5 Ways Your SEO Strategy MUST Evolve in 2017
What do Siri, food pictures and fake news have in common?
All three of these things are heavily influencing SEO strategy as we near the midway point of 2017. Many of the nuts and bolts of SEO haven't changed; links, keyword optimization and the other usual suspects still matter. Look at the big picture, though, and you'll see how smartphone usage, artificial intelligence and societal trends are touching every aspect of search engine marketing.
In this post, we'll review the top 5 SEO game changers that we've already seen in 2017. This isn't a list of tips to improve your website's SEO — rather, these are ongoing, seismic shifts that can guide your marketing strategy going forward.
Google's Mobile-First Index
More people search the Internet from mobile devices than on desktop PCs, but that isn't new. Mobile searches eclipsed desktop searches two years ago, and the gap continues to widen.
What's different though is that Google is going to prioritize mobile SEO over desktop SEO. Earlier this year, Google announced its mobile-first index, which crawls the mobile versions of websites rather than their desktop counterparts. Google only crawls desktop websites when mobile-friendly versions can't be found — and given the direction of today's SEO, those websites aren't likely to fare well on search engine results pages.
What does this mean for business owners and online marketers?
The good news is that if your website is built with a responsive design, then the roll-out of the mobile-first index shouldn't affect you. And if your site was built recently using WordPress, Joomla or another CMS, chances are good that it's already responsive. If your website isn't responsive, then you need to focus your optimization efforts on your mobile site. That might mean simplifying your menus, lengthening content or revising what shows "above the fold" on smartphone browsers. Basically, you must make your site as appealing and intuitive as possible for visitors using mobile devices. Your desktop site takes a back seat.
That said, don't neglect your desktop site! Although mobile SEO will earn you better search rankings, desktop visits are still significantly more likely to result in conversions, according to 2016 data from the Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly.
Rise of the Machines
At face value, machine learning has caused minimal movement in Google's search engine rankings. That said, the overall impact of machine learning couldn't be more profound.
Machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence that allows computer programs to evolve based on the automated analysis of data. Google's algorithm is still very much driven by humans, and Google officials have said this will remain the case indefinitely. However, the search engine giant uses machine learning to craft and test adjustments to its search algorithms. Google is literally taking its cues from more than 3.5 billion searches each day.
What this means is Google's algorithm is directly influenced by what actual web users want to see. Gone are the days of SEO being an ongoing mission to catch the attention of bots. Now, successful SEO is all about creating unique, relevant, useful websites in which real people can find value.
Voice Searches Becoming the Norm
Remember how we used to talk to our phones back in 2010? No? That's because we didn't.
Voice control was a somewhat unreliable gimmick of mobile phones until October 2011, when Apple introduced Siri and changed the market forever. Nowadays, Siri has company — including Bixby, Alexa and Google Assistant — and the technology is so commonplace that it's making a dent in SEO. According to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, roughly 20 percent of Google searches from Android smartphones in 2016 were voice searches.
These search queries are fundamentally different than traditional searches. Before, someone who had a broken toilet might have typed "toilet repair" into Google. Now, that same person using Google Assistant on a LG smartphone might ask, "how do I fix my clogged toilet?" or "why won't my toilet flush?" It's easy to see how voiced searches will continue to alter SEO content strategies over time.
Harsher Penalties for Being Misleading or Deceptive
In the wake of "fake news" furor from the 2016 presidential election, Google and Facebook are both taking steps to improve the truthfulness and reliability of their networks. Both tech giants are employing more human reviewers in an effort to improve the overall quality of online content distribution. Google even augmented its Autocomplete feature so that users can flag false or offensive results. Facebook also started tagging highly questionable stories as "disputed."
This isn't the first time that search providers have penalized websites that are thin or spammy. However, these steps give Web users tremendous new powers to target misleading websites. These new safeguards are here to stay. Business owners and marketers who are tempted to walk the line of truth and deception should consider themselves permanently on notice.
Review Sites Driving Conversions
Have you gotten around to registering your business on Yelp? If not, you should. A new Nielson study released in May indicates that Yelp does a better job of driving conversions than Google and Facebook! According to the study, 92 percent of people who use online review sites say they've made purchases after visiting Yelp. Also, compared to Nielson data from 2014, Yelp is driving those conversions significantly more quickly than before.
Compared to Google's search results, online review sites can engage consumers on much deeper levels. These sites have instant credibility with their user-generated reviews. But more importantly, these review sites offer pictures! Lots and lots of pictures. And what's more credible than a picture of that succulent filet with blue cheese sauce that you're thinking or ordering off the menu?
Online review sites tend to rank high in the search rankings. Also, many people just skip Google entirely and either go straight to these sites or download their mobile apps. Google might be the biggest player in SEO, but SEO is much bigger than Google.
Keep these five game-changing SEO trends in mind as you shape your marketing strategies from here on out. As more time passes, SEO is becoming less about satisfying Google and more about delivering the kinds of online experiences that people genuinely want. That's good for consumers and businesses alike. From a marketing standpoint, you simply need to remember your audience and evolve with how people interact with search platforms.
Want more tips to improve your search rankings? Click here to grab your copy of our Ultimate SEO Checklist.
Related story: 4 Ways Publishers Can Boost Mobile SEO
Phil is Founder and COO of Main Street ROI. Phil leads the company’s operations and is primary creator of Main Street ROI’s marketing training programs. He is an expert in search engine marketing, website analytics, and sales funnel optimization. Phil’s marketing thought leadership has been published on Forbes.com, Inc.com, MSN.com, and many other major business media outlets.
Phil earned his Master of Engineering Management degree from Thayer School of Engineering and Tuck School of Business and his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Engineering degrees from Dartmouth College. While attending Dartmouth, Phil started every game on the varsity football team as the defensive safety.