The Ultimate Guide to SEO in 2017: 45 Insiders on the Future of Search

For our third annu­al SEO trends post, we reached out to 45 search mar­ket­ing experts to get their takes on what is on the hori­zon.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 11 comments

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.

Itai Sadan, CEO of Duda

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., Google key­word plan­ner,, 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…

  1. 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 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 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.

  1. 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.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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