It’s hard to believe that 2017 is already upon us; it feels like just yesterday we were talking about what our predictions for 2016 would be (many of which I’d say were on-par with what we saw roll out this past year).
Alas, now it is time to go back to the drawing board once more and talk about what we can expect from SEO in 2017. In addition to our 2016 predictions still being items we need to pay attention to next year, below are five additional trends that I see being of importance in 2017, and how you can apply them to set your website(s) up for success.
The Need for Speed. Users want their information when they want it, and they want it fast. As users continue to engage in these “micro-moments,” it’s going to be increasingly important that your site be speedy across all devices so that users can have their needs fulfilled quickly and efficiently. Google will also continue placing more and more importance on this factor, as we saw with the introduction of AMP pages in 2016.
Additionally, if you’re interested in taking a stab at AMP pages yourself (this would be particularly important if you were a news source), you can visit this helpful page from Google, or if you’re more technically inclined, you could go straight to the open source project and jump in there.
Mobile Friendliness. It’s nearly 2017… is your site mobile friendly? If it’s not, or if you’re still using a separate mobile site altogether, it may be time to jump on the responsive web design bandwagon so you can ensure your site is optimized for many different devices and platforms.Additionally, Google is taking its love for mobile friendliness to a whole new level in 2017, when it officially rolls out its separate mobile index. This is going to impact your site because before, Google would take into consideration both the desktop and mobile versions of your website when deciding whether to serve it up for a query.
With this change, Google is only going to be looking at the mobile version of your site, and if it’s not mobile friendly, well… you’re going to have a challenging time reaching the literally billions of people who search on mobile devices.
How to Prepare: First, I recommend verifying that your site is actually being deemed as mobile friendly by Google. You can do this by using Google’s mobile friendly test. If you’re your site isn’t mobile-friendly, then you should talk with your in-house development team or marketing agency about how you can go about fixing that. Furthermore – back to point #1 above – you should make sure that even if your site is mobile friendly, that it is also speedy on mobile, as well. Refer to point #1 on how to check the speediness of your website.
More Changes to the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Google did a lot of experimenting with how it displays its search results in the SERPs in 2016. They did some testing on extending the allowed length for title tags and meta descriptions (some title tags have gotten up to 70 characters instead of the recommended 55-60 and in some instances, Google has added nearly 100 characters to meta descriptions).Additionally, Google has tested reducing the number of deep internal site links being displayed, different font sizes, different map layouts, and of course, continued expanding its usage of “Featured Snippets” (AKA “position zero”) which we’ve covered extensively in a past blog post.
How to Prepare: As with most things that Google does, nothing is set in stone and things are always evolving. So, some of their experiments over the past few months may not even stick around to see the new year. Still, I think it’s important to consider how we could adjust our SEO strategy for next year if we continue seeing expanded title tags and meta descriptions and more Featured Snippets (which will happen, I’m sure).
If we’re allowed more characters in our meta data, we should start thinking of true long-tail keyword strategies that focus on user intent, not just writing for search engines. This is a best practice that has been around for a couple of years now, but with limited character count it’s still hard to show brand personality, integrate a keyword and cater to user intent, all in 65 words or less. We’ll also need to continue focusing on creating content that is using the principles of Natural Language Processing (click the link to learn a ton more about this), which basically holds that people are searching more and more like humans, and less like robots. People can do this as Google becomes more sophisticated and is able to interpret longer tailed queries and voice search queries, thanks to its RankBrain algorithm. If we can create content that caters to these needs, we’ll have a better chance of showing up for relevant queries, and taking that coveted Position 0 spot.
Creating Quality Content. In my opinion, creating relevant content that caters to people’s needs and interests is still the #1 way to show up for your targeted queries. If you don’t have content, there’s a good chance that Google is going to overlook you and point users to a site that has more helpful content that will fulfill their needs and answer their questions or solve a problem that they’re having. So, if you want to be successful at reaching and engaging your core audience, then spending the time and investing in content creation should be an important part of your 2017 marketing arsenal.
How to Prepare: When we’re thinking about creating content, I suggest exploring the use of a content strategy so that you have a unified vision for your content production and its dissemination across channels; otherwise, it can be a little hit or miss and you’ll have trouble measuring your success against brand and marketing goals at the end of the year. A content strategy can also help ensure that you’re meeting your audiences needs and that you’re meeting them where they’re at (figuratively and literally) in their journey; this is another important aspect to being able to map out keyword efficiency (are you ranking for terms along each step of the buyer’s journey?) and ultimately realizing SEO success.
Another tactic that can help you create quality content specifically for SEO is getting more sophisticated with your keyword research. This means going beyond the “one page, one keyword” mentality, and beginning to think about semantic (related) keywords (← great video on this) to your product or service, keyword groupings, and general topics that are of interest to your audience. Then, once you have a good idea about all the interests, pain points, victories, and behaviors that your target audience members are searching for and celebrating, you can start to become a part of that conversation in a meaningful way, all the while earning backlinks to your website and positioning your brand as a trustworthy partner in your market.
Video to Drive SEO. As of right now, video marketing is probably one of the best ways to engage your core audience and generate buzz for your brand. Oftentimes, when you can entertain and please your audience, this buzz translates to external sites choosing to link to your website by way of your video. And since inbound links (backlinks) continue to be an important part of Google’s algorithm, then being able to generate them naturally should be a big part of your SEO strategy in 2017.
How to Prepare: I think of video marketing as being part of a wider content strategy. Otherwise, how would you know what topics are trending amongst your audience and which video content will resonate with them best? I suggest using tools like BuzzSumo or just your general keyword discovery tools like Infinite Suggest or keyword.io in order to identify topics that are important to your core audience. Then, work with your creative teams to address that topic via video.
Now, sometimes you don’t have to be so literal with addressing these topics; sometimes your research may indicate that something being talked about by your core audience is the idea of growing up and being an adult, and the struggles that come along with that. So, you may take that information and decide to do a few videos addressing the theme of “adulting” to play off this. In this way, keyword and topical research can be very helpful for these aspects.
Additionally, by using keywords to drive (at least part of) your video marketing strategy, you can give your brand the best chance to rank for those queries, as videos show up in the SERPs more and more nowadays. For more information on video marketing, I wrote a blog post about video marketing, designed to give you some very applicable tips for bringing this to life at your company or agency.
So, there you have it–my top five picks for SEO trends in 2017. Again, I’d also encourage you to keep in mind our predictions from last year because I see these factors continuing to play a big part in crafting a holistic and successful SEO strategy for next year.
And as always–if you’d like to talk more about your SEO or content strategy for next year, we’re always happy to chat, or conduct a preliminary audit for your website. Cheers from Kansas City, and a Happy New Year to you!