How to Optimize for Google Voice Search and Get Extra Website Traffic

25 minutes read
How to optimize for Google Voice Search

More recently, Google Search by Voice has witnessed a rapid surge in popularity.  In fact, nearly 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. However, compared to the traditional typed-search, Google displays the voice search results relatively differently. Therefore, it is necessary to learn how Google Voice works and how to optimize for Google Voice Search and get extra traffic on your website.

Becoming an early adopter of voice search will give you an advantage over your competitors. This guide will help you understand every facet of Google voice search and how to optimize your site for it. But first, let’s see what voice search by Google is and how it came into existence.

1. A Brief History of Google Voice Search

Google Voice Search is an application developed by Google, which allows mobile and desktop users to search the web using their voice. To turn on voice search on your phone, all you have to do is to turn on your phone and say “Ok Google”.

Google Assistant on Mobile

Google Voice Search in Chrome

In the beginning, users were required to call a number to find voice search based queries from their cell phones. Advancement in machine learning proved instrumental in the improvement of voice search over the years. Today, the Google Assistant that uses voice search is available on almost 50% of all smartphones.

Let’s look at a brief history of Google Voice Search.

  • Summer 2008 – Google Voice Search was released. Users had to call an interactive voice response system (IVRS) on 800-GOOG-411.
  • November, 2008 – Google added voice search to Google Mobile App on iPhone.
  • August 5, 2009 – T-Mobile launched the MyTouch 3G with Google featuring one-touch Google Voice Search
  • October 30, 2012 – Google released a new voice search app for iOS.
  • March, 2010 – Beta version of Google Voice Search is released.
  • May, 2018 – Voice search supports more than 120 languages worldwide.

2. Voice Search Statistics

Let’s take a look at some compelling statistics which prove that voice search is the future of digital marketing.

  • According to ComScore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.
  • Voice shopping is set to jump to $40 Billion by 2022, rising from the present $2 Billion.
  • By 2020, there will be around 4 million smart speakers in the US.
  • As of Jan 2018, over one billion voice searches were conducted per month.
  • In 2017, 6 million Americans used a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month, up 128.9% from 2016.
  • In 2017, 8% of millennials used voice-enabled digital assistants at least once a month compared to just 10.1% of baby boomers.
  • According to Google, 52% of people keep their voice-activated speakers in their living rooms, 25% in their bedrooms, while 22% in their kitchens.
  • In 2017, nearly a fourth of consumers (24%) in the US owned in-home voice-controlled device, while another 20% are planning to purchase one in 2018.

3. The Takeaways

In this guide, you will get a comprehensive view of what Google voice search is, how to optimize for voice search, different voice search commands, and what it may look like in the coming years. You will learn valuable tips about making your website content and architecture more voice-search-friendly. Furthermore, you will know how to optimize your content and campaigns for voice search. We have covered the following points:

  • Characteristics of Voice Search
  • How Does It Work?
  • Optimizing for Voice Search by Google
  • Optimizing e-commerce website for Voice Search
  • Latest from Google Assistant
  • Common Ok Google Commands

Characteristics of Voice Search and How They Differ from Traditional Search

To optimize your website for Google Voice Search, you need to understand its characteristics and how it differs from conventional Google Search. You also need to understand why someone is using voice search rather than typing their queries in Google. Usually, there are five characteristics that make most voice searches stand out from the traditional ones.

A. Voice Queries Focus on Questions

Unlike one or two-word searches via the keyboard, people are more likely to ask complete questions such as “What is the weather like today?” or “When is the next flight to London?” because that’s how we speak in real life.

Using Google Assistant to ask question about weather

In the US, 77% of smart speaker owners used the device to ask questions in the first quarter of 2018.

Use of smart speakers for various tasks in US


However, to-the-point questions often lead to more accurate results. That’s why voice searches often cover questions starting with “Who”, “What” and “How”, among others.

B. Voice Search Queries Are Mostly Natural Language Queries

People view Google Assistant as a person, not a search engine. So, they perform a voice search as if they are having a conversation. That means users are more likely to use long-tailed keywords in voice search. These extra words in a search query help identify a user’s intent.

For example, a simple two-word keyword “chicken soup” doesn’t say much about the user’s intent. Why are they searching for it? Do they want to buy it or make it? But, with a more conversational voice query such as “Why drink chicken soup in a fever?” the user’s intent comes through clearly.

Using natural language query for voice search

C. Most Voice Searches Are Local

People often use voice search to find local information. According to a recent study by BrightLocal, 75% of smart speaker owners perform searches for local businesses on a weekly basis, and an astonishing 53% do so every day.

BrightLocal data shows that most of voice searches are searches for local business


Voice Search for Local Business Study 2018


Nearly 54% of them are looking for local restaurants or pub reservations. As a result, local brick-and-mortar businesses are likely to see the biggest impact of voice searches.

D. Most Users Are Looking for Instant Results

Whatever people turn on Ok Google or Hey Google for, they are looking for immediate results. It makes sense, as most voice searches are related to finding directions, making local reservations, and looking up specific information.

In other words, people have a clear intent, so they demand instant results. For example, most people searching for “Chinese restaurants near me” want instant results with reviews, contact information, and work hours. They are probably going to book a table right away.

Users looking for instant results in voice search

E. Accurate and To-the-Point Answers

Although people want instant results, they expect to-the-point answers to their questions. It may sound simple, but providing accurate results gets a little confusing when people use different Google voice commands to look for the same stuff.

For example, let’s ask the Google Assistant “What is net surfing?” In this instance, Google provides you the exact answer you want.

Users looking for accurate answers through voice search

Now, let’s use two different phrases “What is net browsing?” and “What is web browsing?” for the same search query. As you can see from the screenshots below, the answer isn’t what you would expect.

What is web browsing combined? - Accurate and To-the-Point Answers

Rand Fishkin has wonderfully explained in his video about what all might change for SEO for voice search compared to SEO for traditional search.

How does Google Search by Voice Work?

When we listen, our ears catch the sound waves and transport them to the brain. The brain then converts them into words and sentences. Google search by voice works in a similar fashion. It recognizes your voice through complex Natural Language Processing (NLP) systems, looks for a match of your words in its database, and churns out the results.

Fortunately, each human has a unique voice, which is why Google can learn the novel characteristics of your voice over time. It uses various normalization techniques to adapt itself to recognize and handle unfamiliar acoustic patterns. Thus, it can recognize the same English word spoken in different accents across countries including the UK, the USA, India, Australia, and New Zealand.

Since the Hummingbird update, Google has also started using semantic search tactics. This means it can understand the implied meaning of search queries and provide results accordingly. For example, when you use Google voice search to look up information about “how to buy a car”, the results enlist tips for best car deals.

Searching "how to buy car" in Voice Search

When this search term is followed by “How to get insurance?” Google’s semantic search works its charm and provides you with the results for buying car insurance. There is no need to specify you need car insurance.

When you next search "how to get insurance" semantic search shows answers for buying car insurance.

Google also keeps track of your online behavior (shopping and browsing patterns), personal information (location and places you visit frequently), and overall net surfing habits (your likes and dislikes) to get a deeper understanding of your search intent. In other words, the more Ok Google voice search you use, the better your experience will be.

Google has also published its first version of Voice Search Guidelines titled Evaluation of Speech for the Google Assistant which can be of great help for SEO professionals who are looking to optimize a content for voice search. You can download the current version here.

Optimizing for Google Voice Search

By now you must have understood that you need a slightly different approach to optimize for voice search, owing to its peculiar characteristics. Voice search, in general, is all about delivering accurate and on-the-go results. It is better if you already know the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) before going ahead with voice search optimization.

These basics can help you carve a better strategy, which comprises the following tactics:

optimize for voice search

A. Improve Website Loading Speed

One of the first things you need to look into is your website’s loading speed. Fast loading websites have a better chance of ranking higher in Google voice search. According to Backlinko, the average Time to First Byte (TTFB) of a voice search result was 0.54 seconds compared to the worldwide average of 2.1 seconds for most web pages. It also took considerably less time to load voice search page (4.6 seconds) compared to most web pages (8.8 seconds).

website loading speed affects voice search results

B. Make Sure the Site Is Mobile-Friendly

People usually use Google voice search app on their mobile phone to perform local searches, especially the young generation. In fact, voice search accounted for 20% of mobile searches on Google in 2017. In the same year, 18.5% of the US population (60.5 Million), especially millennials, was using voice-enabled digital assistants on (at least) a monthly basis.

A data from PEW Research Center also showed that around 46% percent of Americans use voice assistants, form which most of them use it on smartphones.

46% percent of Americans use voice assistants

Higher penetration of mobile phones across the globe, easy access to the internet via teleoperators, and better voice-enabled search technology are the reasons behind this increasing trend. Plus, the young generation is mobile savvy. That’s why it necessary to ensure your website is extremely mobile-friendly.

Perhaps, Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP can prove helpful in this regard. AMP is an open source initiative that allows you to create mobile-friendly web pages or sites. AMPs are super light and hence have lightning speed. Apart from speed, it also takes care of readability of mobile optimized pages. Google has been regularly rolling out new features and updates for AMP pages since its launch in 2015. Get your website AMP ready as soon as possible.

C. Use Structured Data

Structured data or schema markup is one of the most critical SEO factors that will affect your web page ranking in a voice search. It allows Google to read your website and understand what the content precisely means. It will also determine how the content will appear in Search Engine Results Pages (SERP).

Google has rolled out a few updates for its search algorithm in 2018 to improve the quality of the search relevancy. The new updates rely on your website’s structured data to dig up the most relevant pages.

Here is what John Muller has to say about the role of structured data for ranking your content in voice search.

I think that’s really complicated because from Google’s side, what we try to do is to understand your page.. and to figure out with which type of voice queries match those pages. So that’s something you can help us with using structured data on the pages so if you tell us a bit more about what this page is about.

Make sure your structured data pages are not blocked using robots.txt files. The structured data should also include work hours, contact information, address, and directions because that’s what people are looking for with a voice search. For example, when you search for the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, Google gives you the address.

Using structured data for improving SEO for voice search


HTTPS which is a ranking factor in traditional Google Search results will also influence your website’s voice search ranking. HTTPS is a protocol that improves your website’s security. All HTTPS websites need to acquire an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. Consider this certificate as a seal of safety and trust as an HTTPS site’s visitor data is always encrypted and secured. That means sites with HTTPS tend to rank higher, which, in turn, may also improve the chances of ranking better in voice search.

E. Aim for Featured Snippets

Snippets centered on specific semantic questions can help your site show up in voice search. According to a study by Moz, out of their 1K test searches, text snippets yielded voice answers 87% of the time, list snippets produced voice answers 49% of the time, while table snippets dropped to nearly 30%. So, you need to optimize your content for snippets, especially if you want to reach the “rank zero”.

Aim for Featured Snippets - need to optimize your content for snippets

Google voice search also reads out the content in a snippet. So, make sure to add both, snippet-ready and voice-ready phrases in your content. It should make sense when read out loud. Naturally, a long list or a table isn’t going to work in a snippet. According to Getstat, paragraph snippets were most common (82%), followed by list snippets (10.8%) and table snippets (7.3%).

Harvesting Honey - snippet-ready and voice-ready phrases in your content

Sometimes, however, videos are also shown in a snippet. So, you will need to update your video content to make it more relevant and snippet-friendly.

How to make Lasagna - Update Your Video Content To Make It More Relevant And Snippet-friendly

F. Easy Readability – Provide Short and To-the-Point Answers

As mentioned before, when using Google voice search, people will use natural language or a conversational tone. They are looking for quick, short, and well-defined answers, less than 29 words long to be precise.

Try to include trigger words such as “Who” “What” and “How”, which people often use for Google voice search in your content. Here is a list of trigger words:

list of trigger words for Google Voice Search

In other words, if your website provides content that is easy to approach and read, readers and Google will love it. But, short and optimized answers will get you a place in the snippet, which brings us to our next point.

G. Focus on Strong Link Building

Most digital marketers are aware that high-quality backlinks are vital for SEO. But, they are equally crucial for voice search as well. Websites with strong link authority tend to rank best in voice search. According to Backlinko, the average domain rating of a voice search result was 76.8 compared to a lower Page Rating of only 21.1.

It primarily happens because Google wants to provide accurate answers. So, when it finds the correct answer on a trusted site (with better domain rating), it doesn’t matter how many links point you to that page. So, for all search queries related to “growing celery”, Google Assistant ranks a snippet from at the top.

pages with strong backlinks rank higher in voice search

Grow Celery In Home Garden - Focus on Strong Link Building

How Does Celery Grow - Google Assistant ranks a snippet

If we look at the number of backlinks this post has generated, it proves that backlinks are indeed a strong ranking factor for Google Voice Search.

Number of backlinks for the above mentioned post

H. Understand User Intent and Make Use of Suitable Keywords

Whether Ok Google is being used on desktop or mobile, voice searches often have a clear intent because people are interested in finding directions or specific information, or making transactions. For example, “cat” is an ambiguous keyword which generates different results ranging from domestic cat to the Common Admission Test or CAT exam.

Cat - Understand User Intent and Make Use of Suitable Keywords

But, a person that turns on voice search is more likely to use terms such as “How to adopt a cat?” or “How to pick a cat breed?” The first one is a keyword with transactional intent and the latter is informational.

Search query "How to adopt a cat" shows user intention

So, your website is more likely to show up in voice search if it employs keywords such as “cat breed” or “adopt a cat”. You will need to find different search terms that people are more likely to use when searching for your product or locating your store and include those in your content.

I. Target Long-Tail Keywords

When people turn on Ok Google, they use specific and detailed search terms. But, unlike typed search terms, they are more natural. For example, when looking for a burger joint in Mumbai, they will be asking “What is the best burger joint in Mumbai?” or “Which burger joint in Mumbai is the best?”

Burger joint in Mumbai - Target Long-Tail Keywords

Thus, you need to assess the keywords that are attracting visitors to your site. Learn which phrases your potential customers use to talk about your product or business. Create questions and answers or content that focuses on these keywords.

J. Create an FAQ Page

FAQ pages are great for churning out relevant content in a conversational form or natural language. As per Backlinko, 2.68% of voice results came from FAQ pages. You can use long-tail keywords in FAQ pages without compromising content quality.

Stats showing FAQ pages have better chance of getting displayed in voice search results

To take it up a notch, you can create blog posts based on the most common questions your potential buyers may ask. For example, when you search for “How to pack a rucksack?” apart from the DIY videos and a wiki article, you also get links to detailed blogs posts from various outdoor gear companies.

How to pack a rucksack? - get links to detailed blogs posts from various outdoor gear companies

K. Optimize for Local Search

As mentioned in the characteristics of voice search, almost all voice searches are local. To optimize for local voice search, make sure you have claimed and verified your business location on Google My Business. However, your business will need a physical location or shareable address to turn on this feature.

Optimizing for local search can help in improving your ranking in voice searches

Next, you need to update your business information such as selecting a category of your business, adding contact information and link to your website, adding photos of your store, work hours, and even customer reviews.

Google Voice Search app uses the mobile device’s physical location when retrieving results. So, use the AdWords’ location extension to show up in “near me” voice searches.

Optimizing E-commerce websites for Voice Search

Compared to content-based websites, e-commerce sites are more complex and extensive. While doing SEO for an e-commerce website, make sure to optimize it for voice search too.

Optimizing your e-commerce website for voice search needs a mix of natural language and intent keywords to take advantage of the voice search guidelines. You can use two types of intent keywords for an e-commerce site.

A. Product Based

You can use product-based keywords such as brand names, product names, and product categories. They also include words such as “affordable”, “best deals”, “cheapest”, “product comparison”, “review”, and “top products”, among others.

B. Action Based

These keywords encourage users to take a particular action. They include search terms such as “buy”, “discounts”, “deals”, “coupons”, “next day delivery”, and “free shipping”.

As Google voice searches include complete phrases or sentences, include natural sentences with intent keywords in the metadata. For example, instead of saying “men’s swimming costumes”, you can use a phrase such as “The only place where you can find affordable men’s swimming costumes”. Thus, whenever a user says, “Ok Google, tell me where can I find affordable men’s swimming costumes?” your website has a better chance of ranking higher.

Where Can I Find Affordable Men’s Swimming Costumes


Latest from Google Assistant

The development of voice search is ongoing. Every few months or so, Google Assistant gets new updates to make your life easier. Let’s take a look at some of the latest news and developments.

  • In Feb 2018, Google Assistant rolled out a new feature that allows you to sync with your Netflix account. Just add your Netflix account to your Google voice search app. You can set reminders, watch your favorite shows, and pick up right where you left off with voice commands.
  • With the Routines feature introduced in March 2018, you can create a daily routine that Google Assistant can track. It includes setting up reminders, controlling smart home devices, and playing your favorite music, movies, and shows. In the Good Morning Routine, you can also hear about the weather, your calendar, your work commute, and the national and/or local news.
  • With new Location-Based Reminder feature, you can ask Google Assistant to set reminders such as “Ok Google, remind me to water the plant when I get home” or “Ok Google, remind me to call John when I reach office”.
  • Right now, it can handle multiple tasks. But soon, Google Assistant will be able to make phone calls and set up appointments for you. A recent live demo showed Google Assistant making a phone call to book a hair appointment. The conversation seemed extremely natural.

  • Google Assistant has six new voices and one from John Legend coming later in 2018. In addition to regular Google Assistant responses, his voice will also sing you “Happy Birthday”.
  • Google Lens, another feature in Google Assistant, uses real-time image recognition technology to look up images and objects through your smartphone camera.
  • Another smart feature, called visual positioning system is soon rolling out from the assistant. It will let you know your exact position and orientation based on your location.
  • According to a new study authored by Pindrop, Google Assistant has become a top artificial intelligence priority in the customer service segment along with Microsoft’s Cortana. Further, the study revealed that an increasing number of marketers are thinking of shifting towards voice search-based user interfaces and customer service in the coming years.

Ok Google Commands

Now that you have learned how to leverage voice search, let’s take a look at the most common Ok Google Commands so you have a clear idea about how to use Google Voice Search. But before that, let’s learn how to turn on Google voice search or Google Assistant on your smartphone.

  • Go to the Play Store, find the Google Assistant app, download and install it on your phone.
  • Once the app download is complete, open it, go to Menu > Settings > Voice > “Ok Google” to set up your voice detection.
  • For most new Android devices, all you need to do is to turn on the screen and say “Ok Google” to activate voice search.
  • Alternatively, you can also tap on the microphone button to skip the “Ok Google” step. You can use Retrain voice model or Delete voice model and set it up again.

Here are a few Ok Google commands you can use. For your convenience, we have divided them into a few catalogers.

1. Basic Commands

  • Call [Contact name] – Call Dad or Call Nancy.
  • Create a calendar event [Details] or Schedule an appointment [Details] – Schedule haircut appointment at 2 PM on Wednesday.
  • Email or Send email [Contact name] – Email John. Subject: Hi. Message: I’m running late, sorry (You can also add CC and BCC recipients).
  • Go to [Website name] – Go to
  • Note to self [contents of note] – Note to self, my workout is improving.
  • Open [App Name] – Open Facebook or Open Music.
  • Post to Twitter [Message] – Post to Twitter, hanging out with @xyz.
  • Remind me to [Task and Location] – Remind me to take out the trash when I get home.
  • Send Hangout message to [contact name] – Send Hangout message to Mom.
  • Set a timer for [X minutes] – Set timer for 10 minutes.
  • Set an alarm for [Date, Time or Duration] – Set alarm for 7 AM every day or set alarm for 3 hours from now.
  • Show me [app category] apps – Show me gaming apps.
  • Show me emails from [contact name] – Show me emails from Mom.
  • Show me my calendar – When’s my next meeting? Where is my next meeting?
  • Show me my last message.
  • Show me my pictures from [location] – Show me my pictures from Miami Beach.
  • Start a list for [list name] – Start a list for Nancy’s birthday party guests.
  • Start a run.
  • Text or Send text to [Contact name] – Text Nancy, I will pick up the groceries.

2. Information or Search Commands

  • [Common search queries] – Mountain bikes or skateboards.
  • Define [Word] – Define “conspicuous”.
  • Etymology of [Word] – Etymology of “conspicuous”.
  • How do I [task] – How do I make coffee with cream?
  • How old is [Real person’s name] – How old is Justin Bieber?
  • How tall is [person, landmark, building] – How tall is Empire State Building?
  • Math calculations – What is 20 times 5418?
  • Show me pictures of [object or person] – What does Amazon River look like? Show me pictures of red roses.
  • Synonyms for [Word] – Synonyms for “conspicuous”.
  • What is [phrase] – What is IRL?
  • What sound does [animal] make? – What sound does a piglet make?
  • What’s the phone number of [business name]? – What’s the phone number of Wendy’s?
  • What’s the stock price of [company name or stock ticker] – What’s the stock price of Google?
  • What’s the weather like [Today, tomorrow, Date or place] – What’s the weather like (for your current location)? What’s the weather like in Chicago tomorrow?
  • When is [Specific event] – When is the next Hurricane’s Game?
  • Who invented [Specific object] – Who invented the light bulb?
  • Who is [Real or fictional person’s name] – Who is John Snow?
  • Who wrote [Book title] – Who wrote The Alchemist?

3. Transaction Commands

  • Find my phone (Use Google Home or Google Chrome voice search on your laptop or desktop to find your phone)
  • Increase or decrease brightness or volume
  • Make a call
  • Mute the volume
  • Set caller tune volume for [Contact name]
  • Take a picture
  • Take a selfie
  • Turn on my flashlight
  • Turn on or off [Wi-Fi, Location, and Bluetooth, among others]

4. Navigation Commands

 Directions or Navigate to [address, name, business name, type of business, or other destination] – Go to Taco Bell on Wabash Ave.

  • How do I get to [destination] by [walking, bike, bus, train] – How do I get to XYZ grocery store by walking?
  • How far is [address, city, or other location] – How far is Orange County?
  • Map of [city or specific location in a city] – Map of Central Park New York.
  • Show me nearby attractions.
  • Take me home or take me to work.
  • What’s the traffic like on the way to work?
  • Where is [business name or location] – Where is Times Square?
  • Where is the nearest [business] – Where is the nearest parking?

5. Entertainment Commands

  • Find out what song is playing – What is this song? Who is this?
  • If a song is playing, ask questions about the artist. For instance, “Where is she from?” (Android 6.0 Marshmallow)
  • Listen to [type of music, playlist, song, artist, album] – Listen to the Beatles.
  • Movie show times or movies nearby. – Displays nearby movie screenings.
  • Play [X song] by [X artist or Band] on Spotify – “Play Counting Stars by One Republic on Spotify”.
  • Play me a video of [Details] – Show me a video of ice skating.
  • Scores and news [team name] – Philadelphia Eagles or Houston Rockets.
  • Show me the trailer for [movie title] – Show me the trailer for Mission Impossible: Fallout.
  • Sports updates – Who are the Cleveland Cavaliers playing next? Did the New York Giants win last night?

6. Travel Commands

  • Currency conversion. – How much are 100 Pounds worth in US Dollars?
  • How late is [business name] open?
  • Is [business name] open right now?
  • Is my flight on time? (Assuming your flight information is in your Gmail account.)
  • Show me my flight info. (Assuming your flight information is in your Gmail account.)
  • Looking for [food type or restaurant name] – Looking for Thai restaurant near me.
  • Show me [Honeymoon, Family Vacation] destinations in [City or country] – Show me honeymoon destinations in Hawaii.
  • To learn more about your current location and surroundings, you can ask questions such as “What is the name of this place?” or “Show me the landmarks at this place” or “Who built this bridge?”
  • To see the menu of the restaurant you’re currently in, you can say “Show me the menu”.
  • Translate [phrase or word] to [language] – Translate “Where is Train Station?” into Spanish.
  • [When] does flight [airline and flight number] land/take off?
  • What time does [business name] open? – What time does Papa John’s open?
  • What time is it in [city] – What time is it in Paris?

Over to You

Voice search is going to be the cornerstone of digital marketing in the coming years. Optimizing your website for voice search is going to be relatively hard for digital marketers as they will be sailing in uncharted waters. However, if you start doing it now, you can get the advantage of being an early pioneer in voice search optimization. Hopefully, this guide will provide you with all the essential information to create a successful voice-search-optimized website. If you still have doubts, feel free to drop us a comment. We will get back to you as soon as possible.      

  • Taral Patel is SEO Manager and Content Strategist at E2M who specializes in the content ranking and building organic traffic. His advanced keyword research and content strategies have helped brands to boost their organic traffic, conversions and reach the right target audience. He also co-hosts the company's podcast, Marketing Microscope where we invite industry thought leaders and influencers to share their insight with our audience.