It’s no secret that the majority of web traffic today is driven by search engines. Google alone serves around 5 billion search queries every day, which translates to nearly 70,000 searches per second. Indeed, the use of search engines is so widespread that the vast majority of consumers start their purchase journeys on search engines and rely heavily on them to compare alternatives and inform the final purchase decision.
This should not come as a surprise if you’ve been following the digital landscape for the past decade. Most of us instantly turn to Google when faced with a purchase decision, or with any kind of question for that matter. In fact, Google has even entered our everyday language and become a verb, with the phrase “just Google it” now a generic expression accepted and used across language divides.
It’s safe to say that making sure your brand’s website is fully optimised to take advantage of the huge amount of search traffic is essential to achieving digital success. Basic Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques are common knowledge among marketers. Create content around relevant keywords, make sure the technical aspects of the website are in order, plug in some external links and hope for the best.
However, that’s not going to cut it anymore. Consumer behaviour has changed significantly since the inception of these conventional SEO practices and Google’s search algorithms have been tweaked accordingly. So we’ve identified four important SEO trends that are shaping the search landscape today and will help you stay ahead of the competition in 2019.
Mobile-first all the way
Mobile has been the focus of many brands’ marketing efforts over the past few years. Mobile device usage has recently surpassed desktop and now accounts for more than half of all web traffic globally (up from less than 1% in 2009). Therefore, it’s no surprise that Google now prioritises mobile over desktop when indexing pages for search results.
The most important criteria for Google’s mobile-first indexing is that mobile pages have to serve the same content as the desktop versions. Considering that around 65% of consumers initiate their purchase journeys on mobile devices, it makes sense to ensure that information available to consumers on your mobile site is complete. If your website utilises responsive design this change should not have any significant impact on its performance on search engines.
Customer-centric content is key
Long gone are the days of getting to the top of Google’s search results page by simply using as many keywords in the content as possible. Since the launch of the Hummingbird algorithm, Google uses Latent Semantic Indexing, which enables the search engine to understand the relationships between terms and their synonyms in different contexts by analysing billions of web pages. This may sound very complex but it basically helps Google to assess the context of the content for a given page and determine how well it addresses the searcher’s intent.
The RankBrain algorithm has further enhanced Hummingbird’s abilities by adding performance metrics to the indexing process. Now the algorithm analyses the content of the top-performing pages for a given keyword and subsequently ranks any other page with that keyword, determining whether the content is comprehensive and relevant.
In practice this implies less focus on specific keywords and more on intent. Put plainly, Google is adding a layer of interpretation to aid user search rather than delivering content based literally on keywords. It doesn’t mean that the process of incorporating topically relevant keywords in the content should be scrapped, but rather that the content should holistically address the different aspects of the problem that users are trying to solve with a particular search query.
SERP features are gaining momentum
SERP features are the non-traditional organic search results, which provide information to users right on Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and are displayed above the regular organic results below the ads section. Common examples include featured snippets (instant answers in the form of paragraphs, lists and tables), local packs, reviews and videos.
According to Moz, the SEO software development company, more than 80% of SERPs have features that are increasingly driving traffic away from regular organic search results. In addition, Moz found that being placed in the featured snippet can significantly increase click through rate and drive better conversion rates. It gets even better: the featured snippets are used by Google Assistant and Google Home for answering users’ voice search queries. Considering that voice search is projected to grow exponentially over the next few years, it may be a good idea to put some effort in getting your website in the SERP features.
There are a couple of things you can do to increase the likelihood of ranking in position 0, as it is usually referred to among SEO experts. First, it’s important to apply correct Schema markups (microdata that helps search engines read and represent your pages) to your content, so that Google can recognise different types of information on your website. Second, the most important thing is to optimise your content to answer users’ questions both thoroughly and concisely.
In practice, it means creating comprehensive long-form content that covers topics holistically, has relevant images and is divided into logical sections, but also has a single paragraph that summarises the main points and answers the users’ question. Best practice is to ask a question in a subheading, provide the answer in a single paragraph and then elaborate in the following sections. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that you answer similar questions in the same article and organise them in a logical manner, from broad to specific. And lastly, Google’s algorithms prefer structured and factual information, which means that providing relevant facts and numbers in lists and tables can significantly increase the likelihood of ranking in position 0.
It’s all about the user experience
All these changes in Google’s algorithms and their respective practical implications have a single common goal: to provide the best possible user experience to searchers. Google wants to ensure that people keep using their search engine and that’s why the algorithms are constantly revised and enhanced to favour websites that solve searchers’ problems in the most efficient way.
This means high-quality content created to target searchers’ intent and a frictionless user experience. Google rates user experience via user signals, such as bounce rate, click through rate, average session duration and number of visited pages per session. It’s important to identify pages with high bounce rates and address the potential issues as it is usually an indicator that your content is not providing users with the information they are looking for.
Other factors that can significantly affect user experience, and thus also directly or indirectly influence Google rankings are website speed, ease of navigation, site structure and a user-friendly mobile experience. It’s crucial to ensure that your website loads fast, is easy to navigate and interact with and doesn’t irritate users with annoying popups and overlays. Ensuring a good user experience will help to decrease bounce rates and increase the time users spend on your site and thus signal Google that your content provides value.
If you’d like to learn more about how you could improve SEO for your organisation, drop us a line. We’re always happy to talk!
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