How voice search impacts on search queries

Advice for website owners looking to become visible for voice search as well as typed search

The way users are searching for content online is changing at great pace. The days of just setting up your website so that it can be found in Google search results when someone types in a query are slipping away. Now we need to give consideration to how users search for content using their voice to find relevant results. Voice search is here, its impacting on the search queries which website owners need to be aware of, and it is going to continue to shape the type of keywords website owners should target.

At SEO Results we have always worked with our clients to fully establish the intent of a user’s search query if they were looking for our client’s products or services. By understanding the intent you get a far greater understanding of the priority keywords to target in an SEO campaign. For example, an organisation offering The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to young people, need to consider the intent of a young person’s search. Often that could be to find out what the award scheme is about, but in may cases their intent is simply to start the process of doing the The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Keywords which target the intent of a young person’s search are likely to be ‘duke of edinburgh award sign up’, ‘dofe signup’ or ‘do the duke of edinburghs award’.

But, voice search impacts on the search query even further, and therefore impacts on the keywords which are linked to a user’s intent.

Before we dig deeper into this phenomena, it’s important to understand why the SEO landscape is changing…

Voice search technology is getting more popular

Due to great marketing initiatives for voice controlled innovations like Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, consumers have been scrambling to own voice search technology. Promoted as a lifestyle device, it was cool, different and convenient. As the technology got better, it became even more popular. According to the The Smart Audio Report 2020, 52% of voice-assistant users say they use voice technology several times a day or nearly every day, compared to 46% before the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2020, there will be 4.2 billion digital voice assistants being used in devices around the world. Forecasts suggest that by 2024, the number of digital voice assistants will reach 8.4 billion units – a number higher than the world’s population.

These digital voice assistants or ‘virtual assistants’ have become a key component of the smart device industry, being absolutely integral to the way that consumers interact with their devices. Tech savvy consumers are getting smarter in how they communicate and they are now using voice technology when they search online at a significantly greater extent in 2021 than ever before. Despite the increased adoption of smart speakers with voice control capabilities, The Smart Audio Report 2020 points out that the majority of voice assistant usage won’t be through these in-home devices. Instead, the most usage will occur on smartphones.

What has Google done to accommodate voice search within its algorithms?

Google RankBrain and understanding how voice search impacts the keywords targeted by website owners

Google confirmed the existence of RankBrain in 2015. RankBrain is a component of Google’s core algorithm which uses continual learning to determine the most relevant results to search engine queries. It does this by passing a user’s search query through a process which will consider the user’s location, personalisation, and the words of the query to determine the searcher’s true intent. By giving extra scrutiny to the true intent of the search, Google can deliver more relevant results.

For example, and back to The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award search from earlier…

If the search query was ‘duke of edinburgh award location’, then before the introduction of RankBrain, Google would have considered a very linear approach within its algorithm and delivered results for any page that had original and relevant content, and which had acquired large volumes of backlinks. The issue was that these could have been pages which had events in the past. Post RankBrain, Google now considers the intent of the user search and their location, and then prioritise in search results where pages potentially show the location of upcoming events for the Duke of Edinburgh Award relative to the user’s location.

How does voice search impact the keywords targeted by website owners?

With voice search becoming more popular, particularly on smartphones, the location of the user at the time of the search, their search intent and most importantly the words used, are now considered. The difference with voice search compared to a typed search, is the user is more descriptive and uses more natural-sounding phrasing. Using the post RankBrain process, Google has more words to decipher within the algorithm and can potentially identify a truer intent.

The impact this has for website owners is they need to start to consider targeting longer-tail keywords; i.e. phrases with a greater number of words within it. For example, instead of just focusing on high volume keywords like ‘DofE sign up’, using long tail keywords relevant to the spoken voice would be highly beneficial, like ‘where can I sign up for the duke of edinburgh award’.

If you’re a website owner or actively looking to make a website more visible on Google, it’s time to start optimising for voice search. Consider your keywords and then identify longer phrases that people use in everyday conversation.

The implications of this shift are wide ranging. No longer will the aim of search marketing be to have your brand appear on the first page of results. There is no first page of results in voice search. There’s just one response. And at this stage consumers are trusting that response. According to research conducted by Digitas in US, 85% of people had on at least one occasion purchased the voice assistant’s first option instead of the brand they specifically requested.

To create visibility for a website on Google, website owners and marketers need to consider the intent of a users search query from the perspective of a typed search and now a voice search.

For further information on this article or to discuss a strategy for targeting voice search queries in an SEO campaign, contact us 0121 726 3861 or email

By John Anderson, SEO Results

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