Voice Search: what it is and how to use it

The Voice Search has been experiencing steady growth in recent years. In 2021, over 50% of online searches were conducted using voice.

What does this mean in simple terms? It means that voice search is changing the way we interact with search engines, and consequently, the criteria for displaying results are also changing.

It will become common to request information using voice and have the responses read by a voice assistant, resulting in well-crafted content being more easily found in Voice SEO.

To stay ahead of the competition, it is necessary to implement voice search into your marketing strategy and become a specialist in Digital Marketing and SEO-SEM Certification.

How can you be found by those seeking information using their voice? How does SEO change for voice searches?

In this article, we explore what Voice Search is, how it works, the main voice assistants, 7 useful tips on optimizing a site for this purpose, and all the resulting advantages.

What is Voice Search?

To begin, it’s appropriate to define the term voice search, also known as vocal search, as a technology based on voice recognition that allows us to conduct online searches without typing the question into the search engine, but solely using our voice.

We can perform a voice search on the internet via smartphones, tablets, PCs, wearables (devices that can be worn, like smartwatches), or smart home speakers, such as Google Home or Amazon Echo.

The device, or more precisely, the voice assistant on the device, listens to the question, interprets it, and returns the results it deems most relevant. Depending on the type of device and its settings, it can read us the answer.

What we users predominantly use today to browse the internet is the smartphone, essentially because it’s an extension of our arm, and we never part with it.

Voice searches, too, are mainly carried out on our mobile phones. To activate voice search, it’s enough, for example, to say “Ok Google” on an Android device or “Hey Siri” on Apple, and the job is done.

How many times have you done that? There are various reasons, let’s explore them together.

The advantages of voice assistants

As we mentioned, searches through Voice Search are experiencing a strong surge and will become the most used search method in the coming years. To confirm this, we have data directly provided by Google:

20% of mobile searches on Google are done through voice. 40% of adults and a whopping 55% of teenagers contribute to this. Percentages that are destined to grow. Read the source, Google blog.

But why are voice searches increasing?

  • Because they are convenient: voice search saves us from typing the query, the question we are thinking, giving us the freedom to multitask. We use Voice Search when our hands or eyes are occupied with another activity, such as driving, cooking, or exercising when we cannot type on a device because it is inconvenient or small, or simply when we do not feel like writing.
  • Because they are fast: without the need to type, voice search saves us time. It is estimated to be three times faster than a normal search, so it is widely used when we are in a hurry and want a quick result.
  • Because they are pure and reliable: another reason why it is more convenient is that we use a more natural language. With voice searches, queries are no longer two or three disconnected keywords but genuine, long, and conversational. We formulate complete sentences and questions, making it easier for artificial intelligence to interpret our search intent (what we want to know) and provide satisfactory results. The error rate in voice recognition is, in fact, very low.

Given the advantages, the consequence is inevitable, we will all get used to giving commands primarily through voice.

How does Voice Search work?

Voice Search, the devices capable of understanding vocal input, operate thanks to artificial intelligence. Voice search technology is based on AI, machine learning, and the existence of the cloud.

Artificial Intelligence is a digital brain that interprets the semantic meaning of user queries and provides them with relevant answers.

To do this, it must analyze and compare an impressive amount of data, including the queries users have made in the past, their geographical location, and previous interactions with the device.

voice search optimization

What allows Voice Search technology to be present on devices with low computing power is the cloud. The artificial intelligence software (the voice assistant, to be clear) is not physically installed on every device.

Being on the cloud, it only needs to be connected to the internet to access all the computing power needed for data analysis.

What you’ve just read is the technical explanation, in practical terms, to perform a voice search.

You just need to say the trigger words “Hey Siri”, “Hey Google”, or call “Alexa”, depending on your device, and ask your question.

The devices will take care of the rest, presenting you with the most suitable answers to your request, based on their configuration, of course.

To be clear, by confirmation I mean whether they are equipped with a screen or not.

If we talk to a smartphone, it will return the information we are looking for by displaying a list of contents that will appear on our screen.

If instead we use a home assistant like Google Home, we will only have to listen to the answer, which will be read to us directly by the device because it does not have any screen.

In any case, it’s all very easy and simplified!

What are Smart Speakers

Smart speakers (or smart assistants) are home voice assistants, hardware devices without a screen.

Smart speakers have a speaker, a microphone, and a Wi-Fi connection through which they communicate with AI software.

There are various brands and models, but the most well-known personal assistants are Google Home, which supports Google Assistant, and Amazon Echo, which supports Alexa.

We can give these devices voice commands related to home automation, ask them to read us the news, a book, and of course, to perform a voice search online.

As mentioned, since they don’t have a screen, they operate solely through voice input and output. Unable to display results on a screen, they are designed to read us the results.

Smart speakers experienced exponential growth in popularity starting in 2018. In America, voice assistants have become an integral part of daily routines, thanks to devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

The trend is also rising in Europe, with a peak in sales recorded during the pandemic period, especially in the first lockdown of 2020.

Primary voice assistants

Let’s analyze the voice assistants present in the market. These devices function with a brain that processes commands and requests, translating them into actions and responses.

The devices have different brains, not all supporting the same voice assistant. There are four primary voice assistants created by major market players:

  1. Google Assistant, owned by Google, is implemented on Android devices.
  2. Alexa by Amazon.
  3. Cortana by Microsoft.
  4. Siri by Apple.

There’s an important thing to know when deciding how to distribute and optimize online content. Voice assistants query different search engines and draw from different sources of information to provide results to users.

We won’t delve into which voice assistant is better at what and why, but if we want to appear in voice searches made by every type and brand of device, it’s useful to know where they gather information from.

Google Assistant

Google’s voice assistant, also known for its familiar “OK Google” followed by a request, gathers information from all the spaces where Google allows us to input information.

Its purpose is to assist us in everyday life, and its functions can be applied to all types of devices, performing different tasks for each.

Google Assistant is also compatible with numerous services or apps, making the voice experience increasingly customized.

Alexa

Amazon’s cloud-based assistant in Amazon Echo, connected to Yext, Bing, and Yelp, arrived in 2018.

Today, it consists of multiple algorithms capable of continuously learning new responses, expressions, and abilities, and even enhancing empathy between the device and the person.

All of this allows users to interact solely through voice. With Alexa, you can ask to make purchases, get weather updates, play music, listen to audiobooks, control integrated smart home devices, and much more.

How? Simply say “Alexa”, and you’ll see a blue light, indicating that the device is listening.

alexa device

Echo is the term that refers to the Amazon Echo family, which includes all the hardware devices developed by Amazon where Alexa can be activated, of course, using voice commands.

A fun fact, due to the high number of users who confuse the name Alexa with Alexia, searching for it on search engines with the latter name, Amazon cleverly (and slyly!) decided to create a dedicated page with the URL /alexia.

Inside, it contains all existing Amazon Echo devices.

Cortana

Created by Microsoft, it is connected to Bing and Yelp. Launched in 2014, this assistant is integrated into mobile and desktop devices. Cortana can provide any information based on the data it can gather.

The software was developed for operating systems such as Windows Phone, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Xbox One, and Android, albeit only in the United States.

Cortana can also support third-party apps and integrate with wearable devices (Microsoft Band and Fitbit).

Here’s a curiosity about “her” as well, Cortana is particularly famous for her fortune-telling abilities, she predicted the winning teams during the 2014 World Cup!

Siri

Siri is Apple’s voice assistant that uses Google, Apple Maps, and Yelp. It parted ways with Bing in 2017.

Like all previous voice assistants, Siri can provide various personalized information such as weather forecasts, local business locations, directions, and more.

Siri is available on third/fourth-generation devices and is available with the iOS 6 update. Activating it is simple, just say “Hey Siri”.

Voice Search VS Voice Command

Voice searches and voice commands both rely on voice recognition technology but differ in the action requested from the device.

A voice search is a request for information from a search engine. The voice command issues an order to the device to act within it, such as setting an alarm, making a call, sending an email, or updating the calendar.

voice recognition technology

If we exclude personal commands, Voice Search is used more frequently for:

  • Local searches: when looking for businesses in a specific area. This includes all queries related to hotels, restaurants, events, weather, maps, and directions, known as “near me searches”, such as “OK Google, find a seafood restaurant near me”.
  • Entertainment: all requests related to music, movies, video games, books, etc.
  • General information: all other types of queries, such as tips on how to do something, curiosity, news, and product searches.

Voice Search Optimization: what is it?

Voice Search Optimization or VSO, means all the activities aimed at improving online content to provide users with useful, effective vocal responses, and consequently, a better conversational experience during searching.

Voice SEO or Vocal Search takes a less keyword-focused approach and is more about addressing a need. Doing Voice SEO means crafting and positioning content that answers increasingly specific questions.

The texts must be constructed with features that appeal to voice assistants, ensuring they are read by devices that integrate this function.

VSO activities are to be considered extensions of SEO. It must be clear that the vocal response obtained from a voice assistant comes from well-indexed and, therefore, high-quality content because it is well-positioned within the SERP.

The question then arises, has Voice Search changed the way of writing from an SEO perspective? As you may have already understood, yes.

To provide satisfactory answers to people’s needs, we always start with questions. If the questions change, the traditional way of optimizing content on the web no longer works to appear in the first position for a Google Voice Search.

This is why SEO is divided, or rather specialized. SEO is for written and typed queries on the other hand, SEO is focused on voice search and VSO.

Some even speak of a total replacement of the activity and acronym SEO with Voice Search Optimization, VSO.

With the advent of voice assistants, we are witnessing a real revolution that concerns changing how we interact with the network and different positioning criteria.

Today, online user requests are increasingly made as a verbal exchange, like real conversations requiring quick and natural responses.

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How to optimize content for voice search: 7 helpful tips

Let’s get into specifics, I’ll now provide you with 7 useful tips to optimize content for Voice Search.

These suggestions are, in my opinion, the key factors to keep in mind, whether you already have an online website or are just starting with SEO.

Whether you’re a beginner or have experience, reading on will help you start on the right foot.

How do queries change in voice search?

If in the past the habit was to streamline the query, using fewer keywords to optimize searches on Google, Bing, etc.

Now the algorithm is focused on matching as closely as possible to voice searches, even if they are spontaneous or linguistically imprecise.

The factors to consider for optimization through voice searches are therefore:

  • Geolocation: specific and personal. The search for terms like “near here” or “near me” is increasing, spoken aloud by mobile devices.
  • Increased use of long-tail keywords, well-defined and structured: compared to traditional searches, dictated queries resemble the language of a normal conversation. Users are more specific and verbose. They are longer, less mechanical, and mostly questions with clear search intent. With voice search, you no longer think in terms of short or medium keywords but more in complete sentences.
  • Vocal queries are mainly in the form of questions and spontaneous, more colloquial: questions accompanied by the 5W’s, such as how, where, when, why, and who, are popular. Ensure that your content answers these questions.
  • Questions with first-person verbs: from 2015 to 2017, mobile voice searches containing “I need” or “I have to” increased by 65%, while those containing “can” increased by 85%. It is clear from these data that users primarily search for practical actions. To assist them with your content, ask yourself: does what I’ve written comprehensively answer the questions “can” and “I need”?

Structure and content of your website

As you have understood by reading so far, you should start seriously thinking about optimizing your site for voice search.

It’s just a matter of time before voice searches become the norm. To optimize a site for Google Voice Search, you need to act on two fronts.

The first is that of content and the second is the optimization of technical aspects of the site such as speed, security, and authority, which benefit the overall ranking of a site but are particularly important for Voice Search.

Let’s delve into them in more detail:

Content is King“, as the saying goes, all the optimizations in the world are of no use if the content is not useful and interesting.

You need to establish a content strategy that is truly relevant to user needs, and the text must adhere to the basic rules of SEO Copy.

It should be easy to read and well-written, close to the language of the user, with short sentences, simple terms, many bullet points, and the list goes on.

Here is a basic checklist to optimize the content of a website for Voice Search:

  • Understand the search intent: the first step to producing valuable content is to satisfy an informational need based on what people are searching for with their voice. As we define our content strategy, “SEO tools” come to our aid in searching for keywords and questions around a keyword, such as SEMrush (paid) and Answerthepublic (free). You can enter a keyword and see all the questions related to it. Do not forget the analysis of Google’s SERP, at our complete disposal and free. We constantly have everything we need in front of our eyes, we just need the right skills to use this information to our advantage and strategically.
  • Monitor queries in Search Console or Analytics: focus on long-tail keywords related to an informational search intent. Ask yourself if, with the content we cover, we can answer one of those specific questions. These questions consist of multiple words and will have long-tail keywords within them that should be used in texts in relevant and logical contexts.
  • Structure content in the form of question and answer: google loves structured texts and the use of titles. To be more visible on the search engine, structure the content in the form of question and answer. Insert the question in a header and the answer in the body of the text immediately below: you will make it easier for Google to extract the right answer.
  • Provide short answers: answer user questions with short sentences because it makes it easy for Google to provide answers to people. You don’t need a long paragraph, one or two sentences are enough. Users want quick answers that can be read to them with their voice. The shorter your answer, the more likely your content will be selected. However, be careful, for voice search, pages with more than 2200 words perform better than pages with 500 – 700 words. So yes, to short and structured answers as I just explained, but within substantial content. This way, Google can index you for various terms, from which you will derive more traffic.
  • Create FAQ pages: these pages are a good way to benefit from the SEO perspective. FAQs are a series of frequently asked, direct questions, and therefore absolutely perfect for voice searches.

As for the technical optimizations of the site, here’s what you need to do:

  • Site Speed: the faster a site loads, the more traffic it will receive from voice searches. Site speed plays a crucial role in voice search and SEO, especially considering Google’s mobile-first criteria. An optimal result is equal to or less than 4.6 seconds. To check your site’s speed and get advice on speeding it up, you can use Google Page Speed.
  • Authority, Link Building: building an authoritative domain doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that takes time, consistency, and effort. You need to create valuable original content, engage in link building, and provide a good user experience. Working to improve content, design, and link building can help gain voice traffic, as Google views authoritative sites more favorably, attracting a larger audience.
  • Secure Site, HTTPS Protocol: a site following the HTTPS protocol receives more traffic from voice searches because Google increasingly prioritizes user security. Over 65% of voice search results come from HTTPS sites, so even showcase sites seem to be approaching the time to switch to HTTPS. [Source by neilpatel].

 

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Why featured snippets are important for voice search

A final necessary clarification regarding content optimizations concerns the featured snippet, which is nothing more than the organic result placed higher by Google, the so-called “position zero”.

You should know that according to the majority and as confirmed by Google itself in its guidelines if you want to optimize a site for Google Voice Search, you should aim to create the featured snippet in Google’s SERP.

It means that your content must be able to precisely and comprehensively satisfy a user’s specific query. This is where the information is taken, which is then read to users. We’re talking about high-quality content.

Add a personal assistant to your website

We have now understood that Voice Search will soon be the norm. What better idea than to add a personal voice assistant to your website?

You can already imagine the fantastic revolution it brings: imagine if the user, entering your online shop, could directly ask a voice assistant to show them the product they are looking for.

All this, without entering filters or having to type anything. Furthermore, it’s also possible to receive direct feedback from users after their experience on your site has ended.

Thanks to the artificial intelligence guiding voice assistants, you can ask the user if the product shown was satisfactory. This will continually improve search results for future customers. Cutting-edge technology!

Search session

By search session, it’s not just the duration of time a user spends on a site. It is certainly that, but also the before and after of the same search.

A session begins from the moment a person has the impulse to search for something specific and continues even in the days following the actual search.

This applies not only to Vocal Search but to every search conducted online, understanding and monitoring user behavior is crucial to attracting them and, above all, satisfying their needs before others.

Speakable

Owned by schema.org and Google. Currently only operational in the United States, but worth keeping an eye on as it intends to expand to other countries.

Speakable selects parts of web pages or articles that are more suitable for voice reading and synthesizes them. From here, devices using Google Assistant can play them. Google Assistant uses Speakable data to respond to current news.

When asked about a specific topic, it provides three sources from around the web and supports audio playback with attached voice synthesis in articles that include Speakable structured data.

For more details, check the Speakable Markup schema.

Google My Business

The importance of Google My Business for local businesses is unquestionable, especially considering its visibility for voice assistants.

When users make requests like, “OK Google, find a nearby laundromat”, they immediately find the closest business through Google My Business.

Businesses without a presence, even if closer, won’t be easily discovered, meaning they are missing out on a significant potential customer base.

Google Action

This feature from Google lets you link your app to Google Assistant, enabling users to access your services simply by using their voice. It’s available for all Android apps.

This provides quick access to your app’s content, engaging your customers with tailor-made functionalities for them.

And what if you don’t have an app? No problem! Google still generates a dedicated page within Assistant based on your articles.

Once voice requests through Google Assistant align with your content, Google will ask users if they want to read or listen to your news.

Additionally, with Google, you can implement your successful advertising strategy!

 

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The evolution of voice search

The Voice Search was born in the distant August of 2008, back then known as Voice Action, and was launched by Google only on Android devices. A month later, voice search became available for iPhones as well.

Versions in Spanish, German, and French were launched from 2011 onwards, initially available only in English.

In 2011, specifically in June, Google announced that it would incorporate Voice Search on all devices, including smartphones and desktops. An innovative feature that provided users with the ability to use their mobile phones to search on Google.

As expected, in the early stages, the process was not as immediate and straightforward as it is now, the user had to call the Google Voice Search System number and wait to verbally communicate the keywords they wanted to search.

The next step involved waiting for the page to update with the requested information. Over ten years later, almost all devices now support Voice Search and are capable of providing increasingly precise answers to users.

Conclusion

The exponential growth of Voice Search is revolutionizing the entire way of interacting online. It’s only a matter of time before using voice assistants to perform tasks and searches becomes the norm.

This revolution is compelling SEO professionals to adopt new ways to optimize online content for voice search.

To stay ahead and not lose the market share derived from voice searches, it is undoubtedly important to adopt a voice search marketing strategy. The guidelines in this mini-guide are initial considerations, to be explored further.

If you are passionate about the world of marketing, especially SEO and SEM, and you create content for the web, you might be interested in certifying yourself and delving into all the subjects to become a true specialist in voice searches and more!

Reach out to us for a conversation on optimizing your presence through voice search. Let your voice be heard online!

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