Guest post from Keith Randolph
Search engine optimization has been a massive focus for online website and businesses since the dawn of websites like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. As these platforms continue to evolve, the rules that govern how and why websites rank above others are constantly changing. Every algorithm update from Google sends ripples through the SEO industry.
Today we’re going to look at 11 different ways that SEO is changing. These trends will define how websites seek to rank higher and more frequently in search engine results. By understanding these rules now, website owners can start tailoring their practices to meet these upcoming SEO standards.
11 Ways The Rules of SEO are Changing (And How to Adapt)
Trends in the SEO industry and ranking factors show us how the rules are changing, and it’s important that we adapt as these new things comes to light. Below are 11 different ways that SEO is shifting in new directions and how you can adapt and rise above as the rules change around you.
1. Engagement metrics are key to your site ranking
While SEO practices have often focused on hard facts like keywords and high-quality content, these things alone are not enough to rank in 2016. There needs to be evidence that your users are engaging with your content. More importantly, you need to demonstrate that people are finding value in your website.
To understand this, we need to look at several different metrics that you should be keeping a close eye on:
- Traffic from organic search
- Time on site
- Bounce rate
- Page views
All of these can be tracked with a tool like Google Analytics, but they show how people are engaging with your content. Google also looks at these metrics to see how useful your content is to users and rank your site accordingly. This is already being shown in studies on user behavior as a ranking signal.
2. Google increases focus on the user experience
Google at the end of the day is a service, and those who use it are essentially customers. For this reason, Google has been focusing more and more on the overall user experience. Results should ideally be tailored to the subject, and the user’s search intent.
Ultimately, this tells us that our websites and our content should be created with the user in mind. All of this begins when you’re setting up a website. At this point, you should start thinking about user experience throughout your design elements and content layout.
Here are some things to consider:
- Accessibility for people who are color blind, hard of hearing, and other disabilities so everyone can access your website.
- Understand your audience and their needs through surveys, analytics, and by creating buyer personas.
- Focus on creating valuable content that identifies and solves problems your users are having. Focus on keywords with intent and motivation behind them.
3. Make sure you build natural and varied backlinks
Building links is a practice that stretches all the way back to the first days of SEO. That being said, it’s changed immensely. When websites started earning links that were spammy, just to rise in the rankings, it became more important to build these links instead of finding quick and easy ways to get them.
Today, Google looks at links like digital letters of recommendation. If your website has a lot of links pointing to it, then it shows Google that users find your content useful enough to recommend it to their readers. That’s huge, but it can be a double-edged sword if you try to game the system.
Penalties will be swiftly delivered to those who try to buy links or build them from sources that aren’t relevant to your niche or topic. To ensure that your backlink profile is natural and varied, follow these steps:
- Use varied types of anchor text in your links. Using generic text like “click here” doesn’t provide enough information or incentive for the reader to click. Similarly, constantly using keyword-rich anchor text will look spammy to Google and risk compromising your backlink profile by earning you a penalty.
- Choose sites that have various levels of Pagerank and DA. This is also done for the purpose of creating a backlink profile that doesn’t look like spam to Google. The biggest takeaway when it comes to your backlinks, is to keep things balanced.
- Earn links to multiple pages on your site or blog. All of your backlinks should not be pointing to one single page. They should be spread out across your content which will showcase the full value of your website.
- Mix doFollow and noFollow links for variety. This final tip is important because it contributes to a natural profile. While noFollow links don’t contribute to your SEO, they still send traffic. In the interest of balance, it’s alright to have a mixture of these two types of links.
These tips will ensure your links make sense from a user perspective and that they are natural in Google’s eyes.
4. Local SEO for becomes a must-have for Physical Businesses
If you have a physical business or address for your storefront, then your website must be actively practicing local SEO. This variation on traditional SEO has been gaining a lot of attention as Google is seeing more and more users searching for local businesses in their area.
It also helps that 80% of local searches on mobile phones result in conversions. As more and more businesses are seeking to make their mark in the local search results, the competition is becoming fiercer for those who aren’t actively pursuing local SEO.
Here’s how you can start making your mark in the local SEO world if you have a physical business:
- Make sure that your NAP (Name, address, phone number) are present on every page of your website and utilize org markup.
- Create and complete a Google My Business This includes filling out all information, uploading images, and asking customers to write reviews.
- Target keywords that include your location (i.e: “Car repair in [state, city name])
- Ensure your business is accurately listed in local directories.
- Use the same local keywords in your title tags and meta descriptions
- A strong focus on standard SEO practices.
5. Focus on Mobile Users
Mobile internet usage has been on the rise for some time now, and Google has most certainly taken notice. There was a Google algorithm update in April of 2015 that brought a new focus on mobile users. It was this update that began the rise of mobile optimized websites.
If you’re uncertain about your site’s mobile optimization, be sure to check using Google’s free tool for this exact purpose. You can easily achieve a mobile responsive site through the use of mobile-focused themes if you’re using the WordPress platform. If you’re not using WordPress, no worries. There are a few ways to make your site mobile-friendly:
- Create a mobile version of your website – This can be done using conversion platforms like bMobilized or Dudamobile and represents a quick way to get your site on the mobile bandwagon.
- Implement Responsive design – If you have a designer, or the experience yourself, you can modify the style sheets for your website to become mobile responsive. This will allow the pages to adapt to the size of the screen they are displaying on. This is the most advanced option.
One thing is certain: Mobile isn’t going anywhere, and you should ensure the user experience for these users is as strong or stronger than desktop visitors. Everything should fit on the screen without the need for stretching or horizontal scrolling.
6. Focus on thematic relevance
The term thematic relevance refers to the overall cohesiveness of your content. How does your content fit together? If you focus on topics that are relevant to your overall approach, you can establish thematic relevance by being the authority on your chosen niche. While many sites rank higher because of their age and DA (domain authority), younger websites can gain an edge by considering this element of their content.
This topic came up as a result of a document Google released in 2015. Among other things, the document included the Search Quality Guidelines. The takeaway here is the mention of how supplementary pages are an important factor in determining the overall authority of a website on a given topic. Supplementary pages refer to the posts and content you have that adds additional value and insight into the topic of your website. Let’s say you’re writing about laptops. Your supplementary pages could go into specific topics like manufacturers, hardware, batteries, and so on.
Things like organic traffic and keywords can be overpowered by a strong demonstration of content that fully explores the topic at hand. Essentially, you can beat out your competition if you focus on relevant and long-form content. If your content has a high level of thematically relevant topics, then you’re bound to succeed more again your competition in terms of SEO.
7. Website speed matters
We know that a website’s speed is indeed a ranking factor, but speed also strongly affects your conversions and your results as well. A study done by Kissmetrics showed that 47% of users expect a website to load in 2 seconds or less. Furthermore, 40% of users will abandon it entirely if it takes more than three seconds to load.
You can test the speed of your website by using free tools like Pingdom that help you understand where you stand and how to improve your website loading speed. As internet becomes more advanced, this will continue to be an important factor for both rankings and the user experience.
8. You need more unique content and varied content formats
Content on the internet comes in a number of different forms, and those numbers are only growing with time. Today, written content needs to do more than ever to stand out. Long form content of 2,000 words or more that is well-organized is a great start. Diving deep into your topic and taking a granular approach will help solidify the thematic relevance of your site.
From there, you should expand your efforts with other types of unique content:
- Videos and live streams
- Interactive content
- Virtual reality
As technology grows, more types of content become available, and it brings with it a need to diversify your own work so you can stand out in the crowd.
9. Website security
Your website’s security benefits both yourself and your SEO. Google has said in the past that your site’s security, particularly HTTPS encryption, is a ranking factor. Keeping your website secure will also build trust with your visitors, especially if you’re an eCommerce site.
You can increase your security through a number of different factors:
- Choose a strong username and password with numbers, special characters, phrases, etc.
- Install a security plugin
- Purchase an SSL certificate from your hosting provider
- Limit the number of login attempts
- Implement 2-factor authentication
- Keep all your software updated
- Consistently backup your entire website
- Use anti-virus software to scan your website
10. Content Promotion
Promoting your content on social media is a great way to gain new exposure and growth for your brand. While social media in and of itself isn’t a ranking factor, Google is looking at it more and more for information on how useful your content is for visitors and followers.
Here are some of the ways content marketing helps boost your SEO in today’s world and into the future:
- Social Signals – activity on your social media channels shows Google that your content is useful.
- Earned backlinks – these are achieved when people naturally link to your content because they saw it on social media.
- Increased traffic from social media channels – this results in additional ranking signals as people arrive and engage with your content
11. Keyword Research Still Matters
Keywords were once the full extent of SEO, but these days you don’t hear about them as much as you used to. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter, however. Google still looks at keywords, but these days it looks beyond the simple meaning of the word and instead looks at the searcher’s intent when they used it.
The placement of your keywords also matters. The way your keywords fit together and their semantic distance from one another is now taken into account. In addition, single keywords are no longer viable. You should instead target strings or phrases known as long-tail keywords. These target more specific niches and audiences where competition is less fierce.
SEO is an incredibly dynamic industry that requires you to always be on your toes. By keeping these changing rules in mind, you can stay on top of the shifting landscape. If you’re looking for tactical tips on how to improve your website ranking in 2017, check out this comprehensive guide from Single Grain: Effective SEO Techniques that Work in 2017.
How do you stay on top of today’s SEO trends? Let us know in the comments!
Keith Randolph is an SEO consultant with over a decade of experience. He specializes in helping businesses spot the opportunities and upcoming changes in the field of SEO.