Another year is winding down, and it’s time to think about what we’ve learned about search and where we’ll be heading in the future. Most SEOs will agree that 2016 was interesting. With multiple ambiguous algorithm updates, the long-awaited launch of Penguin 4.0 and the announcement of a forthcoming separate mobile index (more on this later), there was plenty to keep us busy. The changes we saw in 2016 have laid the groundwork for some major trends that I believe will continue into 2017.
So, how can you stand apart from the pack and win at the SEO game in the coming year?
Foster More Engagement
According to the recently released Searchmetrics Google ranking factors study, the search giant is now tracking and paying attention to user signals like time on site and bounce rate. I believe the use of these as ranking signals speaks to Google’s interest in rewarding sites that provide an excellent user experience. In 2017, it will become more important for sites to load faster, provide answers quicker and encourage more engagement. That said, SEO teams and UX teams will need to work more closely than ever to ensure that their sites meet the needs of their customers. Consider load time, images, content layout and interactions.
Create More Relevant Content
The coming year will also call for a new approach to crafting content for your site. Keyword research will remain an important step in your SEO strategy, but you will have to look less at placing individual words on the page for the search engines’ sake and more at the big picture of your content as a whole. This is due in large part to the growth of machine learning through advances like Google’s RankBrain. As the search engines become better and better at understanding topics and relationships between words on their own, SEOs can focus more on providing content that is useful for and caters to the user and less on sending signals to the engines. Take an inventory of your site and your company’s services, then create a collection of content that markets to your key topics, rather than individual keywords.
Focus on Brand Building
Content amplification will remain an important part of marketing in 2017. After all, you’re spending valuable time creating content and working on your site, so you want to get in front of lots of eyes, right? This is an area where traditional marketing and SEO will go hand in hand in 2017. Invest energy in promoting your business. When you do, you’ll grow your community and create a larger pool of people that pay attention to your content. This means you're more likely to get high-value links to your site. While signs point to the waning strength of links as a ranking signal, they’re still important. So, interact with your community online, ask employees to network, share content and sponsor events. The hard work will pay off!
Make it Faster and Even More Mobile Friendly
This year saw even more emphasis, from Google in particular, on mobile. It’s not going anywhere. In fact, it’s only going to increase in importance next year. Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, launched in 2015, grew in popularity this year. Essentially, accelerated mobile pages (also known as AMP) are pages that load almost instantly on mobile devices. Originally launched for news articles on mobile devices, AMP will continue expanding to new forms of content in 2017. These pages are given prominent placement in Google’s mobile search results, so if you haven’t implemented them already, you may want to consider it next year.
Another major announcement from Google this year is the creation of a separate mobile index. As the index rolls out, the mobile version will be given priority and will be kept more up to date than the desktop index. While Google has said this won’t have a major impact on rankings, it is a move to further show the importance of mobile. If you have a responsive site, you’re good to go. No changes needed. However, if you have a separate mobile site, you will need to make sure that things are properly configured and that important content is on your mobile site so Google can crawl and rank it accordingly. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site (and you really should by now), don’t worry. Google can still crawl your desktop site just fine.
Wrapping it Up
Well, 2016 was certainly an exciting year for search, and I’m sure 2017 will be too. If you focus on your user experience, your brand, relevant content and mobile accessibility, you’ll be set up for success next year!