10 Tips for Maximizing Content for Voice Search
Estimates put the number of voice search users around the world at roughly a quarter of the total population. These are people who routinely navigate the complex world of internet searches by vocally asking complete questions or making statements rather than typing in keywords or phrases.
“Users now use Multisearch 9 on mobile to ask Google questions with pictures and voice instead of typing into the Google app,” says Gartner analyst Rene Cizio. “Voice search enables users to search the web using audible commands with virtual assistant technology and smart speakers.”
According to Gartner, at least 75 percent of U.S. households will have at least one smart speaker by 2025. Additionally, major search engines and apps include a microphone on the search bar for easy voice search. Voice search results are displayed the same way that text-based searches are.
This trend toward voice search is sure to have huge, far-reaching impacts on search engine optimization strategies, experts agree.
In the past, companies used SEO to get web surfers to visit their sites, according to Gartner. Now, companies must also entice them to stay there with voice SEO and other SEO strategies.
Another reason for the expected growth of voice SEO, according to Forrester Research, is that many people have yet to learn how to use it. Once they do, though, those people are likely to convert to voice search.
But voice search isn’t a magic bullet, Forrester senior analyst Nikhil Lai cautions, noting that there are times when keying in search terms or searching via images make more sense. Still, he does expect the use of voice search to increase.
With the growth in this type of search, experts offered their top 10 tips and technologies for optimizing keywords and phrases for searches using voice assistants:
1. Use conversational keywords.
Voice search queries are inherently conversational, points out Marshal Davis, managing partner of Ascendly Marketing, a digital marketing and web design agency based in Texas. “Therefore, it’s crucial to optimize for long-tail keywords that mimic natural language. This ensures that your content aligns with the way people actually speak when using voice search.”
Gartner agrees: “Voice-based search emphasizes longer-tail searches and conversational language that more accurately reflect natural human speech. Think beyond the keyword and consider how content can convey meaning to those asking questions or trying to solve problems.”
“The most prominent quality distinguishing voice from traditional search is the need to use conversational queries,” adds Ben Hilton, managing director of Switch Jam Digital, a U.K. digital marketing agency specializing in SEO, social media marketing, online paid advertising, and lead generation. “The simplicity of searching by speaking out loud has shifted user behavior from short, very direct keywords to more descriptive and conversational full-sentence query.”
Hilton explains: “For example, where we may have typed ‘best Italian restaurant NYC’ into a search engine, now we could ask a voice assistant ‘Where’s the best Italian restaurant near Times Square?’ or ‘Which Italian restaurants in New York have the best reviews?’ These queries mirror our natural spoken language and come with implicit or explicit questions.”
2. Audit and optimize website content.
Before attempting to add or revise content for voice SEO, experts from Semrush, which provides a platform for keyword research, competitive analysis, site audits, backlink tracking, and comprehensive online visibility insights, recommend that companies conduct an audit to identify opportunities to optimize content for the keywords they want to target in voice search.
For example, if a company has already placed a blog post titled “How to Edit a PDF” on its site, an additional post that targets different but related keywords like “How do I edit a PDF” or “Ways to edit a PDF” is unnecessary. Instead, optimize the existing blog post to include those keywords.
To conduct a content audit, Semrush suggests ImpactHero, an AI-powered tool that breaks down content by customer journey stages. It identifies the most impactful content pieces and provides recommendations for improving them.
3. Include SERP (search engine results page) features.
Voice search results often pull from SERP features like featured snippets and local packs, Davis says. “To increase your chances of being selected by voice assistants, your content should aim to win these SERP features. This involves creating content that provides quick, concise answers to common questions in your industry.”
“Look into what’s already appearing on the search engine results pages—the pages with relevant results that search engines show to users after they enter a query—to gain an understanding of what types of content are likely to appear,” Semrush recommends in a blog post, adding that SERP features bring something new to search results beyond the standard blue links.
4. Go local.
Voice assistants frequently source information from local directories when responding to location-based queries, according to Davis. Ensuring that your Google Business Profile is fully optimized, along with a strong presence in other local directories, is essential for capturing this voice search traffic. By doing so, you not only enhance your visibility in voice search results but also increase the likelihood of being the go-to recommendation.
Voice search skews to local listings primarily because many use it while driving, according to Joe Karasin, founder and chief marketing officer of Karasin PPC, a digital marketing agency based in Michigan. “So optimizing for local SEO will help you win in voice search. This means using locally modified keywords such as ‘best realtor in Chicago’ or ‘bankruptcy attorney near Southgate, Michigan.”
This is best done in the title tag of your content, Karasin adds. The HTML-tagged copy should be more compelling and induce the consumer to want to know more. You can find creative ways to work local SEO into your title tags, such as “What are the top 5 Pho restaurants in Pilsen.” But by optimizing for local search, you will benefit from capturing more voice search queries.
5. Concentrate on natural language queries.
When optimizing for voice search, the most important strategies focus on long-tail natural language queries and personalizing content, says Jason Smit, CEO of Contentellect, a content marketing and SEO agency, who notes these techniques lead to better results and engagement. “You want to solve actual user questions, not target robotic keywords. Providing that truly useful info is how brands can win with voice search,” he says.
When using voice, people aren’t sitting down to type meticulously crafted keywords, Smit adds. They’re conversing with a device like they would with a friend, with back-and-forth discussion prompts like “Hey Google, how can I get more iron in my diet if I’m vegetarian?” or “Alexa, what’s the best way to get tomato sauce stains out of clothes?”
Search-optimized content unites keywords with natural language that fulfills the user’s intent at every stage of the customer journey, according to Gartner’s Cizio. “The days of using clickbait, self-serving posts, and keyword-stuffed content to rank on a search algorithm will not net page views as they have in the past. Today’s algorithms populate content based not just on keywords but on the creator’s experience, knowledge of the topic, authority, and trustworthiness.”
“Contentellect is always encouraging clients to research the long, conversational questions their customers are actually asking,” Smit adds. “Don’t just target individual keywords. Look for that voice of the customer through surveys, support tickets, social listening. Identify their real needs and pain points.”
Then it’s about creating content that answers their questions clearly and conversationally. Write like you’re speaking to someone who asked for your advice, Smit explains. “Use contractions, first- and second-person language, active voice. Make it helpful and empathetic, almost like you’re continuing the conversation they initiated.”
6. Offer FAQ sections.
Website content also needs to contain more FAQ sections that directly address common questions users might speak out, Switch Jam Digital’s Hilton contends. For example, a hotel in New York might include answers to questions like “Is the hotel pet-friendly?” or “How close is the hotel to a subway station?”
FAQs are typically written in question-and-answer format, which further leans into the recommendations for a natural language approach that might allow a user to initiate a query by asking, “What would you suggest I do with a punctured tire?” Hilton recommends writing the phrase and the answer in a way suited for voice search, without trying to shoehorn the phrasing into the main content copy.
“FAQs are structured data that is easy for search engines to parse and, consequently, this increases the probability of the question and answer being found fast enough to respond to voice search,” Hilton explains.
7. Optimize blog posts and other articles for voice SEO.
Producing content heading and titles that mirror a conversational tone are beneficial, according to Hilton. So instead of a blog titled “Top 10 Pizzas in Brooklyn,” use “Where can you find the best pizza in Brooklyn?”
SEO uses metadata and rules to indicate the most important or relevant content on a page. H1, H2, and H3 headings or copy show emphasis on keywords or phrases, Hilton explains. Whether a keyword phrase is used at the top of the page vs. the bottom also shifts the perceived importance of that phrase or intent.
“It makes sense to use the blog posts features (headings, font type, etc.) to signal to search engines where the topic, intent, or priorities sit,” Hilton says. “Bots crawl the easiest-to-read content first, so to return a dynamic result such as voice search (with fast time frames a priority), these on-page elements need to be optimized to match the search technologies’ priorities.”
Blog posts are extremely import in any form of SEO as they offer unique scenarios where long-form content can be used, according to Hilton. Articles of 2,000 to 3,000 words demonstrate much higher levels of topical authority and cover a far broader range of associated topics (broader taxonomy, synonyms, etc.), so they will be far more likely to explicitly address voice search queries, he maintains.
8. Include question words.
Incorporating words like “how,” “why,” “where,” and “what” within content will help align with the phrasing used in voice search, Hilton says. For example, an online shoe store might use phrases like “What are the most comfortable running shoes for marathons?” or “Where can I find pink sneakers?”
“Optimizing content to focus on questions helps when people are using voice assistants,” Karasin says. “When I am home, and I want to use my Google Assistant, I usually ask it a question like ‘What are the most important things to consider when optimizing for voice search?’
“When writing content for blogs, I tend to title it with a high-volume search question and then expound upon the answer in the content,” Karasin adds. “I find the same with paid search. In fact, when you look at your search terms insights, you can see several searches that start with ‘Hey Google’ or ‘Hey Alexa’ and then a question. By using these insights, it is easier to craft compelling search ad copy that converts.”
9. Remember to E-E-A-T.
With Google’s current algorithm, companies and individuals must demonstrate, through actions they take on websites, how helpful they find the content, Cizio contends. “That means brands’ SEO strategies must change from being mostly keyword-based to having a more substantial impact on the content created. SEO should determine the entire story, not just the headline.”
Google uses a mix of factors to determine if your content demonstrates experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, known as E-E-A-T, Cizio explains.
Gartner recommends the following five guidelines for demonstrating those qualities:
- Demonstrate firsthand expertise and a depth of knowledge.Relevance is given to content created from research and obvious practical experience.
- Have an intended audience.The intended target for such content should be clear and precise.
- Have a primary focus.Content should have a narrow subject and depth of insight vs. just summarizing content that can be found elsewhere.
- Teach readers enough to achieve their goals.Content provides enough insight that readers feel they can take action, improve, or make needed changes.
- Create a satisfying content experience.Users stay on the page, engage with page elements, share the content, and view other pages.
10. Anticipate generative AI’s impact.
Like it is in other areas of communication, generative AI will impact voice search and voice SEO. But rather than adding to growth, it will likely work better for searches using images or traditional keyed-in words or phrases, according to Forrester’s Lai.
And though it’s important to accommodate voice search, Lai reiterates that it shouldn’t be the only SEO strategy adopted. “There’s still a benefit for silent searching. There are places, like in a restaurant, where voice search is impractical. So consumer adoption will be relatively limited. I don’t think that there will be a rapid adoption of voice search,” he states.
Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.