It’s no secret that the world of digital marketing is always changing. To truly stay up to date with digital trends and provide the best customer experience, one has to constantly do the impossible—predict the future. The search engine optimization landscape is no different and often leaves many website owners at the mercy of Google’s famous algorithm updates. As unpredictable as it seems, search engine optimization is a key component of effective digital strategy. Today we’ll take a look four factors that will impact the future of SEO and explain how you can start to prepare today.
Siri. Hey Google, Alexa and Cortana are all quickly becoming household names. If you’re unsure who these people are, a quick search will tell you that they are not people at all. These virtual assistants, when prompted by voice-search, answer questions, set reminders and perform other tasks through mobile phones and other devices.
These connected devices are becoming increasingly popular, and as more users turn to them to perform online searches, it is key that business websites optimize to answer these naturally spoken search queries.
What can you do now?
To start building out a strategy for voice search optimization, I suggest going straight to the source: conversations with your customers and potential customers in your industry. Pay attention to the way that they talk about your products and the industry you serve. What are their questions? And, most importantly, how are they asking those questions? While someone my search “sandwich delivery near me” in Google on a desktop computer, they may voice search for “Where is the nearest sandwich shop that delivers?”
Accelerated Mobile Pages
For many, reading a webpage or article on your mobile phone is a slow and frustrating experience, but Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages Project is trying to change this. To quote Google, “The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is an open source initiative that embodies the vision that publishers can create mobile optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere.” In short, Google is empowering website developers to create blazing-fast mobile pages. They’re doing this by providing a stripped-down version of HTML and streamlined CSS that developers can use to build pages for superior readability and speed. This is Google’s response to Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News; it’s the first platform to give publishers an easy way to distribute content on the web without going through an app.
What can you do now?
You can take advantage of Google Accelerated Mobile Pages today. Google has created a step-by-step guide to getting started with AMP. But first, it’s crucial to determine if AMP is a solution for every page of your website. In truth, Accelerated Mobile Pages was created as a solution for content publishers and news networks. Stripping down the product and landing pages of your website to the fast-loading AMP layout may not provide the best user experience. Audit your current website for content-based pages that are best suited for AMP integration, such as a blog or news page, before starting the AMP process.
This is going to sound a bit futuristic, but we can’t talk about the future of SEO without talking about RankBrain, Google’s machine learning artificial intelligence system. Machine learning means that a computer or program is teaching itself how to do something instead of following dedicated programming. RankBrain is the part of Google’s search algorithm that helps sort through the billions of website page indexed by Google to match relevant pages with search queries. Google uses page factors such as keywords, links and metatags called signals to determine search results. These signals are weighted in importance, and RankBrain is the third-priority signal in Google’s Hummingbird algorithm. RankBrain is used to interpret searches and find pages that might not have the exact keywords used in the search query.
What can you do now?
Unfortunately, there is not an immediate action that website administers can take to optimize for RankBrain. Gary Illyes, a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, explained this year that you cannot optimize for RankBrain and that RankBrain does not have a score like page speed or mobile friendliness. That being said, it is an important ranking signal for Google and will continue to have significant impact on search results in the future, so keep an eye on it.
Knowledge Graph + Rich Answers
Google’s Knowledge Graph is not necessarily a new update; it was launched in 2012 and has continued to impact the search engine results page that we see every day. It is Google’s method for organizing the information available online into a universally accessible format. Google displays Knowledge Graph elements in structured boxes on the search page with links to sources for further information. The two formats for this are the knowledge panel, which is displayed to the right of your search results page, and the answer box, which appears at the top of other organic results.
Knowledge Graph is great for the searcher but problematic for search engine optimization. The challenge is that Google frequently pulls information and links from major data sources like Wikipedia, which pushes search engine results for the official websites on the topic down on the page. You can see in the example above that the White House’s page for Michelle Obama appears third in the search engine results after the rich answer card and is constricted by the knowledge panel to the right.
What can you do now?
You can combat this by optimizing your website with user experience in mind. This includes writing website content for users, not search engines, that answers questions with keywords such as “how to” and “who is” related to your content. The structure of your website is more important than ever when helping Knowledge Graph crawl and index the helpful content on your site. Map out your entire site and choose themes for each section of the navigation. The titles of these sections should directly reflect the content that can be found within them. From a technical standpoint, structured data tags can also be used to help point search engines in the direction of important information.
Just like in other aspects of life, in the world of search engine optimization, knowledge is power. Staying on top of Google’s algorithm updates can seem like a full-time job, but if we keep user experience in mind, it’s not difficult to foresee the areas they’ll focus on next. To optimize your website for the future of SEO, always consider the intent of the searcher. If you are providing useful information and making it easily accessible to search engines, then you will continue to see search engine success.