Understanding Voice Search and Its Growing Importance
Should voice search optimization be part of your digital marketing mindset in 2024 and beyond? For context, let’s start with some voice search data from Demandsage:
- In 2023, users made more than a billion voice searches every month.
- More than 50% of adults said they use voice search daily.
- One of every five Google App searches were voice searches.
- Almost 60% of consumers used voice search to find local businesses.
So, as marketing-value questions go, this one seems to have an obvious answer: Voice search is big and only getting bigger, so optimizing content for it is necessary, crossing toward crucial. Experts predicted the number of voice assistants in use to reach 8.4 billion in 2024, which means a whole lot of “Hey Google”s.
This might leave you wondering: When and how did voice search get so close to traditional search’s heels, and what do businesses need to do to account for it on their websites and in their content marketing development? Here’s a look at how it’s grown, where it’s going, and how to respond.
How Voice Search Went Mainstream
The technology behind voice search goes back as far as the 1950s (when Bell Laboratories developed a voice recognition device dubbed “Audrey”), but voice search as we know it is comparatively young.
Apple got us used to querying our devices when they acquired voice assistant Siri and integrated it into the iPhone in a 2011 launch. Google followed by unveiling its Google Voice Search function in 2012.
Once virtual assistants were built into just about every popular smartphone, what at first seemed like a luxury function was now a staple feature. Then smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo hit living rooms across the world, and voice search was fully stitched into our social fabric.
The Difference Between Traditional and Voice SEO
With voice search and traditional search, we’re still asking questions of an algorithm and expecting answers. So why do we need to think of them separately?
In essence: because we ask questions differently when we type and when we speak.
With traditional SEO practices, you’re optimizing for typed queries—often short, direct, and keyword-focused. Voice SEO caters to spoken queries, which are more casual, conversational, and more often than not, longer.
When you’re using traditional search to find a local place to do a brake adjustment on your work truck, you might type “medium-duty trucks brake service Harrisburg.” If you pull up your voice assistant, you’ll probably say something more like, “Siri, find a place nearby that does brake work on trucks.” Search algorithms had to be trained to grasp the nuances of voice search as well as the specificity of traditional search.
Advancements in NLP have played a vital role in voice SEO by enabling algorithms to interpret a user’s intent and the context behind the way they word a query. It’s a technology we see in all kinds of digital uses today, from voice assistants to chatbots and predictive text. Search engines have started to understand not just what we say, but what we mean.
In many ways, optimizing for voice search is a logical next step from where we’ve been headed with traditional SEO, toward the more conversational direction of long-tail and semantic keywords. And ultimately, optimizing for voice search is going to dovetail with traditional search engine optimization methods.
Strategies for Voice Search Optimization
With the “what” and “why” outlined above, the next step in the conversation: “How do you optimize content for voice search?”
Develop Conversational Content
Creating content that reads like natural speech sounds is crucial for voice search optimization. These algorithms have been trained on conversational queries. So to speak their language, incorporate question-based queries and long-tail keywords into your content.
As an example: A behavioral health organization might optimize for voice search by including content that answers, “How do I know if I need inpatient drug or alcohol treatment?”
Prioritize Local SEO and Voice Search
Internet users are very used to leaning on “near me” queries, so local businesses are losing out on valuable traffic if they aren’t optimizing their online presence for local SEO.
There are lots of effective tactics to employ, including optimizing your Google My Business content, accurately listing business information on directories, and using local landmarks in content.
Power Up Your Website Performance
Website performance, particularly loading speed, plays a significant role in voice search SEO. In 2018, Google made page speed a ranking factor for mobile searches, where many voice search queries originate from. A fast-loading website ensures a better user experience and is more likely to be favored by voice search algorithms.
Implement Structured Data
Structured data, or Schema markup, is code added to the back end of pages to help search engines return more informative results to users. It’s formatted in a specific, structured way that gives search engines very clear clues about the content on your page and what it means.
Google has a bunch of search optimization case studies that show 35% increases in visits and 25% higher click-through rates, etc., with structured data in place. Google likes structured data, they want it, and it works, for traditional and voice search. So it has clear value.
Voice Search’s Broader Impact on SEO
Voice search’s steady rise has accelerated shifts in the SEO landscape. Its growth inspired a more explicit focus on answering user questions directly and succinctly, which inspires a more conversational approach in content creation.
This shift is particularly apparent in the increased importance of featured snippets in search results, which often serve as the source for voice search responses.
The Role of Featured Snippets in Voice SEO
Featured snippets are brief excerpts of text that appear at the top of Google’s search results. Google delivers them to answer voice search queries because, as a search engine, they’re aiming to provide quick, helpful answers to their users.
If your site provides quick, helpful answers to common (relevant) user queries, Google’s automated systems are more likely to feature your content as a snippet. And that’s likely to drive more valuable traffic your way.
Preparing for the Future of Voice Search
With how fast generative AI is changing the search and content landscape, it’s hard to predict what the future of SEO on the whole will look like in the coming years, much less what voice search optimization, specifically, might look like. But as technology has advanced, one SEO trend has held true: Search engines prioritize content that communicates clearly and delivers value.
The tactics we use to optimize content for voice search may (and probably will) change, and it’s smart to be proactive about updating your practices. But if you adopt an overall strategic direction that’s centered in your users—knowing who they are and what they need, and producing content that fills those needs—you’ll stay on strong footing.
Looking for SEO Support?
Need help optimizing your website on the technical or content side, or both? Snapshot Interactive’s Digital Services cover the full website spectrum, from SEO to design and development. Reach out and tell us about what you need.