by Charlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) Here is some practical guidance on how organisations may optimise their sites to improve their chances of featuring in voice search results. This follows on from earlier this year, when I wrote about the growth of voice-enabled devices, unpacked how these are changing search behaviour and looked at the implications of this for publishers, brands and marketers.


Most voice searches take place on mobile devices. A poor mobile experience will not only hinder your chances of ranking but, if people are directed to your site, the chances are they will either bounce straight off it or show lower engagement metrics than would be the case if they were visiting from a desktop.

As engagement metrics are baked into Google’s algorithms, giving your visitors a bad experience will jeopardise your future ranking potential. Beyond this, Google’s been pushing a mobile-first agenda for a few years now and will continue tweaking its algorithms to favour sites that perform well. If you want to see how your site runs on mobile, Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test and Site Speed Test are great tools to see how you can improve your mobile experience.

But optimising for voice search is about much more than just having a responsive design. You need to understand what your potential audience is looking for.

Check your keywords

Google’s just updated the functionality contained in the new beta version of its Search Console and now provides a fair amount of detail around the queries that bring people to your site.

Analysing these terms and their ranking positions will help you brainstorm other related queries that could push traffic. As voice queries are typically longer than text search, you should be thinking more about conversational long tail keywords.

Natural language spoken questions may be hard to nail down but tools such as Answer the Public allow you to dig deep into user intent by focusing on question starters, such as who, why, what, where, when and how.

Position zero

Many voice searches seek quick answers and, increasingly, Google’s providing these in its knowledge graph section (the one that looks like a Q&A concertina when running a search such as how many provinces in South Africa). The knowledge graph is often known as position zero as it appears above conventional listings — and it features heavily in voice results.

To improve your chances of appearing there, it’s crucial that you consider user intent when structuring your site and your content. One of the best ways to do this is to preemptively answer questions; you could do this by creating a series of pages, each addressing a particular topic by providing short punchy FAQ style responses to a range of typical questions your audience is likely to have.

Keep it local

Many voice searches are location-based.

If you run a restaurant chain, tyre franchise or any business that serves customers from its premises, you need to claim your local listings. These are the map-based results that often feature at the top of the page when people search for nearby businesses.

Head to Google My Business and put in as much information as you can. Try to be as specific as possible with your categories to increase the chances of appearing for the right voice search. You should also check how your name, address and phone numbers appear in other listings across the web and edit these to ensure that the same information is always used.

If you run a multi-site operation, Google has an API that allows you gather and approve information from all your branches.

Scheme your schema

Schema, and its associated microdata, provides search engines with lots of additional information about websites and is particularly valuable when you’re trying to boost your visibility around conversational or location-based queries.

However, schema (or any other structured markup format) is complex to implement and, as markup has to be added manually to each page, it can be a lot of work for large sites.

If you’re new to schema, you’ll find this guide very useful and, as with many of the other suggestions in this column, Google has a great tool to help you test your structured data.

Act today

Conversations about voice search strike up a range of emotions and reactions in the people I talk to. Some are frightened at its potential impact and others are bamboozled at how to optimise for it, while quite a few are sceptical as to its value.

The cynics do have a point — at the moment the majority of voice interactions are commands (play music, call so and so) rather than searches but, as we become more accustomed to having conversations with our devices, our searches will become more relevant to businesses touting products and services we’re interested in.

Starting the voice optimisation process today will create significant first-mover advantage and will position you well for the new frontier of SEO — one that, in the next couple of years, will see more than half of all searches conducted without a keyboard and screen.


Charlie StewartCharlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) is CEO of Rogerwilco, a multi-award-winning independent digital agency best known for its expertise with Drupal, SEO and content marketing. A Scot by birth, he moved to South Africa in the early 2000s in his quest to support a winning rugby team — a search he’s reluctantly forsaken. Together with Mark Eardley, he co-authored Business to Business Marketing: A Step by Step Guide, (Penguin Random House, 2016) and may be found on LinkedIn. Charlie contributes the monthly “Clicks ‘n Tricks” column, which looks at how brands are using digital channels to engage their customers, to MarkLives.

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