The rise of voice search in the age of assistance

March 26, 2024

Katie Tweedy
How can you navigate the rise of voice search in the Age of Assistance? Explore essential tactics and insights to stay ahead in the dynamic landscape of voice search optimization.

The rise of voice search in the age of assistance

We are living in an “Age of Assistance” — a time when people are connected to multiple devices to help them complete tasks or seek out information. By the end of 2024, it’s predicted that the number of digital voice assistants will reach 8.4 billion, and phrases like “Hey, Siri,” “Alexa,” and “OK, Google” are now a part of our everyday language. People are no longer just typing robotic, fragmented sentences into a search engine — they are speaking to their devices like they’d speak to a friend. In other words, search is becoming more conversational, and marketers need to consider more than keywords alone when addressing content.

What is voice search?

Voice search is a method of using a device to search via speech rather than text. Specifically, voice search uses speech recognition to understand a query, and then finds an online document that answers the query. Most often, the document pulled ranks within the top of traditional search results. 

Why does voice search deserve special attention? Because people speak differently than they type. Most users type in keywords, but speak conversationally — therefore, when completing a voice search, it tends to be longer and more question-based. 

Here’s an example. If someone was performing a traditional text search, they may simply type “cannoli recipes.” However, using their Google Home device, they might say, “OK Google, talk to a personal chef to find a homemade cannoli recipe.” Unsurprisingly, this evolution of voice search has opened the door to many new, never-before-seen keyword phrases.

Voice search in 2024 and beyond

Voice search has expanded beyond just an Alexa Echo or Google Home. People can now ask watches, TVs, phones, and even browsers questions with their voices. In fact, 27% of the global population use voice search on mobile and 20% of searches done on the Google app are now done by voice. And by 2024, voice assistants are predicted to reach 149.8 million units in the United States, which equates to 45% of the U.S. population. 

With AI-driven search engines like Microsoft’s ChatGPT, Google’s Gemini (originally BARD), and Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) using voice, voice search is poised to expand yet again. Knowing AI leverages Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand complex queries and conversations, AI pairs naturally with voice search. 

Voice assistants with AI can have more “personality,” and can better learn a person’s tone of voice and speech patterns to provide more personalized voice search results. Improved voice assistant responses will likely lead to longer conversations via voice search, rather than the currently popular demands or short questions. 

The audience of people using voice search has also evolved. Eight in ten parents feel their kids are more comfortable giving voice commands to smart speaker tech than they would ever be. Gen Alpha is growing up with voice search enabled devices and is comfortable using voice search for a whole host of reasons, from entertainment to help with homework.

With the inclusion of voice search in more devices, the evolution of its abilities thanks to the pairing with AI, and the growing audience, digital marketers need to be looking at how their content is optimized to take advantage of voice search.

Optimizing for voice search

Voice search optimization tactics have many similarities to today’s general SEO tactics: 

  • Create high-quality, relevant content
  • Provide an excellent user experience
  • Maintain a technically sound website

It’s important to note that this approach will benefit organic visibility overall, not just aid in an increase in quick answers, SGE, or voice search results. There are, however, unique optimization tactics that can improve your chances of achieving voice search visibility.

Content considerations

To optimize for voice search, content needs to give people direct, succinct answers to their questions. Voice search results still tend to be brief (29 words on average), but these results are often sourced from long-form content. Building out this long-form content should start with a strong understanding of user data. 

  • Use data like keyword research to uncover how people think/speak about your topic and anticipate their needs
  • Evolve the way you structure your website content, ensuring headers use the right keywords and are in the form of a question when applicable
  • Write in a conversational tone and avoid jargon
  • Consider how well your content engages with others off-site, including strong social engagement and reviewing backlinks

Technical considerations

Having the right content is only half of the battle when it comes to optimizing for content performance and voice search. Below are a few technical considerations to keep in mind. 

  • Prioritize page speed optimization; page speed can affect your chances of being selected as a voice result
  • Ensure your website is optimized for mobile devices
  • Ensure your website is secure (HTTPS)
  • Ensure all important content is crawlable and indexable
  • Ensure content visibility and indexability on Bing (in addition to Google) as 3 of the 4 major voice assistants are powered by Bing search results
  • Implement structured data to help search engines more deeply understand your content. The particular structured data you implement will depend upon the type of content you are optimizing

Speakable Markup

Google’s Speakable Markup is built specifically for Google Assistant-enabled devices, such as Google Home and Home Hub. This feature is designed for eligible publishers to mark up the most relevant sections of their news articles to be read aloud by the Google Assistant-enabled devices using TTS (text-to-speech). 

Does voice search drive traffic to websites? How will measurement be impacted?

Expected traffic levels originating from voice search depend on the nature of the query and the device a person uses. If they use the voice search feature within Google Chrome, for example, then their search results will look similar to those of a person who performs a traditional search. In that case, similar traffic patterns as text-based searches can be expected. 

When it comes to voice searches via a smart speaker or other voice-enabled devices, the technology chooses the best answer to the query, and the result is spoken aloud. However, users are given the option to scroll through written dictations of search results, which include links to the websites used as resources. This enables them to navigate to the site traditionally and, in turn, drives organic traffic to the website. In addition, voice search results are beneficial for brand recognition. When a voice assistant reads results aloud, it gives a “shout out” to the brand or publisher by saying, “According to ___.” This, of course, does its part to increase brand awareness. 

Today, reporting specifically on voice search remains difficult because search engines have not yet offered a way for marketers to break out text-based searches from voice-based searches. With that said, the role of voice searches from smart devices in the consumer journey must be accounted for. This may mean adjusting for a decrease in organic traffic for keywords and topics that have associated “Quick Answers.” 

Key takeaways & considerations

It’s easy to think: “Why do all this work when only one result is chosen?” Because voice searches are inherently long-tail, competition levels are drastically lower depending on the query, so there is a much greater likelihood your brand can surface for that query. Not only that, but since long-tail keywords tend to drive higher engagement or conversions as they are more specific in nature, it may lead to a better return on investment. 

Today, we are seeing voice search change the input (more conversational, long-tail queries) and output (more relevant, specific content delivered to meet this intent) of search. Savvy marketers have the opportunity to evolve along with Google and the changing landscape. This means creating content that best answers audiences’ questions, optimizing content for voice search, and ensuring web pages are built according to technical best practices for voice search. By doing so, marketers have the potential to rank for various voice results, as well as improve overall organic visibility.