SEO used to be straightforward: keywords in content, meta tags and inbound links. These days however, Google is getting smarter and smarter. It no longer wants to be the “middleman” between user and search results, it wants to be “the answer”. It wants to know exactly what you mean, not just what you type into the search box.
Google makes an average of 600 changes each year to their algorithm, but most of these are minor and go unnoticed. In January 2016 however, Google rolled out changes that are having a larger impact on SEO. While it’s never clear exactly what all of the updates are (as Google is famously tight-lipped about them), SEO experts have developed solid theories based on their observations.
If you haven’t audited your site for SEO friendliness in the last year or so, now is a good time to do so. Here are a few ways that you can prepare yourself for the future of SEO.
- Size Matters. Longer articles (1200 – 1500 words) are now ranking higher in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Not only because they’re fulfilling more of the intent of the user (more on that topic below), but there are generally more graphics, images, and video to rank within the article. People are also linking to articles more and sharing them on social.Action item: Go more in depth with your content to create longer, more useful information on your pages. Be sure to use unique images, as google recognizes when the same ones are used multiple times.Embed video wherever you can.
- Quality of content has always been important, but more than ever the QDF or Quality Deserves Freshness score is being employed. Not only is Google looking for the most recent content, but it’s also now searching for the most recent content with the most relevant subtopics within the content.For example, two sites may contain a recent story on the same topic but the site with the highest ranking subtopic keywords will rank higher – in other words, the story that goes more in depth. This QDF score is calculated by a complex combination of current events and real-time user behavior.Publishers, news and blog sites are the most affected here. The biggest “losers” are those with outdated content while the “winners” are not only those with the most recent content, but those with the most holistic content on specific keyword topics.Action Item: continue to keep your content updated and high quality to help customers not only find what they are looking for, but also to solve their most current problems. Listen to all of the feedback that you receive in real time – if one person is saying it, it’s likely there are more that feel the same way or have the same need.
- User intent is more of a factor than ever. Updates to the Google algorithm are now smart enough to find the sites that are most likely to meet the intended desire of the search. This means that it’s not just the sheer amount of content that matters, but whether or not that content will serve the intended purpose of the searcher.This also means that exact keywords are no longer the be-all end-all. They are still very important, but becoming equally important is the use of other words related to the topic at hand – or subtopics – which helps google to calculate the quality of your content.Google also takes into account how other users interact with your site. Are they clicking on it but immediately returning to search results or are they staying because they found what they were looking for? If a user lands on your page and they stay, Google assumes they are satisfied with the depth and breadth of the content, which satisfies Google as well.Action Item: know exactly what your customers and clients need and create content that meets those needs. Touch on all of the relevant topics related to the primary content. This will also put you in a much better position to show up in the Google Answer Box or as one of the Featured Snippets.
- Optimize for mobile – and not just phones, but anything non-desktop – tablets and even watches – mobile in the most true sense of the word. In 2015, Google made mobile-friendliness a factor in its search results algorithm making relevant mobile-friendly sites easier to find. If you think your customers aren’t using mobile or tablets in their day to day online activities, think again. It would be a mistake to assume that science products and services consumers are somehow exempt from these statistics. (And if they aren’t currently using your site from their mobile devices, they will eventually. Remember that when usability starts becoming standard, it starts becoming expected.)Action item: Make sure your pages are mobile optimized that they load quickly and don’t contain design elements (such as flash or overly aggressive ads that cover your content) that could potentially turn users off or send them away.
- Social Content and Shareability. As a brand, it’s important to have a presence on social media as it “legitimizes” your work. Your social pages such as Facebook and LinkedIn tend to rank high on SERPs. But it’s not just your presence on social media that matters as much as the quality of the content on social that’s linked to, or shared by, users that impacts search results. Here is a great video from Google about the relationship between the role of social media and SEO rankings.
It’s also worth noting that more and more users are turning to social platforms for actual searches. In 2015, Facebook fielded 1.5 billion searches daily while Twitter was handling 2.1 billion per day.
Action Item: review the content activity on your chosen social media channels. Is it getting attention with “likes” and comments? Is it being shared? If not, and you need better SERPs, it’s worth paying more attention to this medium. Even if you have great content on your website, if no one is going there, it won’t be seen. Posting links and summaries on social media is a great way to proactively drive users to your pages which we know also positively impacts SEO rankings.
The single most important SEO tip for 2016 is to focus on your audience. What kind of questions are they asking? Literally type them into a Google search box (while signed out of your account!) and see where your pages rank. Use all relevant keywords of the main search queries and as many related topics that you can think of. Today’s searches are no longer about promoting what we marketers want our audiences to see – it’s about giving them exactly what they are looking for.Keywords: content marketing, google, keywords, link building, mobile, search engine optimization, SEO, SERP, social media, user experience