How to Optimize for Voice Search: Content Marketing & Technical SEO Tips

Google reported in 2016 that 20% of the queries it received were from voice search. (Source: SearchEngineLand)

Around the same time, Mary Meeker shared a prediction that by 2020, 50% of searches would be voice or visually based. (Source: Recode)

If you’re not familiar with visual search (and I wasn’t in this context), it’s search and retrieval instigated by the searcher “showing” a device or product like the one they’d like to buy (or if not buy, then get more information about). Here’s an example: shop for dog food by showing your device the near-empty bag of dog food in your pantry, and then buy it from Amazon or another online retailer. Go ahead and look into the Amazon Echo Look for a visual-search-type device that’s almost to market.

If we as marketers understand that text-based search is trending-down-to-obsolete over the next two years, and that our customers will be searching with their voices and images, what do we do to evolve our marketing strategies?

Director of Account Strategy at Marketing Refresh, Katy Katz, and VP of Industry Insights at Yext, Duane Forrester, shared their plans of attack for exactly that with the rapt audience at Pubcon Las Vegas this week.

This post covers (jump to sections with links):

Eye-Opening Stats and Findings about How Well Voice Search Serves Consumers

What are people trying to do with voice commands today? Katy shares the findings of SEER Interactive’s 2017 study about the kinds of actions people use voice search for:

User actions by voice search study data from SEER

Look at those top voice-activated actions! They’re pretty personal. Your customers expect personalization. They’re expecting you to know who they are and what’s important to them. They want you to personalize their experience.

Consumers ask questions in a personal way. Artificial intelligence (AI) is now smart enough to answer these questions. Katy’s 5-year-old used Alexa and said, “Alexa, play Darth Vader.” Smart Alexa played the Imperial March.

We can type 40 WPM, but we can speak 150–160 WPM! With voice search, people will articulate their queries more specifically and precisely.

In SEO and content marketing, voice search is making a big impact on strategy in these areas: keyword research, content strategy, and technical implementation. (Author’s note: That’s all. Just like, everything.)

Technical Considerations for SEOs and Content Marketers Optimizing for Voice Search

First, understand the anatomy of a voice query. These are the key features:

  • The 5 Ws: Voice-triggered searches are usually looking for a result that answers a who, what, where, when, why or how question.
  • Conversational: Voice searches are typically conversational (that is, use natural language).
  • Long-tail: Voice searches are long-tail queries by their conversational nature.
  • Mobile: Voice searches are done primarily on mobile devices.
  • Clear intent: Voice searches are performed with a very clear and specific intent in mind.

Here’s an example voice search query where we can see how a digital marketer’s work to identify keywords, implement structured data markup, and gain positive reviews come into play when Google is determining result relevancy:

anatomy of a spoken query

To establish a solid foundation for voice search SEO:

  1. Define your goals. You know the drill. Make sure they’re specific and measureable. Help you focus on what to focus on. She probably spends 80% of her time helping clients identify the goals that will give the highest ROI.
  2. ID your audience. Take the time to get to know your audience in audience interviews. You’ll learn about their pain points and goals and the questions they want to answer. There’s nothing else like talking to your customers.
  3. Achieve language-market fit. This term isn’t used a lot but it’s a big deal when it comes to search. It’s qualitative research into the exact words and phrasing that your buyers use to describe your product, service or category. Talk like your customers!
  4. Katy Katz speaking at Pubcon
    Katy Katz speaking at Pubcon Las Vegas

    Map the buyer’s journey. Your customers are working through questions at each phase. If there are gaps in your content you’re missing out on opportunities.

With your foundation in place, optimize for these technical considerations for voice search:

Long-tail keywords. Here are keyword research tools for long-tail:

  • Answer the Public
  • Buzzsumo Question Analyzer
  • SEMRush
  • KWFinder
  • Quora
  • Google autocomplete

Snag those snippets. Design your content to optimize for featured snippets. Google Home and Siri are pulling quick answers for this. Short in nature. Simple, concise. Answers the questions in a way that provides utility for the user. The amount of snippets doubled this year. A snippetable post is short and digestible, fact-based logic; if Google already owns the Knowledge Graph, don’t even try to answer it.

Schema markup. Tell the search engines and AI what information is about. Making sure your house in order with different schema types is imperative for voice search.

Brand optimization. Manage your brand across the web. Off-site SEO and PR is everywhere. Local SEO, social media, off-site SEO, reviews are all influencing your consumers throughout their journey. It takes 6-8 touches for a prospect to convert to a sale. For local SEO, check out Moz Local, Yext, Reach Local, GMB. For reviews, check out Get Five Stars, Review Trackers, Yotpo, Reputation Loop — help you with automated tools to grow your reviews and show yourself as a trustworthy provider.

In sum, your buyers have questions each step of the way. There is no part of the journey that is more important than any other. Own the conversation. Own your brand.

User Behavior and New Technology That Is Shifting SEO

Duane Forrester speaking at Pubcon
Duane Forrester speaking at Pubcon

The media we consume is shifting from the silver screen to our digital devices. With that, influence is shifting and celebrities are losing ground. Today, 6 in 10 YouTube subscribers would follow advice on what to buy from their favorite creator over their favorite TV or movie personality.

And there’s the consumer dependence and preference for their mobile device. Technology companies are investing across the board in assistants and AI. Duane asked the audience, “Who believes in the mobile-first Google index?” Well not only should you believe in it, Duane says that it is certainly live now and in use. He expressed that there’s one index and it’s filtered for mobile. He challenged marketers with the question, “Why would the search engine trust your site for the desktop user when you haven’t invested in the mobile user?”

Another area where user behavior is opening new avenues for marketing is local search. Location search is exploding. Note, however, that the growth in “near me” searches is flattening as it becomes assumed.

Want some more eye-opening stats? Duane shared these ones on local search and map behavior:

  • 76% of people who use location search visit a business within one day.
  • 28% of location searches result in a purchase.
  • Digital maps reduce travel time by 12% on average.
  • Digital maps save people more than 21 million hours per year.
  • 63% of digital map users take advantage of them to plan safe routes.
  • Digital maps have supported more than $1 trillion in sales for businesses.
  • Geospatial services help companies raise revenue and diminish costs by more than 5%.

There are hundreds of attributes that contribute to local visibility:

local search attributes chart by Yext

Anyone hear about RankBrain lately? No one? That’s because it’s too busy out there learning.

Voice search is an important inflection point for us in the marketing community. Where we saw mobile coming, voice search is now here because all the tech that makes it possible developed independently.

There are 180 companies in China developing voice search speakers. Duane predicts that in a year, North America will be inundated with cheap, accurate voice search systems. The current players will carve out the higher end and the newer players will carve out the lower end that is able to perform nearly as completely.

Voice search is going to take off because people are lazy. Now we can just talk and get what we want. The next stage is visual search (image-based search) where the Alexa or Home device will show the searcher what they are trying to buy to confirm that’s what they are looking for.

Voice search tech is being embedded into home products like refrigerators and coffee makers. Your refrigerator will ping your phone when you’re at the store and tell you that you’re out of milk.

Tactics to Compete in Voice Search

Google’s not going to tell SEOs via Search Console which organic queries were performed with text search and which were voice search. Look into your site’s organic keyword data and find the queries that brought one visitor, maybe with the stop words removed, and then bundle those up and consider them your voice search terms.

Make sure your site is clean and accessible. Mobile-friendly matters and consumer behavior is happening on mobile devices. PWAs are the future – one code base for all UX and devices. Your developers are going to love having only one code base to manage, but it’ll be a few years for the technology to allow for this.

Secure your site, move to HTTPS. Check out the articles where they detailed their move to secure. It was hard.

Today’s consumers want to attach to businesses that reflect their values. That doesn’t equate to donating to a cause, it’s more like getting your whole company to do a 5K in support of that cause and documenting the whole thing. Really invest in developing your brand in terms of its support of relevant and interested communities. Brand loyalty dropped a while ago and now businesses have to demonstrate their mission in their actions.

Skills Required of the Digital Marketer of the Future

This is your future: the digital knowledge manager. It’s a senior-level, cross-functional position. The digital knowledge manager requires a deep, varied career that has spanned many of the traditional core digital marketing competencies.

The digital knowledge manager needs to be able to speak the language of everyone. They will be adept at persuasion and convincing different groups to take on specific tasks. They are an investigator, negotiator, communicator, thinker, and builder.

As always in digital marketing, the future is now.



Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (13)
Filed under: SEO — Tags: ,
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent SEO posts is better than the last!
Bruce Clay on May 8, 2024
The Always Up-to-Date SEO Checklist
Bruce Clay on April 4, 2024
What Makes an SEO Program Successful?
Bruce Clay on April 3, 2024
How Can I Improve My Website Rankings Through SEO?

13 Replies to “How to Optimize for Voice Search: Content Marketing & Technical SEO Tips”

I truly love this article for the direct yet supportive guide on Voice search. Voice search is indeed gaining mass acceptance which is clear from the fact that there’s an increase in questions being displayed in Google SERPs. Today no strategy is complete without optimizing for questions under People Also Ask. Secondly, a bonus of optimizing for questions will mean that you are likely to increase your chances of getting a featured snippet as well as be optimized for voice search.

I think voice search does have a big future but the underlying ech has to be there so people can give more complex 2 or 3 step commands and the AI is able to understand it and deliver the right answer.

Good information for new comers in SEO.
thanks for sharing.

Very informative article Virginia! As you said that 20% of the searches on Google Maps are voice based, no one can stop it to be number 1 online search method. I am looking for this searching mechanism.

Voice Search is going to be more popular in 2018. We can also call it as future of digital marketing as 20% of searches on the Google apps, and Android devices are currently voice.

It’s crucial to be listed in local properties like Google Local and Yelp because often visitors are going to bypass the site entirely and just call your business directly from the search results.

You made some great points here I am really interesting to see how users will use voice search in the future

Interesting article! Though I’m intrigued by the idea of long tail keywords coming back into the picture. If we see how google made short tail keywords dominate visual search, voice search might be end of this.

Another aspect which will be important is type of queries. With voice search IMO, there will be more conversational queries instead of generic ones. More personal and behavioral analysis of a user will be required in order to take decisive steps.

Thanks so much Virginia, as a new blogger I learn a lot from your great post. Thanks again

These new voice devices and technology make it easier than ever for people to simply ask a question and get information from their device. This allows for a more natural way to interact with machines using a conversational voice. Using your voice, you can now play music, turn on your lights, search for a local pizza restaurant, order products and get information on everything from breaking news to the weather.

Agreed with most part of the past & its really interesting to see how users will use voice search in the future but as of know I feel its more related to B2C & that to specifically services related. However, important point is, Will google share data on voice keywords as well ? If not then, it would be blind game to play around the voice search.

Paula Allen

Amish: You can currently see voice queries as well as text queries in your Google Search Console Search Analytics report, but they aren’t distinguishable. One rule of thumb (per Purna Virji of Bing) is that the longer, sentence-like queries tend to be the voice searches. However, we don’t know whether Google will ever clearly split out the different query types.

Great content marketing and seo tips.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Serving North America based in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Bruce Clay, Inc. | PO Box 1338 | Moorpark CA, 93020
Voice: 1-805-517-1900 | Toll Free: 1-866-517-1900 | Fax: 1-805-517-1919