Okay Google, How Do I Write for Voice Search in 2018?

It’s 2018 and voice search is on the rise. In another couple of years, 50% of searches will use voice search. So, you need to make sure that your content is written in a way that best serves the needs of those searchers of tomorrow. How can you do that?

TL;DR

  • Be concise
  • Be conversational
  • Rank on page 1
  • Write for a Featured Snippet

How do you write for voice search?

To write for voice search, answer specific questions. The structure of the answers must be closely aligned to the exact nature of the search. And ideally 29 words long.

Google like concise answers to questions. It isn’t in the habit of broadcasting short seminars to people searching in a hurry.

And this is the key to writing content for voice searchers: understanding their situation, as well as their needs.

What is voice search?


Voice search is exactly what it sounds like. Today’s smartphones and home assistant devices have AI smart enough to understand human speech.

They know when they’re being spoken to and can give you answers to questions you ask by reading out search results.

Google, Siri and Alexa have this functionality and draw answers from the two big search engines: Google and Bing!

With voice search enabled, you simply summon your assistant with a phrase (OK Google… / Alexa… / Siri…) and you can ask it a question.

The assistant searches the internet and responds with an answer it believes is the correct or the most relevant answer.

Why do people use voice search?

According to a study by Google over 80% of users use voice search because they believe “it’s the future.” Now, you can look at this in one of two ways; either people are openly embracing new technology, or they’re playing with a new toy.

If it’s a fad, it raises the question of whether it’s worth investing in updating your content  for voice search at all.

But if people really are embracing this new way of searching, you can get an edge on the competition by optimising first.

Judging by the way people are using voice search, people like its convenience. Voice search helps people multi-task and makes them much more efficient in their lives. Why type when you can just dictate to your phone?

What are people using voice search for?

The nature of voice search is that it’s a search made for convenience. You’re out and about, or you have your hands full so you want a quick answer.

39% of voice search users are looking for business information, and local business information at that.

40% of adult users are using voice search to find directions, with mobile voice searches 3 times more likely to be a local search.

So lots of people are using voice search instead of Google maps or something similar to get around and find local services. So it’s never been a more important time to optimise your local SEO

People are also searching for help. Whether that’s to find out cinema times, remind you how long it takes to boil an egg, or who that guy who played Morpheus in the Matrix was.

What should my content look like?

If you’ve worked in SEO for a while, you know that Google’s algorithm changes all the time. As voice search becomes more widespread, Google will continue to refine the voice search experience. So expect us to be optimising for search all over again in 2019.

Today, we know that the best results are more likely to be read out in a voice search. So in order to write for voice search, you need to continue to write with best practice SEO in mind.

Does a conversational tone help with voice search?

Yes, actually. A casual answer is the perfect response to a conversational question. It’s all about thinking about your searchers and writing in a way that matches their searching context.

If you’re doing serious research, your search queries will be shorter and more direct than a voice search. Like so:

Serious Search: Matrix Morpheus Actor

Casual Search: “Okay Google, who was that guy who played Morpheus in that Matrix movie?”

(Morpheus is played by Laurence Fishburne.)

So be more conversational in your copy. And yes, this means it’s okay to start a sentence with a contraction!

How does voice search handle follow-up questions?


Google is getting really smart when it comes to sequential semantic search (follow-up questions to you and me). It is able to understand that a follow-up question is related to the subject of the previous question.

So, if you’ve asked:

“Okay Google, who was that guy who played Morpheus in that Matrix movie?”

And followed up with:

“How old is he?”

Google interprets, probably correctly, that you want to know how old Laurence Fishburne is.

(He was born in 1961, making him 57 at time of writing.)

Interestingly, you can’t do this with a Google desktop search. So, is “semantic search” smarter? No. What it’s doing is reading the room — understanding the context and providing the searcher with a better user experience.

Your content can help facilitate this experience by being long form and answering the supplementary questions that are likely to be asked after your initial targeted question.

Take the time to anticipate the next question and answer it on-page. This gives you a better chance to double dip and deliver your content twice from the same voice search string.

The average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words, according to ComScore. This tells us  that Google tends to source voice search answers from long form content.

We know that Google likes long form content these days and this trend reinforces our confidence in this view.

If you’re stuck for more content to write, explore your keywords and attack those tangential long tail keywords. This not only helps you create great content, you might be able to answer a follow-up question.

What kind of answers does voice search give?


Depending on the nature of the question, Google prioritises different content. If you want directions, it will use Google Maps.

If you’re looking for a business or service “near me”, Google will generally prioritise a Google My Business listing.

Looking for a recipe? Expect to be dished up a piece of content that uses recipe schema.

But, if you’re shopping for a laptop, you’ll be served with a selection of Google Shopping options.

So the next step is clear. Once you’ve written your content, make sure it’s correctly structured so Google knows what it’s looking at.

For query-based searches, we know that 40.7% of all voice search answers came from a Featured Snippet. Write your content so it’s more likely to appear in that coveted “0th position”.

How do you get a featured snippet?

Traditional wisdom would tell you to put the answer to the a question in the first sentence. But in our experience, this isn’t always the case.

Google like FAQ-style content when it comes to servicing query-based searches. It isn’t uncommon for a featured snippet to pull chunks of text from further down the page.

Sometimes it cobbles together several paragraphs from the same page to provide a 0th position answer, but it prefers not to.

To land a featured snippet, make sure your content:

  • Is already in the top 10 of Google
  • Is niche content
  • Doesn’t compete directly with Wikipedia

Boost your chances by making your answer between 45 and 97 words long. If you have a list or a table, try and squeeze at least 8 points out of it to maximise your content.

Over 40% of voice searches are pulled from featured snippets. So if you write your content for snippets, there’s a good chance you’ll be well positioned for vice search too.

But there’s a problem with featured snippet optimisation: click through rate. Remember, we’re only around 40% voice search usage right now, and 50% by 2020. So you still have to consider the other half your searchers.

If you deliver the answer to a manual search in your featured snippet, the searcher will gain the benefit of your wisdom, but you won’t benefit from the traffic. They will read the snippet and leave.

So how do you square this circle?

By writing clever!

The average voice search result is 29 words long. But the average featured snippet is 45 words long. So write your answers in a way that answers the question in a short paragraph around 29 words long.

Then make your next paragraph keyword heavy to boost its chance of being pulled into the snippet too and bury the lead. Make the nugget of the elaboration sit after the 97th word. This will create an ellipsis in the snippet that will entice a manual searcher to click through.

The same trick works with lists. Make your lists at least 9 items long so people click through to read the rest of the list. People love a good list!

Is it worth updating content for voice search?


Voice search is becoming more and more relevant as we move to a world of more personalised, convenient experiences. A few years ago, voice search wasn’t really worth worrying about, but today, things are different.

We’re seeing a significant increase in voice search, especially for local business searches, travel tips and general query searches. Writing for voice search is likely to become much more important moving forward, so writing with those searchers in mind will help your site moving forward.

But ultimately, writing for voice search will help your website generally. Google is looking deeper and deeper into user intent, search context and personal experience.

Writing in a way that helps the user will likely help you rank better in Google. So if you want your content to support your wider SEO efforts, write with the reader in mind. Meet their needs, get their clicks!

… or prods.

Because they’re on mobile, right?

We need new words for this sort of thing…

Did we hit the mark?


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