Without a steady source of leads or customers your business will not succeed. Many businesses use paid advertising, social media, referrals, or pay a premium for a “great” location to generate sales. However, there is a free stream of leads that a lot of businesses see as a mystery and has a huge impact on the success of any business, the art of ranking on the top of the organic search results, search engine optimization (SEO). With SEO, webpages with the right “secret sauce”, are served on top of Google (and many other search engines). This gives the website a better chance of being read by its target market by providing a path into a sales funnel.
Despite SEO being a constant consideration in digital marketing, it still has evolved over time, and the changes it brings also decide the success of a company. As a business owner it’s worth knowing what these trends are because these keep digital marketers up at night, help owners gain more leads, and give them an edge over other entrepreneurs.
AI-First SEO Approach
Experts have predicted that big data AI technology will be the focus of over $61 billion worth of funding by most brands by 2025 (Fagella, 2015). We still have a long way to go before then, but AI is still a game changer in SEO today. For instance, Google Analytics and AdWords (soon to become Google Ads (July 24,2018)) make use of artificial intelligence to improve ad targeting and to get performance insights. Google also relies on RankBrain to analyze content to give better organic results that work to answer the “how and why people search” then use that information to serve the most relevant results to future users.
What does artificial intelligence mean to business owners? Or why the heck should we care about it in search rankings?
With AI, your ranking in the search results or how much you pay for PPC is directly influenced by big data learning AND more importantly something you or your marketing agency has to adapt to. Frankly, tailoring your site to respond to AI could help your search ranking but did you really think it was going to be that easy? The AI system can’t easily be gamed (we doubt that any exploits will stay that way for long) but rather it is something that helps push quality content to the top. In layman’s terms, posting spun blog posts (content that is only changed in semantics but not in originality) or utilizing questionable linking strategies will catch up to you eventually. This also means that business owners need to be mindful of the companies they hire to improve rankings. What does that mean for search? Do we only have to cater to a program?
Optimizing Your Site For Voice Search
Most searches in 2016, over 40% adult user searches, were done via voice search, and this trend has steadily increased through 2017. With the accuracy of voice technology passing the 95% threshold means that more searches stay within a normal human vocabulary. Since most voice searches are questions, the best keywords to use in web content are actual sentences, instead of phrases. Keywords should also be long-tail (a fancy term for longer search phrases “think like a customer would”). Digital marketers respond to this trend by posting the questions and answers on the same page. The trick is to give users instant results.
However, readability for the consumer is going to play a big role in voice search. With more conversational questions, any answer has to get to the point quickly but also support a conversational style. Being the best answer verses being good enough is the difference between a site visitor or crickets. We are predicting that more voice users will only be served the best answer instead of getting a ten pack of search results. This is especially true due to the rise of home-based units such as Alexa.
The trend we have seen is more searcher focused results getting the top organic spots over content with a lot of backlinks. What do we mean by this? If you are searching for a service then service related links are shown, a product then more product sites.
Hasn’t this always been the case? No, in the past, backlinks (domains that include a hyperlink back to a website) were key to ranking. Why do you think every web design company threw a footer link on a website they made or why there are backlinks for sale on Fiver when you search for SEO.
The concept of pure linkless ranking wasn’t a viable strategy until recently (and still a hot button issue among the SEO community). A linkless search ranking strategy focuses on the quality of the website first (Content, inter site linking, page structure, technical SEO, user experience, and quality calls to action) before any attempt at link building begins. Then any link building is focused on quality over quantity. Now it is possible to rank with fewer links instead of thousands (don’t get us wrong the big dogs are not going down without a fight). With voice, now is the time for new businesses to start to take more of the search rankings or old businesses to adapt. Voice is opening the door to more user focused, and frankly better content in exchange for search rankings.
Interesting Topics SEO Trends
2018 is ushering interesting and relevant topics and starting to push keywords aside. Not that keywords and phrases have become useless but users now also search for topics instead of just keywords. Google’s algorithm responds to this trend and serves sites that best answer past similar topic queries (remember AI). Meaning you don’t have list every keyword or exact phrase to be eligible for the first page. However, to build content pieces that include more than one focus but stay under a topic have a better chance to rank for more terms. Words that would naturally be associated under a topic would be considered for a searcher’s inquiry as relevant.
One way for digital marketers and online entrepreneurs to provide meaningful content is to write advice, reviews, and how-to articles. Content can also be sorted out into different themes. Keywords are still relevant, but only because they make searching for sites and content easier. That said, Google Trends, Google Keyword planner, Spfu, SEMRush, and Keyword Explorer remain indispensable tools for the digital marketer, to name only a few.
Over the years mobile devices have become more functional with their multiple features. Not only are they used to call and text, but now they are mainly used to browse the Internet and download mobile apps. This is also the perfect opportunity to make websites responsive to mobile devices. Responsive designed websites are optimized to provide a great user experience on desktops/ laptops, from Androids to iPads. InVision provides 11 powerful examples of responsive web design, which you can check out and apply to your own website.
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Now you can also serve mobile optimized versions of your website through the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Page) project. AMP is tailored more to static content and sites that don’t serve mobile responsive (or load slowly). In a nutshell it strips down your site of extra fluff to load instantly (near instantly) and serve the /amp version. Google has pushed AMP heavily for years because they want all websites to load fast on mobile for better user experience and rank sites that tailor to mobile. This Mobilegeddon was slated to happen a few times (made a few of us SEOs sound tin hat like “it’s coming we swear”) but recently Google’s mobile first page speed was rolled out (July 9th, 2018) making it a significant ranking factor. That means that the slowest sites have some updating to do.
Desktop Site Speed
We talked about mobile speed, desktop speed is still a huge ranking factor. While mobile is dominating the internet usage 56% of online time (our handy infographic). We still see conversion rates being higher on desktop for E-commerce (easier to view multiple items at once) than mobile (few exceptions: single sales and social). Google places quick-loading sites on top of the search index, just as it promised in 2010. Users likewise prefer sites that load faster. A website should launch in 2 seconds or less. Otherwise, there’s a huge chance for users to leave the page. Worse, they might never return. To improve page load times, pages need optimization. Images should be the right pixel size and format (a common issue we see is a 3000 x 3000 px file in a 150 x 150 px image post or PNG file as a photo instead of a logo), server compression enabled, HTML, CCS, and Jscript magnification (getting rid of the non functional code, notes, white space), to name a few but these free website speed test tools or ours (the mobile speed report) will tell you what you need to do.
More Video Content
Video content is more important than ever, this being more accessible to users than images and blogs. (We know you may rather listen to this post over reading it.) Instead of reading a long text on how to make crepes, users go to YouTube and look for a tutorial video. YouTube is considered as the second largest search engine (let’s ignore the fact Google owns them), and digital marketers can use that knowledge to their advantage.
Users like to watch personalize and contextual web content. With the attention span of the average adult lowering, that means video has the power to hold customer attention longer. Search engines have included videos in the top results as well as rewarding sites that give quality content that include video (that do not slow the page). If you are the creator of the video then you control over optimizing both traffic sources. Creating compelling and entertaining videos is a different topic altogether, but having some definitely makes webpages more SEO-friendly. Learn 13 SEO tips for videos from experts here.
Position Zero at the top of results in the featured snippets section, they start before the rest of the search results show up. Users get most information from Position Zero, where the answers they need are at their fingertips. When users see the information they need on the first page – and on top of – the Google search, they likely will stop scanning the other results. They also have your result to click on as they scroll down. The great thing about Position Zero is you don’t have to be number one get featured (but it doesn’t hurt). The priority of any SEO expert is to: Get to Position Zero and they do that by providing ready answers to who, what, where, and why.
A shorter URL is more readable and good ones are easier to remember. Of course, users can copy and paste URLs, but some mobile devices make it difficult to do so. URLs that contain at least one keyword are also SEO-friendly (but not as important as they used to be but for the user it does help make it relevant). If possible, URLs should contain few, if none, numbers and alt characters.
Here are some of our go to URL Shorteners, most are free.
- Bitly.com (The paid version allows you to brand your URLS.)
- Yourls.org (self hosted options that you can get close to Bitly without the huge monthly price tag if you have some development knowledge.)
- PrettyLinks.com (WordPress)
If the URL is Shortened will it hurt my own site’s SEO?
No. They still hold SEO value to your site due to the nature of how most shorteners use 301 redirects to move traffic from your tiny URL to your main site. This means that the pagerank flows to the destination site. Due to the sharable nature of a shortened link, the likelihood of earning social shares and brand mentions as well as quality links back to your site significantly increases.
You can also use URL shorteners for affiliate links. For those who utilize more blog, content, influencer, or affiliate marketing strategies these shorterners pay you per impressions.
Some of the highest paying URL shorteners are:
- Petty Link
***Disclaimer*** We do not endorse or have used any of the paying URL shorteners (some clients have used them with success).
The reason we have not is because a 3rd party ad is shown to the customer before they are directed to your deal or funnel. For affiliate bloggers, marketers, or influencers these may still provide some value. Since you can post and have them shared across many channels while still getting revenue from views can add another passive income stream. However, just remember that the end goal of any affiliate marketing campaign is to generate a sale. Do you really want to trade-off not being able to control what your potential customer sees and if they forget your offer?
Studying a competition’s site design, affiliate links, and content give marketers an edge in SEO. There is a need to provide content that hasn’t been written about yet or under served content. Users will also appreciate it when a website has unique content that match their preferences and provide them a relevant online experience. When we approach a content-gap analysis, we look at Google trends and Google’s keyword planner (just sign up for adwords (Google Ads)). We also use at tools such as SEMRush and SPYfu.com, and some ones we have internally. We are building a comprehensive guide on content but in the meantime here is a short guide on how to perform a basic one yourself.
A Fluid Site Architecture
Users enjoy their online browsing experience when they seamlessly move through a website. Thus, site architecture and navigation should be kept simple. Users shouldn’t be left guessing what to do next as they search a page. Effective calls to action and site links help increase sales while helping to build a solid interlinking structure that help drive your visitors through your site.
A fluid site architecture likewise helps search engines index the pages on the website. Site crawlers should also easily navigate the web page when you keep your end-user in mind.
Fixed Technical Issues
Nothing disappoints users much than seeing broken links or 404 errors on your site. With the help of a detailed SEO audit, a properly trained SEO specialist or consultant can fix technical issues such as slow loading pages, thin content, redirecting pages, and broken links. They can also fix more advanced issues such as incorrectly installed SSL or CDN, hacker database injections and improperly managed redirects.
A complete SEO audit is completed to improve a website’s SEO campaign. It’s best to do this every quarter, or every time a website is catering to a new client or target market.
Every SEO Audit has 9 basic steps:
- Determining the website/company’s strategic goals.
- Analyzing the quality of keywords. Are they specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound (SMART)?
- Analyzing the competition.
- Conducting a technical analysis.
- Analyzing each page level, such as conducting Copyscape checks, META descriptions, and Titles.
- Analyzing content (i.e. excessive ads, grammar mistakes, too many occurrences of your keyword, off topic posts from your focus keyword, spammy comments).
- Improving user experience, including return visitors, exit pages, and goal completions.
- Identifying strengths and weaknesses in external and internal link profiles.
- Checking citations and untapped directories.
Longer Existing Pages
Backlinko published a study in 2016 that yielded how longer content has the likelihood of getting a higher ranking. Content writers can easily extend 1200-word posts to 2,000 words. This also means that content can be extended instead of made from scratch. Because existing pages already have a readership, it would be easier to keep them by updating published content. Adding an interactive table of contents also enables the user to go directly to the information they are looking for or interests them. Meaning you can rank for more terms while improving customer navigation and experience.
SEO trends are rapidly changing with new updates seemly happen weekly. It’s important that digital marketers are up for the challenge and adapt quickly to these new developments. It’s not enough that marketers understand the basics of SEO; they must also know how to tinker with the sites they work on and check analytics data regularly to make sure that the right customer actions are happening. It is not enough to create a site with content because if you don’t convert you won’t pay the bills.
We would love to hear your feedback in the comments and continue the discussion.