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Voice Search: What Is It & How Does It Work?

Don't miss out on sales because your site hasn't optimized for voice search. Learn the best practices and get started today with this guide.

If your business isn’t focusing on voice search optimization, you could be missing out on sales.

Voice search’s gradual rise and dominance in the search engine landscape can’t be ignored.

Smartphones, smart speakers, cars, smart TVs, smart home components, wearables, appliances, and other connected gadgets are on the rise.

They provide a level of convenience the modern consumer craves.

The simple press of a button, followed by reciting a phrase verbally, can return instantaneous results.

Speech recognition technology has made our lives even easier and shopping more effortless.

And more consumers are catching on to the benefits of using a virtual assistant for their needs.

Forecasts predict by 2024, the number of digital voice assistants will reach 8.4 billion units. This number is higher than the world’s population.

Additionally, nearly one-third of the U.S. population has a smart speaker device.

Before we dive into tips for optimizing for voice search technology, let’s first explore what voice search is and its origins.

What Is Voice Search?

Voice search eliminates a layer of effort, enabling consumers to leverage technology to answer a question or simply to find out more information about a topic.

Voice search functionality works through the automatic speech recognition system (ASR) to transform voice signals into text.

This voice recognition technology allows smart device users to search by simply using their voices.

The voice search technology will then translate spoken words into text.

Then, the search engine uses the text as if it’s a standard search query and delivers relevant search results.

Over time, machine learning improves to better understand natural human language and the searcher’s intent to surface the best results possible.

Artificial intelligence (AI) assists personal voice assistant devices with audio quality, enhanced battery life, and voice control. Natural language processing enhancements continue to better understand the questions and commands given by the end user.

How Does Voice Search Work?

Voice search is complex.

However, having a basic understanding can help guide your voice search optimization endeavors.

Any time a voice search query is conducted, a voice search assistant will, in turn:

  • Filter the sounds, ensuring it focuses on the voice query separate from background noises.
  • Digitize the voice search query, turning sound waves into digital data.
  • Conduct a voice analysis by processing the digital data.
  • Connect to external data sources, such as Google Search, to find and deliver relevant answers.
  • Translate the information to satisfy the searcher’s intent.
  • Recognize patterns and compare the query to existing samples in the database.

Who Are The Major Smart Speaker Players?

Virtual assistants dominate the global smart speaker market at 82% market share. Wireless speakers come in second, followed by other devices.

However, it’s important to consider that most voice searches occur on mobile devices, not smart speakers.

The most owned smart speaker devices, in order of popularity, include:

  • Amazon Echo (20.8%).
  • Google Nest (8.1%).
  • Others (5.2%).
  • HomePod (2%).

Major players in the voice search market include:

  •, Inc.
  • Apple Inc.
  • Avnera Corporation.
  • Baidu, Inc.
  • Deutsche Telekom AG.
  • Fabriq.
  • Meta Platforms, Inc. (Facebook)
  • Alphabet Inc. (Google)
  • Jam Audio.
  • KaKao.
  • Lenovo Group Limited.
  • LG Electronics Inc.

In terms of leading countries, China and the United States are the largest markets for smart speakers.

China accounts for more than 40% of global smart speaker shipments, while 30% of shipments go to the United States.

Brief History Of Google Voice Search

Voice search may seem like it’s just started to cross the chasm, but its origins date back to over 70 years ago.

Audrey, in fact, was the first voice recognition device created in 1952.

Created by Bell Laboratories, Audrey broke ground in recognizing digits spoken by a single voice. It paved the way for voice search technology to come.

Fast forward to June 14, 2011, when Google announced at its Inside Google Search event that it would start to roll out voice search during the coming days. Little did the world know then how voice search would revolutionize how we find information.

Over a year later, on October 30, 2012, Google released a new Google Search app for iOS. This app featured an enhanced Google Voice Search function to compete with Apple’s Siri voice assistant.

By May 2016, 20% of searches in the Google App were done by voice. By 2018, 27% of the global online population was using voice search on mobile.

How Voice Search Differs From Traditional Search

Voice search arguably delivers quicker results than if a searcher uses their mobile phone or desktop computer to type out a query.

Additionally, how a searcher communicates with a voice search device will be different than if they were to type out the same informational need.

Voice search users often talk in a more conversational, natural tone as if they are talking to a friend. They likely will use long-tail keywords in their query.

For example, when searching for an optometrist, prospective customers may conduct a voice search query for “where can I find an optometrist near the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco?”

Mobile phone users conducting a search may instead simply type “optometrist near me” in the search bar.

Both location-based search queries will return relevant search results, however, as you can see, one is much more specific (and longer) than the other.

How Voice Search Differs From Traditional Search

Now that you’re equipped with the history of Google Voice Search, the difference between a voice search query and a traditional query, and the breakdown of smart device usage, let’s dive into voice search optimization strategies for your site.

Utilize Search Engine Optimization Best Practices

Follow standard SEO best practices when drafting content for your web pages.

This includes optimizing your title tags, using schema markup to target rich results, incorporating long-tail keywords into your content, and more.

Above all, your content should be relevant and useful to the reader.

Prospective customers want instant answers, and if they can’t find that within a few seconds of reading your content, the vast majority will look elsewhere.

Create a list of questions before drafting your content to ensure you address each. Avoid fluff, and focus on providing the best information possible.

Surface that information at the top of your article rather than making prospective customers scroll through your content to find what they need.

Be Found Everywhere Searchers Are Looking

Your content must be indexed everywhere customers look, especially on major platforms such as Google Search, Google Maps, and Apple Maps.

A voice search query likely will have local intent, and the first place they may find you is your local business listing.

Additionally, your Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business) must be completely accurate with up-to-date information, as this is a common place where prospective customers will find your business.

At a minimum, your business should ensure the following is correct on your local listings:

  • Business name.
  • Business description.
  • Address.
  • Phone number (a number where phone calls are routed to a real individual).
  • Attributes.
  • Opening and closing hours.
  • Reviews (and review responses from business owners).
  • A link to your local landing pages or to book a service.

Create An FAQ Page

Creating an FAQ page is a great idea for brands, as they give the end-user a quick answer to common questions.

Many voice search users have a question they need to solve. An FAQ page presents answers to those common questions customers are asking.

Start with questions your customer service team receives most often. You can also source your questions from the Google Q&A section on your location’s business listing.

Leverage FAQ Schema Markup to improve your chances of appearing in a featured snippet on Search and reach the right users.

Conduct Ongoing Keyword Research

Keyword research is not a one-and-done digital marketing strategy.

Instead, it entails consistently revising and refining to achieve maximum results.

When considering which keywords to target, consider how a consumer will conduct a voice search query. They’ll likely ask a question.

Keyword research tools, such as Soovle or AnswerThePublic, can show you the most popular questions consumers are asking around a seed keyword.

Your internal team, too, serves as a great resource for question ideas.

Google Search is another prime place to find question ideas. Simply type your seed keyword in the search bar, and Google will auto-populate a list of ideas.

For example, if you’re a women’s retail store looking for questions to target, you may type in [cocktail dresses]. A list of popular search phrases will appear below your search.

Google Search Cocktail Dresses ExampleScreenshot from search for [cocktail dresses], Google, September 2022
If you simply add the start to a question in your search query, [where cocktail dresses], Google will surface different question keyword suggestions.

Google Search Cocktail Dresses with Question ExampleScreenshot from search for [where cocktail dresses], Google, September 2022

Consider, too, that many voice search queries are conversational in nature. If you’re not also targeting long-tail keyword terms, you’re missing out on a lot of voice search queries.

Ensure Your Site Is Mobile Friendly

Google found more than a quarter of the globe is using voice search on mobile.

If your site isn’t mobile and search-friendly, your customer experience is flawed.

To create a seamless customer journey across all voice search compatible devices, you must ensure your user’s experience remains consistent, regardless of how or when they engage with you.

To create a mobile-friendly experience, ensure you’re adhering to the following basics:

  • Build mobile-responsive pages.
  • Create content to be more readable on smartphones, such as shorter blocks of text and subheadings.
  • Keep your site’s design simple and intuitive.
  • Surface your CTAs at the top of the page.
  • Serve images that are optimized for mobile.
  • Reduce your page speed load time.
  • Place your contact information in a prominent location.
  • Test your content to ensure it can be properly viewed on different devices, platforms, and operating systems (e.g., Apple and Android devices)

Concluding Thoughts

Voice search has long been iterated and tested to become the fast, functional time-saver it is today.

While it’s been 70 years in the making, it will only continue to grow and improve over time.

Brands must adapt to the growing usage of digital assistants and voice recognition tech to adapt to consumers’ growing need for convenience.

If your brand hasn’t adopted a voice search strategy, today is the day to start.

More resources: 

Featured Image: KAMAZON STUDIO/Shutterstock

Category SEO SEO Strategy
Chelsea Alves

Chelsea Alves is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Rio SEO, with expertise in digital marketing, social media marketing, creative ...

Voice Search: What Is It & How Does It Work?

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