Optimising for Voice Search

Considering Voice Search as part of an advertising strategy is still in its relative infancy, however, the opportunity to manipulate the algorithm exists in its very foundation. The foundation of Voice Search was established on two key components: natural language processing and succinct delivery of content. Understanding how these components work and are influenced may be the key to unlocking prominence in Voice Search for businesses. While there are other metrics utilised in valuing voice search, we are focusing on Featured Snippets. Why? They account for half of all voice results.

Understanding search context
Homonyms and homographs are commonly understood by humans. However, for a machine operating in binary, this becomes vastly more difficult. For Google to understand that when a user searches for “drivers for sale” they are looking for a golf club, and not a “car driver”, they must understand that words are not unique to one meaning. This is where Natural Language Processing (NLP) assists. NLP aims to understand spoken and written language like humans would. Ranking for Voice Search doesn’t require an in depth knowledge of NLP but there needs to be an understanding that content must be structured in a natural way to be optimal for Voice Delivery.

Google’s Voice Search testing in the search environment


Featured Snippets are a multi-purpose adaptation to the search landscape aimed at providing instant answers to questions. These short and immediate answers were rolled out across the search results years before Voice Search was around.40% of the time, a voice search result will come from the featured snippet. If you have a Google Home however, 80% of the spoken results are from featured snippets.

It is likely that Featured Snippets were first released as a test for Voice Search. Now, Google almost exclusively uses these Featured Snippets as Voice Search results. It becomes clear now that the only real way to actively optimise for Voice Search is to optimise towards ranking in the Featured Snippets.

Optimising your Featured Snippets for Voice Search:
Google understands that between written and spoken content there needs to be a slightly enhanced use of semantics for correct delivery. Google have three key areas of focus when evaluating Voice Search result quality. Knowing this, everyone can optimise their own Featured Snippets to produce better Voice Search results.

  1. Length– match the length of the response to the complexity of the query.
  2. Formulation – ensure the response is grammatically correct and structured in a way that is naturally spoken.
  3. Elocution – consider how the words will be spoken. Do they sound natural? Is the response written in proper English? Is the rhythm natural?

Below are testing results from Google on different Voice Search results, showing their results as a rating. Using these results and the optimisation principles above, reviewing and improving Voice Search results becomes achievable.

Query Spoken Response Rating Discussion
[beethoven pathetiquesonata] Playing Beethoven’spathetique sonata Length=OKFormulation=GoodElocution=Good The response iswell-formed
[how far is alphacentauri from the sun] Alpha Centauri is 4.367 lightYears from earth. Length=OKFormulation=GoodElocution=Good The response iswell-formed
[how old is Achilles during Iliad] According to the website example.com: In that movie about Troy Achilles is depicted as being 27 28th years old as Agamemnon is 26 27th years old, Hector is about 30 31th years old and Tiresias is 54 55th years old. Length=Too Long Formulation=Bad Elocution=Bad 27/28 years old gets read as “27 twenty eighth years old” (same for the other numbers). The ages of all the characters make it harder to follow and definitely longer than it should be. Elocution for the numbers is also poor.

Now is the time to build your capabilities and understanding of Voice Search. Building the required skills will enable you to be agile when Google changes and adjusts results. While optimising for Voice Search is relatively straightforward currently, this will not be the case forever. So taking advantage now, before others, will give you a strong competitive advantage.


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