Search Engine Land columnist Stephen Spencer once described SEO as a "shape-shifter." He meant that the practice of SEO evolves so often, best practices get outdated quickly.
A new year has begun and you can expect that by its end, there would be a lot of new (and perhaps unexpected) SEO-related developments. We can’t predict what these developments will be, but with an understanding of where SEO might be headed this year, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do.
In this post, we take a macro view of the SEO landscape and pick out two key points to remember in 2017.
1. Never Forget Your User Intent.
It’s easy to get caught up with following and responding to the latest changes search engines make. Tweak those title tags. Insert more inbound links into your blog posts. Use keywords in your image ALT tags.
But ultimately, your website should serve your customers. Not the search engines.
Of the three SEO key metrics—search volume, competitiveness, and intent—user intent is the newest. It's also becoming more significant. Search engines themselves want to serve their users better by understanding their search intentions. The first big sign was the debut of Google’s search algorithm Hummingbird in 2013. Hummingbird aimed to use factors beyond an exact query, such as context and search history, to determine a user’s true search intent and deliver more accurate results.
Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query—the whole sentence or conversation or meaning—is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.” ~ Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land
Fast forward to the end of 2016 and the importance of user intent has grown. Now tech titans like Google and Microsoft are developing technologies that go beyond word recognition. Understanding natural language is the next level to attain. This includes understanding metaphors, syntax, and the context of a query.
With machine learning and artificial intelligence technology improving, expect user intent to play a greater role in determining search results. And as a marketer crafting your brand's 2017 strategy, here's what you can do:
- Speak to your customers! Get information straight from them. How did they find out about your business? What made them decide to buy from you? Why do they continue to do business with you? Alternatively, talk to colleagues on the front line like customer service and sales to have a clear picture of what drives your customers.
- Keyword research is not enough. Given that the exact query does not matter so much anymore, you can’t just create pages that are optimised to specific keywords in order to rank high. Neil Patel suggests focusing on topic research instead of keyword research.
- Google Webmasters is your friend. Google Webmasters is a free tool that should be part of any marketers’ arsenal! Try looking at your Google Webmasters data and reverse engineering the organic search that arrives at your website. Doing so can increase your organic traffic by more than 30 percent.
2. Never Forget Your Customers’ Experience.
All right, so you’ve figured out the intentions of your customers when they search. Now when they arrive at your website, make sure you deliver the goods!
We like Yoast’s SEO philosophy (and implement it for our clients, too): a holistic SEO strategy is the way to go. This means your SEO strategy should cover these areas:
- Technical SEO: Basically, how well do search engine spiders crawl your site and index your content? The technical aspect encompasses issues like page speed, on-page optimisation, and XML sitemaps.
- Web design/user experience: The information on your site should be well-organised so that your customers can find what they want easily. That’s how you keep them on your site longer.
- Quality content: We can't emphasise enough how important content is for SEO. In fact, it’s no secret that search engines favour quality and authoritative content when it comes to rankings. No wonder content marketing is the top-rated digital marketing technique for 2017.
- Tight site security: Particularly important when it comes to eCommerce websites! eCommerce involves the exchange of money and personal information. If you want customers to trust your website and come back for more, make sure your security is tight!
Don’t forget to ensure that your website displays nicely across devices, too. In our 2017 Digital Trends mini-series (see part 1 and part 2), we talked about the importance of mobile, particularly when it comes to SEO and eCommerce. Google itself is taking mobile search seriously.
Read: 5 Questions with Our SEO Ninja
Doing SEO in 2017
There’s no telling how different the SEO field will look like by the end of 2017. Nevertheless, you’ll still need an effective SEO strategy.
When formulating your SEO strategy, make sure you consider:
- What your customers want when they search.
- Whether they can find what they want when they visit your website.
Then, keep your customers coming back for more by providing delightful experiences...but that’s another story for another day!
P.S. Don't just take our word for it. Google thinks you need to firm up your SEO plans, and one way to go about it is hiring a competent search engine optimiser. Check out Google's tips on how to hire one in this video: