Search engine optimization is a polarizing topic: some love the technical challenge presented by SEO, and some break out in a cold sweat at the thought of trying to stay ahead of constantly-changing algorithms and ranking methodologies.
Love it or hate it, we know you know that SEO is a crucial piece of your marketing strategy. And doing it well means more than just increasing traffic to your site — it means increasing qualified traffic. The goal of SEO, after all, is driving traffic to your site via organic search. That’s a task that’ll make even veteran digital marketers wring their hands and clutch their pearls, so no judgment if you’re breaking a sweat.
SEO strategy for anxious marketers
We’re here to help. If SEO strategy is at the top of your “worry list” for 2018, here are some insights on seven important topics that will fortify you with knowledge and – hopefully – ease your mind.
1. Mobile: savvy searchers are on the move
Remember when it was “the year of mobile” for five years running? Me too. I’m glad it’s something we can think of fondly… although we can’t move on just yet. In 2017, there were close to 197 million people in the United States alone who used their mobile devices to perform searches, accounting for 53% of all organic search visits — and as we consider all of the connected devices that will impact search volume, it isn’t going down any time soon. Keep an eye on mobile trends to ensure you’re not missing a beat.
What we may not have foreseen when we first started talking about mobile search, though, is how it would have an intersectional impact on the marketing world. For example, in 2015 Google reported that 65% of smartphone users looked for the most relevant information regardless of the company providing the information when searching on their mobile devices. The number may be a few years old, but the underlying fact remains: searchers are using mobile devices not only to access, but to assess the quality of content — with much less weight being given to name recognition of the source. There’s a big “ah-ha” moment for me here: marketers have an opportunity to prove their value to a potential customer before customers even touch your product or experience your service.
Big mobile takeaway: Nothing exists in a vacuum when it comes to SEO. Quality execution and credibility matter, but the way we measure those qualities has evolved over time. No longer is content in bulk enough. It must serve a purpose and engage with the end user.
2. Voice search: users are voicing their questions
Oh voice search, you’re so tricky. With Google cards dictating what voice searchers hear, you’ve got a chance, albeit a slim one, to be THE answer.
There’s a lot of overlap in the way we can interpret statistics about voice search: one way of looking at it examines using voice as a way to replace typing out a search into an engine, while another looks at the more complex interactions between humans and AI/smart technology (more on that further on down the page). What we can say, objectively, are two things:
- More people than ever are talking to their home assistants for all kinds of reasons — smart speaker sales grew by 103% last year.
- Despite the widespread use of voice search, it still freaks marketers out. 23% of marketers reported search as the technology they felt “most unprepared to deal with” in 2018.
If you’re in the camp that feels still flummoxed by voice search and its implications, consider why users might prefer it and think about how that informs your voice strategy. Although recent statistics around user motivation are scarce, we can glean insight from a 2015 survey that reported on the multiple reasons that global mobile users access voice search. The results included the following:
- 43% said it was faster than typing
- 42% said they could do it while driving or were otherwise unable to type
- 38% said it was more fun
At the end of the day, people think voice search is cool. It makes things more convenient, and it makes us feel like we’re living in an episode of The Jetsons. Combine that with the fact that the way people search is changing — 50% of queries consist of four words or more, and 8% of queries are now phrased as questions — and it’s clear that voice search is as relevant a concern for SEO now as it ever was.
Big voice takeaway: People are asking questions. You should be answering them. Be sure your content is designed to answer critical questions your market is asking, in order to build credibility and have a better chance at being “THE ANSWER” on one of the home assistants.
3. Social: the dotted line to SEO
For some time, it’s been the official position that social metrics do not have a direct impact on rankings. But there’s a strong “between the lines” subtext that goes along with that understanding: social shares don’t count as individual links, but sites with higher social signals do tend to rank higher. Last year, Search Engine Journal cited a Searchmetrics 2016 Rebooting Ranking Factors White Paper on the presumed correlation: “The top-ranked websites in Google’s rankings displays vastly more social signals than all other pages…. This is primarily due to the overlap between brand websites performing strongly in social networks and being allocated top positions by Google.” I believe that organic social matters, and Point It includes it in the client recommendations we offer in site assessments.
Even if the official position of engines is that social traffic doesn’t impact search rankings, it does impact the larger user experience. If they like your message and the kinds of content you produce, they’re likely to share it. These kinds of touches build credibility and an opportunity for engaged community, which means you’ll more likely end up with more branded searches and maybe, just maybe, more organic traffic.
Big social takeaway: Never think of your strategy in terms of either/or when it comes to digital marketing efforts. Remember when we said that nothing exists in a vacuum? That especially goes for SEO and social.
4. Localization is getting real for businesses of all sizes
We’ve established the that mobile devices are enormous players in the search world — but localization adds another dimension to that fact. It’s an often-cited (if older) statistic that 88% of “near me” searches are done on a mobile phone, and in 2017 Google reported a 150% increase in search for local places with the “near me” qualifier (over comparable searches that did not include those words). We’ve been banging the localization drum for a while, but it bears repeating: mobile and local searches go hand in hand. Combine these facts with Google’s local updates, and if you are not locally optimized, you are missing out!
What does that mean for businesses operating at the local level? A lot, actually, mostly having to do with turning searchers into buyers.
- 72% of consumers who perform a local search visit a store within 5 miles.
- 85% of consumer engagement takes place on local pages — even for brands with a national presence.
- 2% of consumers typically travel 20 minutes or less to shop for everyday purchases.
It’s become more critical than ever to make localization an SEO priority by making your business easy to find and easy to engage with on a local, personal level.
Big localization takeaway: Whether you have a local or national brand presence, showing up in local search results is critical to financial success.
5. Content still matters — but that’s not the whole story
A basic look at content stats will tell you that longer content (in the sweet spot between 1,000 and 2,000 words) returns the best ranked results. And the numbers validate the need for quality content creation: websites with blog content have 434% more search engine-indexed pages than those that don’t publish.
But lumping all forms of content in together doesn’t tell the whole story: some content performs better than others when it comes to link building, and still others perform better with different age groups. Here are a few things you should keep in mind the next time someone says “content matters”:
- In a poll of more than 600 SEO experts, 70% reported that data- and research-driven content was most efficient for link building, followed by 66% touting the power of video.
- In the same poll, only 56% of experts felt webinars were an effective way to build links.
- When asked about their preferred types of content, consumers 55 or older show a strong preference for news article-type content, with 59%, while 65% of consumers 18-24 years old want to see more video content.
Big content takeaway: It’s no longer enough to say “content matters.” While this may seem like a “no-duh” type of moment for some, we’re still seeing people miss the mark here. For best results, take your audience into consideration when deciding what kind of long form content you invest in. It’s not really about how MUCH content your create, but WHY you create it and WHAT it does to assist the user.
6. Artificial Intelligence and SEO
What’s up with artificial intelligence?
No seriously, we asked you first.
Everyone seems to know AI is “a thing,” but hard information about user behavior and how to create an AI-specific approach still seems to be taking shape. So while definitive “best practice” information is scarce, we can give you some statistics to chew on while we all watch what happens next in the AI space.
- 57% of business buyers will depend on companies to anticipate their needs.
- By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with companies without interacting with a human.
- How marketers are reacting: 34% of professional marketers feel unprepared to tackle the challenges of AI in 2018, and only 3% consider themselves experts in the space.
All signs point back to clarity of customer profile and exceptional usability. If you know your customer, you know what they need and you can anticipate their needs. Since you know your customer so well, the usability of your site and the quality of their content will also emerge as a key differentiator. Oh, and if this topic is stressing you out, take heart: no one is predicting that AI is the end-all-be-all to marketers. It’s just a way to free people up to do more insight-driven strategy work. Which is good news for everyone, really.
A final note: AI is getting better at determining the context and relevance of content on pages, and that is affecting ranking. To put it casually: keyword density ain’t what it used to be; quality matters more now than ever. Also, words are no longer the only kind of content being crawled for relevance. Search engines are rapidly improving at knowing what images, videos, and audio clips are about, so all forms of content must now be optimized.
Big AI takeaway: The real next step for marketers is to carefully revisit your personas, customer profiles, and their journey (or journeys). As much as AI tools can do, they still require basic input that directs them to your best customer. Ask yourself: what questions are customers asking, how are they interacting with your brand, and how you can improve that experience with things like chat bots and suggested topics on your web properties.
7. Emerging technology: a final thought to ease your mind
Just to make sure we’re clear, let’s put it in writing: Google still dominates the market in search, with around 3.5 billion daily searches and nearly 75% of global searches in 2017. That kind of volume and power can be anxiety-inducing for anyone working in SEO — it’s easy to worry that you’ll never be able to keep up, let alone keep ahead.
If you start to get stressed out about which new technologies you’ll need to adopt (or adapt to) next, take comfort in the fact that Google usually gives its users indicators of what lies just over the horizon. When the Accelerated Mobile Pages format (AMP) was introduced, it was merely a tool that helped web pages load faster. Now, however, there is speculation that Google may be pushing toward mobile-only, standalone AMP content. While this eventuality remains theoretical for the moment, it’s unlikely that anyone would be shocked to see it become a reality, since Google gave the industry time to adjust to the concept before making it a requirement. AMP is just one example of how, by paying attention to options for early adoption, marketers can stay current with emerging trends and technology — and avoid the worry that comes with feeling left behind.
Big Emerging Technology takeaway: Look to the early adopters of new, optional technologies to give you an idea of what may soon become a non-optional industry standard.
To sum up
Successful SEO takes work and patience. Much like getting regular exercise, it offers benefits that may not be immediately apparent — but you’ll certainly notice what doesn’t happen if you do nothing. It’s like sitting on the couch with weights next to you: you can’t look at them and build muscle. You actually have to pick them up.
Fascinated? Overwhelmed? Somewhere in between? Never fear! The experts at Point It can help make your SEO efforts more effective (and less daunting). Reach out and start a conversation with us today. If you’d like to know more about how we’ve helped our clients unravel the complexities of SEO, check out this case study.