There is hardly a field that changes as fast as the field of search engine optimization. You might be doing great today, but the same techniques will perform OKAY-ish tomorrow and might stop working completely in a week.
Just think how Penguin made heads roll with its spammy links detection. Some witch-hunt!
To win the battle or at least survive, we need to (oh so unexpectedly!) stay armed. It seems only a little while ago we were talking about what awaits SEO in 2016 – now it’s time to do the same for 2017.
Here, we’ve described trends that appeared in previous years and have all the chances to stay strong over the next months.
If you are blogging or producing any other kind of content through which you hope to attract leads and customers, make the quality count. The attention span of Internet users is heading south. It means if you don’t provide enough informational value in the first paragraphs – they will most likely leave. It gets even worse from there – you have to keep it up through the entire piece.
In simple words it boils down to this: thin, 500-word blog posts and article spinning used to work – now they don’t. Users are more inclined to trust 10x content (long, detailed, 10x better guides), and Google likes it much more, too. It’s better to produce one in a few weeks rather than pump one every other day.
Here’s yet another way to look at it: substance over form. It’s more reasonable, strategy-wise, to pack a post with information rather than aim for excellence of language. In line with this trend, BuzzSumo has just posted a list of the most shared Facebook posts, and the garland of victory in 2016 went to science posts (e.g. New Alzheimer’s Treatment or Dandelion Roots And Cancer).
When we were talking about mobile optimization within the larger framework of CRO, it was “do mobile to get a competitive edge”. Now it’s “do mobile to keep afloat”. Users were impatient before. Now they are becoming cruel. They expect instantaneous load speeds and crystal clear navigation.
Reflecting its user-oriented nature, Google favors fast loading pages, too. That’s why they’ve launched the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) initiative, which offers a way to boost mobile user experience. And, as it is always with Google, when users start liking your website (lower bounce rates), Google starts liking your website (better rankings). Which is what every website works towards.
The AMP initiative relies on existing web technologies. It allows websites to build light-weight web pages and improve user experience. According to Google itself, using AMPs can improve loading speeds by 15 to 85%. To get detailed information on how to install AMPs, visit the official website or this guide.
Caused partly by the adaptation of voice search and partly by increased “casualness” of the Internet search in general, searches are becoming more conversational. That is, when users want to look something up, they’re more likely to formulate their search as they would normally formulate a question, starting with how and where.
Oh, and Google is getting smarter, too. If before it was enough to look up key phrases with high frequency and low competitiveness (ideally), make a healthy mix of short and long tail, and place them in strategic places – headings, meta titles, image alt texts, etc., now it’s not enough. Put simply, you can’t rank for doughnuts if your article is about bagels and vice versa – even if you’ve stuffed keywords in all the right places.
Google now relies on context more than ever. The system (with the help of RankBrain, its machine-learning artificial intelligence system) analyzes page content looking for variations of search queries and favors those that seem to have the biggest number of them. It is an oversimplification, of course, but gives a general idea. The mechanism is called “Latent Semantic Indexing”, which you must have heard by now as technically, it was rolled out years ago.
A recent post on Moz blog went into detail on what queries Google understands, including regular and irregular plurals, abbreviations, synonyms and more. It also offered a new way of making a list of keywords to target using MOZ’s Keyword Explorer.
The algorithm is simple – grouping keywords into semantically united groups (which the tool does automatically, using a single blanket key phrase to name the group), converting the names of such groups into conversational phrases, and using those phrases as keywords. The idea is that if you use a group name as a keyword, Google will automatically recognize all the other variations it contains.
I realize my explanation is rather scattered, so address the post for details and examples.
Another way to look at it is – optimize for user intent rather than for individual keywords. What questions do users have in mind when they get to your website/blog/social media profile? Identify – optimize – analyze.
A research by Stone Temple Consulting showed that the number of Google’s rich answers almost doubled in the period from 2015 to May 2016. What’s more, the majority of URL’s used for older snippets have changed. It proves that Google is testing the best possible results for its SERPs. It also proves that the spot is not reserved forever and you can optimize to get there.
There is no tried and tested algorithm of getting into the spotlight. There is, however, a certain degree of certainty that structured data markup will help search engines understand the layout of the website and pull necessary information for rich answer. Basically, it is just a few tags that you can add to your website’s HTML. Use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to generate your own code.
Featuring in Google’s rich answers is a great exposure opportunity, and it’s even better with voice search. The search engine returns almost 3% more rich answers for voice queries and often starts the answer with “According to [your brand]”.
And speaking about snippets, Search Engine Watch has observed that Google has been experimenting with the length of meta descriptions. At some point, it allowed more than the original limit. To use it to your benefit, increase the length of your descriptions, placing the keyword in the beginning (I know, they say it doesn’t matter – still, it’s better to be on the safe side).
Content marketing, i.e. publishing useful and engaging content as a way of customer and link attribution, will become more popular. Having started as a sophisticated and labor consuming way to build authority, it is now a widely accepted and almost indispensable tool for every company or individual marketer. Even in its simplest form (a blog), content marketing can drive plenty of traffic and earn links from domains that are trustworthy in the eyes of Google. Of course, to get people to the website, you will have to produce quality content and optimize it for search engines (yes, search engines, not just Google).
For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, here are main pieces you can produce within your content marketing framework:
At that, you don’t have to produce 100% original content. The main condition is to add to the conversation, look at the subject from a different prospective or using a different lens. You know (ideally) what your traffic are looking for, and you can build a relationship with them using the content you produce.
Another thing to keep in mind – you can repurpose and rehash your content. In fact, it is almost an obligatory condition for a successful content marketing strategy. For example, if you had a series of blog posts on an overarching topic, you can then convert it into a quick email course delivered to users in exchange for their content details. Or you can compile it into an ebook.
Up until recently you were doing it instinctively – all those health and fitness posts you published to build readership were a part of your content marketing strategy. Now you can step it up a notch and have a long-term plan.
These points are what most SEO experts agree upon (bar 10x content – there’s an open debate on that). Let’s sum it up:
1. Pack your pieces of content with data – even if it will happen at the expense of language excellence
2. Optimize for mobile, preferably use Accelerated Mobile Pages
3. Target conversational queries to cover voice search
4. Use variations of key phrases for more context
5. Use Schema markup to get more SE-friendly and get a shot for featured snippets
6. Consider content marketing as a strategy for link building
Good news is – there are plenty of experts who are doing tons of research and offer actionable tips on how to rank better. Bad news is – you’ll spend hours a day reading if you try to catch up with everything. The truth is somewhere in the middle – getting the scoop on trends, testing your own guesses, and aiming to provide the best experience possible for visitors of your website.
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