It’s vital to take the time to study up on search engine optimization and put together a comprehensive SEO strategy, but is it enough to stick with that strategy? Google tweaks its search result ranking algorithms every year—now an estimated 500 algorithm changes per year—and the shift in criteria for high rankings means that if you get complacent and fall behind on current trends in SEO, your old tactics could now be hurting your reach. Here are some of the key developments this year in search engine optimization to keep in mind while re-evaluating your SEO strategy for 2016.
Context Over Keywords
Whereas there once was a time when best practice was to include exact keywords several times in a piece, these days the Google algorithms are growing more sophisticated and able to pick up on the idea of the search rather than merely the exact words searched for, and this increasingly factors into rankings. So while the traditional strategies of finding and using relevant keywords are still important, the returns on using this tactic alone are diminishing. Instead, search engines now use several metrics to measure how much your content satisfies the intent of the user’s query.
One of these metrics is post-click activity. If a user quickly navigates away from your page and/or returns to the results page to click on other results, then obviously you didn’t give them what they were looking for. But if the user stays, navigates further to other parts of your site, and doesn’t return to other results, then evidently you satisfied the user’s search and your results will be ranked higher. Because of this, a tactic that’s becoming more useful is the employment of long-tail keywords. These longer, more specific search terms target more narrowly what users are searching for. People are entering long-tail keywords more frequently as they learn to use search engines better and the engines start incorporating voice input capabilities, so these keywords will help your SEO strategy reach people in the niche you service. But another benefit of long-tail keywords is that users who reach your site view long-tail keyword matches are more likely to stay, explore your site, and make purchases. This not only nabs you more paying customers, but helps boost your page’s search ratings as the users’ post-click activity shows satisfaction with your content.
Another metric that Google uses to measure whether your page meaningfully addresses user intent is the inclusion of certain other words that form a context for the keywords and show that your content actually discusses the relevant topic that the user is investigating. These take the form of proof terms and related terms. Proof terms “prove” that you’re discussing the subject the user is interested in because you wouldn’t really be able to do so without them—for example it’s difficult to imagine an article about the best sushi restaurants in Chicago that doesn’t use the word “fish.” Related terms on the other hand are ones which aren’t necessarily essential to writing about the topic, but which you would nonetheless expect to encounter in a comprehensive discussion of the subject. For the aforementioned sushi example, related terms you’d expect to see in a quality article might be “freshness,” “nigiri,” “tuna,” or names of specific restaurants. Inclusion of such terms demonstrates relevance to the topic of the query, more so than repeated inclusion of the exact keywords “best sushi.” This demonstrated relevance gets factored into how your page gets ranked—and so should factor into your search engine optimization strategy, too.
Google officially announced last year that there are now more searches being made from mobile devices than from desktops. Unsurprisingly, a Google update from around then referred to by SEO observers as “Mobilegeddon” gave mobile optimization significantly more weight in determining search rankings. As a result, it’s no longer feasible to maintain an effective SEO strategy that focuses only on desktop viewing and not mobile users. At the very least you should make your design user-friendly for mobile viewing, but ideally you should put a dedicated mobile site in place. The mobile site should be have a structure and format optimized for ease of use—slightly larger font sizes, interactive elements, and content broken up into manageable pieces. Another factor important to the ranking of mobile sites is load times: top-ranking pages load in an average of 1.10 seconds for mobile and 1.16 seconds for desktop. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool to check your load speed—if it loads slower than desired, you may want to keep your file size smaller, use fewer ads (which slow down load times), and move to shorter content for your mobile site. Average word-count in 2015 for top-ranking mobile sites was 868 words, significantly lower than for desktop sites.
Content Length and Originality
Desktop sites, on the other hand, are increasingly ranked in favor of longer content. Searchmetrics finds that increasing content length correlates to more shares and referring domain links, and top-ranking content now on average contains 1,140-1,285 words. Longer content is more likely to address content comprehensively, and so, like the proof and related terms and long-tail keywords we’ve discussed, serves to show that your content has more to offer users in addressing their needs. Often, high-quality works will organically run longer anyway, so the best search optimization strategy will naturally focus on delivering quality content for your viewers.
With users increasingly using mobile devices and long-tail keywords to make more specific searches, local SEO has been gaining in importance. Users will now, rather than searching something like “mexican food” before leaving home, instead pull out their mobile device on the fly and search something more like “vegan tacos and margaritas near Roselle.” Their increasing specificity and mobile use means users are increasingly targeting their searches toward local results—this shows through in the data, which shows that half of all local searches from smartphones lead to same-day visits to stores. Therefore if you own a local business, part of your search engine optimization strategy needs give special attention to local SEO by making sure Google and its users have your location information readily available.
Search engine optimization is an evolving field with constant room for improvement, and as the industry changes, our tactics must change with it. Hopefully, this outline of recent developments has assisted you in strategizing the SEO plan that best serves the current needs of your business.
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