Voice Search SEO Strategies

The Impact of Voice Search on SEO Strategies

From the earliest days of computing right up to the present day, our interactions with digital devices have been dominated by one type of interface – the screen. Whether it’s typing on a keyboard, clicking and dragging with a mouse, or swiping on a mobile device, screens have defined our experience of computing for more than half a century.

That, however, is starting to change. In the past decade, with the arrival of virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, a new way for us to engage with the digital world has emerged. Using our voices rather than our eyes and hands.

This year, the number of devices fitted with AI voice assistants is forecast to pass eight billion. These range from smartphones, which are proving to be a major driver in the steady rise of voice assistant users, to so-called ‘smart speakers’ where screens have been done away with completely, to the latest generation of wearable devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches.

Voice-based interfaces have far-reaching implications for digital marketers, precisely because they change the rules of engagement with online and digital channels. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the world of search engine optimisation, or SEO.

The basic facts are that voice interfaces are changing the way people use online search. 56% of smartphone users now say they rely on voice search to find information about brands and businesses. According to PwC, 61% of 25-64-year-olds believe they will use voice devices for search more in the future, while 71% of wearable device owners predict they’ll perform more voice searches going forward.

As a digital strategy agency, we’ve been watching with great interest how this shift impacts SEO. In this article, we’ll cover the essentials of how voice tech changes the game for online search, and what you need to do to adapt your SEO strategy accordingly.

How Voice Search Differs from Text Search

Talking and typing/writing are two distinct modes of language with their own conventions and patterns. That’s fundamental to the differences between voice search and text search.

For example, when people search using a virtual assistant, they are much more likely to use longer, fuller sentences than when they use a text search engine. They will ask complete questions, and search queries will often become ‘conversational’, with users asking follow-up questions based on the answers they receive.

This can easily be understood in terms of the differences between speaking and typing. Talking is faster and more immediate and so lends itself to longer queries. Typing takes longer, so when people use search engines, they tend to use certain keywords only as shorthand to speed their searches up. As we will discuss below, this has significant implications for how you optimise a website or page.

Voice search is also leading to changes not only in the devices and platforms people use to search, but also where and why those searches happen. Voice search is particularly convenient when people are out and about and on the move. It is therefore common for voice searches to have a location-based element. We covered local SEO in this recent blog post.

Similarly, the fact that more and more people are using smart speaker-type devices in their homes – 75% of households are expected to own one by 2025 – is changing the power balance in the world of search engines. To date, Google has more than dominated the text search market, with an astonishing 91% market share. To many businesses, that has led to search engine optimisation being effectively treated as Google optimisation.

But Google’s dominance of ‘traditional’ search doesn’t extend to smart assistants. Both Alexa and (understandably) Cortana use Microsoft’s Bing as their default search engines. If you want to optimise effectively for voice search, you have to look beyond Google.

Voice Search SEO Strategies

Adapting SEO for Voice Search

So there are the differences between voice and text search. But how does that impact SEO activity?

Keyword Research for Voice Search

Keywords and keyword research have always been a foundational part of SEO. At the very top level, SEO boils down to finding the kind of search terms people are using to look up businesses, products and services relevant to you, and then making sure you use them on your web pages and other digital channels. That’s the starting point for appearing high up in the results of relevant searches.

As we noted above, the language of voice search is very different to text search – it’s more about fully-formed questions and conversational development, rather than short, quick-to-type keywords and phrases. This changes the whole basis of the type of language you want to optimise your content with.

In general, voice-friendly keywords (or, more accurately, phrases) are longer and reflect the way people actually speak. For example, if I was optimising a page about blog writing, I might take ‘blog writing’ as my keyword starting point; it’s the sort of term people might actually type into a search engine.

But for voice search optimisation, I’d want to think about building this out into the kinds of phrases people use in conversation, and particularly things people might ask a smart assistant. So instead of ‘blog writing’ or ‘how to write a blog’, you might get:

  • How do I write a blog?
  • How do I get started with blog writing?
  • What are some top tips for writing a blog?
  • [Tell me] 5 things I need to know about blog writing.

Examples like these are known as long-tail keywords/phrases, or else as natural language search terms.

Content Optimisation for Voice Search

Keyword research is the first step of the SEO process. The next one is actually using those words and phrases in a way that gets picked up by the search engine algorithms and therefore gets your content used when people make relevant searches.

When you’re dealing with longer search terms, it’s not so easy to drop a keyword here and there into headings and body text. You have to work a little harder to ensure the keyword terms fit naturally. But there are some tips and tricks you can employ to make that easier, as follows:

  • Structure your content around your long-tail keywords: This is easy to understand with questions. If you have a question phrase you want to optimise a page for, use it as a question, and then simply answer it underneath. If this doesn’t work for the main body content of a page, include a dedicated FAQ section at the bottom.
  • Use natural, conversational language: It’s important to remember that, even though you are probably typing content for a web page, a voice assistant will read it out in response to a voice search. It’s good practice these days to read web content out loud to check it sounds natural.
  • Keep content concise and clear: Keywords and phrases for voice optimisation might be longer, but that doesn’t mean the content should be. Again, if you think in terms of a conversation, long-winded responses don’t fit the natural back-and-forth. People ask a question expecting a short, punchy answer, with the option to follow up with more questions if they want to. Breaking content down into bite-sized blocks supports this.

Another thing to think about is the fact that voice search results don’t offer a list of ranked options for you to scroll through. It’s very much a case of one question, one answer. If you want your content featured, you have to be the equivalent of number one in the search engine results page (SERP). Or, you have to grab one of the ‘featured’ positions on a SERP page.

SERP features are special results that get pulled up out of the standard rankings. They include things like Featured Snippets, which pull content from a page to display in response to a search query, rather than just listing the web page details. Other SERP features are People Also Ask, which again underlines the value of optimising for questions, and Local Pack results, which are location-dependent results displayed on a map.

There’s evidence that search engines draw heavily from SERP features to provide voice search results. Considering how to optimise for these therefore pays dividends for both voice and text searches.


So to summarise, effective SEO strategies these days must take into account the growing popularity of voice search. With rising numbers of people using virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant to search the internet on their smartphones, smart speakers and wearable devices, it won’t be long before a lack of voice-friendly optimisation puts a business at a disadvantage.

The good news is that many of the best practices for voice-focused SEO – organising content around Q&As, employing natural language and making all content concise and clear – are also good for SEO in general.

To find out more about aligning SEO for text and voice, and learn about our wider content strategy services, contact the Key Element team today.

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