SEO is kinda frustrating, right?
There are so many new and evolving SEO trends.
On top of that, Google keeps moving the goal posts.
And, technology is playing a bigger and bigger role in our online lives - which in turn affects SEO and how search engines work.
So, in order to keep up with the ever-changing landscape, in this post I want to highlight some of the most important changes and trends in SEO.
1. How they affect you and your business (and website).
2. What you can do to keep up with them.
3. And further resources to learn more.
Last, but not least, use the menu below to jump to any topic that grabs your attention. Or, read the whole thing!
1. User Behaviour is Starting To Affect Search
SEO used to be pretty simple.
Stuff your pages with your keywords, throw a bunch of random links at them, and you would shoot to the top of Google.
Unfortunately (or actually fortunately for the website visitor) those days are gone.
Google has been rapidly learning to not only figure out how to ignore these spammy techniques, but also find more realistic signals of what is a great search result (that deserves to be in the top 10).
This has actually been going on for a long time, with Google Panda first being used back in 2011. For those that don’t know, Panda was aimed at penalising low-quality web pages. That is, to focus more on higher quality search results.
And this year Google officially added Panda to their core algorithm, putting a nail in the coffin or crappy content.
So, what does this mean for search?
Well, Google is taking this kind of thing quite seriously. And, they also have access to all kinds of other data that they can use to help determine a page’s ranking “worthiness”.
Let’s call them User Behaviour Signals. There is a great (albeit quite technical) article on Moz about this, but the essence is this:
Google can use the following to help rank pages:
- Click Through Rates from search results (the more people click on something, the higher it might rank - although it is hard to prove)
- Time on site (or even Bounce Rate) with active time on site being perhaps more relevant (read that Moz article above)
- Frequency of visits (does a user come back often to the same site or page)
2. Mobile Dominance. Are You Ready?
I harp on about being mobile-ready to almost anyone who will listen. In fact, my hairdresser has banned me from talking about it.
In all seriousness though, if mobile is not something you have worried about yet, now is the time.
As you probably already read somewhere online mobile has overtaken desktop a while back now.
Not only has mobile search surpassed desktop, but now there are more people using mobile only than desktop only in the US.
The real shift has begun. After all, mobile only in developing countries is not surprising, but when it affects the US…change has really happened.
The signs are clear, mobile is here to stay AND taking over the internet.
The big question is now: are you paying attention?
Is your website mobile-ready?
Because not only does it affect a user’s experience on your website, but the search engines are watching too!
Google is definitely using mobile-ready tests to check your site (last year they called it Mobilegeddon because so many are unprepared for it). It started in 2015, and this year they rolled out this change in search even further.
Mobile is now a serious ranking signal (on mobile search, which we now know is more than desktop).
Of course, you have to take this with a grain of salt, especially if you are in the B2B arena. Mobile affects the consumer facing businesses far more.
My stats show about 15-20% mobile usage, whereas some consumer industries are already showing 60-70%.
Either way, is it worth pissing off 20% of your audience?
And one last thing, Google is also pushing AMP (Accelerated mobile pages) which are trimmed down versions of HTML to make the mobile web even faster. Yet another thing you have to keep your eye on!
3. Keywords Are No Longer The Bomb
Computers are slowly becoming more intelligent (mine just cooked me breakfast this morning! sweet).
And A.I. is soon going to take over the world (SkyNet is coming, right? they just made another Terminator movie!).
Google is also taking part in the revolution and they started (kinda) back in 2014 with Hummingbird. This was a serious change to their algorithm that has mean that search engines can now more realistically understand and serve up the right result.
To quote Dan Shewan from this great Hummingbird article on WordStream:
For example, if a user performs a search for the term “weather”, it’s much more likely that they are looking for a forecast for their area, not an explanation of the science or history of meteorology.
This change in how search engines function has also meant that they no longer need to be bludgeoned with a keyword hammer in order to understand what a page is about.
Keyword Stuffing is dead.
Today, it is all about focusing on the topic of the content.
Of course, that does not mean you forget about keywords or on page optimization. But, it does mean that you don’t have to ram those keywords into your content 50 times to ensure Google “gets it”.
The time of subtlety and focusing on the reader (and creating the best content on the topic) is here.
Have you woken up to this new reality of awesome content and caring about your website visitors?
4. Watch Out For Voice Search
This voice search trend has been on the rise for a quite while (after all, we al live on our phones, right). However, the latest additions to the scene from Amazon and others have meant that voice is about to become huge.
Google has been on-board for quite a while with the voice in search (since 2011 actually) but even they are upping their game by supposedly adding voice data to Search Console (at some point in the near future). When that happens, you know it is serious!
Apple famously brought out Siri on the iPhone back in 2011 as well. And it has been evolving (albeit more slowly, lately) ever since.
Often forgotten (or perhaps it is just that I am kinda Apple focused?) Microsoft has also been spending big not only with their purchase of Skype and the integrations of some awesome voice recognition software into that pillar of my work-life, but also with Contana.
And just a few days ago, Microsoft made it “mandatory”. Contana is now switched on by default in Windows 10.
Are people actually using these things though? Even back in 2014 this detailed survey from Thrive Analytics revealed the willingness of people to use mobile personal assistants on our phones:
Image courtesy of Moz
And never to be left out of the spotlight, I am guessing Bezos has been heavily behind the push for Amazon to get involved. They released Echo with their ever so sexy? Alexa – Siri’s new nemesis! Now we have a search assistant sitting next to us at home, all – the – time.
Oh, and Google is soon to be releasing their version of the “Echo” called Google Home.
Which is better? I don’t actually care in the context of this article. The point is:
Voice Search Will Soon Be Everywhere!
The stage is set for voice to explode and already the way we are searching is changing. In fact, if you read this fact-riddled article from Moz, the trend is rising sharply. With more recent improvements in the tech bringing people on board more rapidly.
Why Voice Is A Big Deal For Search
What is the big deal?
It is changing how people search. And therefore: what keywords and subjects people are searching for.
We talk differently to how we (abbreviate when we) type.
Desktop: temperature Zurich
Mobile: What is the temperature in Zurich today?
Moz showed in their article I mentioned above that the average search query length on Contana is longer than text. And who knows where it will head with time.
Image courtesy of Moz
It’s time to start paying attention to how search is changing, because it is coming like a freight train.
5. Going Secure With HTTPS
There are mixed feelings about HTTPS in the SEO world. Some say it makes little to no difference to your search rankings (despite being a ranking signal from Google,) or at least heavily encouraged since 2014). And others say it made a little dent in search when it was introduced. However, Google has been placing more and more emphasis on it since their original statement. I have read countless arguments and studies on the web about this issue and there seems to be a consensus:
- HTTPS is only a very small ranking signal (ie. will only help your SEO in a minor way)
- Changing to HTTPS for most people (not in ecommerce or a big company) is not worth the effort (which can be painful).
- Any HTTPS migration might result in an (ironic?) slight loss of ranking too due to all the redirects you need to put in place
So, I thought (and always told my clients) – don’t bother unless you have an ecommerce site or a new website. That is until I read this study from Moz showing how many page 1 results now have HTTPS (up from 8% to a whopping 32.5% in June 2016).
What can you conclude from this big change?
Well, according to the Moz article it might not be direct cause and effect (ie. those sites might not be ranking because they have HTTPS) however the trend is clear.
Google Wants Everyone To Have HTTPS
Maybe you should start thinking about it? At least in the long term.
6. Search Results – Always A Mixed Bag
Back in the day (when was that day? anyone?) Google search results used to look like this:
In fact, this is what a search result looked like 5 minutes ago for a search (search results evolution) when there is nothing specific to show.
What do I mean by that?
Well, you have probably seen this kind of search result (for: Who is Brad Pitt) :
What a massive difference, right?
Google is trying to provide us with the best and most relevant information for any search we do.
That might mean:
- Latest News
- Image Carousels
- Knowledge Graph Box
- Youtube Videos (or other videos)
- Local Search Results (and map)
If you look at the for Brad Pitt result above you will see a whole range of these types of results.
Where the hell did the standard search result go?
Google is taking all the information we provide on our websites and presenting them to the searcher – without going to our sites!
Yes, we are starting to lose control of search (did we ever have any?). And need to start realising that a lot of searches will push down our blog post, service page or article. Sometimes, way down!
Of course, you can sometimes get in these “special results” through knowledge graph. And people do often click through to your site.
But the lesson here is that search is changing and we need to follow along and change with it.
Further Reading & Ways To Take Action
The What Why And How of Quick Answers
7. RankBrain – The Robots Might Rule The Earth
For years now Google has been frustrating SEOs and website owner’s with their zoo full of algorithm changes.
We have had some Penguins, Pandas and a Hummingbird (Check out the full list and timeline at Moz).
And they even snuck in a Pigeon (was that to crap all over us? like pigeons are want to do on random occasions.)
Well, it was a “local search” change, so not everyone was affected. But I am sure many a business owner was looking up, as they wiped off their jacket.
The question you might then ask yourself is – can it get any worse/more complicated/more annoying?
And the answer is inevitably – YES.
Artificial Intelligence Was Bound To Take Over
Ever since Terminator we have all been at least a little worried about Skynet.
You know, that “all seeing, all knowing” computer that is set to take over the world (and wipe us all out!).
As Artificial Intelligence grows in its abilities these fears are becoming ever more real (or perhaps not).
But, for now, AI is being used to help sort out the subtleties of search engine rankings.
It is very hard to know exactly what Rank Brain is doing on search, but here is the rough breakdown according to Gianluca Fiorelli on Moz. Rank Brain is:
- Artificial Intelligence
- A Machine Learning System (will eventually evolve and learn what is a good result)
- Interprets languages and queries (helping figure out intent, and the best result for a given query in difficult situations)
So, the next big question might then be “how can you do SEO for Rank Brain”? According to Gianluca in the Moz article, this is a kinda pointless question because:
RankBrain targets non-understandable queries and those using colloquialisms
RankBrain is Google’s attempt (for now) to provide better search results for more difficult to interpret queries.
I can imagine things like Voice Search (mentioned earlier) are playing a bit role in this as people “speak” their queries to Google. Accents, slang and other language issues will then play a far more complex role in search.
But for now, perhaps it is not an issue we have to worry about?