SEO in 2017: It isn’t just about keywords and backlinks anymore
In 2017, SEO is changing at lightning speed to keep pace with Google’s desire to provide an enhanced user experience. Google even updates their algorithms at least 500 times every year.
Because of this, it can often feel overwhelming to try and keep up. Top SEO tactics are constantly changing. There’s a new growth hack on boosting your rankings every day and it can seem like there’s a new trick to generate links on every marketing blog out there. It can be difficult to decide which tactics are worth pursuing and which will be outdated as soon as you implement them.
But because 93% of online experiences start with the search engine, anyone in digital marketing knows that taking advantage of that traffic is incredibly important.
Ranking well will not only instill trust in your company, but it will also have a huge impact on your traffic flow. However, Google has changed the standards for what websites will rank well and how SEO functions. Black hat trends and keyword stuffing will cause your site to drop in authority.
SEO is moving beyond just backlinks and keywords. Now, not only does the site need to be mobile friendly and incredibly fast, but it also needs to provide useful content to the reader.
But what are the key trends that will keep your site on Google’s good side? Read on to discover the top SEO trends for 2017.
1. Semantic Search
Semantic search, according to Technopedia, is “a data searching technique in which a search query aims to not only find keywords but to determine the intent and contextual meaning of the words a person is using for search.”
With updated algorithms like Hummingbird, Google began to focus on the understanding aspect of the search phase, rather than just retrieving and filtering information. Because of this, Google has begun to highlight the context of the search rather than just the keyword. It establishes the context of the query by looking at a variety of different factors.
One is the user search history and the user location. By knowing the location and previous searches of the user, the search engine is able to provide more appropriate results. For example, if you were a student who was researching pandas, the results might be geared towards panda bears or perhaps even popular GIFS. But if you were a digital marketer, the search might reveal results like the Google Panda Update. Check out this article for more detailed examples of semantic search.
The best way to take advantage of the semantic search optimization is by creating a context for the user. This presents the information in a way that the user can easily understand and digest. Using companion words, or the words that are often found alongside your keywords can help create the context for your readers.
2. Rich Answers
Rich answers are directly answering a question the user will type into the search. By responding to the user’s queries, Google wants to provide a direct answer within the search results, alongside other relevant information like videos, helpful websites or even reviews.
This can help your listing on SERPs, or the search engine results pages, by creating structured data markups. These are also called schema markups that use code to help search engines create more useful and informative results.
This scheme helps the search engine understand what your data means, rather than just what it says. By adding this code, which can be as simple as common HTML tags, will help your website rank better for a variety of content.
The easiest way to get a rich answer or snippet featured is by identifying a common question within your market. Then provide a clear and direct answer to the question and adding value beyond that direct question. Don’t forget to make it easy for Google to find on the page.
If you need more detailed instructions on how to do this, check out this Kissmetrics guide to structured data markups.
3. Mobile Optimization
Because mobile started to overtake the desktop as the primary source used to access the internet, mobile optimization has begun to have a huge impact on SEO campaigns.
A mobile optimized site is one that formats itself according to the device. It will change depending on if it is a phone or a tablet, creating larger navigation buttons and reformatted content. Even the images will be optimized differently on a mobile site.
Websites need this because it allows a lot of users that are on mobile devices to easily engage with the content. The mobile optimized website will still be easy to navigate and engaged with, even on the smaller screens.
This can have a huge effect on your site. People are more likely to leave the site if it isn’t mobile friendly, and if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load the site more than half of the mobile users will bounce off of the page.
Google has a variety of tools to help you test your website for mobile usability. You want to make sure you examine the page speed, the responsive design, and the usability.
Responsive design is a website that is designed to be fluid and flexible regardless of the device. The website will shift the design based on the screen size of the device by re-optimizing and reformat the entire site.
Page speed, of course, is how quickly the website page loads onto the device. Google also tends to rank websites higher that use Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP is an open source website that tries to create a better user experience by having the web pages load immediately.
Mobile usability is making the site user-friendly on the smaller screens. The buttons should be tapped easily and the navigation between pages should be fluid. The primary content should also be placed at the center of attention. You can check out the mobile usability with the Google Search Console.
4. Long Form Content
Long form content is another trend that is helping many websites perform better in the search results. Long form content, or creating articles and blogs that are over 1,000 words, will help your website stand out. The majority of blogs are less than 500 words.
By creating blog posts and guides that are 1,000 or even 3,000 words long, the company will be perceived as an expert because of the in depth value you are providing to your reader.
But Google also favors this in-depth content (if it is high quality). Longer content has consistently been shared more and has more links than articles that are shorter.
For example, when HubSpot analyzed their articles, they found that the articles that are over 2000+ words received more backlinks and social shares than those that were under 500 words. The articles that were over 2500+ words received even more social shares.
It is also a great way to incorporate long-tail keywords into the content to help your page rank higher. serpIQ recently published their study of the average length of content on the first page of search queries. According to the study, the top posts were usually well over 2000 words.
By creating the comprehensive content, you are providing an excuse for your reader to spend more time on your site. Up to 40% of users will stay longer on a page with substantial and useful content.
5. Meta Titles and Descriptions
Meta titles and descriptions are still important for improving your rankings.
The meta titles are the page names and can encourage users to visit your site. When you add keywords, it will also help the search engines understand what the page is about.
When writing your meta title, make sure that it is optimized. This includes the length (hint: it shouldn’t be more than 70 characters), the keyword placement and separation, as well as the wording. Your meta titles need to be written for humans though, not the search engines.
The meta description is an HTML tag of 159 characters that encourages the user to click on your link. When it is optimized with your keyword and an enticing description, it will earn you more clicks.
The meta descriptions might not help you rank, but it will encourage your readers to click on your page instead. Consider them as a conversion factor, rather than helping you in the ranking algorithms.
6. Optimized Images
Everyone knows that adding images to your content will help keep your reader engaged. But what they don’t know is that it can also help you in your rankings. Not only do they help explain the content, but they also make your content easier to consume as well as generating more social media shares.
By adding alt tags and title tags, your message is reinforced for the search engine bots that crawl your web page. The alt tag will describe what is in the image and help decide the function of the image.
Even the image file name should be optimized. It needs to be short, to include the keywords, and add a brief description. Make sure the name doesn’t include spaces.
Size of the images is also important. Optimizing your images can reduce the page speed time, that is an advantage for both your users and Google. For instance, we are using the Imagify plugin on our website to optimize all the images on the fly. An alternative would be ShortPixel which we also tested for a while on our WordPress Themes and the results were satisfying.
7. Voice Search
Because more and more people are using their mobile devices to search, voice search is also becoming important for SEO professionals.
Most smartphones and home smart devices feature a digital assistant like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and even Google Assistant.
This technology not only allows people to get information from their device simply by asking a question, but it also creates a natural interaction by using a conversational tone.
Voice search queries are great for long-tail keyword answers, particularly for locally focused businesses, because they are more conversational. The keyword strategy then needs to mimic the way real people ask questions and that way they communicate verbally.
A great way to boost your rankings is by listening to your customers on the phone and using the exact wording. The questions and statements your customers use can be directly applied to your content.
Another great way is by optimizing your FAQ page. Again, go for verbal and natural sounding questions and phrases instead of the typical old school SEO keyword phrases you have been using.
While using keywords, getting backlinks, and having Adwords management is still important in increasing your search engine rankings and your site authority, these days you need more to keep your website at the top of the SERPs.
Incorporating semantic search techniques, long form content, and optimizing your site for mobile can have an incredible impact on your SEO strategy. If you can follow these basic principles for your SEO strategy, you can start reaping the benefits quickly.