People love to search. I mean, they REALLY love to search. In 2016, there were nearly 4.5 billion Google searches per day. We’re talking roughly 134 billion each month. According to Moz founder Rand Fishkin, approximately 51% of clicks in the SERPs direct to non-Google organic results in comparison to paid search ads which account for less than 5%.
It’s with this opportunity in mind that you should dig into current SEO trends and develop a strong search strategy now for 2017. With the release of several Google updates this past year, along with changes in search behavior, it’s time to thoroughly evaluate your current SEO tactics and adopt new strategies to maximize your visibility and stay ahead of the competition.
Examination into the following eight SEO trends and changes will provide you with key insights for the development of SEO strategies for the ever-changing world of search:
- Voice Search
- Mobile Growth
- Progressive Web Apps (WPAs)
- Paid Ad and Organic Listing Formats
- Rich Snippets
- 3xx Redirects
- UX Signaling
- Content Trends
1. Voice Search is on the Rise
Google announced at I/O that over the past two years, voice search has seen truly explosive growth, increasing from 0% in early 2015 to approximately 20% of Google searches by the end of 2016. Even more incredible is that this statistic excludes searches from voice-only based tools such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, bringing the percentage of voice searches even higher. This growth can likely be attributed to improvements in the accuracy of voice recognition, which since 2013 has improved from 80% to a staggering 95%.
Looking ahead, ComScore estimates that 50% of all searches will be by voice by the year 2020 – merely three years from now. But how will all this growth impact search?
Voice search is different than typed search queries as it is based on natural language. The top billion keywords in Google now account for only 35% of searches according to Fishkin, and therefore it is more important than ever to develop a long tail keyword strategy specifically to capitalize on natural language based long tail searches. To succeed in voice search, you should conduct comprehensive keyword research, brainstorming how people would naturally speak to find your product or service and reviewing their monthly search volume. The target keyword phrases should then be incorporated in your site’s content to help your chances of ranking for voice searches. Furthermore, since the vast majority of voice searches originate from mobile devices, having a responsive, optimized, and user friendly mobile site will prove imperative in 2017.
2. An Even More Mobile World
It’s no secret that over the last several years, mobile search has exponentially grown with no sign of it slowing down. So how will planning for 2017 be any different than prior years? Following Google’s announcement in 2015 that mobile search had officially overtaken desktop, marketers were quick to realize they could expect to see changes in Google’s algorithm to account for this paradigm shift, and in 2016 their predictions became reality.
In late 2016, SEO blog sites began buzzing over Google’s announcement that they would begin testing a mobile-first indexing process. While mobile optimizations were always important to SEO rankings, this update effectively made the optimizations mandatory. With a large percentage of mobile sites still using outdated and non-responsive formats, webmasters can expect to see their rankings decline significantly over the next year as better optimized mobile sites, with a positive user experience, push their way to the top of the SERP. It’s never been more important to revamp your mobile site and provide the best possible experience for your mobile visitors. This in turn will result in ranking improvements, along with an increase in traffic.
One way webmasters have been navigating the changing mobile landscape is by leveraging Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. AMP provides a set of rules for building mobile content that leverages “lighter” HTML, allowing the pages to load at lightning fast speeds. AMP was launched in early 2016, however marketers have been slow to adopt it in case the project is scrapped like many Google projects before it. However, with the increased emphasis on mobile optimizations, along with a statement from Google that it is “central to the company’s plans”, we predict we will likely see more sites adopting AMP. This provides a significant opportunity for marketers to get involved early and capitalize on AMP’s improved rankings, higher CTRs, and a lower bounce rates.
3. Blurring the Lines Between Apps and Mobile Sites with PWAs
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) were launched in 2015 and are showing signs of gaining traction. Utilizing modern capabilities, PWAs deliver an app-like user experience designed specifically for sites that have rapidly changing content, require real-time updates, or have an audience that pulls information from the site to review offline at a later time. They effectively change the method in which content is delivered via mobile sites to create a simplified yet more customized user experience with significantly faster load speeds and offline capabilities. Google lists the following 10 attributes (https://developers.google.com/web/updates/2015/12/getting-started-pwa) to describe PWAs:
- Progressive – Work for every user, regardless of browser choice
- Responsive – Fit any form factor for any device
- Connectivity Independent – Users have the ability to work offline
- App-Like – Ease of use with app-like navigation and interactions
- Fresh – Always up-to-date
- Safe – Secured content served via HTTPS
- Discoverable – Searchable as applications by search engines
- Re-engageable – Simplified re-engagement with push notifications
- Installable – Users can keep most useful apps on home screen without an app store
- Linkable – Easily shareable via URL
Although very intriguing, PWAs are not for everyone (at least not yet). PWAs should be leveraged only by sites that have a lot of changing content and need a simplified and more convenient way to deliver it to their mobile visitors. As we continue to see progressive web apps evolve, however, it will be interesting to monitor the demand for apps, as these improved mobile site designs move to the forefront.
4. A Growing Lack of Distinction Between Paid and Organic
It may be happening subtly, but there’s no doubt about it, Google paid ads are being updated to look more and more like organic results every year. Over the past decade, Google has been playing with the format of their paid ads continuously. What started as testing varying color shades on ads at the top of the search results page in 2007, has now resulted in a colorless ad format that looks nearly identical to organic results with the exception of a small green label. And colors aren’t the only thing that has changed. Google has also updated the character limits of paid search headlines by nearly 2X, blurring the distinction between paid and organic results even further.
But why make paid and organic results look more alike?
This is likely in response to the disparity between paid and organic traffic volume. As Google’s primary source of revenue, paid search ads are vital to Google’s bottom line, therefore blurring the distinction between formats will likely result in more ad clicks. As this trend continues, it will be increasingly important to differentiate your organic message and to optimize for new SEO features in an effort to make organic results visually distinct from their paid counterparts.
5. Rich Snippets Will Rule the SERP
Rich snippets have begun to dominate the top of the Google SERP, and frankly it is no surprise. Also known as “rich answers” or “direct answers,” rich snippets are exactly that, snippets of information pulled directly from a site that specifically answer a user’s search query and display it prominently at the top of the SERP.
As voice search continues to grow across mobile devices along with Google’s ongoing effort to provide more relevant results based on search intent, rich snippets will become invaluable to searchers and marketers alike by providing fast answers to searchers’ questions.
How many times have you asked Siri a question or typed into Google how to do something? Rather than browsing the resulting links based on how relevant the site’s title tag and meta description is to your question, Google now does it for you. This provides a great experience for the searcher as well as an opportunity for marketers to increase their visibility.
By implementing structured data to mark up content within your webmaster tools account, you can make your site eligible to display rich snippets in the Google SERP. If you’re asking yourself if it’s worth it, it is. Rich Snippets can take up the entire Google SERP above the fold, providing your site with maximum visibility while providing a link to your site.
6. Opening the 3xx Redirect Floodgates
In July 2016, Matt Cutts of Google shook SEO headlines with his announcement that all forms of 3xx redirects (301s, 302s, and 307s) will no longer result in PageRank dilution, and now pass 100% of the page’s equity. The update is likely due to two factors:
- Google’s push to encourage webmasters to migrate sites to https by providing a simple http to https redirect solution without a PageRank penalty.
- Common confusion around 301 vs 302 usage.
With 302s historically not passing any PageRank and 301s losing approximately 15%, it has long been known that 3xx redirects resulted in page dilution. Therefore, webmasters needed to leverage 3xx redirects carefully and sparingly to minimize a site’s overall PageRank loss. So has Google now opened the floodgates to 3xx redirects? Well…yes and no.
While Google stated they no longer care which redirection method you use, choosing the right redirect still matters. Each of the 3xx redirects maintain PageRank, but that doesn’t make them all equal. PageRank is only one consideration of redirects, and webmasters should continue to implement cautiously while taking into account the following factors:
- The relevancy of the page you redirect to matters
- 301s help more with canonicalization
- 301s may prevent the linking page from passing any anchor text relevance via its outgoing links
- 302s are still treated as temporary redirects by other search engines
7. A Great User Experience Isn’t Optional
With the release of Google’s new machine-learning system, RankBrain, in late 2015, a positive user experience on your website became more important than ever. The system is confirmed to be the third most important component of Google’s search algorithm, helping prioritize signals for rankings.
One of the most important of these signals has become user experience. Google has begun rewarding sites that have positive user engagement metrics such as a high CTR and a low bounce rate. This update comes as no surprise, as consumers’ expectations continue to evolve, demanding faster load times and simplified navigation. Therefore, as marketers plan their 2017 search strategy, the following factors should not be overlooked to ensure the best possible rankings over the coming year.
- Conduct extensive keyword research in an effort to rank on quality terms that have high relevancy while focusing more heavily on long-tail terms.
- Create enticing meta descriptions and title tags that maximize character limits, utilize strong CTAs, contain verbiage highly relevant to the search query, and employ highly differentiated and compelling messaging – treat your organic listing as an “ad”.
Reducing Bounce Rate
- Ensure title tags and meta descriptions accurately describe what searchers will find when clicking through to your site.
- Pay special attention to headers and sub-heads on the page.
- Optimize page load times to improve page speed.
- Make navigation simple so the most important pages are easy to find.
- Include logical next steps for your site visitors once they’ve consumed the content on one of your webs pages.
Improving Time Spent on Site
- Create GREAT CONTENT that will capture your visitors’ attention.
- Include opportunities for engagement on your site.
8. Content’s Evolution
In recent years, we’ve seen a growing trend of long form content on the web, often consisting of anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 words to adapt to Google’s Hummingbird update. This type of content tends to do better in organic search than pages or posts with a minimal volume of content.
However, is this level of content sustainable? The Hummingbird update in 2013 was designed to increase ranking relevancy by reviewing a page’s content theme as well as the overall brand’s content ecosystem rather than specific keywords, driving marketers to up the ante on the amount of content they were creating.
While long-form content is currently an effective method of improving rankings, it sometimes contains a great deal of repetitive content that is replicated across sites. Additionally, mobile searchers are increasingly forced to read small print while continually scrolling through what seems like an endless page of text to find the meat of the content they are searching for. This in turn contributes to a poor mobile user experience, on which Google has placed increased scrutiny.
Moving forward, expect to put more creative effort into your content strategy if you want to continue to be successful at SEO. In certain cases, this may mean adding interactivity or engagement to the content. In other cases, it may mean integrating video. In other cases, it may mean mixing up the formats so that the content really stands out.
In cases where your content is likely to be searched on a smartphone, the change will likely come in the form of “dense content” that is optimized to get the point across in as few words as possible. People are increasingly on the move and demand highly relevant information quickly. Therefore, it won’t be long before Google must re-think the way web content is being analyzed as a ranking factor when the searches are mainly for mobile consumption.
The bottom line is, there will be no cookie-cutter content framework for high organic search rankings. Creativity, differentiation, and customization are going to matter more for breaking through all the noise and claiming a top spot in the SERPs.
The search landscape is constantly evolving, so don’t allow your organic rankings to end up like the dinosaurs. With 2017 shaping up to be an exciting year for SEO, it’s more important than ever to continuously monitor and evaluate SEO trends, and to adopt new strategies to improve your rankings in the ever changing world of SEO.