The Rise of Voice Search

Not too long ago, advertisers were preparing for “the year of mobile.” Now, with digital assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa hitting the market, voice search will be the way of the future.

The Exponential Growth of Voice Search

Voice search itself is nothing new. Google released initial voice-based functionality on Android devices in 2008 and rolled it out to in early 2011. That same year, Apple also introduced Siri as part of the iPhone 4S launch. But now that digital assistants are on the rise, so is voice search. According to Timothy Tuttle from MindMeld, search with digital assistants increased to 10% of search volume globally from 2015 to 2016, equating to around 50 billion searches overall.

Voice search as a whole has been steadily increasing regardless of the medium used. Google estimated 20% of all searches had voice intent in 2016, and Comscore estimates 50% of all searches will come  from voice commands by 2020. This exponential growth cannot be ignored. Marketers must acknowledge the changing search landscape and plan ahead, or risk getting outpaced by the competition.

Characteristics of Voice Searches

What exactly makes a voice search different from a typed search on mobile or desktop, and how do marketers distinguish them? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Voice searches tend to be more question-based and conversational in their phrasing, making them less “robotic” than a typed search.
  • Voice search queries tend to be longer. Voice searches average 6-8 words and are phrased more like complete sentences, whereas typed searches show an average of only 1-3 words.
  • Voice searches are frequently done on mobile devices using Siri and other voice-enabled search engines.
  • Queries often have local intent, with users doing voice searches for things like restaurants, directions or reviews.

How to Plan for Voice Search Marketing

Because people use voice search differently than typed search, you need to optimize with a different mindset:

Spend More Time on Your Local Listings

Make sure your name, address and phone number (NAP) are updated in your listings; they should be correct and consistent across all local listing sites. This is an important ranking factor for local searches, and higher visibility in local results will offer better opportunities to be selected by a digital assistant for a local search. Google My Business, Bing Places and Yelp should be your primary focus; however, it’s also important to consider the entire local ecosystem to increase reach and relevance. Leverage a local management tool to check, correct and monitor your local presence.

Expand Keyword Research to Target Voice Search Intent

Since voice searches tend to contain longer query strings that can include entire questions or sentences, you want to establish a strong targeting strategy. Thorough keyword research is required to target specific phrases that are more likely to be searched by voice:

  • Use search query reports to find natural language queries from voice searches such as: “hey,” “OK google,” “does this,” “is this,” etc. and create content that matches the intent of the query.
  • Use and build out FAQ pages that address the who, what, when, where and why statements users are likely to ask.
  • Focus on Position 0, or Ranking 0, which is how you get your site on Google Featured Snippet. These tend to populate for simple questions or searches that do not require complex answers. Research and understand the types of results that appear in Position 0 for your category and develop quality content that is likely to be read by a digital assistant.

Educate Search Engines for Increased SEO Visibility

To increase visibility and encourage placement in Position 0, make sure your information is being distributed to potential digital assistant users. SEO is vital and ensures your information is being properly read by search engine crawlers.

  • Add or improve your metadata. Search engines and web crawlers extract this data to provide a better browsing experience.
  • Implement schema markup. Code placed on your site helps search engine crawlers return more informative results.
  • Submit your sitemap to make it easier for Google to find the pages on your website.


Pay Attention to Customer Reviews


Customer reviews on search engines like Google are an important factor in the rank of local listings. It’s important that you monitor and respond to both positive and negative comments to offer quality customer service and to encourage future customers to provide positive reviews.

Improve your Mobile Strategy for SEO & PPC

As the number of voice searches completed on digital assistants grows, we’re seeing a large amount of them happening on mobile devices. It’s important to focus on mobile and have a strong mobile strategy that creates a quality experience to increase the likelihood of engagement from voice search users:

  • Implement a mobile-friendly page (responsive and speedy).
  • Don’t include a lot of wordy paragraphs that are hard to read.
  • Bid higher for mobile devices with mobile bid adjustments.
  • Tailor ads for mobile searches and use strong CTAs.

What Will Voice Search Advertising Look Like for Home Digital Assistants?

The short answer: we don’t know.

The long answer: Neither Google nor Amazon have publicly released an advertising solution for voice search on Google Home or Amazon Echo, but we have good reason to believe something in alpha/beta will surface before the end of 2017. Considering what we know about users’ voice search behaviors and historical trends in search advertising, we’ve made some hypotheses on what to expect from digital assistant advertising:


  • Radio/Podcast (Audio) Ads: Users of Google Home and Amazon Echo use them to listen to music, books, etc., which means audio ads have big potential.
  • Featured Brands/Sponsored Content: Content provided to the user could be featured or sponsored by a related brand. This type of advertising solution might be the best option. Most listeners don’t want to be interrupted with ads in the middle of entertainment and are willing to pay for a premium service to get rid of them.
  • Preferred Providers: Brands, especially shopping brands, could pay to be the default provider for a voice search to purchase an item.
  • Local Business Ads: Brands could be able to pay for ads to be read to listeners who match the geo target. It’d be similar to location targeting within paid search accounts – brands can show up in results at the appropriate time for “nearby” searches.
  • Cross-Device Marketing: Using the data collected by voice searches, brands could retarget users with ads on desktop or mobile. Think remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) with voice-based audiences.

Will Voice Search Overthrow Mobile & Desktop Search?

Do we think that voice search will take over the screen? Not exactly. Right now, the increase in voice search we are seeing is similar to what we saw with mobile search. And while mobile search continues to be a big performance driver, it didn’t completely wipe out desktop and tablet search, which leads us to believe voice search will be the same.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai doesn’t think voice searches will replace searches on desktop and mobile. He believes voice “expanded the pie.” Yes, the pie is larger, but will the voice-search slice be cut a little bigger as time goes on? We think so. Mobile and voice might just be evenly cut.

Until then, we can expect competitive pricing once voice advertising hits the market. The real estate available for voice is much smaller than the real estate available on our screens, which means paying more (a lot more) for those top spots to be read to users. While we don’t know how many actual spots will be available to advertisers, we still need to figure out how to ensure the best possible answer can be read as one of the results. It’s also safe to say the voice algorithm will be much different than that of a normal Google search. In voice search, there will undoubtedly be different factors used to determine ad rank. What those factors are, we don’t know. Yet.

In conclusion, voice search is still evolving, but steadily growing. We have high expectations for voice search and all it could bring in the near future, and are preparing for it sooner rather than later.


This article was co-authored by Amber McCune and Shonna Morse.

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Shonna Morse
Shonna Morse

Shonna is Associate Director of Search Marketing at Empower MediaMarketing, MediaPost’s 2016 Media Agency of the Year. She currently leads the Search efforts for one of Empower’s biggest clients, Fifth Third Bank. Shonna is always finding new ways to drive performance and increase efficiencies.