The SEO trends in 2017 are being driven by factors like Responsive website development, mobile-first development, and the way search algorithms are evolving
It feels like only yesterday we were looking at how the SEO landscape would change in the year 2016. Suddenly we are in the New Year and looking for new strategies to implement in the arena.
How we determine strategy and budget will depend largely on how much we understand the SEO trends in 2017.
One of the major events in search engines has been the adoption of what is known as semantic searches. It simply means that search engines are now aligning to what the customer wants from the content rather than what the content gives to the customer.
The search intent has become critical to the search results. Simply having keywords won’t help unless your content can align itself to the intent of the search.
Responsive, mobile-first websites
The other driving force is the need for responsive websites. As more and more people access the internet through hand held devices, the content needs to fit into any size of screen automatically.
Google’s Mobilegeddon algorithm favors your website if it is easy mobile friendly and responsive. The definition of mobile-friendly includes things like fast load times, elegant viewing in any device and catchy content condensation for any topic on
Artificial intelligence, personal assistants, AMP, these are all changing the way search engines look at your website. They add more layers to the interaction between page and search engine but make the interaction between your customer and your webpage easier.
All this means that your content is longer not just about having all the right keywords, but also about being valuable to your customer. It also means that your SEO strategy will need to evolve to embrace all these changes – go from being technically focused to becoming more organic or (dare I say this) holistic in approach.
Top SEO trends in 2017
User Intent Optimization
User these days are more likely to put in longer search phrases and queries in order to get the kind of results they want (and they know exactly what they want). A user will type a search phrase, quickly browse through the page titles and descriptions and click on the one that says that it will meet the intent of her search.
For example, if a user needs to order a birthday cake with a superhero decoration because her child loves superheroes, your bakery’s web content should be equipped to handle this.
User query: superhero birthday cake
Your web content: You should have enough relevant content that makes it possible for the search engine to relate the SpiderMan icing that you specialize in to the user’s search query for a superhero cake.
The search engine doesn’t just look at the word “superhero” it looks at the whole sentence and infers the meaning of the search. Then it looks for pages that match the meaning and not just the keyword.
Meanings for the query could include cakes that are cut and shaped like superheroes, regular circle or rectangle cakes that have superhero icing on them, cakes molded like superhero figures. Therefore search engine will select those pages which have all these inferences in them.
This is the result of the semantic search algorithm called Hummingbird that Google launched in 2013. What Hummingbird does is it doesn’t just establish what is being searched, it also establishes the context in which the search is occurring. The context is set using various factors like the user’s search history, user location, relationships between previously stored data and so forth.
Search Engine Journal has a wonderfully informative article on semantic search and why it has become critical to SEO strategy. But getting the user to your web content is one thing, what they experience with it will determine how the SEO strategy affects your business.
User Experience Optimization
Another trend that you can expect in 2017 is the focus on user experience. Speed with which the page loads is one part of this, especially for mobile device users. Even in fair network speeds if pages load fast, those are the pages people will go to often.
User experience also includes the way the elements on your page interact with the user. If a user clicks on a button or link and the next event takes several seconds or it leads to a broken link or a “Page not Found”, already it is recorded as a bad experience for the user.
Rich and useful content is another way for ensuring that people come to your website often. When users gain information from your site, they tend to remember your site, bookmark it and recommend it through sharing on social media or email or even word of mouth.
The SEO strategy must be to make your website not just number in ranking but to provide such a unique experience to the user that it gains popularity. As more and more users arrive, then the website automatically gains popularity.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
In an earlier post I had written about how AMP is going to drive Search Engine results in mobile devices and what you can do to transition to AMP for your website. Basically AMP is a lighter version of HTML and AMP-compliant pages load much faster on mobile devices.
In its current application, AMP contributes significantly in keeping load times below 3 seconds which is the acceptable limit for mobile web page loading. This, in turn, is significant in adding greater value to user experience.
Although for now AMP is typically used in news pages, SEO consultants believe that it can be extended comfortably to other websites as well to improve their engagement with the users. As mobile users grow, AMP may just end up becoming a standard for mobile web pages.
Machine and automatic algorithm
Another trend that will be visible is what Rob Woods, an SEO Consultant calls “the rise of the machines”. A simplistic inference is that machines can learn to use predictive algorithms and provide better search results. Google’s algorithm has seen major changes – the introduction of RankBrain is one of the biggest.
RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps Google to process queries of a certain type, namely, the rare one-of-a-kind ones. While the system is focused on refining queries, it is also the third most important ranking factor for pages.
Machine learning becomes significant because it helps search engines understand the intent of the query better. This is because machine learning strives to understand the language. Better understanding of intent = better page matches.
Thus, your SEO strategy needs to look at optimizing your website for user intent. Why are Google and others so invested in machine learning?
A simple answer to that is: There is a direct correlation between search results and revenue from ads. As quality of search results go up, it has positive impact on revenues from ads. I found this article on moz.com that tells you the essentials of machine learning.
Machine learning also becomes significant when you look at the ways in which an online search is conducted. You are no longer just looking at people typing in queries; you now have people speaking to machines.
Voice Search – the influence of the Personal Digital Assistant
A personal digital assistant like Siri from Apple or Cortana from Microsoft, an AI program like Google Now makes your mobile life easy by accessing apps and running a search using your voice. Voice search alters the search query dynamic by a lot.
For one thing when we speak we are likely to use more grammar and semantic than when we type in a query. Personal assistants are taking the concept of voice searches to a different level. It is now almost mandatory for assistants to accept a conversational query.
What does it mean for searches?
- They’ve become more semantic
- Intent is as important as keyword
- Looks for conversational content
- The goal is to find answers quickly
- May not be looking all over the web
What does it mean for SEO?
- Make the content more conversational
- Topical content must be devised
- Conduct research on intent
- Build user-intent models
- Match your content to the appropriate stage of user intent
An example for the last item: Supposing you are a bag designer. You will get customers who are just looking (query: jute bags) and customers who are looking to buy (query: jute bag for grocery shopping price range $10-$20).
Hence make yourself visible by devising content that showcases your best products and answers to the window-shopping intent, say well-produced videos. Entice the customer. The rest of your content must be detailed for each product and answers to the buying intent – price, color, purpose, material, material details and so forth.
This also means that your marketing efforts should now be multi-pronged and cater to the varying intents of your target customers. This is where another SEO strategy comes in – personal branding.
Branding is a marketing exercise that allows businesses to establish identity standards for themselves or it can be taken care by your Digital marketing agency. This is why, although Ferrari and Jaguar are immediately identifiable as car brands, you don’t associate the same things with the cars that the brands represent.
One is about speed and luxury and the other is about power and luxury, derived literally almost from the prancing horse icon of Ferrari and the leaping jaguar icon of the eponymous brand, respectively. Your online presence can also make use of branding as a great SEO strategy.
Of course, we are not talking about corporate branding here. Rather the strategy to apply is personal branding.
This is because the bigger the company, the less the personal touch for the customer unless the customer is buying high value products. But most customers wouldn’t fall in this category and hence the disillusionment with the faceless corporations.
Building a personal brand online involves developing a branding strategy around an individual rather than the corporate. One example is to develop the personal brand of the company’s CEO or if you are a small business, then develop the brand of the business owner.
This can be done by:
- Developing content authored by the individual
- Syndicating the content from the individual author on social media
- Guest posting this content to build links
- Identifying and developing the niche customers through engagement with the content they want
- Offline engagement with customer community
- Rewarding the followers either through monetary means or non-monetary means like sharing their content or giving free tips and tricks
Personal branding requires you to create a unique identity set for the individual as well. This can be done through developing specific content types like videos or podcasts or writing about topics from the individual’s area of expertise.
I find that an SEO strategy like personal branding is valuable to a business because it takes SEO to a level where you can actually see the whole business and its stakeholders and not just tinker with the online technical aspect.
And to share a secret or 7 of them, here’s an article by Jayson DeMers writing in Forbes on the secrets of successful personal brands.
However, regardless of what strategy you many want to apply, content remains key to SEO success. Relevance, freshness and usefulness of the content are becoming the key factors that decide how your SEO strategy will play out.
The Skyscraper Technique of content development
No, all content is not king. This is because, if you think about it, all content is not useful. In the trends we have seen till now, the constant refrain has been that your SEO strategy must be based on what people want to see online.
Content that is useful to the user is the one that is most likely to attract them. If they find it really useful, they will comment about it, share it and even give you backlinks. Unless you are designing and implementing content strategies around this philosophy, your content will have little value.
Content strategy is just that – it is a strategy. Therefore it has to involve all aspects of marketing from content creation to content publication to content distribution. What content you develop is as important as how it will reach the end user.
From the SEO perspective, content must generate readers, gain the attention of influencers and bring backlinks to your website.
To that end, Brian Dean of BackLinko has come up with (what feels like) an absurdly simple technique of content development called the Skyscraper Technique. In fact, I found myself smiling at the ingenuity of its simplicity.
Skyscraper is fundamentally a 3-step process:
- Find link-worthy content that is relevant to your business
- Develop something even better
- Distribute it to the right audience
Wow, I mean, it truly can’t get simpler than that. If you are an SEO consultant or offering SEO services, the first step would be to identify a problem area that your client’s business can address.
For example, if your client is a baker and there are enough queries out there regarding certain ingredients or techniques, you have a problem that you can address.
Next find out what is the linkable asset that you can find about this problem. A linkable asset will have a large number of backlinks, and a proportionate number of shares, likes and comments on social media.
Once you have the asset, then build on that. If the linkable asset spoke about a hard-to-source ingredient, go the extra mile and find out best ways to source it or the best readily available substitutes and build your content around that.
Make sure you don’t just have more content, you have more valuable content.
The final step, find out whom to contact for getting backlinks. The list of backlinks on the linkable asset will give you the domains and you can sort through the relevant domains and share your new asset with those domain owners.
Of course, you will share on social media platforms because nothing generates business like word-of-mouth, even if the mouths are virtual. But from the SEO perspective the Skyscraper technique will work because:
- It improves on existing content
- Adds value for the user
- Has more likelihood of naturally attracting site visitors
- Improves the likelihood of backlinks
- Is organic which means Google’s algorithm will like it
All in all, 2017 promises more growth in the directions that SEO strategies were taking to keep pace with the changes in technology and search engine algorithms.
A few weeks ago Search Engine Journal published the feedback they received from industry experts like Barry Adams, Dave Davies, Casie Gillette and many others (44 to be exact) on what they felt would be the SEO trends in 2017.
Most of the responses included the points I have mentioned in this post. While some of the respondents advised that AMP would be a trend that may not go beyond 2017, trends like optimizing for user intent, voice search, machine learning featured prominently.
To summarize, the major SEO trends for 2017 would be:
- Optimization for user intent
- User experience optimization
- Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
- Machine and automatic algorithm
- Personal branding
- Skyscrapper Content Technique
- Personal Digital Assistance (Voice Search)
The major drivers for these trends are:
- Search intent based semantic algorithms
- Mobile-first approach
- Responsive website development
- Technology changes
Other prominent trends expected to influence SEO strategy:
- Schema/Structured data markup
- Video Content
- Cross-Channel marketing
For a small business looking to capitalize on the changing SEO trends by leveraging the best options on the Internet, a bit of help from SEO experts can go a long way.