SEO sure isn’t what it used to be.
Long gone are the days of keyword stuffing and other black-hat tactics that Google cracked down on hard. But also long gone (or soon to be) are some of the more acceptable techniques that many marketers relied on to drive traffic.
Even in the last year alone, we’ve seen some big changes. Here’s our SEO summary for 2016 to help you think about where the industry is going:
Creation of the Mobile First Index
In the past, whenever Google needed to show mobile users search results, it pulled from the desktop version of the site.
This created all kinds of problems that didn’t produce the best search results. So Google introduced the mobile first index in the latter half of 2016.
Brands have to create a specific SEO strategy for ranking in this new mobile first index, starting with a dedicated mobile only website. Most of the rest of the SEO strategy is similar to the SEO strategy you have always used, but you do need to make sure that all your pages are optimized specifically for mobile.
Page load speed, content layout, formatting and more are all going to be very important on mobile.
Additional Options for Ranking
The main Google SERPs are not the only place for brands to appear in search results.
Google has numerous other results, such as the image and video bar, knowledge graph, rich cards, and social media carousels. It is important that brands are exploring all the ways that they can rank for their industry and to create strategies for each.
These options all support each other, so if you are ranking well in one area, you will rank better in another. Work to reinforce your positions throughout 2017.
Looking beyond Keywords
Keywords aren’t dead, as some SEOs have predicted, but they are significantly less important.
Google is looking less and less at keywords and more at overall topical relevance and authority on an entire site, not just a single page. Meanwhile, advanced technology is now available that allows you to look at user intent signals to get at what’s behind the keyword search.
For example, if someone is searching for kindergarten activities, they could be parents or teachers, and they could be looking to enrich language understanding or promote motor development. Looking at the user intent signals helps brands better understand exactly what these users want and give them the right content.
Expect more reliance on user intent signals and less on keywords in the next year and beyond.
Focus on Native Ads
Google has cracked down on pop-up ads in mobile and desktop sites (though especially in mobile), and users have cracked down on intrusive ads by installing ad blockers across their devices.
Brands have shifted to native ads to reach more of their audience while also preserving the user experience.
They are using tools like In-feed from CodeFuel to get the best placement for these native ads and to support their SEO efforts. In-feed relies on user intent signals to determine the right ads to deliver to the individual user, considering platform, page, timing and more. Advertisers make more of an impact with their content, and users are happier with their experience on site.
By creating a better user experience and delivering more relevant content, brands are able to improve their overall SEO and page ranking.
Improved Page Security
Page security has always been important to SEO, but Google prioritized it this year by declaring that it would boost sites that have the HTTPS protocol.
Switching to HTTPS signals to Google and visitors alike that your site offers quality content and is not designed to install malware or spread spam. It indicates that you have no intention to do these things yourselves and that you are committed to actively preventing it from others.
You can also improve page security by running regular scans for malware, by investing in a secure server, and by including safeguards like captcha codes for leaving comments and stringent password requirements for user registrations.
Improving page security will also save you a lot of headaches on the backend. You won’t have to worry about losing data or having your site design compromised.
If there is one thing you can always count on about SEO, it’s that it will always change. 2016 saw some large and small changes, and they were all for the improvement of the user experience. It’s important that you not only adjust your strategy to reflect these latest changes, but also that you continue to stay informed and to make changes as you go.
2017 will certainly see the continued evolution of SEO. We never know what new tools Google will introduce or when it will announce an algorithm update. Adopt a strategy of flexibility and change and you should be ok.