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Mobile’s Impact on Voice Search

Episode Overview: At the intersection where voice search meets mobile devices lies the next big innovation in SEO – mobile voice search. Despite the high potential the medium holds, innovation and growth has plateaued over the course of the last year. Join host Ben as he speaks with Courtney Cox Wakefield, co-author of “Voice Search,” and head of consumer marketing at Children’s Hospital to discuss the impact of mobility on voice search and how SEOs can use this time to begin implementing new optimization tactics to increase their mobile presence.


  • Nearly 27% of people use voice queries on mobile devices according to Google, but voice search growth has plateaued over the past several months.
  • Voice search queries are typically longer than queries entered on desktop devices and are subject to environmental variables, which introduces an unique dynamic.
  • The best mobile voice search optimization tactic SEOs can begin implementing is to provide quick, succinct answers to user queries within their content so Google can easily pull that information quickly.


Ben:                 Welcome to Mobile Marketing Month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this month we’re taking a long look at the small screen to help you understand what you need to know about SEO optimization for mobile devices. Joining us today is Courtney Cox Wakefield who is the co-author of “Voice Search,” the new search engine. Outside of being an author, Courtney is also the head of consumer digital marketing at Children’s Health Hospital which is one of the top care facilities in the United States. And today Courtney is going to tell us a little bit about how mobility is impacting voice search. Okay. On with the show, here’s my conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, the co-author of Voice Search, the new search engine. Courtney, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Courtney:         Thanks for having me Ben.

Ben:                 Great to have you as a friend of the pod, as a returning guest. The last time we talked you were giving us your SEO predictions for 2020 as they relate to voice search, that voice search is going to be important in local searches and business. And one of the trends that I stopped you from talking about is what’s the impact of mobility on voice search? I wanted to save it for this month when we were talking about mobile marketing. So give me the lay of the land, how much does mobility matter when it comes to voice search? And how is this changing the landscape?

Courtney:         Okay, so we’ve always had, or not always, but for the recent history we’ve had voice capabilities on most smartphones starting with Siri and then with other devices, Cortana and the Google assistant on the Google phones. So we’ve had these assistants that could be triggered by voice and utilized through voice and the growth of those things has been not unsignificant. We’ve got 27% of people that are using voice queries on mobile devices according to Google. So that’s not unsignificant but the growth of it has been relatively flat in recent months and really it’s still growing linearly but it’s plateauing in a way. And so what we’re really starting to see now, and what I think is interesting is, over the last couple of months maybe even over the last quarter seen Amazon make a lot of investment in the mobility of voice devices.

Courtney:         And so you’re seeing the Echo Buds which are the Echo devices which are, they basically like your AirPods. You’ve also got Apple that’s invested in the EarPods and they have the ability to do Siri. But really the way that Amazon is differentiated is that Amazon positions these as voice devices where Apple positions their AirPods as being listening devices not as much as voice devices. And I think that positioning matters in the way that people utilize them. You’ve also got Amazon investing in other devices, like the Echo Loop which is a ring that you can wear where you can speak with the Echo device. And then you’ve also got Echo Auto where you can have the Echo Auto in your car and then it connects through your smartphone to the internet, is able to provide the answers that you’re looking for.

Courtney:         So that is really increasing the access to the internet and to answers and to voice devices as you move throughout your day because, as we know, most of us are not tethered to our desk, we’re not tethered to our homes where we have those voice devices positioned, some of us all the way throughout our homes. That makes a difference in terms of our utilization and so it’ll be interesting to see how the infiltration of those new devices into the market will, number one, be adopted by consumers. And number two, how that will actually impact the way that people search and what queries are made on these devices.

Ben:                 Yeah, it’s interesting to me that, I think that most people think of voice search and they think of some sort of home device that listens and provides the answers, and I honestly think that’s the least useful case for voice search. When I am in my car and I am driving, I use my car play all of the time. Granted most of the time it’s, “Put on some different music” or “Call someone.” It’s not like I’m doing anything super sophisticated. Or when I’m walking around or I’m getting exercise, “Play the next song.” I don’t want to fiddle with my device, I just want to be able to communicate with it. It seems like there would be more opportunity for those queries than when you’re sitting at home and you want the music to change.

Courtney:         Mm-hmm (affirmative) And because we know that local dominates from a voice search perspective, people are using these things on the go so they want to use them on the go. So being able to actually have voice devices available on the go makes a lot of sense.

Ben:                 I guess the thing that surprises me about what you said is that you are not seeing an increase in the number of mobile searches that are happening through voice. And I would think, obviously there’s a technology investment specifically with Amazon working on what I would call their “Me too” products to the Apple AirPods and the ring is interesting, but I don’t know if anybody’s going to wear that thing. But okay, they have all these devices that they’re creating for mobility, so if there isn’t an increase in the adoption, why are the big platforms focusing on adding utility?

Courtney:         It’s not that there’s not an increase in adoption, so I’ll correct myself there. There’s an increase in adoption it’s just that it’s not happening nearly as quickly as it was previously.

Ben:                 Okay. So we’re seeing slowed growth in the adoption.

Courtney:         Right. So it’s starting to plateau in terms of its growth where these other devices may make the growth happen faster. Does that make sense?

Ben:                 Absolutely. So talk to me about some of the ways that SEOs can optimize their mobile strategies to take advantage of some of the changes happening in the voice search landscape.

Courtney:         Yeah, I think we need to really try to understand how the mobility of voice devices changes the query. So I think we’ve done a good job at optimizing for those things that people would ask in their home or even sometimes in their office and we’re creating that content. We’re doing a pretty good job of those things because we were already doing them anyway. We were optimizing for the content that people might search when they’re sitting down at a computer and we’re kind of in it as we optimize for searches on mobile but we don’t really know where someone is when they’re searching on mobile. Are they sitting on their couch? Are they moving down the road? Are they at their office? Are they in an airplane?

Courtney:         We don’t really know where they are and I think this is going to give us an opportunity to say, “Okay, how does the things people search or the way that people search away from their home when they’re on the go differ from the way that they search, the things they search about when they’re in their home?” I don’t have an answer to those questions about how they differ. I would predict that they do differ and I’d be really interested to see what those differences are. I’m sure the content is different and I think we could probably make some really obvious predictions about what content differs at home and away. But I mean, even just the way that they search, how many refinements of the query they’re willing to do, things like that, that might be very different away from the home than they are at home.

Courtney:         And I even think one of the things that we’ve said about voice search is that the queries are longer. You get people that are speaking more naturally so they’re asking longer queries than they would if they were typing in a query online. And I wonder, as people are making these voice searches out in the world where they may be bothering someone with their voice or there may be a lot of noise, will people shorten those queries because they don’t want to bother people? Will they shorten them because there’s a lot of noise and the opportunity to get a word in to your device might be shorter? How is that going to affect the way that people search? And I think that remains to be seen.

Ben:                 So as the SEOs are thinking about their content and thinking about content optimization for where we stand today where people are doing long form queries when they’re moving around and making sure that they are optimized for the mobile world, is there different content you should be creating, a different strategy that you recommend, a different set of keywords that you should be targeting? Or is this just take your content and hope that the long form queries are relevant?

Courtney:         I think when someone’s away from their house, it’s more likely that they’re ready to take action. And so more ‘bottom of the funnel’ optimization for content seems to be more relevant than something that’s more ‘top of the funnel.’ If you’re away from your house, if you’re on the go, you’re probably doing that search so that you could take action on it. You’re not just sitting around thinking about, “How might I cook a chicken dinner later?” You’re probably ready to go to the grocery store and actually purchase the recipe items to cook that chicken dinner. So that I think is something that’s really clear today that’s actionable is just, if somebody is searching on a voice device, they’re searching those long queries, they’re probably more in action mode than if they are at home searching on a desktop device or even doing a text search on their mobile device.

Ben:                 So here’s the thing that sticks out to me. We’re seeing an increase of people talking to their devices as they’re walking around and they’re long form queries and maybe there is some content optimization that puts you in the right standing with Google to get your content in front of consumers as they’re walking around. You understand or you have a sense that they’re conducting a mobile query. Is there any way to optimize that of like, “Okay, I know that this is a mobile query so I’m going to create a different experience.” Or is there any way to get a signal whether a query is from a mobile device or not?

Courtney:         Yeah, I mean I think for me when I’m looking at devices or queries that might be coming from a mobile device, I’m looking at queries that looks like questions. They are those longer form ,more natural language sounding queries. I think the recommendation that I would make to SEOs is to cut to the chase. If somebody’s listening on a voice device or they are even reading on a mobile device, their screens is a lot smaller, the answer needs to be quick and to the point. They’re on the move, they are already disconnecting from the world that’s around them to listen. So the amount of time that they spend doing that, if you can reduce that and get to the point as quickly as possible, I think that’s a win. That’s also true as you optimize for instant answers and things like that on desktop or mobile text searches but it’s even more relevant, even more needed in a voice answer.

Ben:                 I think that the moral of the story is, and excuse my language everybody, cut the sh*t. When people are moving around and they’re on their mobile devices, and this goes to the same thing with trying to be positioned zero even if it’s a text-based search, is that you need to get to the point and we need to start thinking in sentences and paragraphs, not pages. And for two reasons. One, people are moving faster and that’s the experience that they want. And two, Google has the natural language processing capabilities to pick out the snippets within your content.

Ben:                 And so maybe there’s a different writing style here of formatting your content in a way where you’re breaking it up so it’s not long paragraphs, it’s short forms and answers, maybe writing things in more question and answer style. But when you’re thinking about optimizing for mobility as it relates to voice search, it really is the same exercise as trying to be in position zero, obviously getting your content to Google and submitting it in the appropriate fashion using your rich and featured snippets, and then also the format of your content being relatively short form. That seems to be the key here.

Courtney:         Yeah. I’ll give a really good example that we just addressed about a month ago at Children’s. So we own the answer box for “How much does it cost to park at Children’s Medical Center, Dallas.” But a month ago we didn’t own that answer box, actually a different hospital was owning that even though our name was in the query, Texas Children’s down in Houston was owning it. But we couldn’t really understand why we had the exact query in our H3 on the page right below it, we answered the query in a table where we had the pricing table there. And so we started to take a look at Texas Children’s answer that had been selected by Google.

Courtney:         What we saw was they had the same thing as we did, they had the table. But one difference that they had was, above the table they summarized the table. They said, “Parking at Texas Children’s is between $2 and $5 depending on X, Y, Z.” They just summarize it in a quick sentence that was super concise and that can really easily be pulled into that answer box and really easily read out by a voice device. And the moment we changed that and had Google re-crawl it, we overtook that answer box the next day. And so what Google and these other publishers are looking for is the most concise answer that they can give their users. And if you can do little small tweaks and optimizations like that you’ll be more likely to own those answers.

Ben:                 Well, I think that’s the biggest, most important tip as we think about how voice search relates to mobility. The format of your content being concise, providing answers, and summaries that is just content that is going to be a natural match for voice search is going to help you show up in the right position. Okay, Courtney, thanks again for being our guests. Always an honor and a privilege to chat with you and thanks for sharing the knowledge about voice search and mobility.

Courtney:         Thanks Ben.

Ben:                 All right, that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search Podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Courtney Cox Wakefield, the co-author of Voice Search, the new search engine. We’d love to continue this conversation with you so if you’re interested in contacting Courtney you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes, you can contact her on Twitter where her handle is cortewakefield: C.O.R.T.E.W.A.K.E.F.I.E.L.D, cortewakefield. Or you can visit her website, which is, that’s C.W.A.K.E.

Ben:                 Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast head over to where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions or SEO questions or you could apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media, our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter and my personal handle is benjshap: B.E.N.J.S.H.A.P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes multiple times per week. So hit the “Subscribe” button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feeds soon. All right, that’s it for today but until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.

Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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