Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an integral part of any successful digital marketing campaign. The world of SEO oversees constant change. As a matter of fact, Google rolls out new updates to their algorithm 500-600 times a year. Most of those updates are not significant enough for us to notice, but every year there are a couple of those major updates that force us to change our approach to SEO and adapt our strategy to yield better results. 2017 was no exception in this regard.
Those changes as well as innovations in technology will dictate the course in which SEO will move in the upcoming years. To help you stay on top of those changes, this article will cover SEO trends that are already noticeable and the best practices to improve digital marketing strategy for your business. There is no magic bullet for success when it comes increasing your organic traffic, but focusing on optimizing each individual area of a website to raise visibility and search engine rankings is the best approach.
Technology has advanced far, nowadays most people use their phones for everything be it shopping, socializing, news or learning new things. According to statistics, around 57% of all traffic comes from mobile devices. Back in 2016 Google announced that they will be moving towards a mobile-first indexing, however when exactly the changes will take place was not mentioned. At the time, it was explained that Google’s algorithm will be ranking websites content by primarily using a mobile version of the pages.
In December, 2017 Google said that they slowly began to make the shift and a number of websites have already been transitioned to a mobile-first indexing as an experiment before they roll out the final changes. At the earliest this update will go live in 2018 according to Google’s estimate.
Mobile-first indexing means that websites that have less content on their mobile pages as compared to the desktop version will suffer loses. As it is now, Google’s ranking algorithm gives preference to a desktop version a website, with this update the content from the mobile version will be used to rank, as well as interpret structured data and display excerpts in search results.
However, websites that have already incorporated responsive design and dynamic serving won’t have to do much to prepare for those changes says Google.
Site speed is crucial for SEO and SERP rankings. Google has introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project that helps webmasters build blazing fast mobile sites. There were two issues that prompted the launch of the project:
- Unsatisfactory user experience on mobile devices due to slow loading speed
- A growing use of adblockers on mobile phones. It is believed people install adblockers because pages load slower because of them, subsequently costing ads revenue for advertisers.
Chartbeat’s research shows that readers engage with AMP content for 35% longer than standard mobile content, spending an average of 48 seconds with AMP content vs. 36 seconds with mobile content when coming from the search results page.
For the time being AMP results are only displayed in Google for publishers and media outlets.
What to do about it?
You can take Google’s mobile-friendliness test to see how well your website fares, it will let you know if there are any issues you should fix and you can move on from there. Google has also released a guide to make your website more mobile friendly which you can consult.
The use of voice technology is on the rise as more and more people are using not only their phones, but also digital assistants for search.
According to Google 55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search every day on the Google app. As accuracy of digital assistants improves, more people will be using voice search from their mobile devices or home assistants, looking for quick and relevant results. The number of voice searches is expected to drastically increase, ComScore estimates that by 2020 half of all worldwide searches will be voice searches.
This completely changes the game for SEO as voice search queries are using normal conversational speech instead of an unnaturally sounding language easier understood by a machine, therefore it calls for a different approach to the keyword research.
"restaurants near me" -> "Where to eat dinner tonight?"
The focus will shift to long-tail search keywords and natural language making exact-match keywords a relic. Queries will have to be understood by their semantic context rather than precise wording. Also worth keeping in mind that a person using voice search has different intentions. They are looking for quick and short answers to their questions. You'll need to come up with questions your targeted audience may have, and find a quick, mobile-friendly way to deliver the answers.
When it comes to keyword research focus on long tails, questions, and more natural sounding queries. Structure your website to provide short precise information relevant to the keywords.
Answer the questions your audience might have through a blog; FAQ page or social media posts. Consider adding a short summary to your lengthier posts that directly addresses the question.
Voice technology and digital assistants are paving the path for new and useful ways to deliver content and approach SEO. Users get to enjoy smooth experience while companies have access to new consumer data to improve their services.
Featured Snippets and Direct Answers
Features snippets also sometimes referred to as answer boxes are search results in a box featured on top of Google's search result pages below the ads. Featured snippets provide a quick short answer to user's query. The featured website gets additional exposure and can expect at least a 30% increase in organic traffic.
In order to get a featured snippet in SERP for your website you will need to cater to specific factors. Additionally, according to research the page has to be in the top 10 results for the keywords in order to get features, however it's not necessary to be number 1. Getstat found that 70% of all snippets come from sites not in the first organic position, which tells us that while you need to be ranked in top 10, being number 1 is not required to be featured.
Google's algorithm prefers lists, numbers and steps. An answer box will have a list of the ingredients, step-by-step guide, prices etc. Making your content as factual as possible and structuring it in an easy for crawlers to understand format is key. Address as many similar sounding questions in one article, content that has been features in a snippet is more likely to get featured for other similar queries.
One of newer factors to focus on this year is natural language keywords optimized for voice search. Companies should concentrate on search intent and context in order to better understand the needs of users. Voice technology will bring in the changes to search queries with keywords getting longer and using conversational language.
Incorporating featured snippets into the SEO strategy can increase site's authority and brand's reputation.
User Experience Matters
Google has stressed the importance of user experience (UX) on more than one occasion, the ranking algorithm gives preference to websites that are fast, readable and easy to navigate.
The research shows that websites loading more than 3 seconds lose 40% of their visitors. However, it’s not just speed, say your website loads very fast, yet the user can’t seem to figure out how to navigate it, where the menus are and how to find the content they need. The visitor will simply bounce not wasting their time. Readability also plays a huge role, a content that is difficult to understand and just packed with keywords but not much essence, it’s unlikely someone would come back to your website in that case. Better user experience prolongs the time a user spends engaging the website.
It has been made perfectly clear that focus is on the user and providing seamless user experience not only for desktop but mobile as well. As mentioned previously, the number of searches from mobile devices has increased and will keep on growing. A website has to be optimized for use across all devices.
A checklist for SEO optimized UX would be something like this:
- Fast loading speed.
- Ease of navigation.
- Visually pleasing design.
- Layout doesn’t take away from the content.
- Content is structured in a comprehensible manner.
- Minimum of pop-ups and annoying ads.
Investing into having the best all-around user experience will lay the foundation for not only higher SERP rankings, but will also bring in more loyal visitors and customers.
Link-building and Brand Mentions
Search engines measure the authority of a website by the number of inbound links to a it ( also known as backlinks). Link building has been a large part of any SEO strategy, companies spend years getting inbound links and some even tried "black hat" SEO techniques in an attempt to manipulate this part of the algorithm.
Link building is not going to disappear any time soon, it's an old and proven strategy. But the approach might have to change towards seeking more quality links from high authority websites as opposed to getting as many inbound links as possible from any sources. This doesn't however mean that backlinks will have to be come from the top SERPs websites, focus on building coverage on websites relevant to your field or industry.
Link building is a type of a brand mention. The other two are social media mentions and customer reviews. All three affect your SEO.
The search engine Bing has confirmed that they are using brand mentions to rank websites, even if they don’t have a physical link. Some experts also claim that Google's has been doing this as well. Therefore, brand mentions are on par with backlinks in terms of importance.
A successful SEO strategy should help the brand acquire more quality inbound links, build relationships in their relevant industry, and develop powerful contacts.
AI and Machine Learning Era
As technology improves it is no longer a futuristic sci-fi idea of machines being able to comprehend human language. There is a rapid advancement in Google’s ability to not only understand the queries, but also understand the intent with which they were asked. This leads to more contextualized results and personalized experience.
Content will be ranked by the highest relevance to the intent, rather than just the keyword. Google will try to understand why the specific question was asked and display the result that has higher probability of answering the “why”.
For example, if the query displays a buying intent, Google will rank e-commerce website higher instead of media websites even if the latter have higher authority, since the goal of the user is to make a purchase, not to find information.
This means that SEO will have to focus on producing content that answers multiple intents in order to maximize the odds and increase ranking probability.
There are many more changes we can expect in regards to AI and machine learning, it is quite clear that Google is determined to develop in this area and bring on the innovations.
Staying on top of your game
As we can see the world of SEO is changing rapidly, in ways we sometimes could not have predicted. Proven SEO techniques such as quality content, focused keywords and link building are still as effective, yet there are many more trends emerging that will force us to change our approach to search engine optimization. Getting on top of SEO trends like mobile optimization, voice search optimized content, brand mentions as well as content intended to answer more than one user intent, will get you ahead of your competition.