Speak up! Is voice search set to replace text search?

Voice Search

August 16, 2016

What does this mean for SEO?

Mobile optimization has become unavoidable in online marketing in recent years and has become an indispensable component of any successful online presence in any industry. Google reinforced the importance of mobile optimization in May last year, revealing that users search on mobile devices more often than desktop PCs in a total of ten different countries. The increase in mobile device usage goes hand in hand with a rapidly growing parallel development which is set to become just as vital to search engine optimization – voice search.

From Apple’s Siri to Microsoft’s Cortana to Google Now, the biggest producers of mobile devices have all made voice search a key aspect of their products. According to Google, 55% of American teenagers and 41% of adults use voice search at least once a day. Young people are particularly likely to use this new type of search, but many SEO experts have been slow to catch on. Yet with voice search on the rise, we can safely assume that it will have some knock-on effect on search engine optimization. Google does not (yet) punish pages which aren’t voice search optimized but voice optimization still has its advantages.

So what should webmasters be looking out for when it comes to voice search and what sort of measures should they be taking to profit from the increase in voice searches? What’s the best way to optimize website content so that it appears in voice search results?

Semantic context

Ever since Hummingbird in 2013, semantic context has become more and more important whilst basic keyword optimization has gradually faded away. Google is increasingly trying to understand the semantic context of searches in order to provide users with the best and most suitable search results possible. And so the more context Google can find on a webpage for a particular subject, the better it can read and understand the page and determine its usefulness for the user’s query. Search engines are learning to understand the intention and semantics behind voice searches too and are increasingly able to identify exactly what the user is looking for.

The relevance of landing pages for voice searches is therefore more important than ever; Google and other search engines can quickly tell from the bounce rate whether a page answers the user’s question or not. Simply stuffing a website full of related keywords is not the way to go when optimizing for voice search either. Content should be as natural as possible and – most importantly – the style of language should match the language of the target group.

Natural language and question words

The “naturalness” of a website’s language is just as important as the semantic context. Whilst classic text searches are getting shorter and increasingly generic, voice users tend to use full sentences beginning with question words. Consequently, long-tail keywords and question indicators are more important in content. For SEO experts tasked with optimizing pages and content, this means asking themselves what exactly the user is looking for on a site, what question they are most likely to ask and how this question can be answered.

Frequently asked questions can of course often be answered very simply with an easy-to-use FAQ. When a user asks a full question via voice search, Google is able to access the exact answers from a website’s FAQ section and – provided the content is relevant – display the content higher up on SERPs. There is therefore no need to use a disproportionate number of keywords in text. A simple, natural FAQ strategy is much better suited to voice search because content sounds more authentic, which is exactly what Google is looking for.

Online forums are also extremely useful when it comes to providing customers with answers to direct questions. Here, customers and users help to generate FAQ content themselves by asking and responding to questions, responses which Google can then use as relevant content in its search results. From Google’s point of view, this user interaction is seen as particularly positive and can contribute to better rankings – allowing you to kill two birds with one stone.

Google “direct answers”

The aim of voice search is to answer a question directly and efficiently – it is therefore often used when multi-tasking. According to a Google study, people tend to use voice search more often when cooking or watching TV. The majority of voice searches therefore demand immediate answers – what ingredient goes in next? Who’s that actor again? Voice search is often used when out and about to search for a particular restaurant or shop in the immediate area. It often serves the purpose of quickly supplying information to the user at a moment’s notice – dates, facts and instructions. Google therefore increasingly wants to provide “direct answers” to voice searches instead of suggesting links which the user must then click on to find a more detailed answer. Indeed, Google has determined in a recent poll of 850,000 search queries that 20% of questions were answered directly with a “direct answer.”

“In order to be found with direct answers in Google’s index, SEO experts must ensure that a website’s content provides immediate, accurate answers to specific questions.”

When it comes to direct answers, content alone is often not enough. Domain authority also plays a key role in whether a domain used for a direct answer in Google or not. It takes a lot of time and effort but every SEO manager should nevertheless give serious thought to making sure their website is optimized for voice search. The traffic generated by voice search often has huge potential for conversion as this new search form looks to establish itself in society in general.


To sum up, we can say with confidence that Google and other search engines are using voice search as part of their mission to deliver the best, most accurate search results. Search engines value content and pages which are optimized for the user more than ever as they look for websites which provide users with the most exact, most direct responses to voice searches whilst simultaneously offering relevant content.

SEO experts need to consider what exactly users are looking for on a website and how exactly they are likely to form their question in order to respond as precisely as possible with useful content. Voice search optimization represents a whole new level of keyword-related optimization, emphasizing long-tail keywords and entire sentences. FAQs are ideal when it comes to providing quick, accurate answers to voice searches, whilst the more general solution for SEO experts is natural, authentic content which is tailored to the user’s language style.

Author Saban Denis Dasgin

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