Search engine optimization (SEO) is in crisis. With the fall of keywords, the rise of mobile, the usage of vocal search and the impact of rich answers, the SEO industry is in the middle of a transition. Once, SEO was synonymous with underhanded ploys to game the system, but Google and other search engines are now constantly tweaking their algorithms to best serve the user. So what does this mean for digital marketers? SEO is no longer about keywords. It’s about quality content and the user. The future of SEO is here and this is what it looks like.
- The Fall of Keywords and the Rise of Content – Individual keywords just aren’t what they used to be. With local, mobile and voice, it’s time to look past keywords and focus on prioritizing quality content.
- Search Quality Guidelines – Google’s search algorithms have become increasingly complex but it is giving us the answer to creating a page that ranks.
- Google Rich Answers – How do rich answers impact SEO? Is your site ready?
The Fall of Keywords
Perhaps nowhere can the evolving realities of SEO be better seen than the beloved keyword. Targeting one hyper-competitive term isn’t as simple as it used to be. Search engines have radically improved their semantic understanding of phrases and user intent. Google has been working on improving its search engine to understands synonyms for years now. Simply building a website uses the phrase “laptop reviews” stuffed into every page title, description, headline and photo isn’t enough. Google’s ability to analyze keyword phrases to better understand how connected words change the meaning of a search query means that the algorithm will look for actual laptop reviews rather than simply identifying which websites use the phrase the most.
Further complicating matters are location parameters. Unless a user is hyper-vigilant in obscuring their personal data, search engines know where a user is located and put heavy emphasis on local search. Schema tagging and local listings should be a top priority to capture the local market.
Voice search is rapidly becoming one of the most important elements of search with 55% of teens and 41% of adults using voice search more than once a day. The usage of voice search has implications for websites and SEO, including the need to add more structured data to sites and provide clear answers to specific questions.
Search Quality Guidelines
In 2015, Google released the full version of its Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines for the first time ever. This 160-page online document provides key insights into what Google values most for search results and landing pages. Its search algorithm is a notoriously secretive and proprietary formula. The algorithm is so complex there are more than 200 factors that come into play and it’s updated more than 600 times a year. Knowing the precise definition of a “highest quality page” may not seem like a big deal, but having this information at your fingertips as you build content guides you in the right direction for SEO success.
The Rise of Mobile
For the first time ever, mobile has surpassed desktop as the primary tool for search. This means more than just making your website mobile friendly and responsive. It requires marketers to consider how content will appear, the user experience and integrating it with local and social. To get that page ranking on Google, marketers must match content to the device. It’s not about gaming the system anymore. It’s about understanding the user’s search intent and delivering results.
Google Providing Rich Answers
Rich answers fulfill searches and eliminate the need to click links to get answers. They come in many forms – charts, tables, text boxes, maps, forms - but they all boil down to one thing. Google is attempting to answer the user’s question without leaving the search results page.
Why Rich Answers Matter
A study on more than 850,000 search queries found that 22% featured rich answers and in seven months that number jumped to 31.2%! When Google substantially changes search results that quickly, it’s best to pay attention.
"We used to show just ten blue links in our (search) results. You had to click through to different websites to get your answers, which took time. Now we are increasingly able to provide direct answers — even if you're speaking your question using Voice Search — which makes it quicker, easier and more natural to find what you're looking for."
As Google’s algorithms get more adept at identifying user intent and understanding contextual information on the web, rich answers will become an increasingly important element of SEO. This is especially true with voice search as users wants quick answers to their questions rather than links.
The Future of SEO
The bad news is there are no longer quick tricks to earn long-term SEO success. The good news is by driving out black hat tactics, the internet is a friendlier place for users. Creating a technically sound website that delivers quality information to the user is the way forward.