How to Optimize for Voice Search

How to Optimize for Voice Search
Key Takeaways
  • Google's Answer Box is also known as "position zero"
  • 58% of consumers have used voice search to find local business information in the last 12 months

Search marketing has changed! Have you ever asked Siri to give you the name of the best restaurant when you’re on a business trip? How about asking Cortana to find a file or program on your computer? If you have an Amazon Echo or a Google Home device, you know what I’m talking about. Voice Search is becoming more and more popular and that means that doing SEO for voice search is a skill that SEO professionals need to acquire – and fast!

Here are some voice search statistics:

What Voice Search Means to SEO Professionals

Voice Search Devices

People have been using voice search for years on their smartphones when they want quick answers. (Speaking is much easier than trying to type on those tiny little letters on your phone!) But with the addition of voice-activated personal devices, voice search is becoming more and more popular. Here are some of the top devices that use voice search:

  • Google Home
  • Amazon Echo/Alexa
  • Google Assistant
  • Siri/iPhone
  • Android Phones
  • Tablets (iPads and Android)
  • Microsoft Cortana

Each device has a slightly different strategy for voice search optimization. That means as an SEO professional, you need to be nimble and flexible in how you create both the content and the code on your web pages. You want to use best practices when optimizing for search, and those strategies vary by device. For instance, Google takes Answer Boxes into consideration when giving voice search results. Whereas if you ask Alexa where the nearest restaurant is, you’ll likely get voice search results based on zip codes.

Content and Keywords: Tips for Optimizing for Voice Search

Optimizing for voice search means a different keyword research strategy and requires a different way of writing the content on your site.

So how do you SEO for voice search? What strategies work? First, the way you think about content and keywords needs to change. Most voice searches have more than five words and are literally spoken – like real people talk. When you’re optimizing content for voice, you need to use words and phrase strings that people say when they’re asking a real question. For instance, “How do tornados form?” or “How old was Patrick Swayze when he died?”

The keywords/answer to the question you’re trying to optimize for should be in the first paragraph of your web page – preferably in the first sentence.

Look for keywords that involve a question and write content that answers those questions. You can use these tools to find out what questions people are asking about a particular keyword:

When you’re thinking about keywords, you want to use keyword variants for voice search – which means your keyword research is going to be a bit more challenging.

One way to get started quickly with optimizing for voice search is to start creating Q&A pages that answer commonly asked questions by your customers. Get your whole team involved and brainstorm and document questions your customer support team gets, what questions you receive via email or when talking to customers at trade shows or on webinars. Write down the exact phrase the person uses when they ask the question and write content that answers that question.

Google’s Answer Box

If you’re on a Google or Android device, getting featured in voice search results means you need to try and get listed in Google’s “Answer Box” for the keywords you’re targeting. The “Answer Box” (sometimes referred to as “Instant Answer”) is a featured snippet box that appears at the top of Google search results.

Google Instant Answers
Google Instant Answers
Google Answer Box
Google Answer Box

This coveted spot is often referred to as “position zero” because these rich snippet boxes show up above all other search results – even ads. Google’s goal is to provide a searcher – especially people searching with their voice — with the best answer to the question and feature that answer in the Instant Answer box.

There are several types of “Featured snippet” boxes at the top of Google’s SERPs:

  • Paragraph
  • Bulleted list
  • Charts
  • Embedded images may also be included

Your goal? To start getting your pages optimized for voice search so they have a higher chance of showing up in “position zero”.

Google’s Answer Box is powered by Google’s Knowledge Graph and the purpose is to determine the “intent” of a searcher’s query so Google can provide users with the “best” answer. Answer boxes appear above all other listings in SERPs. If you can get some of your pages in the Answer Box for keywords/voice, you get automatic credibility for your brand.

And when you get in the Answer Box – your content will be the one that’s read out loud when people do voice searches!

NOTE: Searches with local intent don’t show up in a Google Answer Box. Even if Google isn’t including local-related voice searches in Answer Boxes right now, you should prepare for it when they do. Be sure to claim your Google My Business page, add schema code to your site to help the search engines learn more about your local business and write content that answers searchers’ questions.

Here are some common snippet query types:

  • Financial
  • Math
  • Requirements
  • Health
  • Do-it-yourself
  • Processes

Pay attention to the Answer Boxes (and sites/pages) that currently appear for keywords you’re trying to target and “re-engineer” what that site is doing to get that zero spot. Research the featured snippet for each query you’re going after and format your content to match/compete with the current zero spot holder. What can you add or do differently to take over that spot? Also look at what type of Answer Box results appear for the phrases you’re trying to rank for (paragraph, bulleted list, charts or images.)

If you’re ranking on the first page of Google search results and the Answer Box that’s being displayed isn’t the best, reformat your content to correctly optimize for that question and you could jump to rank zero.

So when you see a weak snippet, evaluate the code that site uses and make yours the format that Google really wants to see. That can increase the likelihood of your page showing up. Research the featured snippets for each search phrase you’re trying to rank for and format your content the same way – or better.

Different search queries will show you different snippet types. For instance, “how to boil an egg” will probably show a list snippet. But if you ask “How do tornados form?” you’ll probably get a paragraph snippet.

You want to make sure that you’re matching the different snippets – match the paragraph the list or the table format for the answers you provide. This could mean adding the keyword question in the title of your web page, it could be a caption by an image, an Alt Tag, header tags, etc.

More Voice SEO Tips

Unlike search keyword phrases that you type into your computer, voice search is more conversational and natural in tone.

Here are some more general content and keyword tips:

  • Brainstorm keyword phrases with your whole team. (Customer support people are best because they answer questions from your customers every day.)
  • Add more Q&A pages to your site
  • Talk like people talk
  • Now more than ever target long-tail keywords
  • Be sure to use H1 tags with the keywords
  • If you’re a local business trying to get local customers – write with “local intent”
  • Use schema
  • Write more pages on individual/specific topics
  • Think of questions people ask about your products and services – and write content that answers those questions
  • Answers to questions should be at the top of your page – ideally the first sentence
  • Voice search is also typically mobile and often locally focused
  • Because they’re more conversational, voice search queries are also usually longer than typical text keyword search queries.
  • Claim and optimize your Google My Business Listing with voice search in mind
  • Use “trigger words” – More than 20% of featured snippets are triggered by these top 25 words (seoClarity)


Best Keywords for Voice Search
Best Keywords for Voice Search

The most frequently used terms are How, What and Best. This means that you should focus on content that answers questions.

Moving Forward

As you can see, the strategy for voice search is very different from that of traditional keyword research. However, with the uptick in people using voice to search online, you want to get your content and your site ready now. Start testing your voice search theories, play with the schema code, pay attention to key questions asked by your customers and answer those questions.

What Do You Think About Voice Search?

Are you preparing for voice search for your business or for your clients? What tips have you found work for voice search? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sherry Bonelli
About the author
Sherry Bonelli
Sherry is the former Local Search Evangelist at BrightLocal. She led BrightLocal's Research and Content programs and championed the needs of their SEO Agency and SMB customers. Having worked in digital marketing since 1998, Sherry has a Master’s Degree in Internet Marketing along with numerous digital marketing certifications.


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