SEO is changing. Some are even proclaiming the field dead. That’s not true, but 2017 is going to look radically different than any year before it for digital marketers. And getting the message online is more important than ever: 92% of business purchases start with a search, and 81% of customer journeys start online. Tyson Stockton of Searchmetrics.com gave a webinar about the future of SEO. Here are the major takeaways:
Stockton compared the Google search results of today and the one from just 6 years ago. The difference cannot be more acute. On top of being more aesthetically pleasing, now Google not only offers listings but videos, shopping options, news, Google ads, and maps are on the front page for almost all searches—80% of searches, in fact. This means that actual rankings are pushed further and further down the page, so that even if you are number nine or ten for a particular keyword you may not make the front page. You need to aim higher—at least number eight or higher.
And with 3 billion searches on Google, that means competition is going to get more intense.
Mobile is driving more and more traffic every day. So now it is vital to get onto mobile searches, battling both competitors and ads.
It’s important to know that desktop is still utilized heavily, for now. Furthermore, what results appear depend on the device: maps are more prominent on mobile searches, while images are featured more on desktop. App packs and Related Question Boxes are almost exclusively mobile.
In 2015, search keywords in the title were featured in 75% of the top results on Google. In 2016, that number dropped to 55%.
Keywords in the titles have long been a staple in the SEO toolkit. What happened?
Well, now Google is emphasizing a new kind of content—holistic content. It’s looking for content that answers as many questions a user might have about their query as possible. Google is all about providing an excellent user experience—it’s how they make their reputation—and they reward those sites that further that goal.
In that vein, if the query is “What movie parodies Star Wars?” they aren’t looking for a listing with “Movie That Parodies Star War.” They just want the answer—Spaceballs.
So while H1 tag usage is up among leading websites, keywords in the H1 among them have dropped. Google is looking for answers, much more than keywords, so H1 tags are really used as summaries of the content for Google.
Keyword optimized title, H1, H2, and body copy are still good, but are now just one part of the overall equation.
In the old days of SEO, the bare minimum for a ranked page was 300 words focused around a keyword. Those days are no more. The word count of the best ranked pages on average has increased over the past year: from 1,285 to 1,633. The word count reflects Google’s desire for topics covered more completely. In fact, you could say that instead of one keyword, one page, the optimal SERP model is one topic, one page.
What is replacing the old SEO ranking tools? Partly, it’s the rise of machine learning and deep learning. Hummingbird, their core algorithm, is one indication of this change in priorities
Rankbrain is often called one of Google’s most important ranking factors, but it isn’t really a factor. It’s an algorithm using artificial intelligence that weighs numerous factors for every website, and determines how each website ranks. It also handles unusual queries Google has not seen before.
What’s important is that the factors Rankbrain weighs changes based on the queries of customers-whether intellectual or transactional– and the industry to which the website belongs. Rankbrain emphasizes relevance, in other words, and weighs rankings based on that factor most prominently.
It’s still advisable to use keywords as we still do. The idea here is to broaden the criteria for quality SEO. Additionally, all of Searchmetrics findings might have other explanations—it’s not clear if the keyword model is truly dying or if something else is causing the results.
Finally, quality is still king—the only difference is the depth of content and the structure of that content to answer more diverse queries.