SEO is an ever-changing, shape-shifting beast of a practice. SEO insiders and digital marketers alike are constantly playing catch-up with the latest search trends, ducking and weaving to maneuver through Google’s scare tactics, and trying to understand just what prospects are looking for and how to provide the best content at the end of their search.
All in all, SEO can be a tiring uphill battle, yet it can also be the most rewarding strategy for those who unlock its secrets. So what does the future hold for SEO trends in 2017…and beyond? Let’s gaze into our crystal balls to see what’s already brewing and what’s on the horizon.
Mobile, Mobile, Mobile!
You’ve probably gotten tired of being hit over the head with “The Future is Mobile” or any variations of that phrase. I sure have. But the truth of the matter is that mobile will continue to rise in prominence as Google splits the index into two. When will this happen, you ask? That mystery is only known to the high lords of Googledom, but expect it in 2017.
This means you should start prioritizing your mobile content and site experience over desktop now. At the minimum, have a mobile or responsive version of your site, and start looking into Accelerated Mobile Pages to increase your PageSpeed. People don’t like content that takes more than 3 seconds to load, and neither does Google.
The proof of mobile’s importance is reflected in the numbers from a September 2016 Think with Google study. Year-over-year mobile search growth is positive over 9 different categories, and these data points will only continue to grow this year. Folks, we’re now in an ‘always-on’ society, and your website and mobile optimization better be on point.
Google Goes Full-On Westworld
Machine learning is at the heart of artificial intelligence. It’s also at the heart of robots coming alive and massacring real humans dressed up in Wild West garb while on vacation. Or so the plotline of HBO’s show Westworld goes…. And just as droid Dolores may have unlocked the key to consciousness, Google is getting smarter by the millisecond with RankBrain.
Our Senior SEO Strategist, Seth Nickerson, relayed this in his analysis of recent Google changes last fall:
“RankBrain is sophisticated enough to learn what people are looking for when they don’t search specifically for what they are looking for. It can do this because it has so much data, and it is confident it can effectively provide the answer the searcher is looking for, even if they don’t use the correct question. And if it is truly learning, then the quality of the results should be improving over time.”
So what do all these fancy terms and robot lessons means for us humble digital marketers? Here are a few things to remember:
- Quality content that satisfies user intent is important
- Changes were made to the local search 3-pack, including a clean-up of spammy results
- Google could be placing more emphasis on experience and engagement metrics
- Thin or over-optimized local web pages may not perform well
- You may not have enough target keyword variation between pages if you see an organic drop
An Expert Prediction for SEO in 2017: Gianluca Fiorelli
SEO & Inbound Marketing Strategist, Moz
As I usually say, in order to offer reasonable previews about the future of anything, we must always understand the past. In the case of Google, we must look at its same history from 2013 until now.
What we see is how Google invested tons of efforts, time and money especially in these 3 areas:
- Machine Learning
- Natural Language
All 3 are strictly related, if we look well at them: the 1st is needed in order to understand the 2nd and, so, win in the 3rd scenario.
Therefore, being very synthetic, the trends I see in SEO for 2017 and beyond are these:
- Machine Learning will be introduced in every aspect of the Search Algorithm. What we saw with RankBrain could be replicated by Google for others subsets of the Hummingbird algorithm. We will see a lot of tests from Google in this sense;
- Natural Language investment clearly is an investment in Voice Search, which doesn’t mean only in using vocal commands to use the Google Search App, but especially considering that people will end using Google more and more through its Personal Assistant;
- Mobile will be the ecosystem Google will prioritize. We saw it already with the Mobile-First Indexing announcement, which should become a reality during this same 2017. However, what I see the biggest investment going, in particular for enterprise SEO, will be PWA, which is what Google considers as the ideal mobile solution.
People are interacting with search in a variety of ways, and we will continue to see this shift in 2017. This is especially true with how users are interacting with search engines through smart devices, home automation and intelligent personal assistants. Voice search is propelling these changes, and marketers will need to focus on:
- Longtail keyword phrases (7-9 words) for their content
- Schema markup to provide Googlebots with more context
- Topic ideation based on what people are asking with their voice
Voice devices and voice search is absolutely the future of search. 24 million voice dedicated devices in homes in the US by year end, or a 400% increase over last year’s 5 million devices sold in the US. This will force marketers to remap the entire customer journey, including the search path, type and terms used. This will require content in general to change as well as introduce a 3rd platform, outside of desktop browser searches and mobile browser searches, for which to optimize and report on.
SEO + Content Skills Wanted
Conductor, an SEO campaign management solution, released some interesting stats recently in their article, Job Demand for Content Surges, SEO Skills Become a Necessity. They said: “…we’re seeing SEO become more of a skill or requirement for marketers, rather than a job title.” Here’s a recap:
- There has been 22% increase in SEO jobs since 2012. However, last year there was a decline in both SEO jobs and salaries.
- There are 4x more content positions available than SEO positions in 2017.
- Nearly half of all content jobs now require SEO skills.
Jim Bader, our Senior Director of SEO Services, had this to say about these findings.
“Looking at this data, I think that it is very possible that companies are trying to answer both SEO and content with in-house content teams. Having hired in the SEO industry since 2000, I can honestly say that its extremely difficult to find a competent writer with advanced SEO skills. If this is the case, there are huge opportunities for people with this skill-set already or for those work for it. It is highly likely that we could see a rise companies pushing out a lot of new content, but not having the expertise to solve for highly technical challenges, which would keep the performance down.”
What’s the Deal with Fred?
The last trend I’ll cover today is just coming to the surface of the SEO industry this month. It’s called Fred. This is the unofficial name of a Google algorithm update that took place around March 7th, with the only confirmation of its existence coming from the tweet below. Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land thinks Fred is targeting “low-value content that focuses on revenue generation.”
@rustybrick will. Obviously there was an update. Why would we deny that
— Gary Illyes ?( ? )? (@methode) March 24, 2017
Time will tell what will come of Fred, but if this — along with every other update Google has released in the past year (1 every month since July 2016 except August) — tells us anything, it’s that Google will continue to keep us on our toes and SEO will be more vital than ever in 2017…and beyond.