What is Voice Search?

Adam Frame - Full Stack PHP Developer

Voice Search is the practice of using Smart devices or Smart Phones to search the internet using your voice instead of the typed word. With either Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri or Cortana, it is possible to find out anything you like by just talking, without having to lift a finger.


Devices/services that use Voice Search

Google Assistant

Google Assistant is an app you can download for your phone and is also what the Google Home and Nest devices use for voice control. It’s the one that responds to ‘Hey, Google?’.

Google Assistant uses Google’s own search index to retrieve answers to your questions. It’ll send a verbal response depending on the search results it receives. 

It is possible to extend Google Assistant’s functionality by way of Google Actions.

Google Actions are the equivalent of Alexa Skills and allow you to programmatically perform specific functions like turning your lights on and off etc. using conversational phrases. You need to be careful, as with all voice-controlled skills, to include all possible variations of the command since not everyone will ask a question in the same way.

See also: Google Actions Console


Amazon Alexa

We all know what Amazon Alexa is, don’t we? Alexa was the first ‘smart assistant’ to hit the mainstream back in 2014 and has been growing ever since. 

You trigger the device by calling its name, ‘Alexa’, and then ask your question or command it to perform your task, for example ‘What’s the weather like in Tucson Arizona this weekend?’. You can also configure your Alexa device to respond to ‘Echo?’ or ‘Computer?’ if you prefer. Like Google Assistant, you’ll get an audible answer from Alexa.

Amazon Alexa, like Microsoft Cortana and Apple Siri, uses Microsoft Bing instead of Google to return search results.

As mentioned before, Alexa Skills are programmed ‘actions’ that you’d like Alexa to perform.


Microsoft Cortana / Apple Siri

Cortana and Siri are not smart devices, they are smart applications, but they can also respond to voice searches. Cortana comes built into Windows OS and uses Bing as its search index. It can use Alexa Skills, so if you want to create an app for Cortana you need to make an Alexa Skill. 

Siri, as you know, is Apple’s smart assistant embedded in all modern iPhones. Apple’s version of smart actions for Siri is Siri Shortcuts, which work similarly to Alexa Skills and Google Actions. Siri uses Bing search index to return your results in a list on your phone instead of as an audible answer.

We’ll delve deeper into ‘smart actions’ in a future blog.

How to optimise for voice search

Use conversational speech in your content

Using normal or conversational speech is the basis of all voice search. People are more likely to use full phrases when asking for information from their smart device:

  • What time is the next bus to Guildford from Basingstoke?
  • Where was Brad Pitt born?

Traditional search engine optimisations had us add keywords to the code in web pages, but never phrases. Phrases are becoming preferred by Google as more and more voice searches are made and are becoming more statistically valuable to them. It helps determine what the searcher’s intent is which is important to return the most relevant results. 

Ask yourself some pertinent questions to determine what the query style of the searcher may be:

  • What type of question keywords are being used?
  • Which types are used more often?
  • How should these questions be answered?
  • Which answers are providing the best result?

Monitoring your analytics and insights tools such as our Vyou service will help you determine this. An excellent web page to find out what questions people are asking for your keywords is https://answerthepublic.com/

Rich Answers

The wonderful people at Google are forever developing more and more ways of returning results, one of which is a term called Rich Answers. In order for your site to be returned in a voice search, it is better if your site is able to provide rich results.

Rich Answers are the small boxes of information displayed above normal search results, but can also be on the right hand side. These are retrieved from Google’s Knowledge Graph which is its store of facts about people, places and things. These are then displayed in a Knowledge Panel (on the right like a business listing) or a Knowledge Box (which appears as a search result). Featured snippets appear above normal results and cite the source of the information. 

Read more: How to earn Google Featured Snippets

When deciding on the phrases you incorporate in your content, it's good practice to include possible search queries as h2 tags as these become featured snippets in Google Results.

Google is increasing the number of Rich Answers it shows. It has been determined that currently more than 30% of search results include a Rich Answer. This will continue to grow with Google’s preference for mobile optimisation and its introduction a few years ago of Rich Cards.

These rich answers are chosen based on a typically complex Google algorithm but, to ensure your site is optimised to be at least compatible, the following may help your case:

1. Your site should include schema.org markup, with the inclusion of FAQ pages:

2. Content, as always, is king. If your page answers a question better than others then it would be preferred over them.

3. The question you want to answer needs to be popular. The previously mentioned answerthepublic.com site and your SEO experts will be able to help you with choosing the best questions you are able to answer.

Google has a tool that can analyse your site and show you its rich results.

Local SEO

Don’t ever forget about local business SEO. A better optimised site locally will always be preferred over a badly promoted one. Submit to Google My Business and periodically revise your submission to ensure it is up to date.

Page Speed

This is often overlooked with the prevalence of broadband connections. The faster your site displays and performs will positively affect your search results. Using tools such as Lighthouse and correct development techniques, you can ensure that your site is blazing fast. The Escape can help you optimise your site to be the fastest it can be. Search engines are applying more and more importance to the speed of your site, especially on mobile (you lose ranking if your site is not optimised for mobile) so you should keep on top of it. We’ll be publishing more blogs on this topic and the tools we use in the near future.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and if you have any questions about your SEO strategy with reference to voice search get in contact with our Strategy & Performance team at The Escape. 

’til next time.


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