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

Voice Search’s Impact on SEO: 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 with a heavy focus on local search and emerging tech. Conference presenters were from smart companies including Bing, Foursquare, Forrest, Walgreen’s, Underarmour and others.

Topics covered include digital marketing, voice + search’s impact on SERP, the convergence of technology and marketing, the importance of online reviews, and more. Here are some striking observations from one of the presentations.

Vocal to Local: How SEO is being impacted by Dictation and Voice Search Trends

Bing’s John Gagnon presented stats on voice search and the impact that this trending user behavior stands to have on search engine optimization.

Here are curated notes from the Brandify blog. You can see the presentation deck, or a recap of this presentation on the Brandify blog.

Voice search refers to one’s smartphone, desktop computer or any other entry point that uses voice, like Google’s microphone or Amazon’s Echo.

Voice search is hyperlocal, which is largely the result of the majority of smartphone queries being nearby searches and directions-focused. This means that local businesses need to sharpen their local search strategy, because voice search is rapidly becoming the way that customers find local brands.

Questions for local businesses normally center on specific keywords that ask for information such as hours, prices, menu choices, service options and directional or nearby searches.

Voice search will continue to trigger more quick answers in the SERPs, because question words are closely related to local searches.

The primary difference between voice search and text-based search happens in question phrases. Typed searches use computer language, such as “Vietnam vacation deals,” whereas voice searches use conversational language, such as “What are some Vietnam vacation deals for February?” or “How much does it cost to fly to the Vietnam?” Question phrases are a huge key for advertisers, because they signal intent more deeply than text input can.

Location-based marketers and enterprise brands are in a position to see the voice search industry take a seismic shift, and they have an opportunity to be part of the change. “Personal assistants are about understanding the context of your personal life and making those connections,” said Gagnon.

One of the most critical expectations that users come to develop from personal assistants is that they will be able to anticipate our needs and react according to our habits and lifestyle. Consumers expect predictive responses — they expect personal assistants to know that it’s Tuesday, predict that the user is going to visit points A, B and C because it is Tuesday, predict that each point will be hit at a specific time, because of the user’s prior search history, and then pull up the appropriate directions at just the right time.