How to Build a Voice Search SEO Strategy

Isaac Hayward
Isaac Hayward
HK Digital Co-Founder
8th November 2021

Have you noticed that more and more people are walking down the street talking to their phones? Advancing speech recognition has been quietly replacing text, making it easier for people to simply speak to their devices in order to interact across most media via voice.

This means that your customers have a new way to search the web and eventually find your products or services, assuming you've nailed down a voice search SEO strategy.

In this article, I will cover why voice search SEO needs to be a part of your overall strategy, what will drive the changes to your strategy, and the adjustments you need to make in order to ensure that you capture the increasing voice search traffic.

How Relevant is Voice Search SEO?

It’s one thing to tell you that something is taking off, but I like to provide some numbers for context. Here are a few relevant voice search stats that may or may not surprise you:

  • Around one-third of all adults use voice search at least once a month. Up from one-fourth of the same population in 2018,
  • The population of voice-enabled device owners using their devices for e-commerce increased 41% between 2018 and 2019. Amounting to over 40% of device owners,
  • Over half of all mobile device owners used voice search at some point in 2020.

We are already reaching the point where including voice search optimization in your SEO strategy is no longer a competitive advantage, but a must if you are to maintain your search authority.

How does Voice Search Change SEO?

All the changes to your SEO strategy when it comes to voice search boil down to the kind of language used in your keywords. When it comes to traditional text-based search, audiences apply a shortened version of natural language, or a formal search language, as this, in turn, shortens the number of keys that they have to successfully hit on their tiny devices’, tiny screens, or keyboards. 

With the introduction of voice-enabled devices, people are turning to a more natural language-based format for all their queries. Thus, the big change to follow here is the evolution from a shortened, unnatural syntax to one that better resembles natural language.

Let’s see what the differences actually look like when considering your approach to keywords.

Formal (Written) Search Language

The formal search language is the one that we are most familiar with on search engines – it is largely characterized by the manner in which we shorten queries by eliminating grammatical elements that would otherwise be found in spoken (natural) language.

When it comes to this largely text-based search language, you will find that people use a combination of either short-tail or long-tail keywords, with short-tail keywords being almost unique to formal, text-based queries.

Let's quickly review how these keywords look from the perspective of the formal search language.

Short-tail Keywords

Short-tail keywords (either one or two words in length) are a perfect example of how people shorten their queries from a more natural language to make text-based searches simpler.

Short-tail keywords are used in broader search topics and typically indicate that a user is searching for information. Yet, they still drive the highest amount of search engine traffic and are quite competitive, due to their high search volume.

Here are a few examples of what these terms might look like:

  • Best smartphone,
  • Laptops 2021,
  • Fastest e-scooter.

Notice that you wouldn’t blurt out “best smartphone” or “laptops 2021” when asked what you are looking for at your local tech store.

Long-tail Keywords

While short-tail keywords serve as a great example of how people shorten the amount of time spent searching for something, you can see the difference between the text-based syntax used, and that of natural language, when evaluating the language used in long-tail keywords (anything 3 words and above).

Here are a couple of examples of long-tail keywords in the formal search language:

  • Smartphone where to buy,
  • Best Apple laptop 2021,
  • Where to buy fast e-scooter.

Another thing that you will notice with these keywords is that they need searchers to put much more thought into what exactly it is they expect to find on the other side of their query. So, on average, these are the keywords that are more likely to convert.

This is where the big change in voice search optimization comes into play.

As you can see here, this isn’t the kind of language that you would use in conversation. You wouldn’t call your friend and say “smartphone where to buy”, nor would you blurt out “best smartphone” when asked what you are looking for at your local tech shop.

This language much more resembles the headlines that we use when writing a blog article or describing a product or service, and that is because this is what we expect people to search for when we want them to land on our page, and THIS is how the big change in SEO manifests itself when voice search comes into play.

Natural (Spoken) Language Keywords

There is already plenty of data on how people use voice search, and it is showing us that people often talk to their phones or smart speakers as if they are simply another person that is there to discuss topics that they feed them.

What is the result? You end up with much longer keywords that resemble the natural language that you would find in a casual conversation.

Now that people are using technologies that enable them to speak to their devices, we are starting to see a rise in search volume for natural language phrases, such as:

  • Ok Google – what are the best smartphones that I can buy today?
  • Hey Siri – what is the best Macbook on the market in 2021?
  • Alexa – what is the fastest e-scooter built to-date?

Remember, we went over how the longer keywords generally convert more because of their specificity.

While you might be seeing a massive opportunity here, there are also plenty of obstacles that come into play when restrategizing your SEO to include voice search optimization.

What you Need to Adjust For

If you are going to keep up with the voice search trend, you are going to have to adjust your SEO strategy to consider the differences in the query language used. Aside from these differences, voice search optimization is quite like mobile optimization:

  1. Natural language keywords
  2. Structured data
  3. “FAQ content”

Once you understand why these factors matter, you are sure to get a hold of the voice searchers in your audience.

Natural Language Keywords

This is the obvious one. Since your audience is gravitating towards using a more conversational language with their voice search-enabled devices, you are going to have to start approaching your keyword research with this in mind.

This means evolving from the short-tail and general long-tail syntax into much longer keywords that better resemble questions. For example, many of the most popular keywords in voice search begin with “what, how, where,” etc.

Really think about all the ways that you could ask a particular question in conversation, and then confirm your target keywords by looking up their performance, just as you would with any other keywords.

Structured Data

If you want your website to rule over voice searches, one of the most important things you can do is make sure that it is flush with structured data. This microdata in the website’s source code, outside of your site’s content itself, is how search engines organize the listings to better match queries.

Essentially, structured data is like hashtagging a website so specific search terms are more likely to get matched to your website, even if the query didn’t necessarily match directly with your copy. It turns out that around 40% of voice search results are directly related to a website’s structured data so, while this takes a lot of work and development expertise, we recommend not missing out on a major portion of those searches.

FAQ Content

You have your keywords to target and your website is ready to match queries via structured data: now you just need to make sure your site has some content that is ready to compete for natural language, long-tail keywords.

The reason why I call this section “FAQ content” is because the format of a FAQ page is essentially what performs the best in voice search. This is because “FAQ content” is written in conversational language and they provide a direct answer to the question in a concise manner. 

How does this match up with voice search so well?

Most voice searchers are asking their devices questions. You want your website’s content to have a direct, natural language response to any of your audience’s frequently asked questions, imagining that their smart speakers can reply to them, pulling the textual information directly from your website.

Your blog isn’t the only thing that can benefit from applying this approach. Setting up a FAQ page on your website and tracking all your customers’ frequently asked questions is the best way that you can keep up with the queries that your audience use as they evolve, and therefore help you keep your other content up to date as possible. 

In Conclusion

So, what does voice search mean for SEO? There is a lot to be gained from optimizing your SEO strategy for the vast and growing audience of voice searchers, especially for local SEO. At this point, it is even safe to say that you are missing out on a lot of traffic if you aren’t already implementing a voice search strategy.

Luckily, there isn’t too much more outside of your SEO strategy to consider if you aren’t already doing this. Just keep in mind that there are a hell of a lot of people starting to speak to their devices as if they are their helpful, knowledgeable friends and that your website needs to be that friend that your audience gets their answers from. Basically, you need to teach your website to speak like an adult human.

We will be diving deeper into voice search strategies, so for those of you who are interested in hearing more on this topic or any other growth marketing insights, keep up with HK Digital on your favorite social media platform so you can stay ahead of the market.

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