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What has changed in the SEO world and how does it affect SEO writing and content creation in general?

The following trends were assembled in July 2017 from expert sources like Search Engine Land, SEO Power Suite, Forbes, Moz, Entrepreneur, Search Engine Journal, and others.

Most noticeable is the way mobile optimisation and user experience dominate in the following 2017 trends.

  • Keyword selection and placement
  • Search intent
  • Mobile optimisation
  • Accelerated mobile pages (AMP)
  • Page load speed
  • Voice search
  • Featured answers (“Rich snippets”)
  • Dense content
  • Personal branding
  • HTTPS

Visual Content and Links remain important ranking factors. Neither is a trend but well known and established optimisation tasks.

Visual Content:

  • Visual content, especially video, is a growing trend.
  • Infographics attract the most engagement.
  • Consistency in presentation is a content creation challenge.

Links

  • Seek high quality links, preferably from authority sites.
  • Delete or disavow spammy links.
  • Focus on earning links by creating quality content people want to share.

Let’s focus on the real trends.

Keyword selection and placement

Keywords remain important but must be viewed differently. Content writers should still select a focus keyword and 3-4 associated keywords.

The focus keyword should appear in the content title, preferably right up front. Include these and associated keywords in the meta description, the content introduction and in sub-ordinate headings like H2 and H3 headings.

Beyond this, what is best practice for keyword selection and placement today? We must look at this in the context of search intent.

What is search intent?

The goal of search engines is to provide relevant content in response to a user’s search intent.

People search for information, resources, product reviews, problem solving and many other things.  All these represent  search intents that search engines must interpret.

Content which includes keywords and theme-related words and phrases that match a user’s search intent will rank higher on search pages (SERPs). This in turn will yield improved conversions, clicks, leads and sales.

How to Evaluate Search Intent

This is not a precise science although there are online tools that you can use. If you look at user intent as the pursuit of fulfilling a need for information, you will see why content strategy is a cornerstone of any SEO campaign.

Writers must find and include theme related words and phrases in their content. These are words and phrases that should be part of the subject matter.

Search engines analyse content relevance using machine language and  processes called latent semantic indexing analysis (LSA) and latent semantic indexing (LSI). You can find theme-related words and phrases using online LSI tools. Just Google “LSI tools”.

Google’s Micro-Moments

Google has defined four different search intents they call micro-moments

  • I want to know
  • I want to go
  • I want to do
  • I want to buy

A brief local SEO example will illustrate how these words interpret search intent. A visitor may enter a search phrase like “Best discounts for washing machine sales and service in North Sydney?

Google interprets “best discounts” as a buy intent and “North Sydney as a “to know or where to go” request.

If you want your website listed in response to this query, include the following keywords or related phrases in prominent parts of your webpage.

  • Washing machine sales and service
  • Street address where your business is located
  • Contact details and a map
  • Adding Google My Business to the site aids local SEO

Other verbose search examples may look as follows:

  • Hotels on George Street Sydney near Central Station.
  • Where to get breakfast near the Hilton Hotel Melbourne.
  • Locksmith in Brisbane who can open my locked car without keys.

Mobile Optimisation

Google is moving towards mobile-first content indexing because 70-80% of people access the Internet on a mobile device.

Interestingly, moz.com claims 20 out of 24 market niches claim mobile as their prime traffic source. They identify 4 exceptions:
– Computer and electronics
– Internet & Telecom
– Science
– Travel

Current methods for mobile page optimisation include:

  • Responsive (recommended by Google as the best option)
  • m.site
  • Adaptive
  • Progressive Web App (PWA)

Refer to the following resources for information about PWA:

Introducing Progressive Web Apps: What They Might Mean for Your Website and SEO by Moz.com
A Beginner’s Guide To Progressive Web Apps by Smashing Magazine
Intro to Progressive Web Apps by Google.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

An important trend for mobile optimisation is Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). It is a stripped down version of HTML that produces fast mobile pages. Most, but not all, of CSS can be used but Javascript is not allowed.

AMP is best used for blogs and news sites. It is not meant to speed up e-commerce or brand sites.

Google shows AMP sites in carousel format on their search pages, usually above the fold. Follow this link to see an example.

See the following resources for more information about AMP:

AMP Survey published by SEO Powersuite.
How Google’s AMP Will Influence Your Online Marketing by Moz.
How to implement Google AMP on your WordPress site by Search Engine Watch.

The Google Chrome browser has an in-built tool for validating AMP pages.

Load Speed

Google has identified the new load speed target at 3 seconds. Studies suggest that 40% of visitors will click away if a site takes longer to load.

Voice Search

Voice search is now common and is particularly popular with mobile devices.

  • According to Microsoft, voice search accounts for 20% of all searches in early2017 and is expected to rise to 50% by 2020.
  • In contrast, a Search Engine Land survey published in Aug 2016 claim 60% of Google searches happen on mobile devices.

Voice Search apps include Google Voice, Cortana, Siri, and Amazon Echo.

This takes search intent to a new level of complexity. People voice their search using common spoken language and search engines analyse and extract the keywords which designate the visitor’s search intent.

The SEO content writer can optimize content as follows:

  • Include long tail keywords which are more relevant to long voice queries.
  • Use Structured Data to improve the context.
  • Include video as an SEO strategy.
  • Research social media sites like Quora to find out what questions people want answered.

Best SEO practices in content creation are not difficult:

  • Define what questions visitors want answered.
  • Include relevant keywords and theme related phrases in the content.
  • Produce valuable content that is relevant to a specific search intent.
  • Don’t rehash existing content but make your content unique.
  • Write headlines and content introductions that attract immediate attention. Fail this and see your efforts ignored.

Featured Answers

This is a new trend also called “Rich Snippets”.

The SERP listing for content that is brief and clear, and answers a simple question, is displayed at the top of the search listing inside a framed box. Typical content should address simple questions like “My best baked salmon recipe”, or “How to make a go cart”, or search queries of this nature.

The following image shows the answer on the search page and does not require the user to visit a separate page.

image of "rich snippet in SE SERP

Content creators implement Featured Content by using structured data.

The content should give a direct answer to questions like:

  • How does
  • How do
  • How to
  • What is

Dense Content

According to Forbes, users now look for “maximum information in the smallest possible space”. This is a surprising trend because the long-standing advice from Google that long-form content around 2,000 words  ranks better. Top ranked content in Google is still 2,000 words or longer.

If true, it would seem the average user disagrees with Google. Scrolling through 2,000 words on a mobile device may not be what people like. We all know the attention span of web users has fallen in reverse proportion to the usage growth of mobile devices.

The important takeaway is that users DO NOT want to read 2,000 words of “fluff”. Content must be valuable, relevant, and unique.

Personal Branding

Several experts identify personal branding as an important optimisation trend. The psychological reason is that people prefer to interact and do business with people in preference to organisations.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI systems like RankBrain help to interpret and determine the search intent with unusual search queries.

Content writers can aid this process.

  • Write copy that address the interests and pain points of a targeted audience.
  • Produce thought leadership in published content instead of rehashing what’s already there.
  • Include semantic keywords and theme related phrases (LSI).

HTTPs

Google has confirmed that for security reasons, HTTPS is a ranking signal. The process of diverting from HTTP to HTTPS needs to be done with care. The following guide clarifies the process:

HTTP to HTTPS: An SEO’s guide to securing a website, published by Search Engine Land in Aug, 2016.

The list of trends identified may not be completed, nor adequately explained. Hence, I am happy to modify this post based on comments received.

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