Last week, we explored what’s changing in search engine optimization. This week, in the final part of our series on SEO, we share what’s on the decline and what will always be relevant.
Longtail keywords and phrases
While keywords and phrases have been the mainstay of SEO since its beginning in the mid-1990s (meaning that content creators write using the most likely words or phrases with which people would search for something), search engines’ algorithms are becoming smarter all the time and don’t need to be told exactly, in long tail keywords, what content to latch onto.
An example of longtail keywords is “senior living communities in Michigan by the water with pool and fitness center” instead of, simply, “senior living communities,” which is an example of short tail keywords. Algorithms now better understand users’ language and intent, according to Ceralytics chief strategist Brandon Andersen: “This change means one medium tail keyword, and one piece of content, can rank for many longtail variants in a single piece of content.” But don’t throw the keywords baby out with the bathwater; keywords are still important to the whole of SEO when crafted with user intent and satisfaction in mind.
See “mobile-first indexing” from last week’s blog.
Search engine manipulation
As we’ve already touched on, some SEO writers have been involved in disingenuous practices (also called “black hat” techniques) in order to curry favor with the search engines that have now become wise to these tricks of the trade. Additional measures to thwart such activity include fake news algorithm updates, an attempt on Google’s part to make truthfulness in news a ranking factor. Google is especially motivated here, because of the criticism it has taken in earlier years for content farm clutter (lots of low-quality content generated to reap high SERP rankings) and its more recent publishing of “fake news.”
Guest blog posting may also be declining, as it too can be manipulated, and some SEO experts predict that Google will create an algorithm that goes after unscrupulous guest posting, too. While guest blogs that expand brand awareness and drive traffic because they’re valuable additions to owned media (content that is created by a brand and lives on its site) is certainly good SEO practice, some guests posts exist in an attempt to influence the rankings. In the words of digital marketing strategist Pratik Dholakiya, “The most vital piece of information from Google’s guidelines has always been the recommendation to ask yourself: ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?’”
WHAT WILL NEVER CHANGE
High-quality, user-friendly content
“User-friendly” is a phrase most commonly used to describe a machine or software program, for example, that is easy for the general public to operate. But in the case of SEO, it refers to content that has the end user in mind, not the company or brand generating it. As marketing/SEO and search engine professionals stress time and again, there is no way to consistently and sustainably get good SERP listings without truly committing to the consumer experience by creating quality, relevant, engaging content that meets a need or desire.
Whether it’s the best answer to a question, the most compelling dissemination of information, or a genuine, “goodwill” offering of humor, entertainment or inspiration, content must be created with Google’s guiding question in mind: “Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
We’d suggest one more question, too: “Am I really meeting my customers’ and prospects’ needs with this content, or am I only thinking about my bottom line?”
IVY’s team of experts can help you craft and share content that will engage audiences and earn notice from the search engines because it stands on its own merit as genuinely substantial, consumer-centric material. As much as SEO changes and keeps us scratching our heads, great content getting high marks is certain to stick around.
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Last week, we went over the basics of search engine optimization. This week, we share what’s changing.
WHAT’S COMING (or already here)
Searches from a mobile device surpassed those from a desktop three years ago. In fact, a BrightEdge study found that last year, 57 percent of traffic from its clients came from smartphones and tablets, and that percentage is increasing all the time. Quite simply, what mobile-first indexing means is that search engines will soon begin ranking websites based on their mobile versions first, because that’s how most people access the Internet.
What this means for marketers, according to SEO and marketing consultant Bridget Randolph, is that “the lack of a mobile-friendly experience could impact negatively on the rankings of a site, and a site with a better mobile experience would potentially receive a rankings boost even for searchers on a desktop.” Sites without responsive design (adapting desktop web content to mobile devices) could suffer in the search listings.
Voice searches, like the kind 55% of teens and 40% of adults conduct every day, also significantly affect SEO. That’s because Siri or Alexa (or whomever your digital assistant may be) most often reports from those sites with featured snippets, and only the best content earns featured snippets.
Have you noticed when you search for something on the web nowadays that a bordered paragraph of information on the subject shows up first? It looks something like this:
Featured snippets receive a “position 0” on the SERP because they come even before the coveted position 1. They are earned and (here’s the great news) have less to do with link metrics and more with content quality. Sites with content the search engines deem most able to answer users’ questions or meet their needs are the most likely candidates for featured snippets. Generally speaking, the tactics that increase opportunities for a position 0 are appropriate keywords that answer who, why, what, where and when as well as implied questions, such as “does,” “makes,” “costs,” etc. If you need a little inspiration, answerthepublic.com is a great resource that offers a list of questions most commonly asked about a certain topic.
Said Stephen Spencer, author of Search Engine Land and other books and material on SEO, “Surprisingly, it is not unheard of for URLs ranking on page two of the Google SERPS to get a “position 0” result” with a featured snippet.” Anticipating the right questions and providing clear, concise answers to them affects not only search engines, but, ultimately, consumers as well. And that should be the only goal of SEO
SERP feature bonanza!
Far beyond the “10 blue links” of Google past, moz.com identifies 16 features that commonly appear on Google SERPS. In addition to featured snippets are: Adwords (paid); In-Depth Article; Local Teaser Pack; Shopping Results; Knowledge Card; News Box; Site Links; Knowledge Panel; Related Questions; Tweet: Image Pack; Local Pack; Reviews; and Video. And there will certainly be more tomorrow, because Google is always working to be the best provider of information.
Increasingly, users don’t even have to go to an actual website to get the information they need; it’s all right there on the SERP. This is good for Google, but it’s also good for SEO writers because, for the most part, these features are earned, based on proximity to the searcher, reviews, and quality content that best answers consumers’ questions or provides the information they’re seeking.
More content creators and participants in conversations on social media are mentioning businesses or brands without including links to them, and search engines are increasingly using linkless backlinks (links to other sites) as ranking signals. This is primarily because unethical SEO practitioners were using backlinks to “suck up” to other brands, without a genuine intention to send consumers to the sites that best suit their needs.
Search engines caught on and are now rewarding linkless mentions, because they demonstrate natural engagement with a brand. Engagement enhances brand reputation, earned through quality, accurate, fresh content and robust social media activity. It can’t be “bought,” and the search engines know it. It’s kind of like a flower shop owner recommending a hair salon to someone without letting the salon owner know they’ve done so – they did it because they genuinely endorse the quality of the salon and not because they’re expecting a reciprocal favor.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
As with many things nowadays, AI is powering more aspects of SEO. While not without their flaws, AI algorithms can understand entity salience, semantic distance, and phrased-based indexing. All that boils down to is that AI is able to determine content relevance based on relationships between commonly associated words. For example, advanced algorithms can recognize that copy containing the words “jays” and “seed” is more apt to be about birds than sports. On the flip side, copy that includes “jays” and “hockey” is more likely to be about athletics.
Read Part III of our blog next week, when we’ll discuss what’s on the decline in SEO and what will always be relevant.
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.
SEO has been known to cause a fair amount of FOMO (fear of missing out) among marketers and content creators. That’s because there is constantly something new on the SEO horizon, and it can feel almost impossible to keep up. Ceralytics chief strategist Brandon Andersen calls SEO “an ever-changing monster that is both exciting and terrifying.”
Still…that’s no reason not to try to tame the SEO beast and share some of its latest (at least as of this writing) developments. So, here goes, from the basics on up. If you already know the basics, feel free to wait for Part II next week, when we will discuss what’s changing in SEO.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization is the process by which content creators attempt to increase the organic, or unpaid, visibility of their websites so that search engines will rank them higher on the SERPs (search engine results pages) that appear when users enter their search words. How able a website is to provide relevant answers or information affects where on the SERPs it will land. And because 92% of searchers click on sites with a page one position, landing there is paramount to SEO.
What is a search engine?
A search engine is essentially a software system that searches the Internet for information. When someone says, “Let’s Google it,” they’re referring to the search engine (Google, in this case, which is now as much a verb as a noun) that’s going to give them what they’re looking for. Google, YouTube (which merged with Google), Bing and Yahoo are well-known search engines, but there are several more out there crawling for information.
What is crawling?
While it’s all very technical, a search engine crawler (also called a spider or indexer) is a program or automated script (a list of commands that can be executed without user interaction) that methodically scours all the web pages on all the websites across the Internet to bring updated data to the various search engines. Search engines compete with one another to be the best provider of online information, which is why they’re so darn picky about their rankings.
How do search engines rank websites?
It’s a secret. Really. Search engines rank sites with algorithms that involve hundreds of different signals, but the developers behind those algorithms don’t want to – or have to – disclose their practices. This is primarily to prevent SEO manipulation, the deceitful and unethical practice of attempting to rank higher among search engines by stuffing content with superfluous keywords, backlinks, adjusting HTML attributes, or other measures that ultimately mislead consumers to sites that don’t really offer what they’re looking for.
Read Part II of our blog next week, when we’ll discuss what’s coming to SEO (or already here), what’s waning, and what will always be relevant.
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.