Last year, I wrote about five SEO trends you needed to know in 2016. Plenty of things in the SEO industry have stayed the same since I made those predictions (e.g., mobile optimization is still all-important, responsive Web design is still essential to ranking well, and keyword rankings are still important), but much has changed, too.
In this article, I walk you through five of the hottest SEO trends that you can expect to see more of in 2017.
1. Rank Tracking
2017 is going to bring rank tracking back to the forefront. Yes, you read that right.
Rank tracking is almost as old as the world's first search engine, and tracking the impact of your on-site and off-site changes via your rankings is just good business at this point. But it's also gotten a lot harder to track your ranking accurately because of increased personalization of search results and the rise of semantic search.
Fortunately, as Google's algorithm improves, so does our ability to track it. The most sophisticated tools, including Rank Tracker, can deliver unbiased data that accounts for personalized search results and semantic queries, as well as track ranking in different locales and by platform (mobile vs. desktop).
All that data is essential for gauging which pages bring you the most traffic, understanding causality between traffic and sales, and measuring exactly how your SEO efforts influence your rankings.
Keyword rank tracking may not be new, but it's as important as ever. We simply need to change with the times and build smarter tools that can cope with Google's emphasis on semantic search.
Speaking of semantic search, Google's RankBrain has been having a huge impact on SEO in 2016 because it has forced specialists to think past single keyword phrase optimization. In other words, we've been challenged to optimize for what our users are really searching for (i.e., what they "mean") when they perform a search, as opposed to optimizing for the word-for-word query.
In 2017, you can expect AI systems like RankBrain to get even smarter and become more crucial than ever to the ranking process. So how do you create content that AIs will rank higher?
- Start with research. Log in to your Google AdWords Keyword Planner and collect a whole list of keywords you want to target.
- Complement your research with whatever Google's "related searches" results turns up when you enter your keyword.
- Start building organic content around these topics, such as blog posts that incorporate some of the keywords you've gathered.
The goal of this exercise is not to stuff keywords, it's to build resources that other people will want to click on and read. Even if you can't fit all of your keywords into your article, building a resource that is useful for your readers and addresses their key pain points is essential.
3. Voice Search
Voice search is on the rise, especially among millennials, and we'll see that trend continue into 2017. Virtual assistants (think Siri, Cortana, and Google Now) are being used daily instead of text search; in fact, earlier this year, Google confirmed that 20% of all mobile queries are voice searches.
SEO for voice search is a bit like trying backward engineering: You need to think like the average phone user, drop chic buzzwords, and optimize for simple search queries. Here are some of my tips and tricks when optimizing for voice search:
- Reread the manual. Pretend you just bought your phone, and you're discovering every feature it has to offer. Try out whatever Google, Cortana, or Siri recommends you search for first.
- Listen to your customers. Literally. Listen to how customers describe your business. Do they describe your building as a landmark? Are you the go-to destination if they want the "nearest [insert service you offer]." Start optimizing for natural phrases that your customers ask.
- Don't forget humor. What's more American than asking Siri where to find the nearest Starbucks? It's asking "her" 201 silly questions. Funny lists like that go viral; hopefully, they'll teach you something about how people use voice search.
In optimizing for voice search, don't forget how important mobile and local optimization are to the mobile experience. You want to optimize all of those aspects of your website so that your business ranks among the top voice search results.
4. Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
When Google's AMP program hit the ground running back in February, it seemed to catch many SEO experts unprepared. In fact, our research showed that by April only 75% of SEO specialists had heard of AMP and only 23% were optimizing for it... despite the fact that almost half (49%) of our respondents said they believe it would have a significant impact on ranking.
It's been almost a year since AMP's launch, and it's safe to say that it's here to stay. Yes, it will probably evolve, but it would be foolish to keep ignoring it after Google's Adam Greenberg said "Google now links to AMP pages in all its search results, which shows the project is now pretty central to the company's plans."
To begin optimizing for Google AMP...
- Install the AMP WordPress plugin.
- Validate AMP pages in Google Search Console (Search Appearance > Accelerated Mobile Pages).
- Enable AMP tracking in Google Analytics.
5. SEO Beyond Google
The modern SEO industry has tunnel vision where Google is concerned. When you read SEO articles (including this one!) that talk about improving page speed or optimizing for mobile, you can, and usually should, append each statement with a silent "for Google." After all, Google searches account for 64% of desktop searches, so why bother optimizing for other platforms?
As it turns out, there are a few compelling reasons to practice good SEO beyond Google:
- One-third of your audience isn't on Google. Yahoo and Bing account for 33.6% of desktop searches, which means you're missing a huge portion of your target audience if you optimize only for Google. Plus, since Yahoo became powered by Bing back in 2010, optimizing for one translates directly into optimizing for the other.
- Bing dominates search in certain industries. Even if you can sneeze at Bing's 33% market share, it's hard to ignore Bing and Yahoo if you're optimizing websites in the education, business and finance, automotive, telecommunications, or travel industries. Bing has up to 80% of the search market share in these industries.
- You win more conversions on Bing. Experts have observed exactly what our analysis shows: A well-optimized website has a higher conversion rate on Yahoo and Bing than Google. In our case, the difference was about 20% vs. 16.5%. If you're already optimized for all three search engines, check your own Google Analytics data, and you'll likely find similar results.
- SEO is easier. If the up-and-coming trend of semantic searching made your head spin... rejoice! Bing SEO calls for simple keyword matching, optimized anchors, and good-old-fashioned link building. Bing is open about its ranking factors, so you don't have to waste time and money guessing which elements will have an impact on your SERPs.
What All Those Trends Have in Common
Anything that makes your customers' lives easier or more convenient is on the rise; that's the big takeaway here. Every one of these buzzworthy trends makes the user experience more enjoyable—by allowing hands-free search (voice search), finding their preferences more easily (personalization), or accessing content more quickly (Google AMP).
These trends also focus heavily on the mobile user experience (UX). Mobile search is still on the rise, and Google confirmed back in 2015 that UX is a ranking factor. So make sure to SEO focus your efforts on the mobile experience, and you'll be well prepared as we head into 2017.
What trends do you see on the horizon? Let me know in the comments below!