Search Engine Optimization Priorities for 2017

So, the end of the year is approaching. We’ll soon be feasting fork over knife, then opening presents, then saying, “I can’t believe it’s Spring already – you know the drill.

For now though, we can take a minute to reflect on the year behind us and the year ahead. And, if you like, let’s consider it through the lens of an SEO. What’s happened and what is likely still to happen that impacts our worlds?
A pretty serious shift this year toward AI has happened. While that may have influence via personal assistants, it’s still a very green field. As far as 2017 is concerned, these the areas SEOs need to focus on in the year ahead:

  1. Preparing for voice search
  2. Taking a continued look into local search results
  3. Rewiring page code to be screaming fast
  4. Marking sites up with schema

1. Get ready for Voice Search

What is voice search? Voice search is spoken search.

How is voice search unique? Voice search tends to be more question-based, a bit longer, and is in the rise.

How do you prepare? Make your content conversational. This really should have been on our minds and something we’re doing already.

According to ComScore 50% of searches in 2020 will come from voice search. 

With semantic search, Google’s algorithm forced us to begin being less focused on one keyword phrase and to consider a broader approach. Include synonyms, speak topically. Be useful.

Being useful has – arguably – been not simply a search manifestation, but a marketing manifestation. With millennials we have a generation larger or as large as any alive. One that also has – like the rest of us – found itself to be tired and untrusting of corporate advertising messages. Bored and ‘done’ with corporate-speak – this generation is looking for brands that can be helpful, human, and handy. I can’t stress that enough. Authentic, genuine, real. Time has come. … Make your content conversational. Write how you speak. It’ll pay dividends with voice search, and with millennials and anyone else looking for a real voice.

2. Continue to Optimize for Local SERP

Continue to look into local search engine results pages (SERP). Things continue to change there, and depending on your type of business this could be a pretty serious battleground.

There are a whole host of variables that play into ranking in local search engine results. Furthermore there are many great articles out there to provide timely insight as to how to optimize for local search engine results.

Monitoring (and mobilizing on) these things in 2017, I believe, will continue to be a priority for SEOs.

3. Continue to Model a Mobile First-Mindset

Make your pages screaming fast (and optimized for all users). We’ve know for a while to put the mobile experience first. Google made their preference for a mobile-mindset through a variety of updates this year. 

The introduction of Accelerated Mobile Pages (aka AMP) is one of Google’s bigger directives for webmasters and SEOs in 2016. This project has only just begun. AMP opportunities continue to evolve, allowing more and more pages to be marked up with the mobile-first language.

In May of 2016, at their Performance Summit, Google announced many of the changes we came to see in 2016.

  • They got rid of right side rail ads admitting the value of them wasn’t future-oriented 
  • Changed their ad mobile layouts
  • Introduced new mobile ad features
  • Introduced new ad extensions
  • They even updated Google Analytics replacing traditional web metric language with mobile app terminology. 

They’ve been recommending that page speeds be a point of interest for a while now (to accommodate at large mobile users), even providing tools for webmasters and SEOs to get site and individual page download speed ratings. Advising site owners to use page speed tools info to deploy optimizations.

In 2017 they’ll be making their index mobile-first. There’s some debate as to what this will ultimately mean, but no doubt there’s no excuses not to have a mobile-first mindset. 

4. Elevate Your Schema Game

We’ve seen more and more happening directly in SERP, and will continue to do so.

At-large, schematic markup (which involves applying additional markup for Google to better understand and further showcase page content) is helping inform and colorize general search SERP as well as the aforementioned local SERP.

Instant answers, the knowledge graph, and rich snippets continue to push the envelope on what is bound to show up in text-driven SERP.

The most current recommendation from Google on schema is to use the JSON version. As of November 21, 2016 – restaurants now have their own rich cards.

SEOs need to be familiar with AMP and schema in 2017. No question about it. AMP and schema are being used together in some instances; and Google, in 2017, is set to make it’s index mobile-first. Getting very familiar with AMP, in its current and more than likely continuing to evolve states, is something SEOs should be doing now and into 2017.  

There you have it. We could throw in a note or two about optimizing and including images in your search + content creation plans. Strategize having relevant images to offer the world and search engines.

Too, we could touch on the (6 years in a row) declaration that video is set to explode; and discuss the value of such a rich media, but let’s end here.

We’ve got plenty to do with the main four notes above.

Keep in mind these trends are only directional anyway, each of those areas is likely to continue to grow, expand, and tighten in the next week, month, and quarter. Get ready. Take 2017 by the horns.  

If you’re an SEO, webmaster or marketer looking to dive into the particulars of some of the items shared above, here are some good resources to get you started.

Google’s recent blog post and introduction to resturant-specific rich cards: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/data-types/local-businesses#restaurant-lists

Google’s documentation and testing tools for developing schematic pages. https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool/u/0/

A great AMP by example resource: https://ampbyexample.com/

An index of all things schema: http://schema.org/docs/gs.html

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Value of Reviews in Local Search : The road ahead, a Brandify Summit Recap

In August of this year I attended the Brandify Client Summit. The two day conference covered digital marketing techniques and trends from the perspectives of a variety of speakers.
Presenters were from smart companies including Bing, Foursquare, Forrest and others. Topics covered include local search engine marketing, digital marketing, voice + search, the convergence of technology and marketing, and more. Here are some striking observations from one of the presentations.

On Reviews in Local Search Results Pages
An informative deck and panel presentation

Phil Rozek presented an informative deck on the Changing Face of Local Search, before being joined by Walgreens’ Kyle Eggleston, and Mindy Weinstein of Market MindShift. The trio was interviewed by Greg Sterling.

Online reviews matter. They provide consumers with valuable information about the products and/or services being offered by a business.

Today, online reviews are increasing prominent in Google’s local search results. With continued changes in the mobile search engine results pages (SERPs), they are even more prominent than before.

As a big-name brand, it can be easy to feel invincible, but small, local competitors can beat enterprise brands who are failing to optimize for the local experience.

One area in which big brands are severely deficient is review moderation. Listening to your customers and responding to reviews helps build brand awareness, resolve customer issues and increase engagement, but this is one aspect of local optimization that big brands fail to achieve.

Customers can be picky in their purchase decisions, because there are many different options from which they may choose.

With so many choices for consumers to choose from, there are also more decisions in the SERPs, and “more transactions take place offline after the initial search query before people even get to your site,” Rozek acknowledged.

Reviews are always prominent in the new 3-pack placements, even in the first position ad spot.

Despite the incredible weight given to reviews, big brands still have an advantage when it comes to ranking in the SERPs. Enterprise brands “have consistent media buzz, link juice [domain authority], an established customer base and brand recognition,” said Rozek.

Small brands have a better sense of the reward that comes from reviews, and this drives their motivation.

In order for enterprise brands to be impressive at the local level, they need to optimize for things their customers care about. This means prioritizing reviews.

Enterprise brands should still know who their biggest fans are and reach out to them to request a review as a personal favor, without incentives. This connection between brand and consumer is what makes consumers want to post positive feedback.

Make sure to ask your fans for reviews on the site where they are most likely to leave reviews. For example, do not ask someone who prefers Facebook reviews to review your brand on Yelp.

Try to get have your reviewers mention specific people at the location they are reviewing, so other customers get a feel for what a personal experience your brand offers.

Your fans will want to make your brand look good because their experience has been so positive.

Content is also important for local businesses, Weinstein reminds the audience. Brands need to make sure to publish unique, localized for each store location.

One of the most important things that enterprise brands can do to connect with consumers at the local level is to leverage internal data and ensure the consistency of location data.

Complete recaps and more from the conference can be found on the Brandify Blog. More from Phil Rozek, including an updated post on local pages can be found on the Local Visibility Blog.

Here are a few additional resources that weren’t covered at the summit, but that further add to the conversation around reviews, and local search results.

On Google: Online Reviews Tussle, & Search Results AMPed Up – News of Late. 

Local business reviews have become an area of discussion again for the search giant. On August 4 Google announced that “food- and drink-related searches will now return reviews from top critics and include best-of lists”. Beyond web searches, the Google (search) app is also seeing an update when it comes to how local business reviews are handled.

Here’s the rub:

Google has been featuring specific critics’ reviews – arguably – in an attempt to provide relevant and yet qualified content based on user interest. (Sure, it’s helpful to get reviews on places, right?)

A bit of contention, however, was added to the mix as Google’s list of local business critics included Zagat (a Google owned company), and it did not/ does not include the likes of Yelp, or TripAdvisor.

This obviously is/ was a slight to the Yelp and TripAdvisor crowd (in their eyes), outcry or possibly a tinge of conscience has since compelled the search giant to make the August 4 announcement to open it’s list of critics’ reviews (even to Yelp and TripAdvisor critics) if users apply for the qualification.

Arguably, this is a clean set of moves. Or, do you agree with Yelp CEO that it’s a monopolist play on Google’s behalf? What do you think? Tell me below.

Google AMPed Up

Another entry into the news of late for Google includes the addition of landing pages as a content type that can qualify for being shown as Google AMP content.

Here-to-date AMP pages (or accelerated mobile pages) have been limited to news article or blog related content types. Yet, there’s incentive to make more of the web instant.

As Media Post points out, About 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load — and still, in July 2016 the average U.S. retail mobile site loaded in 6.9 seconds, according to Google data. It’s no wonder that Google estimates that 40% of those navigating to a landing page from an ad will likely not bother continuing to the page and instead click away.

About 40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load — and still, in July 2016 the average U.S. retail mobile site loaded in 6.9 seconds, according to Google data.

The latest update and announcement to include landing pages as AMP pages, further qualifies and suggests a continued path for likely adoption.

I anticipate that the number of page types allowed in will continue to grow. It’s possible that other page types – say, sales pages, or functional pages such as navigational or directional pages could be added to the list.

Aside from speculations, we know, Google continues to refine and redefine what it serves up to users in SERP – rich cards are a good example of how the engine and SERP continue to evolve. (Rich cards are an evolved form of rich snippets announced in May of 2016 – for more on that see – Introducing rich cards.)
That’s it for now.

Take care.