How To Optimize For Voice Search

December 08, 2017

Joel Swaney

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Ranking for voice search queries is less complicated than you may think. By following a few steps to help branded content rank for the highly coveted Quick Answer Box, marketers can prepare for the future of voice search.


As we head into the holiday season, voice search’s potential for growth is becoming clearer. Although just 7% of U.S. consumers owned a smart speaker at the beginning of 2017, Google and Amazon’s recent efforts to place an audio assistant in more homes will likely increase household penetration significantly. Gartner predicts that by 2020 30% of web browsing sessions will occur without a screen, meaning consumers will be using audio assistants to search for products and information.

In addition to home-based audio assistants, pre-holiday smartphone advertising has focused on mobile audio assistants to help sell the newest generation of devices to mobile consumers. Major players in the battle over mobile and virtual assistants include the iPhone 8 and iPhone X’s Siri, the Google Assistant on the new Pixel 2, and Samsung’s Bixby on the Galaxy S8.

Continued growth within both markets is indicative of voice search as an evolving consumer behavior.


As voice search becomes a more pervasive behavior and query types expand, audio assistants will increasingly rely on website content that directly answers the ever-growing list of questions. For devices powered by Google search, featured snippets (AKA quick answers) are the primary means for delivering a direct answer to the query.

Currently, the result of a voice search will nearly always match the featured snipped that is displayed when the same query is searched on desktop or mobile. As Google’s algorithms change to align with user behavior, however, we anticipate greater variation and personalization of results by device or search type.

Because Amazon devices use Bing as the primary search engine, Alexa users will be served voice results that differ from what they might find using Google, either by voice or on their desktop computers and mobile devices. To address the unpopular search experience from Alexa-powered devices, savvy developers have created an unofficial “Ask Google” Skill, a voice-prompted command for Alexa to follow, that utilizes the Google Assistant API to search the internet.


Fortunately for marketers and brand content managers, the transition to voice search will not require a significant change to existing content strategies. Priority queries should continue to be addressed in the formulaic question/answer (Q/A) style of writing that has helped SEO-friendly websites rank for featured snippets. Q/A writing ensures that content answers user queries in a clear, concise, and authoritative way, providing the best possible experience for searchers. Marketers should use consumer journey data sources – like keyword research, customer service inquiries, and even social listening data – to map questions and develop Q/A content.

Just like Google’s People Also Ask feature, ranking for voice search requires brand content managers to structure website content for featured snippets.


  • Headlines should directly use targeted keywords and can be in the form of a question
  • Content should feature a shorter, easy-to-understand definition
  • The quick answer can then be followed by an in-depth analysis or an example
  • Subheads should use primary and supporting keywords
  • Unordered lists may help for readability

By writing for featured snippets in the question/answer format, branded content is more likely to appear as a quick answer and, in turn, is more likely to be featured as the voice search response provided by a virtual assistant. As these devices grow in popularity, so too will competition for the single voice response. By creating content that quickly and clearly answers questions, brands have a greater chance to rank for voice queries.

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