21 Nov 2019

Voice Search: What It Means for Businesses

Sarah Robertson


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What is Voice Search? 

Voice search is a technology that allows humans to speak with digital voice assistants to search the internet for the answers that they seek. It is the mechanism that transcribes human speech into text and makes today’s popular voice assistants such as Google, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana possible. 


Here are important statistics you need to know about voice search in 2019: 

  • 20% of all Google searches are voice searches, as announced by Google CEO Sundar Pichai. 
  • By 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches
  • In a Bright Local survey, 28% of customers call the first business they found through a voice search, 27% visit the website after making a voice search, and 19% will visit the business after making a voice search. 
  • According to Google, there is a 500%+ growth in ‘near me’ mobile searches that contains a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” over the last two years. (e.g., ‘stores open near me now’, ‘where can I buy an iPhone 11 near me’)


What is the Impact of Voice Search Impact on a Business’ Website?

The biggest impact voice search will have is on a business’ Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy and efforts. A business needs to adapt to how the market is searching for queries via voice search assistants. 

In traditional SEO, it’s considered a big win to rank the first page on the SERPs for a particular query. Voice search changes that – it picks the most relevant answer for the query based on several factors. A business’ website now has to compete for Position Zero on Google. 

PHOTO: Position Zero/Featured Snippet on Google

To get there, businesses need to get in the mindset of the audience’s subsegment who is likely to use voice search. Since they’re not typing the query, the searches turn out to be more conversational and question-based. Consequently, search engines can read the intent straight away from the type of question being asked. 


How Can a Website Be Optimised for Voice Search?

1. Answer long-tail queries using natural language. Keep it conversational and human. 

In this space, it’s crucial to remember that typed language is different to voice search language. The average text/typed search is somewhere between 1-3 words – these are often direct to the point with a base keyword in. For instance, a user seeking information on the 5G rollout in Australia might type in ‘5g in Australia’, but speak to “when is 5g getting rolled out in Australia?” on voice search. That’s already a difference of five words! 

Voice search queries require simple answers to who, what, how, where, and when questions. They are mostly written at an 8th-9th-grade reading level on the Flesh-Kincaid reading scale to ensure a broken-down, easy-digestible format for most readers. 

This now applies to voice search queries in different languages as Google continues to innovate the way it translates speech. In the past, it translated speech by first converting it to text before translating back to speech in another language. Now it’s able to translate directly from speech to speech (skipping the text conversion part) with the use of artificial neural networks.


2. Aim to optimise for featured snippets. 

Featured snippets, also known as Position Zero, is the answer box that appears first on the Google search engine results page (SERPs) when a user searches for a particular query.  On a typed search perspective, these search results often have double the click-through rate; on voice search, voice assistants are likely to pull in answers from a featured snippet, where available. 

To optimise for a featured snippet, many SEOs recommend writing a concise summary before the main body of an article or blog post. The trick, however, is to take it a notch higher. 

The structure of a website’s content is crucial to optimising for a snippet. Adding HTML tags to headings and subheadings that are question-based helps Google crawl and understand the context of a webpage better. 

TIP: According to SEMRush, the most common snippet length sits at 40-50 words

3. Improve the website’s FAQ strategy.

FAQs are almost-easy snippet wins. They provide quick answers to questions people are already asking. If people are asking a lot of questions about a product or service, a brand in its niche will be able to dominate the space easily — especially if they own being an authority to speak about it. As long as the answers are optimised, relevant, and conversational, it stands a chance of being a featured snippet. 


4. Work on the website’s local SEO and schema. 

Since nearly 50% of users utilise voice search for information on local businesses, it’s recommended practise to set the local context correctly for a website. This allows local businesses to show up for relevant queries in specific areas. In fact, two of the most common uses for voice search are for calling someone and asking for directions. 

According to Search Engine Watch, the following should be accomplished to improve local SEO:

  • Claim the business’ Google My Business listing 
  • Get the business listed in major online directories 
  • Check Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to identify the relevant content that can be marked up for a specific niche 
  • List down local business citations online (also called NAP – name, address, and phone number)


5. Improve the website’s domain strength and authority. 

According to Backlinko’s guide to voice search optimisation, domains with more backlinks have higher chances of ranking for voice search. The average Domain Rating (Ahref’s proprietary site strength metric) for a voice search result is 76.8 out of 100.  

The reason behind this is still unknown. The popular speculation that stands is that Google needs to know they’re giving users answers from high-quality websites that are trusted by a lot of other websites (hence, the increased backlinks and higher domain rating). 


6. Take a Voice Readiness test to get a view of what voice search results assistants pull in when they get asked a query.

Voice Readiness Tests, such as Synup, show users how the Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa picks up information about a business. By simply typing the business address in, all this information is made available for anyone – for free. 


Voice Search Isn’t the Future — It’s Here

There’s a lot of potential profit that resides within voice search, especially in the local scene. It increases traffic to websites and even foot traffic to physical stores. 

Voice search queries will continue to rise as both voice technology and machine learning evolve to better understand human language, syntax, and semantics. Sooner than later, there will be metrics in place to measure the effectivity of voice search as a lead generator. 

So while it’s still early on in the game, it’s better to optimise for voice search and hit the fifth of the population that already uses it — with more opportunities to arise. Voice SEO is progressing towards natural language processing – putting the user at the forefront of search engines. When businesses put people first, it raises the chances for the ultimate goal — conversion. 


Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson joined Telstra in 2010 and has worked in both domestic and international roles across the Global Enterprise and Services business including Offer Development, Segment Solutions and Enterprise Marketing.

Most recently, Sarah was Head of Marketing (EMEA) based in London and prior to that headed up the Partner Plus marketing program for Cisco Systems across Europe.

Sarah holds a Bachelor of Business and Commerce from Monash University and is a member of the Emerging Marketers Society.