The SEO industry – and marketing overall, really – has no shortage of buzzwords. And as we kick off a new year, the odds are mobile-first and AMP will likely remain important phrases in the search marketing lexicon.
But for our third annual SEO trends post, we reached out to 45 search marketing experts to get their takes on what else they see on the horizon. Perhaps not surprisingly, they see changes in content, as well as increased focus on intent. And as content from big brands is featured more prominently in search results, one SEO recommended focusing on building brand affinity if smaller brands want to stay in the game, too.
With voice search and connected devices taking a more prominent role in our lives, the way consumers search is on the verge of profound change, which, in turn, has huge implications for our industry as well.
And no surprise here either – machine learning and augmented reality are expected to play bigger roles in 2017 – with maybe even some live video search results or 3D websites. But, at the very least, expect to see more visual SEO, too.
Their responses follow in full.
Simon Heseltine, Global SEO Business Lead at HPE
Brands will grow traffic by doing the same thing they should be doing every year if they want to grow — by investing in efforts to do so. As Google makes its (almost daily) algorithm changes, they need to have someone on top of it, looking to see what could, and should, be done in order to help move their pages as high on the SERPs as they can. For example: If you’ve not implemented AMP, look to see if that makes sense for you, if you’ve not looked into PWA [Progressive Web Apps], look to see if that’s a solution that can positively impact your traffic numbers. If your brand doesn’t have a mobile solution and/or hasn’t implemented schema markup on your pages, then you shouldn’t wonder why you’re not gaining traffic – it’ll be because your competition has been working on and implementing what you should have been implementing.
Voice search is already taking off, with Cortana, Siri, Alexa, Google Now, etc. The adoption rate will continue to increase, and then optimizing becomes more about being the #1 result, rather than just being near the top of page one.
In October, Google announced its mobile first change to its main index. According to Google, it will be a more subtle change, barely noticeable to the average user. However, whether it will or not remains to be seen. The recent redesign to the desktop interface shows that Google is moving more towards the look and feel of the mobile version. As usual, there’ll be further changes that Google will make that marketers will either complain about and then work on implementing, or complain about while implementing.
Ryan Jones, Manager of Search Strategy and Analytics at SapientNitro
I think we’re going to continue to see SEO merge with marketing. We’ve seen user experience factors play a huge role in SEO and I expect that to continue. We’re going to keep moving from just the most relevant content to the most relevant “experience” – because that’s what users want. We’ll talk a lot about mobile-first and AMP in the new year, but if you haven’t already done these things you’re behind. We’re also seeing a paradigm shift in how people search. The “why” of search is still the same. People are looking to accomplish a task or “do” something — but the “how” is slowly shifting away from typing words into a box. We’re seeing voice search, but we’re also seeing search power the Internet of Things. It won’t be long until my fridge searches for food that I’m out of and automatically places an order for me.
Tony Edward, Senior SEO Manager at Elite SEM
HTTPS will grow in significance. Google will continue to push sites to move to HTTPS and they will most likely make it more appealing to do so by eliminating their own roadblocks and increasing the ranking benefit.
Google’s Mobile First Index Update will be huge as mobile search results will no longer be powered by the desktop algorithm. Expect rankings to fluctuate significantly at the beginning and then stabilize in the months after.
Featured Snippets in Google Search will continue to increase and this will dovetail with the growth in conversational search.
Larry Kim, Chief Technology Officer at Wordstream
Over the last year, Google quietly rolled out a bunch of algorithm updates that made their search rankings much more based on user engagement metrics like CTR and dwell time than ever before. We know that the search listings that tend to get the highest CTRs and task completion rates (i.e. the sites that benefit the most from these changes) are the brands we’re most familiar with. These big brands who were already doing reasonably well in SEO are now doing even better because people click and buy from the companies they know and love and now this positive user engagement is being rewarded with more prominent organic search rankings. That’s great news for big brands. But it’s just a bummer for the smaller companies that were trying to use SEO to become that big brand. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the trend here is definitely favoring the bigger, more established brands over the lesser-known sites. As a result, I think you need to really think more about how to build brand affinity with your target audience before they search for stuff so that there’s a higher chance that they’ll positively engage with your search listings and content.
Duane Forrester, Vice President of Organic Search Operations at Bruce Clay
Schema will take on a greater importance as more is done on the mobile side with “trusted,” i.e., marked-up content.
Voice search is the beginning of a sea change. Folks are thinking of voice search when really they should be focused on answers via mobile devices. As in Cortana or Siri speaking answers to queries out loud. Exactly HOW you get credit in a voice search scenario remains to be fully explored. Maybe your domain is read as the source? Maybe a bookmark is dropped into Chrome for you for later perusing (or a new tab opened)?
We’re going to wear out “voice search” and “AI” in 2017, with some opting for “machine learning,” but essentially carrying on the same conversations. I wonder if SEOs understand how fast machine learning can advance.
We’ll see more examples of Google (and Bing) rolling out “solutions” powered by machine learning (getting ahead of that curve right now!) where we’ll be able to look back over 6+ months and realize the baseline changed well before it was announced to the industry.
Local will take on increased prominence as businesses start to realize how much location matters to people who are largely using mobile devices. The local listings in Google are just about due to flip to all paid, which will continue the trend of stacking paid listings across the top of all SERPs, effectively pushing organic down the page. This will help train a new generation of search users to trust paid placements more.
Many in the industry will simply stop talking about mobile. Because it’ll all BE mobile and given that’ll be the majority of focus, effort, usage and results, it makes more sense to single out desktop as the outlier. Yup, if you’re not mobile now, say goodbye to your market share.
Keyword research will take more hits this year, with many tools becoming less useful (from the engines) and third party tools living under more restrictions for accessing API-sourced data. In any event, we should be making the direction change to focusing on the customer journey and intentions and relating content to the steps a customer will take next, rather than on “keyword X gets Y number of queries each month.” That model becomes less relevant as voice search takes people from a SERP to simply answering the question.
Dixon Jones, Marketing Director at Majestic
I’ve decided that I could not care less about any more mobile mumbo jumbo. I get that Google’s going to mess around with their algorithm, but if your site is already responsive and (like us) most of your users are desktop based, then I think you’ve covered most of the bases. Everyone else can get worked up about it, but I’m just going to let that pass me by and concentrate on being the ONLY answer for certain queries. That’s because OK Google, Siri, Cortana and Alexa are not going away…and they only give ONE result…usually via voice.
So that’s really interesting. They are using entity search and machine learning to do this, but underneath all these acronyms, there’s something important going on…the search engines are turning unstructured data into structured data. We are helping them with schema, but that does not start to scratch the surface. Structured datasets are everywhere and my business needs to be in those structured data sets, so that – like links – we can give the search engines and algorithms signals from third party data sources that we are who we are…and because there can “be only one” we must demonstrate we are the best match.
That’s not easy. It’s not for a sound byte. But that’s where I am heading. Google bought Freebase for a huge sum, then buried it. That should say something, but it seems SEOs don’t have a clue where to start tackling the problem ahead. Well, I have a clue…but not yet a convincing path. By the end of 2017, I hope to have both.
Jose Truchado, SEO & SEM, Mobile, Digital Marketing and Ecommerce Consultant
When looking at how SEO will look in 2017, I see an extremely exciting year ahead, more than any probably in the past decade, and the reason why is because concepts that we have been talking about in the past few years will all make sense all of the sudden thanks to AI and personal assistants such as Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Google Home and the less sophisticated Siri and Cortana.
It’s not a secret that from the beginning Google has been trying to emulate and understand the complexity of the process humans follow when performing a search to deliver the best results possible, whether it’s in paid search, organic search, image search or nowadays in the Search Graph. AI is adding a new dimension to that process now both on the side of Google with its use of RankBrain and on the user’s side through a personal assistant.
Human behavior is complex and diverse and it’s always been a challenge for Google to predict how humans will react to a certain search result. It took a lot of trial and error and that’s why Google relied so much on human signals such as links that acted as human recommendations of a certain page. Thanks to the computing abilities of RankBrain, Google can now test many more variations of the results, varying the importance of the former ranking signals and getting more meaningful and accurate data, which will lead to more useful results regardless of the strength of those signals.
A link can now have a much bigger impact if RankBrain deems this link to be worth the ranking value. This is because it has not been able to test its impact in real time rather than the somewhat mathematical value of the link that was attributed to them until now and the same can be applied to new or improved content.
Personal assistants have been around for a few years now, but only in the latest part of 2016 were they truly…well, assisting. :) Just ask Alexa to play some music and she will try to play music that you’ll like and surprisingly she will (mostly) succeed with music that you may not have heard of but you will probably like. I can easily see people asking their personal assistants in the near future to book a trip that they’ll like in a specific time range and getting meaningful results. This means that voice search is going to be much more relevant than ever and being able to answer voice-search-type queries will be paramount to the success of any SEO campaign.
How do we prepare for that? Follow these tips and you will be on your path to SEO success.
- Listen to your user queries. Use Analytics, Search Console and study your competitors’ rankings to surface new ways of catering content for your users. (Tip: Don’t forget about your FAQs.)
- Make sure your site is mobile ready. We’ll see where the AMP project goes, but the fact that mobile users have long surpassed desktop is undeniable, so it only makes sense that Google will give preference to sites optimized for the majority of users as demonstrated in Mobilegeddon.
- Test your site’s speed and improve it accordingly. Slow and clunky sites have no room in the mobile world.
- Use markup language on your site. Make it easy for bots (and maybe personal assistants) to understand your site and allow them to display your results in new ways as demonstrated in Google’s recent inclusion of structured markup data in image results.
- Turn your link-building strategies into relationship-building strategies. Give them meaning and collaborate more than just for the pure purpose of getting a link, forgetting about the algorithmic signals of a link.
Joel Swaney, Director of SEO at Nina Hale
Brands will grow visibility and traffic in 2017 by creating and prioritizing content focused on consumers’ intent. Intent-driven SEO strategies will ensure that marketers are developing the right content for users and, in turn, search engines that continue to evolve. What does an intent-driven SEO strategy look like? Fully understanding your current and potential audiences – who they are, what their current behaviors look like, what their mindset is. With this information, you can dive into each audience’s journey, analyze how your content supports specific journey phases or actions, and create a plan to meet those needs with a holistic view of content (including videos and images).
Mobile-first was so 2016. As a proof point, Google recently announced that in 2017 the search engine will primarily use the mobile version of websites’ content to rank pages in its search results. If a brands’ website isn’t already focused on mobile, it will fall behind in the search results.
How do you know if you’re in the clear?
- Brands are okay if their sites are responsive/dynamic and their primary content and markup is equivalent across mobile and desktop.
- Brands are not okay and need to take action if their primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop.
Watch out for live video in the SERP. As user intent becomes increasingly important for search engines, new and exciting types of search results may continue to develop within the SERP. Google already features live score updates during major sporting events, indicating the opportunity for the search engine to display live video and further elevate the search experience. Google’s partnership with Twitter and Twitter’s partnership with the NFL could be a gateway into live video search results.
Search behavior is expanding beyond traditional search engines and into other channels like YouTube, Pinterest and Amazon. There may be a need to consider these channels at different points in the consumer journey, depending on the intent of the user (research vs. awareness vs. acquisition).
Brent Csutoras, CEO of Pixel Road Designs
I think we are in for some pretty big things for 2017, but a couple of specific advancements have me really excited.
Virtual reality has really been growing a lot over the last few years. While previously limited to real-life marketing events and a handful of basic apps, we are anticipating a large number of VR technology releases this year, which should make the technology more readily available to all consumers. Pokemon Go and other VR games really kicked off the buzz around VR, but look for augmented reality to join the mix and more business and social media interaction angles to solidify the technology and its usage in everyone’s daily life through the year.
Beacons are also going to be huge. Virtually every app idea I have seen or been pitched in the last year has included some form of beacon technology. You see it in Snapchat’s location-based covers and a ton of shopping/retail apps as well. I don’t think people will focus as much on the technology as the actual experience it provides, but look for its continued growth and impact in 2017.
Chris Hart, Head of Client Development at Linkdex
For 2016, my predictions were about some very tactical and strategic initiatives that brands and agencies needed to pay attention to, such as user experience, mobilization and apps, big data normalization and schema/markup.
2017 is going to be very different, however. Here’s how:
Chief Digital Officer: The CDO
In another predictive post, my focus is on the consolidation of channel activities under the corporate position of Chief Digital Officer, or the CDO. The end result of channel consolidation will be an integrated marketing team, where the interaction with the end user will be channel agnostic. This indifference to a channel will result in true marketing initiatives and stronger relationships with end users. Anyone talking about tips or tricks will be shown the door.
Machine Learning, AI And Voice Search Get Seats at the Big Kids’ Table
There is a lot of talk about machine learning and AI, especially with all of the focus on RankBrain in 2016. For some, these evolutions may sound like the rise of Skynet. For others, it is an opportunity to engage and reach a great many more people.
In December 2016, Google Translate, which made its debut in 2006, was converted to an AI-based system, which I feel will have an exponential impact on improvements to voice search, which, since 2014, has been on the rise. Don’t get me wrong, optimizing for such technologies as Echo, Google Home or Cortana will prove harder than for traditional SERPs, mostly because humans use different parts of their brains for written and oral communication. So where the keyboard helps to normalize data entry, there is no such normalization for oral communication.
Google Will Accelerate Shutting Down Free Data
For some time now, Google has been pulling back on the data it gives away for free. We all worked through Not Provided, and now we are seeing a significant reduction of Search Volume data. Look for further degradation of anything free.
Which brings me to…
Intent, Relevance and Authentic Relationships
While it is clear we are rushing headfirst into a marketing world where efficiencies are largely gained through accelerated data processing and automation, embracing data management, marketing automation and predictive analytic solutions is key to now required data-driven marketing strategies. The rub to the end marketer is that all of these tech-driven solutions will need to be programmed, run and monitored by humans that are in tune with their user counterparts. There is no “Ron Popeil Set It And Forget It” solution in our near future.
Brian Childs, SEO Success Manager at Moz
The big SEO trend to watch for is going to be voice-activated controllers.
Voice controllers such as Google Home and Alexa will continue the trend we have already seen with mobile devices and wearables. For the past few years, search engines have optimized for consistently smaller screens. Voice-activated controllers remove the screen altogether. That means that the goal of SEO changes from ranking high in a search result page to ranking #1 or not even existing.
We can see evidence of this trend in the ads most common on TV and in front of blockbuster movies over the holiday season. How many times did you see an ad for Google Home or Alexa? This is just the beginning of a trend that will eventually replace a significant portion of all searches. Voice controllers will permeate our workspaces, homes and vehicles.
Marketers will have to pay special attention to question format search terms and begin optimizing their content so it aligns with the common questions their target visitor asks. And keep in mind that a search query might not lead to a site visit. Figuring out how to infuse your brand with the answer will become a new challenge.
I recommend spending the time to learn about the markup required to show up in common universal results and put in the effort to research how your target visitor uses a voice controller. Watch what they do, ask questions about whether they have voice controllers in their offices, and pay attention to which universal results show up on the search pages for your target keywords.
Alyssa Esker, Senior SEO Supervisor at Edelman
Overall, I think we’re reaching a crossroads where SEO has been fairly keyword-driven and people just aren’t searching like that anymore – which you can even see reflected in the recently published Searchmetrics Ranking Factors Study in which their big conclusion was there really are no set ranking factors anymore because search has gotten so personal. I think you will see a big overreaction to this by people putting a heavy focus on mobile and nailing voice search and Accelerated Mobile Pages are going to become the new schematic mark up. I am going to SMX West in the spring and they already have one full session dedicated to AMP and several focused on voice search just to show how much the industry will begin to cling on them.
But what I think the industry will struggle with is focusing on the searcher, not the algorithms. SEO is going to have to become more like programmatic buying in that content will have to be incredibly tailored and directed to the target consumer at the right spot at the right time on the right device in the right way. Which is going to be very difficult because there are no guaranteed targeting parameters or impressions that can be secured with SEO, unlike ad buying.
With that in mind, those who are doing SEO right will focus on things like in-store search, which Ikea is doing by implementing image recognition for their products so that customers can search and find it in their aisles easily. There should also be renewed energy about beacon technology with Google’s Eddystone framework and other beacon technology where a customer doesn’t even have to physically search but is served searchable content just because of their proximity to a location.
Anthony De Guzman, SEO Manager at Saatchi & Saatchi
It’s a buzzword most of us are already sick of — but in 2017 the SEO trend will continue with mobile. With the mobile-friendly boost in 2015 and the mobile-first index in 2016, there will likely be one or two more mobile-related updates impacting a company’s SEO on the mobile channel. With Google AMP now in the picture and a history of Google testing slow labels for slow-loading mobile sites, Google will likely expand that to usability on mobile devices.
I predict a conversion-based SEO strategy trend for 2017 in mobile as that may strongly impact how mobile-friendly a site can be. There will likely be a trend of keyword research based solely on voice search – and how SEO specialists will integrate that with Schema and Knowledge Graph queries for mobile.
Patrick Whatman, Head of Content at Mention
The biggest changes to SEO in 2017 will concern where and how people search for information. First, we’re only going to see more voice command technology akin to the Amazon Echo. This means that more people will be searching verbally than ever before.
We’re also going to have to be aware of the different places people search for information online. That means optimizing for Facebook search, Medium and soon we’ll be searching within WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, too. Be aware of the changing ways that people use their phones and computers and try not to focus only on Google.
The biggest thing that SEOs can do to prepare for next year will be to continue to improve the experience for visitors. As search engine artificial intelligence evolves, it will reward sites that provide the best interaction to users. That might mean using more video, clickable features or chat tools. Whatever keeps users engaged on the page longer will see the best results.
Tom La Vecchia, President at X Factor Media
The Accelerated Mobile Pages project ensures that your site will need to be mobile friendly or it simply will not rank. Mobile or responsive sites are necessary, not a like-to-have, otherwise, your site will see a dramatic decrease in organic traffic.
Be mindful of UI and UX as Google looks deeper at your visitors’ experience with your site. Be sure to monitor the bounce rate and the number of pages visited, as well as return visitors.
Think local. Google now only shows 3 results for mobile search as well as desktop. This accounts for 20% of all search and has a 70% conversion rate from inquiry to action. Therefore it’s critical that you take your Google My Business listing seriously as you don’t want to miss out on this robust traffic.
Test your site for speed as this will also be a factor for search rankings as Google wants to ensure that visitors have access to your site and speedy load times will enhance usability.
No longer does a page have to have 600 to 1000 words — as long as it’s relevant and engaging it will rank.
Josh Patterson, Senior SEO Director at Jellyfish
With more and more of the buying cycle happening online, brands should look to expand the reaches of their content strategy to get in front of consumers higher up in the funnel. Subsequently, with search becoming more and more conversational, it is imperative brands build visibility and trust not only for short-tail queries but thematically relevant topics associated with their audience’s needs and pain points.
Things like “semantic search” and “machine learning” have begun to cause a panic among SEOs. Every day there’s a new piece on how to craft a strategy for search to cater to these new developments. However, at the end of the day, while algorithms are evolving, the core mission of search engines is not. Providing helpful and useful information to users should still be the core of any search strategy.
A more connected world is emerging before our eyes, and with that, the way in which people search is changing. Voice search, as well as search in general, is becoming more conversational and question-based, and we are seeing search engines begin to evolve to cater more so to this format. This is causing brands not only to have to develop content to remain visible for topics and queries relevant to their audiences but also craft this content in a fashion conducive to inclusion in new search features such as quick-answer boxes and more.
Brock Murray, COO of seoplus+
Mobile optimization can’t be ignored in 2017. Mobile optimization will need to be a priority for every business looking to remain competitive in 2017 and in the years to come.
With the majority of searches now happening on mobile devices, it is no surprise that Google has begun to evaluate websites based on their mobile compatibility and ease of use first and foremost. Google recently introduced its mobile-first index, which will primarily look at the mobile version of a website to gauge the relevance of landing pages to the user and rank pages in search results accordingly. Thus, if your site does not offer relevant content and a pleasing experience on mobile, you can expect your rankings to drop significantly – regardless of how your website appears on desktop or what value and depth it provides to a PC user.
This new update is just part of a string of recent changes prioritizing the mobile experience. From organic search results to paid ads, to the local 3 pack, to Google Maps – if your business’ online presence is not optimized for mobile users, you can expect to see a drastic drop in your performance, rankings, and clickthroughs. To create an experience optimized for mobile, you need to make sure your website is mobile-friendly and designed to be lean, with lightning-fast loading times. If you haven’t already implemented AMP versions of your pages, now is the time.
While the site must be lean, it must also convey your core messages in a clear and meaningful way so that users and Google bots alike understand the value the page is offering. In this vein, condensed content will be of the utmost importance in 2017. This means altering your content to be conveyed in easy-to-digest bites optimized for quick and clear viewing on mobile. This will mean web designers and content developers working together to deliver a unified message in innovative ways – think powerful headlines and CTAs, graphics, charts and infographics.
In 2017, it’s time to take a proactive approach and ensure your entire digital marketing strategy accounts not for where search once was, but where it is going.
Marcus Miller, Digital Marketing Strategist at Bowler Hat
2016 was an interesting year. Greater prominence of local results. More screen space dedicated to search ads. More search ads that themselves are bigger in size. Ads are also rolling out to local results. Search is maturing as a marketing channel and, as such, SEO for commercial keywords is becoming ever more competitive and ever more difficult. Competition from ads. Competition from big established players. In 2017, the majority of businesses are online, so it is a hustling and bustling marketplace and it can be a brutal environment for newcomers.
I think in many ways 2017 will be a continuation of what we have seen in 2016. The big win for organic search will continue to be via content marketing. The development of tactical content pieces that help get businesses in front of their potential customers a little higher up the funnel is a critical component to winning the hearts and minds of customers in the battlefield of organic search. This needs to then be connected to other digital marketing tactics like lead generation, email marketing, remarketing etc. to help nurture those prospects ever closer to a sale. Likewise, a solid strategy to help turn browsers into buyers is essential — are you the best on price? Fastest to deliver? Have the best guarantee? Best service? What is your USP? Why would a customer buy from you?
My biggest prediction would be that the days of thinking about SEO as a single catchall digital marketing tactic are all but over. For businesses to win the digital marketing war, we have to consider strategy, SEO, SEM, social and content. Often this charge will start by developing tactical content pieces and then using paid and organic promotion to get that content in front of folks and then nurturing them along a sales funnel.
SEO is still critically important and getting in front of users as they browse search engines will still be what drives the largest volume of website traffic, but businesses can’t simply rely on ranking for a handful of commercial terms.
Further to that, there are a lot of moving parts and mobile will continue to grow, voice search will continue to grow and suggestions from tools like Google Assistant will continue to integrate search and suggestions into your life.
Ben Hocking, SEO Director at Be Found Online
AMP Will Become a Must for All Sites
In February 2016, when Google officially launched the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, it only made SEO sense for publishing sites, as it was limited to the Top Stories section. That didn’t last long. AMP became a part of the main Google SERPs by August and even recently made an appearance in Image search results.
Although Google has been adamant that having AMP pages won’t cause your rankings to improve, the unavoidable fact is that in almost every scenario, the AMP equivalent of a responsive page is going to dramatically outperform responsive web pages in load time. Users are always going to want things faster, so this ranking factor will never cease to be critical for SEO and your site’s success as a whole.
Voice Search Will Become a Big Deal
Let’s face it, when Siri came out with the iPhone 4S in 2011, it was a little ahead of its time. It felt awkward and was a novelty at best for most users. Fast forward to the 2016 holiday season and the massive success of the Amazon Echo has all the tech giants fully on board with their own smart speakers. Google has Home. Microsoft is working on its Cortana-based smart speaker. Expect a big boom in voice-related searches starting the day after Christmas, and continue throughout the rest of 2017. If you don’t believe me, simply Google, “Amazon Echo sales figures.”
Jonathan Allen, President of Longneck & Thunderfoot
In 2017, I predict that SEO will find that Google RankBrain is way more forgiving than we initially anticipated and an algorithm powered by artificial intelligence will actually improve our traditional white hat SEO skills and return the industry to core principles.
Practically speaking (and assuming there are no major changes to the Google Search Console), I think RankBrain means we’re going to see way more relevant incoming keyword data via Webmaster tools than we’ve ever seen before. This is because artificial intelligence is going to be able to do exponentially more tests to understand the original intent of the search query.
In turn, this is going to cause a much wider range (or longer tail) of keywords, phrases and story ideas emerging in our incoming search query data. This new data yield could massively enhance our understanding of what topical relevance means to Google, but, more importantly, will help us better understand the information needs of the markets we serve.
I think this is really good news for SEO software companies because the sheer power of AI to compute exponentially more queries than ever before is going to flood webmasters with ranking opportunities that were previously unknowable to them.
This will be a great thing to happen, but will simultaneously make it more complicated than ever to understand why these opportunities exist, as RankBrain will be able to make holistic assessments and draw seemingly intangible connections between a matrix of ranking factors that are influencing the search query result in tandem. In short, how RankBrain works won’t stand up to the scrutiny of typical single-issue SEO science experiments.
So, smart brands and businesses should look to invest in SEO solutions that empower them to conduct much more sophisticated tests that target a plethora of possible variables. However, the most successful investments in SEO software and services will be those that take a long-term view of the problem and plan to execute a fail fast strategy.
It’s counterintuitive, but my bet is that we’ll see that the results of many “failed” tests against core SEO hypotheses (such as link building, keyword optimization, site architecture, etc.), will ultimately pay off in a breakthrough moment where RankBrain suddenly recalculates your website’s search position to understand that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
Michael Bonfils, Managing Director at SEM International
When it comes to International SEO and content marketing, the focus for us in 2017 is on creating cultural content that focuses on specific segments of a customer journey but ALSO focuses on the psychographic behavior and motives behind that behavior to tailor more targeted content. For example, Joe is a powerful German executive, so based on his persona and the psychographic category he fits in, we are developing content that is tailored to not only Joe but also to the entire category of similar Joes who have similar traits. This means changing content to be shorter, but more proactive because we have already researched the behaviors of how they interact with content. So far, our tests have shown extremely favorable results by creating content that’s specific to motive and behavior on a global level. 99% of the content out there is just generic and not tailored to a persona category.
Hubert Southall, Associate Creative Director at SapientRazorfish Miami
So what’s the big focus for brand search marketing over the next 12 months? Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages.
Google launched AMP in February, and 10 months later, only news media was doing it well. This was to be expected. AMP is a natural fit for their business. For others, it was only really in the last quarter that brands started weaving AMP into their plans. 2017 is the year AMP explodes. We will see the new creative ways innovative brands make AMP work for them and this will get the attention of other brands on the sidelines that will want to get involved.
Steven Ray Marshall, Director of Search and Content Marketing
Backlinks are on their way out. Google’s recent announcement to no longer penalize sites for spammy links speaks volumes about its ability to identify quality sites with less focus on backlink weighting. This means backlinks are taking their rightful backseat to content relevance.
Refocusing searchable content marketing efforts away from spray-and-pray methodologies to actual revenue-generating strategies will be the new trend. Consistency around what’s used will be the mantra this year. Brands will have to begin mapping user intent to their content in smarter ways. This means we’ll start to see brand marketers and media outlets start to move towards greater standardization around keywords that are being placed more religiously in high quality, consumable content at all levels across all the marketing channels, not just in a brand’s own website.
Anna Lebedeva, Global Content and Public Relations Manager at SEMrush
I believe there will be two big SEO trends for 2017 – mobile-first and voice search.
Mobile-first is actually not a trend anymore. It is a prerequisite as Google has just made a second announcement about mobile-first and desktop crawling for 2017. This will create a big challenge for many websites since not all of them are mobile friendly. This change will lead to an additional focus on the technical elements of SEO, such as AMPs, page speed and others and it will also force you to pay more attention to your content. Your content will have to be designed for mobile devices. You will probably need to think about how to put more succinct content on your pages that will, at the same time, answer users’ questions and meet the demands of search algorithms.
We’ve all seen that search is moving more and more outside of the search box and becoming more personal. Thanks to the explosion of machine learning, voice search will continue to grow in popularity (20% of mobile queries are already voice searches) and it should become a true force in 2017. This will definitely change your keyword optimization strategy as you will need to think beyond text-based queries. People don’t speak the way they write. When using voice search, consumers expect direct answers, so keep this in mind as you develop your content strategy in 2017. Think about creating more conversational, personalized and local content. It will be more important than ever to know your audience in order to create highly targeted content to address conversational queries.
Ricardo Martinez, Founder of Perconvly
For 2017, Silo structure is going to become huge. Power pages are going to have a high impact on long content form instead of focusing so much on just producing content. 2017 will need to be directed towards producing high quality and highly shareable pieces of information that people essentially want to read or view. There are way too many people producing low-quality posts focusing on two or three broad keywords instead of doing in-depth research to get the most out of a post.
In 2017, people will also need to take a different approach towards social media and SEO to understand that each social media platform has its own voice and its own way of creating user generated content and therefore will need unique approaches directed towards the specific audience. What works on Facebook will not work 100% the same way on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest.
Most importantly, as e‑commerce grows, SEO will focus on the actual value delivered not only on the homepage but on product pages and category pages as well. Too many people focus on just their homepage ranking, but the majority of the value will come from non-brand terms on product pages.
Nicholas Rubright, Founder of Dozmia
I think in 2017, with artificial intelligence progressing further and Google using it to rank search results, the quality of the content itself will become more important, with a slight decrease in the value of outside variables like backlinks and social shares. As artificial intelligence improves, search engines will be able to better understand the content itself in a similar way to how a human would through the use of machine learning. What this means is that by writing awesome blog posts and creating in-depth, detailed content, smaller blogs and startups will be able to better compete with large publications.
This isn’t to say that external factors won’t influence rankings — they will, and I think the biggest influence in rankings will continue to be authority backlinks. However, as search engines become better at analyzing the content, the algorithms will weigh the content’s quality to a greater degree against other variables. I think in 2017, we will experience huge jumps in artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms in nearly every industry that’s heavily influenced by technological progression.
To summarize, in 2017, Google will become better at understanding your content, so if you want to win, create the best content.
Responsive web design will become more important than ever, but with a twist. Google’s switch to mobile indexing means web professionals will have to balance creating a mobile-friendly, conversion-focused experience with authoritative and comprehensive content. This could prove to be a bit of a challenge because text that isn’t well laid out on mobile can be a conversion killer.
The website design industry will head further down the mobile-friendly rabbit hole and Google will keep using its influence to push web designers to create better mobile user experiences.
HTTPS will continue to be pushed for increased security and it’s likely we’ll see this given more weight as a ranking factor.
There will be an increased importance of structured data (schema) within websites to help search engines drive ultra-personalized search results.
Chris Hornyak, Editor of the Content Factory
Based on both my own experiences and the latest data about which search ranking factors gained prominence in 2016, I think SEO is going to continue heading in the direction it has been for the last few years. That is to say, while proper formatting (H2 tags are more important than ever) and good linking strategies still matter, the most important thing is creating impressive content.
Yes, being an expert at keyword research is still crucial to success, but ultimately, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the most important thing is that you’re providing some sort of value to your visitors. It’s not enough just to get people to your site anymore — you have to keep them there and give them a good reason to trust you.
In an era where it seems like everyone is pumping out content, my advice to any marketer trying to get ahead in 2017 is simple: spend less time agonizing over learning SEO tricks and spend more time crafting content that provides value in a way that’s tonally different from your competitors.
Anvar Jamal Saifi, SEO Specialist at Badger Maps
2016 was a good year for SEO because Google rolled out its Penguin update, which won’t devalue the whole site but individual links. When Penguin first launched, it was punitive by nature. If your site was affected by Penguin, your entire site was demoted in search without clear explanation or instruction as to how to recover. The harshness of Penguin, combined with the misinformation surrounding the algorithm, created a negative environment and contentious relationships between business owners and Google.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a marketer, app company or a digital agency, one big challenge in 2017 will be to focus more on off-page SEO rather than on-page SEO to bring some quality backlinks. That is because of the Penguin update and as suggested by Google’s Gary Illyes. 2017 will make legitimate SEO companies and brands happy as they can now achieve great results in a short period of time as Penguin’s data is refreshed in real time. Changes will be visible much faster, typically taking effect shortly after we re-crawl and re-index a page. So, now you have more time to invest in other marketing areas, which can bring you more visibility, traffic, conversions, sales and profit.
We might see online businesses adopting new web technology standards such as AMP pages, rich snippets, rich cards and structured data. AMP is an extension of HTML built for performance. It helps decreasing page loading time, leading to a better overall SEO.
When you use structured data to mark up content, you help Google better understand its context for display in search and you achieve a better distribution of your content to users from search. Another feature that might get trendy is optimization of websites for voice search, local search and wearable devices. With these adoptions, we might have a high performance and a more relevant search experience in 2017.
Anas Baig, SEO Specialist at Edge Marketing
The world of SEO continues to change at lightning speed. Customer usage and expectations, not to mention Google’s algorithm updates, keep us marketers continuously making adjustments. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from the wonderful world of search engine optimization in the coming year.
Using a schema markup is becoming increasingly important with changing Google and user trends. It makes it easier for search engines to understand your site, thereby helping to ensure that it is displayed correctly.
Google has been increasing the number of characters allowed in some of the meta descriptions and titles. This trend can be a challenge for marketers to take advantage of because they have not been rolled out to all websites, nor has Google announced that they are permanent.
Personal branding is one of the online world’s secret weapons. People will try building relationships with influencers whose followers are relevant. Once they’ve built a successful relationship, their brand will be endorsed by that influencer, ultimately reaching millions of audience members in no time.
SEO in 2017 is likely to be just as surprising and exciting as it has been in the past. Brands need to use their time now, however, to start strengthening their sites for the trends of the future.
Andrew Meyer, SEO Team Lead at Seer Interactive
Google is moving closer and closer to an audience-first mentality with answer boxes, voice search and mobile-first. Brands will need to adjust to this mindset to continue to improve in 2017. Think about what your users want and need most and create the content that answers those questions, needs and desires. It’s not enough to simply build out product or service landing pages, but instead focus on the additional requirements a user will have when searching for that information and share it with them before they even ask for it.
Similar to how brands will need to shift to grow in 2017, the trends that are emerging are clearly focused on user-first and audience-first:
SEO is focused on getting users to your site, but it’s also important to review how users are interacting with your site and how their experience evolves. Focusing on CRO and UX to help increase conversion rates should also be a pivotal part of your digital marketing mix in 2017. This also aligns well with the audience-first mentality.
If you’re not already thinking about voice search, this is something on the horizon that will be important to keep an eye on. Boxes are the first step, so understanding how Google interprets and shares this information will be the basis for how voice search evolves.
Jason Dodge, Founder of Black Truck Media + Marketing
If brands have not done so, focusing attention on the mobile-friendliness of their sites is going to be key. While it has been of much discussion since the proverbial Mobilegeddon with Google’s mobile-friendly update of 2015, the notion is that more times than not, a user’s first experience with your brand online is going to be via a mobile device. At the end of the day, if a brand has not been considering its mobile user base and how they interact, consume and purchase, it could be missing out on valuable traffic.
Schema markup and methods of making it easier for a machine to interpret the data on their site is also important. Given the push for artificial intelligence and machine learning at the helm of Google search, implementing proper schema can aid a site in preparing for the future of search. While the fate of any algorithm change is unknown, it is clear that machine learning is the future and developing a method to help the machine get through your site, digest its content and render it an ideal candidate is certainly going to improve your odds in the long run.
An increase in the number of natural language searches, AKA voice-prompted search, is going to continue to increase and have an impact on the industry. With all the major tech players having their hands in the market for a more interconnected lifestyle, getting answers to questions becomes easier. While it still might be a touch too early to tell the impact this can have on SEO, if a brand’s products/services are more technical, requiring additional research and Q&A queries, we could see shifting strategies come into play.
In addition, we can connect the dots between an increasing population of searchers on mobile devices, location-based queries and natural language use. Voice-prompted searches tend to ask questions in a more conversational approach. SEOs and digital strategists should be prepared for this.
Chris Gregory, Managing Partner at Dagmar Marketing
Companies that don’t focus on improving site speed will suffer in 2017. Although it might seem like a good idea to load up your homepage with videos and fancy sliders, cool and cute don’t convert. People don’t have the patience to wait for pages to load, so simple and clean are better choices. Everyone should test their site speeds. Although 85 is the recommended speed, if you’ve got a score of 80 or more, that’s a good sign. If you’ve got something less, you should prioritize the site speed recommendations provided.
And, when you’re making strategic plans for your company’s future, put voice search on your agenda. Voice search will be a disrupter – probably not in 2017, but relatively soon. When a prospect searches by voice, for example, he or she will only get one result. That means marketing departments will need to adjust their strategies. Plus, we’ll be going from the Pig Latin version of typed search to longtail voice search. Instead of simply matching keywords, marketers will need to solve for a query.
Kameron Jenkins, Director of Marketing Strategy at Scorpion
While Google continues to maintain that links and content are its top ranking factors, RankBrain is growing in importance. In fact, Google’s Andrey Lipattsev revealed earlier this year that RankBrain is third in importance on the list of most important ranking factors. Essentially, RankBrain aims to understand searchers’ questions by studying words in context, meaning it will change the rankings on many queries as it learns. The question you should be asking yourself is how to provide the best answer to searchers’ questions. If Internet marketers can crack that code, they’ll be positioned for success in 2017.
Another hot topic for SEO in 2017 is user engagement. Many believe that the future of SEO is less about backlinks and more about how well your site draws in searchers and keeps them there. A recent Google search rankings factors study released by Searchmetrics indicated that backlinks are a declining ranking signal. The importance of providing an exceptional user experience by optimizing for things like organic clickthrough rate, time on site and bounce rate will only increase as time goes on.
In 2017, expect to see an emphasis on long-form content that engages users and increases their time on site, lightning-fast pages taking up the top spots in search results, a continued emphasis on mobile usability now that more than half of all web browsing is done on mobile and results that look like they were written for you rather than search engines.
Dmytro Spilka, Head Wizard at Solvid
With the recent introduction of AMP and mobile-first indexing, we will be seeing more and more websites shifting their course towards the mobile-first web. As Google begins to prioritize mobile search results over the desktop, the change would lead to a massive deployment of AMP integration and increased attention towards mobile user experience.
Not to forget voice search, according to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, voice search accounts for 20% of all mobile searches, and with the recent release of Google Home and Amazon Echo, the percentage is only projected to rise. Hence, search marketers and SEOs would need to adapt and optimize their websites for the new, evolving search.
Ed Brancheau, CEO of Goozleology Digital Marketing
SE.LO.MO isn’t a new hip-hop star. It’s where SEO will be heading in 2017.
SE.LO.MO stands for Search Local Mobile and it will be critical as Google moves its index to mobile-first because websites are starting to get more and more local traffic from mobile devices.
Plus, as more and more people use voice search, SE.LO.MO will generate longer and more local queries, such as “Where can I get breakfast near the Hotel del Coronado?” And if you own a breakfast joint in Coronado and are not paying attention to SE.LO.MO, then you are going to lose customers.
Chris Long, SEO Manager at Go Fish Digital
As Google adds more and more components to the SERPs — Knowledge Panels, Rich Snippets, Map Results — SEOs will need to understand exactly how to analyze and influence each of these things to maximize their clients’ visibility. It’s not enough to know the ranking factors of the standard 10 blue links anymore.
The biggest trend I see on the horizon is more and more voice search coming into play. 20% of mobile queries are now voice search and I only see this number growing as the technology gets better and more affordable. This means SEOs should really start to prioritize optimizing for Answer Boxes. If I see a client that gets an Answer Box, it’s not unusual to see a CTR of over 50%.
Erez Kanaan, Digital Marketing Consultant
I really like the idea of 3D websites that offer a website with a complete virtual reality experience to the user. With the rising use of VR devices, users will be able to surf a brand’s website with VR glasses and interact with the brand and its products. Imagine you go to an ecommerce website and look at their products in 3D and just add it to your cart and checkout. You can approach a store employee and ask questions, and, as a whole, brands will be able to deliver an enhanced shopping experience that involves more senses.
Bill Rowland, SEO Director for Trinity Insight
As Google continues to focus on behavioral metrics to better assess quality, page speed will continue to be increasingly important and Accelerated Mobile Pages will be at the forefront. From the October 2015 AMP introduction to eBay’s July rollout of 8 million AMP pages and Google’s September announcement that AMP pages will receive “expanded exposure,” it’s clear that 2017 will be a watershed when combined with Google’s shift to Mobile First Indexing.
As a result, it will be critical that e‑commerce developers focus on designing pages that will perform well and merchants are willing to experiment with AMP on at least a portion of their sites. Google has already given developers a guide in developing accelerated mobile pages, but it’s up to online retailers to take a leap of faith to implement these changes.
Alex Bar, Owner of Third Temple Digital
In 2017, and further on as well, SEO will see changes and progress made in machine learning and natural language processing. Every major company is now investing in developing software that will be able to understand rather than recognize language. This means the current way of creating SEO content with web crawlers rather than customers in mind could soon be made obsolete as Google, Amazon and Bing are working heavily on turning their algorithms into something that will be able to understand the question and provide the answer rather than just recognize keywords and find the text with the most matches.
In 2017, we will have to take a long and hard look at the data to understand who the customers on the other end are and why they are coming rather than just taking a look at the most searched for words and phrases and repeating them a certain number of times throughout the text.
Another potential big trend, whose growth will also be made easier by natural language processing, is voice search. Even now when the technology is much more in the voice recognition rather than the voice understanding stage, around 20% of searches on mobile devices are voice searches. Add this to the fact more than 55% of users now use mobile devices rather than desktops to access the Internet and it comes as no surprise that soon we will be looking at what people are saying when looking for something as well. If the percentages do not look too compelling, this means that 230,000 voice searches happen every second. Given the appeal of voice searches and their “techiness,” these numbers are bound only to increase in the future.
Liraz Postan, Head of Global SEO and Digital Marketing at Outbrain
It will be important for brands in 2017 to keep abreast of trends and ensure that their content is relevant and current. If there’s a certain topic everyone is talking about, identify it and write about it.
Brands will also increase the efforts they put behind promoting their content — getting other websites to recommend their articles. How? They will earn links to their sites by becoming an authority and offering high-quality content. Bringing real value to their readers. Creating good content is not enough if no one can find it. Smart brands will make sure their content and SEO strategies overlap.
Navigation will also be high on the agenda of brands. Navigation is all about the user experience and it’s important that brands make sure their users can easily navigate through their sites. They’ll require some help from UX experts and developers, so it could take time. But a little patience will pay off in the end.
Measuring, analyzing and acting upon their success will also be key to producing strong growth metrics. A few things that brands should consider in 2017 are:
- Traffic: Use your analytics tools to make before/after comparisons in traffic. Measure all free traffic sources, not only organic search-driven traffic.
- Engagement: Measure your bounce rates. Install a heat-map and a click-map to see whether the content was relevant for your users. How much did they scroll? Did they click on several images/links? Did they subscribe to your blog/product after they read the content?
- Conversation: Create a conversation around your content—on your site and social channels and in related groups. Conversation = engagement = quality content
One of the biggest trends we’ll see in 2017 is businesses hiring actual experts to write their content. If their business is gaming, they will approach real gamers. If they are a B2B company, they’ll have marketing/business experts write about and for them. They know what users are interested in because they are the users. They don’t even need a list of keywords; it comes to them naturally. And, most important, they bring real value—useful information—to the audience with the content they produce.
Data will also continue to be important. Smart companies will use data from a range of sources (e.g. Answerthepublic.com, Google keyword planner, keyword.io, ubersuggest.io and others) in addition to internal business data to understand what they should be writing about: what their users are looking for in their product, including information that may be missing from their site. Once they have this information they will use it to address the needs and concerns of users through the content they produce.
Mark Churchill, Digital Marketing Manager at Wealth Club
The technical side of SEO is going to become much more important in 2017. Or rather – it already is, but SEOs are going to really cotton on this year, and it’ll change jobs.
Why? Several factors are driving this, but here are two of the most important…
- Things, not strings.
Search engines care about real world entities and the relationships between them. Until recently, they’ve had to join the dots themselves based on words and patterns. The shift to a “things not strings”-approach isn’t new – Google Knowledge Graph launched in 2012 – but linked data is now entering a rapid adoption phase and I think 2017 will be a tipping point.
This means YOU taking responsibility to help machines to surface your data in search. It’s going to become vital to know how to mark up data correctly and liaise with developers to get this done. Your pages, products, people etc. will need to include machine-readable formats like RDFa or, increasingly, JSON-LD, which looks like it is emerging as the winner.
If you’re in ecommerce or you’ve been running events, you’ll know how schema.org markup is already vital. In 2017, more categories will stampede towards the adoption of linked data. In my industry, we’re working on full recognition for financial products in schema.org. Eventually search queries such as “what’s the lowest rate American Express card” and “which investments have a historic yield over 6%” will provide actual products as answers, not just a list of web pages.
- Search without a SERP
SEOs are increasingly aware of the importance of “featured snippets” on the SERP. But what if the user never sees a SERP at all?
Voice search only got two mentions in last year’s predictions, but I bet a lot more will mention it this year. Instead of giving you a set of pages to click on, the search engine is looking to serve you the best answer to your voice query – and for your site to be the source, that means properly formatted, fully marked-up data.
As voice search ramps up in 2017 (through not just smartphones, but other connected devices, e.g. cars and AI-powered assistants), SEOs will realize that, just like with featured snippets, it means a shift from optimizing pages to optimizing for answers.
Alyssa Tyson, Digital Marketing Manager at Pan Communications
In 2017, we will see a shift towards a mobile-only strategy, versus the mobile-first strategy that has been buzzing for a few years. It has been a few years since brands without a mobile-friendly or responsive website first felt a hit in organic search traffic. Then in 2016, we saw the further integration of AMP, speeding up page load times for those on-the-go users.
We already understand the importance of engagement on social, within our content marketing, and even on our static website. Making a conscious effort to consider mobile engagement when planning website or content development will begin to separate brands from their competition.
With voice search becoming more popular from the development of Siri, Alexa and Cortana, among others, content marketers will need to ensure they are writing in a natural language and are developing content around more verbose and specific searches. To appear in voice searches or even in the #0 position, content marketers should strategize around popularly searched questions. The time is now to move away from the standard keyword strategies that have been popular in the past.
The bottom line is simple: to continue to grow organic traffic, brands need to consider their users’ overall search experience. An on-the-go audience will require quick load times and quick access to the information for which they’re searching. If SEOs and content marketers neglect these facts, they’ll miss out on a key portion of their audience.
Ken Wisnefski, CEO of WebiMax
AI, particularly Google’s, has been evolving at a rapid pace. And we keep hearing about its ability to glean meaning from images. I think SEO is poised to see a bit of a revolution in visual content. Just like considerations of how keywords rank in a Google search has absolutely changed the way people write, I think we are entering an era of more visual SEO where considerations of how Google’s AI perceives images will change what kinds of videos and images artists create, and what marketers choose to use.
Analisa Goldblatt, Marketing Manager at RealMassive
We’ll see smarter and compressed featured snippets — imagine never having to click on a search result, because the answer to your question is immediately given every time. We’re moving from “search” to just “ask.” No “searching” (by the original definition of the word) will be required.
Jess Herbine, Senior SEO Associate at Trinity Insight
I believe that technical SEO is on the verge of a renaissance. With so much information around the Web on how to optimize content for search engines, those with technical knowledge and skills will be at a distinct advantage in 2017. Google continues to promote its preference towards websites that migrate to HTTPS and continues to place an emphasis on making AMP more prominent within the search results and easier to monitor and implement.
I think that brands who remain on the cutting edge of these important innovations will be rewarded — if not because of their participation, then because they are the types of businesses who are diligent about maintaining good site health and providing an exemplary user experience.
The switch to mobile-first indexing may not shake up rankings at first, but SEOs will find that its permanence has lasting effects on daily operations and long-term business goals. This change will have a rippling effect that impacts many touch points: from website audits to monthly reports; site redesigns to site migrations; copy length and formatting to internal linking, and more.