How to Optimize for Voice Search (Definitive Guide)

Devices like the Amazon Echo are driving the voice search revolution.
Optimizing for voice search and smart speakers like Amazon Alexa (pictured)

We all know that voice search is where it’s at. Yet according to Forbes, only 1% of websites actively optimize for voice search.

That’s crazy.

But it’s also a massive opportunity for businesses everywhere to steal a march on the competition.

In this definitive guide, I’m going to show you how to make your site the preferred voice search result of Siri, Google, Alexa or Cortana.

But first, let’s take a closer look at the voice search phenomenon.

In fact, over the last three years, the number of smart speakers in the US has almost doubled. Take a look at the graphic below.

More and more companies are actively trying to optimize for voice search in 2020
By mainstream media. Source: eMarketer

And yet, most people haven’t even started optimizing their content for voice search.

In this definitive guide, I’m going to give you a fully-fledged, step-by-step instructional guide to squeezing every last drop out of the voice search revolution.

Let’s get started.

Note: This article was updated on 2 August 2020.

Table of contents

What is voice search?

Voice search is also known as voice-enabled search. It’s simply a way of recalling information from the internet, an app or a specific website using voice commands.

It works by pulling in the result from the featured snippet on Google, which is in position zero (position 0).

A Featured Snippet looks like this.

A featured snippet. To appear for voice search, you need to be in this slot.
Google featured snippet

Voice searches have been in the spotlight since Siri was integrated into the iPhone 4S in 2011.

In 2014, the Amazon Echo was born, which we came to affectionately know as Alexa.

Since then, Voice Search has been on everyone’s radar.

Google Dot and Microsoft Cortana added to the market, and according to a study by StrategyAnalytics.com, voice search in the english language has reached the point of 95% accuracy.

That’s a useful tool in anyone’s book.

Is it worth optimizing for voice search?

Time is valuable.

These days, we need to KNOW that something is worth doing before we throw our time and our budget at it.

Just in case you were still wondering whether it’s worth hopping onto the voice search trend. Here’s a graph that plots the increase of smart speakers in the US.

According to 99firms.com, over 55% of households in America will have a smart speaker by 2022.

That’s up from just 13% in 2018.

projected ownership of smart speakers by 2022 as more companies optimize for voice search
Data from: https://99firms.com/

The same study also had some eye-watering statistics around voice commerce.

In 2017, voice commerce accounted for $1.8 Billion in US sales.

By 2022, that number is projected to be $40 Billion.

Optimizing for voice search: Rise in voice commerce, UK and US
Source: David Michael Digital

And just in case you weren’t quite convinced.

Here’s a statistic from a PwC study, cited by Oberlo.

That’s a staggering 71% of people who prefer voice search to typing.

That kind of user behavior is going to drive change for years to come.

This is especially true when you consider that 53% of smart speaker owners are in the tech savvy 18-36 age group (source: 99firms.com).

How can you optimize for voice search?

How to optimize for voice search will vary dramatically from industry to industry.

And even from business to business.

However, user habits and projected trends can steer you firmly in the right direction.

Here are seven key, actionable tips.

1. Use questions as your keywords

We LOVE asking our devices questions.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Siri, what time is it in the UK?
  • Ok Google, how do I make an omlette?
  • Alexa, when is the next Chicago Bulls game?

In fact, many would argue that voice search has made keyword optimization easier than ever.

That’s because at least 20% of all voice searches start from just 25 key words.

Optimizing for voice search. Keyword rich terms for voice search
Infographic by David Michael Digital. Data from SEO clarity.

That’s right, out of the 171,476 words in the english language, voice search drives 1 in 5 of the total queries.

There are 171,476 words in the english language. In voice search, just 25 words account for 20% of the results.
Source: Google search query (google.com)

For number geeks, that means that a massive 20% of all searches are driven by just 0.014 of the words in our language.

Just in case you’re curious how that looks.

How to optimize for voice search: 0.014% of total words drive 20% of voice search results
Graphic by David Michael Digital

So, what are these magic keywords?

Well, of the top 25 keywords, the top 5 keywords drive 85% of the searches.

Here is the full list according to seoClarity.

Breakdown of the top 25 voice search words from SEO Clarity
Source: seoclarity.com

As you can see, the top three words are How, What and Best.

They command the significant majority of the searches.

Here is a chart with the top 5 magic words for voice search, and how they compare.

Breakdown of the top 5 voice search trigger words to help you optimize for voice search.
Data from: quoracreative.com

Suddenly optimizing from voice search looks easier than you thought.

As we mentioned above, use the terms How, What and Best.

It makes sense if you think about it.

After all, this is how we all speak.

  • How can I cook a thanksgiving meal?
  • What time is it in Sydney?
  • Best Christmas gifts for 2-year-olds?

So, is that all there is to it?

Far from it…

2. Think about the location of your users

Again, this is a chance to gain valuable insights from user behaviors.

The chart below shows that over half of all voice searches happen in the car.

Where people use voice search
Graphic by David Michael Digital. Source: Gartner.com

This also makes sense.

After all, it’s a situation where we can’t use our hands to type.

However, it should be noted that this statistic is falling all the time.

More and more of us are searching around the house as a matter of ease, not necessity.

This is backed up by the purpose of most voice searches.

Optimizing for the search revolution. Top 5 uses for voice search
Graphic by David Michael Digital. Data source: 99firms.com

The 3 most popular uses for a voice search are:

  • Searching for a quick fact
  • Asking for directions
  • Searching for a business

These can all be done in the car.

In-car statistics can give us some valuable information, especially if your business happens to be a physical one.

Many searches in the car will be directions.

For example:

  • Where is the nearest burger restaurant?
  • How can I get to the nearest fuel stop?

As you can see, words like ‘nearest‘ crop up regularly.

You can include these type of location words on your business page.

i.e. Nearest burger restaurant to the Yankees stadium.

However, possibly the most useful statistic in the chart above is the third column which I have highlighted with a red rectangle.

Local businesses perform well on Voice Search.
Infographic by David Michael Digital. Data source: 99firms.com

This shows that 48% of people have searched for a business using voice search.

How to optimize for business searches

To optimize for business searches you need to make sure that you claim your My Business Listing on Google.

How to claim your business listing on Google

Go to the Google Business help page.

Google business support page

Make your way through the steps which will show you how to become a verified business.

How to create useful localized content

The next step is to create useful content that is tailored to local users.

This could be individual pages for each of your most frequently asked questions (FAQs).

For example:

  • How can I contact my local car sales person?
  • Where do I file a local incident report?

You should answer these questions thoroughly to appear higher for local searches.

These subtle differences will could be increasingly important into snaring customers.

3. Pay attention to user intent

Another key consideration when optimizing for voice search is user intent.

Understanding intent will help you to increase conversions.

As you can see from the chart above from campaignlive.co.uk, the real intent words are where and when.

This is because these words are only used when a user is likely to act.

For example:

  • What is a healthy food snack?’ – This signals interest in a subject.
  • When is the Superbowl on?’ – This implies an intent to watch something, or attend an event.
  • Where is the nearest restaurant?’ – This implies a real intent to purchase.
  • Where can I buy a new phone?’ – This implies a real intent to purchase.

You might want to consider using lower intent words such as what/who/how to drive traffic.

You can use high intent keywords such as when and where to promote your products.

These work well on Q&A pages.

For example:

  • Where can I buy the sneakers that everyone’s talking about?
  • When is the new FIFA game released?

4. Match user behavior to device location

Voice search isn’t like desktop browsing.

Browsing on desktop is THE thing you are doing at that exact point in time.

Voice searches mostly happen when you are DOING something else.

That something could be:

  • Driving (as above)
  • Cooking
  • Watching TV
  • Chatting to your partner
  • Negotiating with your children
  • Etc.

In fact, many voice searches are triggered by what you are doing.

For example, if you start cooking you might say:

  • ‘Alexa, how do I bake a cake?’

Your target audience will likely be multi-tasking. i.e doing something while they are carrying out their voice search.

Therefore are times when you can make educated assumptions about your buyers based on what they might be doing.

This will help you optimize your content for voice search.

Let me explain.

The chart below breaks down WHERE people place their smart speakers.

Optimizing for voice search. Location of voice assistants (smart speakers)
Infographic by David Michael Digital. Data source: searchengineland.com

This is very interesting for businesses, particularly ones that sell items around the home.

For example, we can see that 22% of households keep their smart speakers in the kitchen.

What might they search for in the kitchen?

  • Recipes and how-tos
  • Pots, pans and appliances
  • Food and drink brands
  • Takeaway orders

So what types of brands should be on red alert to optimize for voice search?

  • Homeware companies
  • Food companies
  • Appliance companies
  • Local restaurants

The same type of theory might be applied to the living room or bedroom. For example, in the bedroom you might get people searching for:

  • New clothes
  • Digital appliances
  • Adult toys
  • Blinds and curtains

Be creative!

Matching user behaviors and search location, and using these to make assumptions is a great way for certain businesses to get ahead when it comes to optimizing for voice search.

Regardless of whether you’re selling voice-search-friendly products, it’s always a good idea to IMAGINE what your user might be doing when they search for your keyword.

Putting yourself in your audience’s shoes will also help you optimize your wider content so you can speak directly to what they need at that time.

5. Use natural spoken language and longer keywords

Earlier, we discussed that questions were one way to optimize for voice search.

This also means that your keywords can be longer.

Look at this graph from campaignlive.co.uk

Using longer keywords to optimize voice search

The reason why voice search uses more words is simple.

Using voice search you might say:

  • ‘How can I bake the best chocolate cake?’

When typing, you’re more likely to search for:

  • Chocolate cake recipes

This means that to truly optimize for voice search, you need to make your language sound more natural.

In essence, you need to make it sound like something we would SAY, not something we would SEARCH.

The difference is often subtle, but exact key phrase matching is crucial.

How to find the best keyword phrases for voice search

To find the best exact keyword phrases, you will need a keyword tool.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to break the bank (or cost anything at all).

In today’s ultra-competitive Search Engine Optimization (SEO) landscape, operating without a keyword tool is like going blindfold.

(Disclaimer: If you are in a totally uncompetitive sector then this is less important but a keyword tool will always help)

However, for the rest of us, a keyword tool is the difference between wasting time, or not.

Which keyword tool should you use?

I recommend using one of these three tools.

  • Ahrefs (7 days for $7)- the best search and fastest indexing tool on the internet (after Google)
  • SEM Rush (7 day free trial) – excellent for research and unlimited data exports
  • Ubersuggest (7 day free trial) – good for competitor research

I would suggest taking either of Ahrefs or SEM Rush for the trial period and downloading all of your insights.

If you love them then you can keep subscribing. If not then you can cancel after the trial and your maximum outlay is $7.

The reason that this is so important is because using a keyword tool can show you WHICH of the voice optimized question phrases have a significant monthly search volume and HOW hard it will be to rank for that keyword.

I will explain why the ranking difficulty metric is so important to know in the next section.

For now, let’s focus on the keywords.

How to use a keywords tool to optimize for voice search

Remember, to successfully optimize for voice search, we need to replicate how people speak.

Therefore, we need to use questions.

Especially questions with the most popular terms: How, What and Best.

And those with intent: When and Where.

As an example, let’s see how the search volume stacks up for a food-related term.

I typed ‘How to bake a cake?’

Here is the screenshot of my keyword tool (Ahrefs)

Use Ahrefs to find and optimize voice search keyword terms
Screenshot: ahrefs.com

We are looking for three major stats:

  • Keyword volume
  • Ranking difficulty
  • Related keywords or questions

As you can see, there are 3.2k searches for this in the US every month. This is the volume.

I have put a red rectangle around the keyword difficulty. This keyword term is listed as ‘hard’.

What does keyword difficulty mean?

It should be noted that this search difficulty does depend on the authority of your own site.

For example, if you were Wikipedia (for example), you wouldn’t have much trouble ranking for this key term. However, if you were a tiny high-street cake shop then ranking for a global term like this would be very difficult.

It’s all relative.

Here’s a screenshot from lower down the page, where my keyword tool gives a useful breakdown of related questions.

To optimize for voice search, find the best keyword questions using a keyword tool like ahrefs
Screenshot: ahrefs.com

These are useful because it shows similar questions that still sound natural (perfect for voice search optimization).

It also lists the monthly volume for each one.

This keyword information is invaluable as it will help you decide:

  • Which keywords question phrases you want to try ranking for
  • How hard they will be to rank for
  • Related keyword questions and associated terms
  • Whether there is enough search volume to make it worth ranking for

A keyword tool is just as useful in helping you decide which key words to AVOID as it is in helping you choose which ones to TARGET.

Imagine writing a long SEO and voice-optimized post, only to find that the keyword difficulty is off the scale, and the keyword volume is barely going to get you any traffic.

That’s why you need a keyword tool.

Now that you have a better idea about keywords, it leads nicely onto this next important tip.

6. Understand that you need to rank first

That’s right.

Unlike normal organic search, where you get a list of 10 or more possible queries on the first page, a voice search works differently.

Google sets out to give you THE best result for your query.

There is only one winner.

That’s why matching the EXACT phrases that people actually say is so vitally important.

However, this also means that to optimize your website for voice search, you should also pay attention to all the normal SEO practices.

I touched upon this point right at the start when I was detailing the Google Featured Snippets.

You want your search result to be this key snippet in position zero.

That’s one spot ahead of the first organic search result.

Ranking first on Google is the only way your results will be used as the voice search result.

Most Featured Snippets have plenty in common:

  • They have a higher than average domain authority
  • Featured snippets have the keywords in BOTH the title and the meta description
  • The keywords also appear in the URL
  • The content answers the question accurately

The above image from backlinko.com has all of the elements we would look for in a typical featured snippet.

  • Related URL – check
  • High Domain Authority (DA) – check
  • Related title – check
  • Clear explanation – check

This section mentions the importance of domain authority (DA). If you want to check the domain authority of your competition then you can use the Ahrefs keyword tool again.

Here’s a screenshot of the DA for all the sites that ranked in the ‘How to bake a cake?’ (discussed in the previous section).

I have highlighted the relevant column with a red box. In the Ahrefs interface they refer to it as DR (Domain Ranking). But it means the same.

Domain authority still matters for voice search results
Screenshot: ahrefs.com

And that brings us on to the final point.

This last tip is easy to do and will take you ahead of most of your competition.

7. Increase your page loading speed.

This is my final tip.

I’ve put it at the end because it’s different from many of the other trend based tips. It’s technical SEO.

However, it’s no less important. Here are some stats from BitCatcha.

The stats on slow loading
Source: Bitcatcha.

Then there’s this…

According to GeoMarketing.com, the average voice search loads in just 4.6 seconds.

That’s 52% quicker than the average search.

This means that having a fast-loading page is crucial for anyone hoping to claim that coveted top spot.

To put it another way. You have zero chance of being THE voice search result if your page loads slowly. Even if you have the best information in the world.

You can test your page speed using Google’s own pagespeed test.

Here’s mine below.

Google page speed test for this website
davidmichaeldigital.com on Google Pagespeed

NOTE: As an aside, I’m completely obsessed with the page speed of my site. If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to do me a favour by testing my page speed, please go ahead. And please contact me to let me know if my page speed has dropped below 90, I’d really appreciate it.

From the graphic above you can see that I’ve managed to make my site run fast.

There are plenty of technical ways to do this very quickly.

How to increase your page speed

The great thing about Google page speed test is that it tells you exactly how to fix your slow-loading problems.

Once you’ve run the test, scroll down and you’ll see something that looks like this.

TTFB is the most improvable metric by switching hosts
Page speed test for this website (davidmichaeldigital.com)

I’ve drawn in an arrow so you can see the area I have the most room for improvement.

Most people have the same.

TTFB identifies the time it takes your server to respond.

The way to fix it is simple: get faster web hosting!

If you want to appear in the top search result for voice search queries then you really should be on the fastest web host you can find.

Here are a list of the best ones.

  1. WP engine
  2. Kinsta
  3. Liquid Web
  4. Inmotion Hosting
  5. Cloudways

Optimizing for voice search: a summary

Voice search is the future of internet browsing.

Which means that it’s also the future of ecommerce.

Optimizing for voice search will put you in the top 2% of websites (99firms.com) who actually spend real time and resources focusing on voice SEO.

To recap, here are my recommended steps.

If you have any questions, or enjoyed the content of this article, you might want to read about the statistics driving the search engine revolution.

For any more advice or insights about how to optimize for voice search, please feel free to get in touch in the comments below.

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