By Austin Miller, Content Marketing Manager
Take a good look at the image below. Notice that ghost of a word "dead" in grey lettering that's ready to pop up before you even type it? See all four recommendations Google has so conveniently prepped for you? "Is SEO dead?, Is SEO worth it?, Is SEO still relevant?, Is SEO important?" This is not happenstance—this is SEO.
It seems of late, many are asking "Is SEO dead?", in fact—it seems to be the number one search made about the topic. And as the image shows—SEO is clearly not dead, but a lot has changed since the early days of Google, and there's a lot to consider as you push your marketing strategy forward. Let's take a look at some recent findings and find out what factors will be most relevant as we move into 2017.
With mobile searches outpacing desktop searches in 10 countries (including the US), mobile optimization has become increasingly important for Google rankings.
Also under the umbrella of mobile, is consideration for "digital assistants" like Siri or Cortana. As Forbes points out:
"Spoken language queries tend to be much different than typed queries, meaning a whole new type of long-tail keyword queries – particularly those that mimic spoken dialogue – will emerge."
This means that moving forward, businesses will have to think of expanding their verbiage to fit the queries of both the spoken and written word.
Using a variety of studies, Business2Community predicts that hits to your content will no longer be enough to boost your rankings. Instead, they predict that content will have to be engaging enough to hold reader's attention, thus the length of time someone spends engaging/reading your content, is more important than the mere fact that they clicked on your link. This is great news for readers and marketers who prefer quality over click-bait articles void of substance.
The most obvious way to adapt to this ranking factor is to monitor bounce rates and eliminate content that loses viewers quickly. Inversely, mimic quality content that holds your audience's attention.
If you want to know more about creating engaging content, check out ever popular article on how to make your content go viral.
Social Media: Blurring The Lines
Since Google has finished negotiation with Twitter and Facebook, content shared on these social media platforms will begin to get indexed by Google's search engine. This means relevant and robust content on social will most likely impact your overall rankings. And as B2C states:
"From an SEO viewpoint, the difference between “social media” and “web” will begin to become indistinct."
There are debates as to whether or not social shares impact your actual content rankings. Indisputable however, are the increase in rankings that results from clicks and engagement that these re-shares can bring.
It seems as Google also makes a special exception for current events. Today for example, there is a lot of buzz going on about Obama's possible decision to close Guantanamo Bay. Look what happens when we typed that into the search bar:
Recent tweets appear near the top of the results. What does this mean for content? Well, we surmise that when it comes to social, Google rewards current relevancy.
Kissmetrics points out that the content you share on social also has an affect on your profile rankings. When you type in Nike in the Google search bar for example, some of the top results are social media accounts:
Social Media as a Search Engine
Something else we need to consider about Social Media's impact on SEO are its search capabilities. The second largest search engine in the world isn't Bing, it's YouTube. Mark Zuckerberg has also been quoted as wanting to compete directly with Google in the search engine game by claiming it has more data than its competitor and can therefore provide a more customizable experience.
This announcement was made several years ago, so you might be wondering why you haven't seen much from the social media giant. That's because according to Zuckerberg, this roll out will take around ten years (we're talking 2023!) If you read Zuckerberg's speech, it definitely sounds like he plans for his search engine to be intuitive and tailored to each unique user. Facebook will undoubtedly try and tap into its user data which means guess what—how relevant your content is to people on Facebook will likely play a role in how Facebook decides to show it in its search engine rankings.
We are no Professor Trelawney (and 7 years away is still a long ways a way!) but let's just say, we have a feeling that what you do today will impact how you are viewed by social media search engines in the future.
Some pundits argue that SEO is dying because social media is taking over in terms of engagement. Yes, this might be true in terms of general news and entertainment—but when it comes to value drive (educational) content, you're not going to sign into a social network and just hope that someone is talking about that specific topic. Moreover, you want to compare it with other quality articles and try and get a well rounded look at something.
Want to know how long to bake a pie? Want to know how learn Spanish? Chances are you won't be perusing social media for your answers.
Google is finally learning how to read a page organically. This doesn't negate the importance of keywords, but it does mean that keyword stuffing is not only unnecessary, but it might also be perilous to your efforts. This is good news not only for content marketers, but the web as a whole.
Undoubtedly, many marketers will still do their best to stuff the heck out of their articles with repetitive keywords. Don't do it. Not only will that decrease the quality of your content, you can be penalized for what's called "over-optimization".
Over-optimization can happen for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most important rule to remember is to not overdue it with anchor text. Anchor text is still good, but too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing.
Kissmetrics has a great guide on how to avoid this crucial SEO error and what you can do to make sure your anchor text is relevant without crossing that unforgiving over-optimization line.
Niche, niche, niche! Search Engine Watch states that niche topics with very specific and detailed information will become the new norm. This means fluff-based articles will not cut the mustard. This has been a standard practice for smaller companies hoping to get clicks in less competitive searches for a while now, but look for it to continue into 2016.
Make sure to use the Google Keyword Tool to search out long tail keywords. After you find one you like, type it into the search bar and scroll down to the bottom. You'll see a list of related searches. Try and include these in your article to avoid keyword stuffing and to show Google that you're providing relevant and robust content.
Length of content will continue to play a role in 2017 as it has in previous years. Google has increasingly preferred longer form content. According to a serpIQ study, the highest performing content averages over 2,300 words. This is a reaction to an obvious desire for meatier and more meaningful content on Google's part. Take advantage of this factor by analyzing topics from many angles—it sounds simple but if you get stuck, remember to include the who, what, when, where, and why of any topic you include.
No one knows with 100% certainty all of the nuances that Google implements into their search engine ranking system, but we can get pretty damn close if we take advantage of the people who have dedicated time and resources to studying this phenomenon.
The "wild west" days of SEO might well be over, in its place a more sophisticated and nuanced version. Yes, mastering SEO is harder, but it also makes the internet a better place for the user. If you take away anything from this article let it not be a specific tactic, let it be an idealogy—make robust and quality content optimized for mobile.