Last month we experienced not only the vanishing of right-column ads in the search engine results page (SERP) but also seeing paid ads real estate grow from the first 3 positions on the SERP to 4. With less room on page 1 for organic results, first page keyword rankings are more competitive than ever. Any move Google makes next is far out of our control, but, using clues from Google’s past, we can make strong assumptions about where the future of SEO lies.
To paraphrase Will Reynolds’ presentation from SMX West 2016, “Stop focusing on the algorithm and start focusing on the audience.”
SEO in 2016 lies in the hands of the users.
Mobile will inherently continue to be an extremely important element of SEO throughout 2016 and beyond.
Accelerated Mobile Pages – Google recently rolled out Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs), reinforcing the importance of a faster, more efficient mobile web and their commitment to mobile. Currently, AMPs are designed around websites heavily driven by content, i.e. blogs, resource sections, and news traffic. AMPs provide webmasters a brand new opportunity to leverage a unique landscape of content within the mobile SERP.
- Take Away – Plan for the future! Plan toward bettering your user experience and making your mobile website as fast as possible. Simply passing the mobile-friendly test isn’t going to cut it. When Google says you “Should Fix” something, just fix it. Before you know it, Google will announce a new algorithm update and BOOM the “should fix” recommendations you ignored for years will end up costing you a whole lot of lost mobile traffic and ultimately, revenue.
Voice Search – Companies are spending lots of money and resources to integrate voice search into their products. And why shouldn’t they? Google recently announced that voice search is growing at a faster rate than typed search. This data encourages companies to provide the technology users want. As more and more products are advancing to integrate voice search, so is the technology that drives it. Users will be exposed to it and interacting with it in 2016 more than ever.
Voice search is increasing in demand as Apple plans to integrate Siri into future operating systems for iPads and Macbooks this fall, Carplay capabilities are emphasized in car commercials, Microsoft incorporates Cortana into Windows 10, and Google Now is incorporated into Google’s app and Chrome. But perhaps the most advanced integration with voice search is Amazon Echo, Alexa. This advanced voice command speaker is always on and always accessible. Alec Baldwin even demonstrated Alexa’s capabilities at his Super Bowl party this year.
Currently, the low hanging fruit within the voice search market encompasses users that have smartphones but don’t utilize the voice search technology. The lack of accuracy has been a known issue, which is why Google invested in other opportunities in October 2015. As of November 2015, Google did appear to understand us a little better.
- Take Away – Users utilize voice search differently than a typed search query. Optimize your content for voice search by including longer tail keywords. Think, “who, what, where, when, and why.” “What is the best way to remove a red wine stain?” As opposed to what a typed search generally looks like, “removing red wine stain.”
App Indexing – Another big component of mobile in 2016 is that mobile applications are now being indexed by Google. This presents a new opportunity for webmasters to optimize more content to return within mobile search results. Google is now able to index apps like any other webpage. Users can directly access the content within apps that already are installed on their phone. Another added benefit to app indexing for businesses is that it also displays in the SERP if the user has the app installed or not. This creates added visibility to potential new users who don’t have the app installed without having to visit an app store.
- Take Away – Install Google’s App API within your mobile app to ensure your app is found and indexed by Google. Design your app to be as intuitive and user-friendly as possible and always remember your users are impatient. Get them information easily and quickly.
Reviews And Local – People always have and always will be much more likely to purchase a product or service that has been recommended by others. Which is why reviews will continue to be important for the success of your business.
For local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, stores, salons, etc., good reviews are especially important for showing up in local search results. For example, when searching “best restaurants in Seattle” all the organic “local 3 pack” listings are the restaurants in Seattle with the best ratings on Zagat. The rest of the listings on page 1 are saturated with other review websites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, or local publications.
Chances are that Google has never tried on a dress from your boutique or eaten at your restaurant, so customers leaving reviews is an unbiased way for Google to determine the quality and credibility of an establishment. Additionally, keywords included in online reviews can help your website return in search results for users looking for the product or service you offer.
Google My Business – Google continues to stress the importance of their Google My Business platform. Recently they have invested in rolling out a Google My Business API. This API makes it easier for businesses to update information by feeding directly into Google, allowing the owners of the page more control over information listed in their knowledge graph.
Data shows that 56% of mobile searches have local intent, meaning the faster you can get accurate information to the local mobile user, the more inclined they are to take action. Conducting a content strategy around local intent also ties in heavily with voice search.
Optimizing your website for users on the go is especially important for local search. Creating content for topics like “things to do near me,” “where is the closest hair salon,” or “restaurants near me” will help prospective local customers find you.
- Take Away – Keep information accurate and consistent within your Google My Business account, website, social channels, and all your local listings. Conflicting addresses or phone numbers within listings will confuse the search engines.
User Intent And Content Quality
The Phantom Update in May 2015 helped exemplify what Google considers “quality content.” Google wants to reward websites who have content that is more valuable, useful, credible, engaging, and informative to the user.
Relevancy will continue to grow in importance as search engine technologies continue to advance. Introduced in October 2015, Google’s AI RankBrain learns and processes search queries focusing on, “What is the user’s intent with this search?” About 15% of RankBrain is learning new queries, which allows the technology to make connections to similar words and synonyms in order to return the most relevant results. Qualified, relevant content helps rankings directly and indirectly through improved clickthrough rates and lower bounce rates. But ultimately, it can also help conversions by driving more qualified traffic to your website.
- Take Away – When conducting keyword research, Relevancy > Highest Search Volume. When in doubt, stay relevant. Relevancy will help to separate your site from the saturation of your industry by highlighting the unique selling point of the product or service. Always supplement with keyword research data, but be sure to stay relevant to the page.
1,000,000 MSV sounds tempting, but probably not the most relevant keyword to optimize around for the homepage of your bookstore website. Install event tracking on your pages as well to help measure visitor engagement to determine the success of your content strategy with Google Analytics. Provide the users with what they want and Google will help to reward you by providing you with the customers you want.
- Take Away – Create content that is valuable, useful, credible, engaging, and informative for the user.
Security And Speed
Google has long advocated that the hosting of websites should be on a secured network and, on a very small and subtle scale, has factored HTTPS into search rankings since 2014. However, Google has been considerate of SMB websites who may not have the funds or resources to make the full migration over to a secure network.
Google is not hiding the fact that they highly encourage you make the change. As of January, Google incorporated an optional feature in Chrome that marks a URL with a red X on a non-secure version. Google wants users to be warned they are not on a secure network, making their information more vulnerable. Although this is currently an optional feature in only Chrome, the potential side effects could prevent users from providing their information on the non-secure site to complete an RFP, payment information, email, etc.
Speed – “Two seconds is the threshold for Ecommerce website acceptability. At Google, we aim for under a half second.” – Maile Ohye, Google
If your website takes too long to load, users will leave your site, most likely moving on to a faster competitor. Not only does this tell search engines the site takes too long to load, but also tells them the user isn’t reading the content, they aren’t clicking through the website, and there is a good chance that they are not going to be a returning visitor.
- Take Away 1 – Make the change, move your website over to a secure network. Google wants you to do it, and users want you to do it. Avoid being shamed with a red X on your URL, and feel comfortable knowing you are securing your customer’s sensitive information to the best of your capabilities.