How to Optimize your Site for Voice Search

It’s projected that 50% of all searches will be made by voice by 2020 – is your website optimised to take advantage?

Voice Search

Have you started optimising your website for voice search?

If not, then consider that in 2016 20% of mobile search queries were already made by voice, and it’s projected that by 2020 that percentage will reach 50%.

Voice search is here to stay, and if it’s not already part of your marketing strategy, then it’s time to start planning.

With more people connecting to the internet with their mobile devices, voice search is just faster and more convenient.

The market has also welcomed the likes of the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other ‘personal assistant’ devices to help homes take advantage of voice – why type out queries if you can just talk?

With this shift, business need to ensure that their websites are optimised for voice search, or risk falling behind their competitors. We’re going to share some practical advice on how you can achieve that.

Voice Search - By 2020, 50 per cent of all searches will be voice searches

Why is Voice Search thriving?

Over the last few years the way Google interprets our general typed searches has changed – or rather evolved.

In 2013 they released Hummingbird, an update to their search engine algorithm. This was basically a complete change of how their algorithm worked, and how it matched a user’s query to results. The aim with this update was to identify a user’s intent, and then show the results that are the most relevant to their search.

Synonyms and other related terms were also brought into consideration, not just the exact keywords you entered for your search.

This was the first step to creating a more natural conversation with the search engine, as opposed to entering a few keywords and hoping to find the best result. For example, before Hummingbird if I wanted to find a restaurant serving Mexican food, I would have typed “Mexican restaurant”. A short query which would have likely brought me the most accurate results.

With the Hummingbird update, you can search for more complete terms like “find the best Mexican restaurants in Cape Town” – where you should find restaurant listings in the general search results area – as well as Google Maps listings showing you where you can find Mexican restaurants.

Google Search results for local Mexican restaurants

And this is why voice is the next logical step in search – you’re communicating like you’re taking to another human.

What is Google Voice Search used for?

We can see that voice is becoming more popular, but what are people using it for?

In 2014 Google released an interesting infographic to show what their users were using voice search for on their mobile devices. The infographic shows the six most-searched topics, some of which are functions for the mobile device itself – like playing a song, calling somebody, and checking the time.

Voice Search uses

Once we move past those functions, you’ll see that teens are focused on asking for directions, help with their homework – and finding movie times. We can treat the homework term as a generalised request (because it covers many different topics – history, geography, math and more). Meanwhile, the movie times request is a good example of a local business offering a service.

If you owned the local cinema, you’d want to have your site right to the top of search results (and in the Maps section) – ensuring users are more likely to visit after asking their device. The same would apply to any business providing a service in the area.

For adults, the results were actually very similar, but their priorities were slightly different. Asking directions were their main concern, with a very small percentage looking for movie times. This might suggest that they are still using older methods of researching – such as a normal internet search, or maybe a local newspaper.

Therefore, there’s still a trend towards the younger audience with Google Voice Search; they’re also more likely to have mobile devices.

Optimisation Tips for Voice Search

Now we know the basics of what this functionality offers and why it’s important, so how do you optimise your website for voice search?

The good news is that if you’re following the best practices to maintaining an SEO-friendly web presence, you’re off to a great start. Basically, it comes down to three things:

  1. Creating the right content
  2. Having a fast, user-friendly website
  3. Marketing your business to the web

All of the optimisation tips we will be sharing, will contribute towards your site ranking well in Google, and perhaps appearing in what we call the Google Answer Box.

Google Answer Box

Sometimes called ‘Instant Answer’ or “Position 0”, the Answer Box from Google is something we all use regularly – even if we don’t know it.

If you type a question into Google, they’ll attempt to answer it directly at the top of the page. In years gone by, to find out when William Shakespeare was born, for example, we would have to research Shakespeare himself and then find a relevant page that could provide an answer. If you were to ask this question today, the Answer Box would show you the answer automatically without even having to click on a webpage.

Google Answer Box result for Shakespeare's birth date

Why is this important? In truth, it’s important for your business for two reasons.

  1. If you run a local business, optimization can get you into the Answer Box with a handful of other businesses. For example, potential customers might be looking for a Chinese restaurant nearby. After using voice search, the Answer Box will show a small selection of restaurants and customers now use this box to choose which one to visit. These days, we very rarely stray from the Answer Box because we assume they have the best reputations in the area.
  2. Secondly, you don’t need to be a service to take advantage of the Answer Box. Instead, you might just have the answer to questions within your niche. If you run a cooking blog and somebody asks a question regarding spaghetti bolognese, an optimised recipe of yours could make its way into the Answer Box. Granted, this is especially tough these days considering the likes of Wikipedia tend to fill the Answer Box, but there’s no reason why you can’t dominate your niche.

On Google, if your content appears in the Answer Box for certain searches, it will be read to whoever is performing that voice search. So how do you optimize? If you’re aiming to reach the top for an article or guide, the following tips should be applied.

1. Creating the right content

Write easy-to-read content

Over the years we’ve seen a shift towards creating content that is concise and users can easily consume. Search engines tend to rank long-form content higher (on average over 2,000 words), but make sure it’s laid out logically, and is easy to read. It’s easy for readers to lose interest in a wall of text. break your content up into more paragraphs, while also making your sentences shorter.

You can use a tool like the Hemingway Editor to analyse your content, and provide suggestions on how you can improve. The point here is to get as low a score as possible, but anything as low as 6 or 7 is acceptable.

It’s also important to think about what type of content you’ll be placing on your site, and how useful it is to users interested in your product / service. Because search engines are trying to return the best results to their searchers, ask yourself if your content is providing any answers to popular questions within your industry.

If you have a blog section on your site, write articles on relevant subjects that can help your users.

You could also add a Q&A page to your site to help answer any questions.

Google prioritises sites that their users love – if they’re spending a substantial amount of time on the site or engaging with the content by clicking through to other pages – these activities show Google that your users are interested in your content.

Include long-tail keyword phrases

For many years, the standard keywords treated us kindly, and they still work for text-based searches. With voice search though, we’re going to be more dependent on long-tail keywords.

Long-Tail Keyword statistics

If you’ve ever used voice search, think back to how you used it. We don’t just say the keywords we’re used to, because we they don’t have to save time by typing a shortened version. People actually just ask the question in full.

In your content you’ll be placing your most important keywords, and also synonyms / related phrases. But did you know that most site traffic usually comes from people searching for long-tail phrases?

Long-tail phrases are terms with at least 3 to 4 words, they are much more precise than general terms so search results should be more accurate. These phrases are also less competitive, so it’s easier for your site to rank well for them.

Sit down with a pen and paper to consider the questions one might ask about your industry / business. Where can I buy tires nearby? Where’s the closest restaurant? Where can I buy art canvases? If you include these longer keywords in your content, you’ll suddenly appeal to all those asking these questions. With typing, we save time and this is why short keywords rarely make grammatical sense, but voice search is completely different.

For example, let’s say you want to buy a used car. We can start by putting the phrase “used cars” in the Google search bar – but don’t click to search yet. See what Google is suggesting you could search for, like phrase, but you can get “used car for sale”, or “used car sales near me”. If I owned a car dealership those terms would form part of my site content.

Google search query predict

For more ideas on long-tail terms, also see the bottom of a Google search results page for the “Searches related to” section. Write down the relevant terms you can use in your content, and also click on them – with the next page of search results, check their “Searches related to” selection for another set of possible terms you could use.

Google - Related search terms

TIP – If you are running AdWords campaigns, optimise your phrases for searches containing “Near Me”

2. Having a fast, user-friendly website


Fact – nobody likes using a slow-loading website. Frustration can set in, and users tend to navigate away to alternative sites (perhaps one of your direct competitors).

Google’s PageSpeed Insights analyses any url, and provides a score of its overall web performance on both desktop and mobile devices. You will also receive suggestions on how to optimise your site, while you will be provided with optimised elements like images, CSS resources and JavaScript files. (Note – if your site URL does not show a “Page Speed” rating, and just an “Optimization score, don’t worry – Google is currently only showing speed ratings for highly popular websites).

Let’s use the Amazon UK home page url as an example:

Google Pagespeed Insights for Amazon UK


  • FCP (First Contentful Paint)
    • This measures when a user will see a visual response from the chosen page – when you see the first parts of content loading. If a page loads faster, that means your audience is already more engaged than they would be when looking at a blank screen .
    • Desktop ranking – 1.2 seconds
    • Mobile ranking – 0.8 seconds
  • DCL (DOM Content Loaded)
    • This is the point where all content has been loaded and parsed.
    • Desktop ranking – 1.7 seconds
    • Mobile ranking – 1.7 seconds
  • Optimisation
    • The optimisation ranking gives your site an overall score out of 100 to give you an idea of how well your site is performing. A good target to set is at least 80/100.
    • Desktop ranking – 72/100 (medium)
    • Mobile ranking – 78/100 (medium)

Even with a large number of images and various web scripts running, Amazon have done well to maintain a good level of performance. It’s important that your ecommerce site is fully optimised, because it’s too easy for users to find alternative shopping destinations if they’re not enjoying your website.

After the statistics section you’ll find a list of optimisation suggestions from Google that you (or your developers) can use to improve your site’s performance. Scripts that slow down your web performance, or images that are too big – there are just a few issues you can face.

Google Pagespeed Insights - Optimisation suggestions for Amazon UK

Make sure your website is responsive

More people now access the internet from their mobile devices than the traditional desktop computer. So if your site is not responsive and giving users a great mobile experience, then you’re not catering to more than half of all internet users.

Google’s simple Mobile-Friendly test will tell you if a url is not responsive, and giving your mobile users a poor experience. Small text, clickable elements that are too close to each other, and more – you’ll be given a list of issues that should be addressed.

Google Mobile-Friendly test for Amazon UK

Secure your site

In order to promote a more secure web, Google announced back in (date) that they would give secure websites a small ranking increase. This meant that site owners were encouraged to purchase digital security certificates to help secure data, and create a safer experience.

Also, in some browsers users are warned if a site is unsecured, which could make users navigate away from your site.

If you are thinking about purchasing and implementing a security certificate, we recommend that you contact your web host as it can be a complex process.

Keep Testing

Every year, we see companies making changes to their optimisation strategy without checking their results. Why keep making changes when you don’t actually know what’s working and what isn’t? Be sure to check your site analytics, and record your ranking positions in Google and other search engines. This could help avoid making changes that take value away from your website.

3. Marketing your website

Business Listings

One of the most important ways for users to find a local business, is with a general query on a search engine.

And if those queries contain phrases like “near me”, “close to me” or a specific town / city, then they will most likely also be provided with map results. These maps highlight businesses matching your search query in your vicinity.

But how do you get these listings?

Users can suggest to search engines what can be found in certain locations, which means that there are a lot of business listings that have not been created by their owners. Most of these would then be seen as “unclaimed”, but you can claim your own business listing.

The platforms you should be looking at first are the big players on the market – Google, Apple Maps, and Bing Places.

General tips

  • First search for your business on each platform
    • If there is no listing, then create one
    • If there is a listing but you didn’t create it – see if you can claim the listing
  • Fill in all details that you can, be as thorough as possible
  • Upload great images that showcase your business

Also, when you’re completing your profiles, be consistent with your business name, address and phone number – otherwise referred to as NAP. Write down your full details, and apply that exact information to all your listings.

This is done so there is no conflicting information across the web, so the right information will always be given to searchers.

Be sure to do searches on combinations of your business name and previous address / phone numbers. If any are found, try and claim the listings, or ask to have them edited – and failing that, removed.

Google My Business

If you haven’t created your own account, do a general Google search first to see if your business appears in what we call the Knowledge Graph – the information block to the right of the Google search results. If you can see a “Claim your business” link, then it hasn’t been allocated to any account. This means you are free to claim it, and add it to your Google account.

Lilo's Google My Business listing

If there is no listing for your business, navigate to Google My Business and create one. You will then be asked to either verify your business phone number (with a code obtained via an automated phone call from Google), or verify your address with a code (obtained from a postcard sent from Google).

Once verified, go ahead and complete your profile. Please be thorough – fill in any required information, upload multiple images – use this listing to showcase your business.

And note that customers don’t normally choose a business based on the address and name being shown at the top of search results – because we love to see reviews before spending our hard-earned money. Encourage your clients / customers to leave reviews on your My Business profile.

Apple Maps Connect

Head to Apple Maps Connect and create an Apple ID (if needed). From there you can either claim a listing, or create a new one.

Searching for Lilo on Apple Maps

You will be required to have your phone number verified via an automated call (the same as Google).

Bing Places

Again, do a quick check on Bing to see if your business has an existing listing – if yes then claim it, if not – create a new business profile. You can even import your business details directly from Google My Business.

Your listing will need to be verified with a verification code – either via phone call, a postcard or email.

Other directories

The above sites are the most important to help get your business the most visibility, but there are still many other authoritative online directories that you can add your business details to.

From general sites like Foursquare, to web directories unique to your niche – be sure to register accounts on the websites that will help you the most. Just remember to use your NAP details across all of your profiles – and also update all listings when you change your business name, address or phone number.

Schema Markup

One last thing to implement is schema markup. This is code that you’ll place on your website for search engines to crawl and reinforce the details of your business. This code is not visible to your regular site users, and will only be seen by search engines.

Schema markup is a way of telling search engines what your data means. For example, if you run a blog, we could implement schema that tells Google that each post is an article, highlight who the author is, and other relevant information. This removes any guesswork, and helps search engines give better results for their users.

There are many types of schema markup, but for today we’re just going to focus on markup for local businesses.

There are various online tools you can find to create local business schema, like Google’s own Structured Data Markup Helper.

Creating schema markup with Google's tructured Data Markup Helper

  1. Select the “Local Businesses” option, and enter your site url at the bottom (choose a page with your contact information). Click the “Start Tagging” button.
  2. You’ll be taken to a preview of your home page, with a data panel on the right.
  3. Highlight any information on the site preview, and a pop-up window will appear. Select which field this data belongs to, and the information will be added to the data panel on the right.
  4. Continue tagging what relevant information can be found on the page. For any information that is still missing, you can use the you can use the “Add missing tags” function at the bottom right of the data panel. Here you can manually pick fields, and type in the details.
  5. When you’re done, click the “CREATE HTML” button on the top right. You’ll be presented with the structured data that your developers should insert into your site code. But before sending it on, run it through Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to see if any details are incorrect, or if further information is needed.
  6. When testing is completed, have the code inserted in the head section of your website.

Google;s Structured Data Tester

Smart Speaker Devices

Voice search capability started on desktop computers, but it gained mainstream popularity on our mobile devices – our smartphones and later also tablets. Each platform has developed it’s own smart assistant for uses to interact with – Apple’s Siri is up against Android’s Google Assistant.

But the most exciting development in voice search the last few years has been home smart speaker devices.

These devices allow you to do more than simple searches or play music. Set alarms, control your house lighting – with the right additions and setup you can turn your home into a voice-activated smart hub.

The best examples of this tech is Amazon’s Echo and Alexa, and Google Home. Apple also entered the market this year with the Apple HomePod.

Amazon Echo / Alexa

Amazon EchoThe range of Amazon Echo smart speakers uses the Alexa virtual assistant.

It’s capabilities include:

  • voice interaction
  • search via Google (previously Bing)
  • hands-free calling
  • music playback via your Amazon Music account (with support for Spotify and Pandora)
  • home automation functions
  • providing traffic, weather and other real-time information
  • setting alarms, and more

Google Home

Google Home

Google Home photo by NDB PhotosGoogle Home tech, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Google Home uses the same Google Assistant that can be found on Android devices. Google Assistant is capable of participating in two-way conversations with its user(s).

It’s key functions are performed by a number of official Google apps.

It’s capabilities include:

  • voice interaction
  • search via Google
  • music playback via Google Play Music, Spotify and others
  • recording tasks, maintaining your calendar via Google Calendar and Google Keep
  • home automation functions, and more

Apple HomePod

Apple HomePod

Apple HomePod by Rick4512Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

HomePod is the latest smart speaker device, having made it’s debut earlier this year in the US, UK and Australia. It’s expanding into additional markets this month.

The devices uses a variation of iOS called audioOS, and uses the voice assistant Siri. At this stage the HomePod only supports proprietary Apple platforms.

It’s capabilities include:

  • voice interaction
  • search via Bing
  • phone calls and texting from an iPhone
  • music playback via Apple Music
  • iTunes app purchasing


Often, people feel a little overwhelmed with Voice Search and the related optimisation. Hopefully we’ve shown you how it all works today. As you can see, there isn’t a large difference from regular optimisation, but by getting those differences right, it could be the difference between failure and success this year.

Voice Search Optimisation – Checklist

  1. Creating the right content
    1. Write easy-to-read content
    2. Include long-tail keyword phrases
  2. Having a fast, user-friendly website
    1. Speed
    2. Make sure your website is responsive
    3. Secure your site
    4. Keep testing
  3. Marketing your business to the web
    1. Create business listings
    2. Implement Schema Markup
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