There are over 100 billion Google searches performed each month. That equates to over 1.2 trillion searches annually. The volume is not the only thing that brings a smile to marketers’ faces. Search engine optimization (SEO) is also one of the most effective marketing vehicles available.
According to MarketingDive, 82% of marketers report that SEO effectiveness is on the rise. Furthermore, SEO ranks second when it comes to the channel producing the largest volume of leads, and ties with live events as the second in producing the highest ROI leads, according to the Chief Marketer 2018 B2B Lead Gen Outlook report.
Google’s search algorithm, though, is constantly changing, making it a moving target. According to Google’s Gary Illyes, the search giant makes two to three updates to the search algorithm every single day. With this in mind, it’s important to keep up to date with the latest in SEO. To that end, here are the major trends you need to know to achieve greater SEO results in 2018 and beyond.
We are going to start our list of trends with Voice Search, as it’s representative of an upcoming tectonic shift in the way we all search for information.
Google has stated that voice search already represents 20% of all searches, and according to comScore voice-based search is projected to represent 50% of all searches by 2020. According to Behshad Behzadi, Principle Engineer at Google, the ratio of voice search is growing faster than type search. Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers predicts that by 2020, there will be 200 billion voice searches per month. In Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends report, 23 out of 213 slides were focused on voice search.
According to VoiceLabs, there were 1.7 million voice-first devices shipped in 2015. The following year, there were 6.5 million. In 2017, there will be 24.5 million devices shipped, translating into fast growth and leading to a total of 33 million voice-first devices in circulation.
On a recent WP Engine – Stratabeat webinar, only a small fraction of attendees confirmed that they were already optimizing for voice search. The vast majority had not yet taken any action. The market opportunity is ripe for organizations to take the lead in voice search.
There’s a paradigm shift coming your way, and it’s voice activated. Start spending more time optimizing for voice and conversational search, or you’ll find your brand losing visibility and traffic in the years ahead.
CTR & Engagement
Google RankBrain, introduced in 2015, is Google’s artificial intelligence engine to increase the accuracy of Google’s search results. Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google, stated that RankBrain is the third most important signal contributing to the result of a search. Jeff Dean, Senior Fellow at Google, confirmed that RankBrain now contributes to every single Google search.
One of the repercussions of RankBrain’s growing influence is that engagement metrics are going to be a larger factor in Google search rankings, with click-through-rate (CTR) a core such metric. What this means is that SEO is being turned on its head. RankBrain now forces you to focus just as much on the CTR of your search results as well as the customer experience post-click. Paul Haahr, software engineer at Google, confirmed in a 2016 SMX West presentation that a higher CTR helps with organic rankings, whereas a low CTR can negatively impact rankings. (Note: Others at Google have argued that CTR up to now has informed Google for overall rankings in a query, but does not directly impact the rankings of a specific listing necessarily.)
SEMRush’s 2017 Ranking Factors Study 2.0, which analyzes more than 600,000 search queries, points to time on site, pages per session, and bounce rate (all engagement indicators) as three of the four most important factors for organic search rankings. The study found these factors to be of higher importance than even external links, a deviation from many prior industry studies.
According to Larry Kim, with every 3% increase in CTR of your organic listing in the SERP above the expected, your listing improves by an average of one position on the page.
Whereas your SEO efforts may have been focused on keywords and topics in the past, make sure that moving forward you are spending just as much time on increasing your SERP CTR as well as the overall customer experience resulting from the click-throughs of your organic listings.
The Google Universe
There has been an explosion of features occupying the organic search results page. From paid search ads to featured snippets, image packs, local packs, site links, Knowledge Cards, Knowledge Panels, Top Stories (News), People Also Ask, Tweets, and video, the organic SERP is a jam-packed with various information types.
As part of this trend, there are many Google-managed features not leading to a third-party website. In other words, options that either answer your query right then and there, or that result in another Google SERP. These features include reviews, carousels, related searches, “Best” cards, “Discover More Places” cards, Refine By Brand, and more.
As the software company Moz has written about and has spoken about at various conferences, Google is increasingly striving to keep you within its universe and away from third-party websites. According to Moz, roughly 34% of searches now result in no clicks, meaning that Google is providing you with the answers in the results page itself.
In addition, as part of this trend, expect more and more monetization within the organic SERPs. If you are looking to book a flight from Boston to Boulder, for example, guess what? You can already go through the pricing process within the SERP without visiting an airline or travel website. Even after clicking three or four times through the process, you are still within Google. If you click through and checkout on the airline’s website, guess who gets compensated? That’s right, Google. And keep in mind that all of this is occurring within the “organic” real estate on the SERP. With this in mind, it’s going to be increasingly important to engage with Google and ensure that your brand is included in any future monetization initiatives Google decides to conduct.
At Pubcon 2017, fellow speaker Gary Illyes at Google stressed the value of structured data in web pages. This would seem to be especially important now, with the SERP becoming more diverse in the elements that are being included on the page (see The Google Universe above).
Jennifer Slegg of TheSEMPost documented Illyes’ comments: “Structured data. This is one of those things that I want you to pay lots of attention to this year.” He went on to say, “…add structure data to your pages because during indexing, we will be able to better understand what your site is about… And don’t just think about the structured data that we documented on developers.google.com. Think about any schema.org schema that you could use on your pages. It will help us understand your pages better, and indirectly, it leads to better ranks in some sense, because we can rank easier. So, structured data is important. Take any schema from schema.org and implement it, as it will help.”
Start getting serious about structured data in your SEO efforts, and make Gary proud.
Earlier this year, Moz’s Dr. Pete uncovered that at least 50% of Google Page One organic search results are HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). Based on the stable trend line that Dr. Pete had been tracking, he suggested that HTTPS could hit 65% of Page One results by the end of 2017.
RankRanger Tweeted in July that 99% of the Page One results it tracks using its Google feature tracker tool contained at least one or more HTTPS results.
In SEMRush’s Ranking Factors Study 2.0, the company found that 65% of domains ranking for high volume keywords were HTTPS.
Google began marking sites in Chrome v56 (released in January 2017) with security warnings, mainly targeting HTTP sites that collect user passwords and credit card information. The Google Chrome security team started sending out warning notices in August 2017 to website owners that were not using HTTPS. Google is already marking non-HTTPS credit card and password input pages as “Not Secure.” This is all part of a larger effort by Google to get as many websites updated to HTTPS as possible.
If your site is still HTTP, now’s the time to make the switch to HTTPS.
Page load speed matters. In 2010, Google applied for a patent related to the inclusion of site speed as an organic search ranking factor, and the patent was eventually granted on February 4, 2014 (US Patent 8,645,362). Google also publicly announced in its Webmaster Central blog in 2010 that site speed would play a factor in organic search rankings.
This focus on page load times can be seen in many current Google initiatives, from Google DNS to Google Hosted Libraries, Google Fiber, PageSpeed Tools, AMP Project, Page Speed discussion groups, and Google’s contributions to the latest web performance standards and protocols.
Earlier this year, Google conducted an analysis of mobile page load times and found that mobile sites are often bloated and slow. Google stated, “For 70% of the pages we analyzed, it took nearly seven seconds for the visual content above the fold to display on the screen, and it took more than 10 seconds to fully load all visual content above and below the fold.”
In its study, Google found that an increase from one to three seconds in mobile load time increased the probability of a bounce by 32%. An increase from one to five seconds increased the probability by 90%. Clearly, speed makes a difference to searchers.
Given the delta between Google’s focus on speed and the overall market’s lack of mobile load time optimization, we predict that speed will gain importance as a ranking factor. Do what you can to optimize and accelerate your pages.
External Links & Mentions
Regardless of all the opinions around ranking factors, one thing is certain. External links and mentions have a major impact on organic rankings. In Moz’s most recent ranking factors study, external links were still found to be the top organic ranking factor. In 2016, in fact, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, revealed that links and content were the top two ranking factors.
Writing that external links are important is nothing new. Anyone who has spent more than five seconds in the SEO field understands the critical value of external links. What many don’t know, though, is that mere mentions by credible third parties can also be valuable.
Based on US Patent 8,682,892, invented by Navneet Panda and Vladimir Ofitserov, Google has made “implied links” – i.e., plain text mentions of your brand name – matter. So all incoming links – express and implied – are counted toward measuring the quality of your page. This means that hyperlink or no hyperlink, all that earned media you’ve acquired is in fact boosting your placement in the SERPs.
SEO Is Content Marketing Is PR Is SEO
Back in 2013 I gave a presentation at the FutureM conference in Boston predicting the merging of PR, content marketing, and SEO. I further predicted that any agency aiming to drive exceptional organic results would need to integrate these three marketing vehicles instead of treating each in a silo, which was common at the time.
Suffice it to say that this prediction is already here in force. PR media hits and the resulting links, shares, and traffic help with organic rankings. Optimized content helps to drive SEO results. Content is often used in PR campaigns to drive further engagement. For PR campaigns to maximize visibility, they are optimized. It’s one big mash-up, and any marketing director who is not actively integrating PR, content marketing, and SEO today is simply late to the game.
Factor in the value of mere brand mentions (see External Links & Mentions, above), and you can see how PR and SEO go hand-in-hand.
At Google’s I/O Developer Conference earlier this year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that Google was at an inflection point. “Computing is evolving again,” he said. “We now have voice and vision as two new important modalities for computing.”
Make no mistake about it, Google sees the future as one of augmented reality. Whereas in the past Google envisioned a world of text, it now sees the intersection and integration of text with the visual.
This is seen very clearly in the release of Google Lens, Google’s augmented reality technology for smartphones. Using Google Lens, you can point your smartphone at a restaurant on the street and automatically see relevant information such as reviews, hours, and more. Google Lens was quietly rolled out to Google Photos and then to Google Assistant in recent months. I predict that in the next few years AR will be the default form of search as we know it, and we will look back on non-augmented reality days as inconceivably quaint.
Whereas search up to now has really focused outside of store walls, Google Visual Positioning Service (VPS) is going to bring search in-store, mapping indoor environments using motion tracking, area learning, and depth perception. Imagine it as a GPS within a store to identify and provide further details and interactive experiences for any item on the shelves. Think this is too futuristic? Consider that it’s already in 400 Lowe’s stores, and you might want to change your projected timeline or get left in the dust. The underlying Tango technology is being deprecated by Google in the coming months, but we suspect it will be moved to the Google ARCore platform, or if not, replaced by something even more powerful.
The bottom line is that if you want to master SEO over the longer term, get ready and get optimized for a world dominated by AR.
Image Source for Google Lens: Android Central