrieves answers. For example, if it’s on a smart speaker like Google Home, the assistant relies on apps built for the device (via Google Actions) or uses the web.
SEMrush conducted a study that looked at the ranking factors for a voice search. Their goals:
- To understand the parameters that Google Assistant uses to select answers to voice search queries.
- To compare and understand differences in answers obtained from different devices.
Out of the many data points from that study, here are a few to highlight:
- About 80 percent of the answers Google Assistant chose were from the top three organic results across all devices (Google Home, Google Home Mini and Android phone).
- Sixty percent of all answers returned from a voice search were from featured snippets.
- Seventy percent of all answers occupied one of the features in the search engine results page (SERP) … for more on SERP features, see this.
- Page speed was an important factor across all devices.
From our own experience, it is worth mentioning that the expertise, authority and trust of the site that the answer is coming from (and the content itself) are vital. Google cannot afford to give the wrong answer to queries as that undermines its reputation and can potentially mislead the user.
How Do You Optimize for Voice Search?
Strategically, here are a few things to keep in mind when adapting your SEO strategy to voice search.
Know Your Audience
Research how someone would search using voice for your brand, product or service. Remember that voice queries generally take one of two formats:
- Conversational and question-based, starting with who, what, when, why and how
- Declarative statements, such as the “my plumbing is broken” example earlier
Create a list of voice searches you believe your audience might use. As a starting point, look at the queries in your Google Search Console for real examples — chances are good that the longer, more conversational queries came from voice searches.
It can be useful to map these questions to your audience’s journey as they engage with you on different levels. For example, what do people search for during the awareness stage, the consideration stage, and the buying stage?
Know the Results
With your newfound keyword research, try the queries yourself. Search for your brand, products and services using voice search to find out if and how they show up in the results.
If your website isn’t showing up, your webpages aren’t doing a good job of satisfying the ranking factors for voice search.
You can study things like the ranking factors from the SEMrush study and optimize for them. Check out our SEO checklist for a primer on how to optimize for many of those areas.
Know Your Competition
First, find out which websites are showing up on Page 1 for the voice search queries you want to be found for.
Then analyze the top pages to better understand the logistics of the top-ranking results. You can use software like our SEOToolSet® to help you figure this out. And then to help you create content that is on par with the competition, the Bruce Clay SEO WP plugin can do competitive research on the fly.
For many brands, this is a newer concept. But marketers are beginning to think about how they can adopt this into their programs.
The expertise, authority and trust of your site and its content are vital. Start working to improve E-A-T now, or your site will never come up as a voice answer.
In summary, optimizing for voice search is just another way that you can be sure your brand, its products and its services are there when your audience searches for them. As a growing trend, it’s something to understand and adopt ahead of your competition.
If you need help strategizing a plan forward with your website, we can help. Fill out a quote request to start the conversation.