How SEO Updates Affect Our Strategies
The beginning of 2017 in SEO-related matters was particularly shaken up by Google’s updates and notably its unofficial Penguin update. SEOers are fully aware that Google’s updates are regular and that the algorithms thus change very often. It’s always been the case. However, just like things are moving fast in pretty much every marketing area, Google’s updates are now deeply changing the way to work on your SEO – and thus your marketing strategy.
The massive number of factors included in Google’s ranking is ensuring that SEO always evolves and the beginning of 2017, as well as the past year, have shown that the following points are essential to consider:
- Local SEO
- RankBrain & Hummingbird
- User Experience Optimisation
- Voice Search
Before getting started with these changes, let’s take a look back at the ≈Penguin≈ update.
Google algorithms may – or may not – have been updated around February 1st, 2017. The Black Hat community rose suspicions against Google after things started running slow on links indexation and PBNs (Private Blog Network) seemed affected. However, the lack of complaints from the White Hat community led many experts to the conclusion that an algorithm update – potentially Penguin – might have improved the detection of links spam. Whether or not the Penguin update is real, the PBN’s importance drastically decreased over a night. As a result, those whose strategy largely counted on a PBN were forced into a sudden change. That’s the kind of disruptions that create important shifts in marketing strategies.
Google released last year its mobile-first index (actually it was first released in 2015 but had a major update in 2016) and it created quite the wave for digital marketers. With around half of its traffic coming from mobile, Google needed to do something about its search engine to make sure it met people’s expectations. What’s beautiful with this tech giant is that it doesn’t change to fit what websites provide, websites change to fit what it provides. And even if this update only targets mobile searches, all available data underlines the importance of becoming mobile-friendly both for referencing and because you cannot simply ignore half of your potential traffic.
If in theory, being mobile-friendly for a website isn’t that hard, in practice it’s more complicated. Companies that build their websites before the mobile-first area are forced into a transition that’s both costly if it involves changing everything, and at the very least time-consuming.
There are three methods to building a mobile-friendly website:
- Responsive Web Design
The HTML and the URL don’t change whether the user is on desktop or mobile. However, design adapts itself thanks to JS and CSS functions. For what SEO is concerned, make sure to make the code fully available to Google. For that, you can use the Search Console’s dedicated page: Blocked Resources Report.
- Dynamic Serving
The URL doesn’t change, but the HTML does. Its main advantage is to adapt the size of files on your website for mobile users. Keep in mind to notify Google via a Vary HTTP header as shown below:
- Separate URLs
Both the HTML and the URL change. If a user is on desktop, they will go to www.example.com. If they’re on mobile, they will be redirected to m.example.com. To make sure Google is aware of your two versions, you can either use the HTTP Vary header or the Sitemap.
I used to type “open Chinese restaurant in Paris” to get the info I wanted (and not that long ago, I had to check restaurants’ websites to check the open hours). Now it’s “Chinese restaurant” and Google manages the rest – or does it?
For businesses that depend on such kind of searches, it is essential to work on local SEO. Providing address, open hours and a category of products to Google is key, even more so now that clicking is less and less required to get the information (and thus that companies lose potential traffic). So how do you improve your local referencing?
The illustration above shows the importance of various SEO techniques for local optimisation. On-page signals and link signals become the two most important factors to position yourself on. To make sure you give out detailed information, check out Schema’s Local Business page that will guide you.
RankBrain & Hummingbird
RankBrain is the name given to Google’s machine-learning system that works towards finding the most relevant results for the most complicated queries. As of 2016, it’s been involved in every Google query (versus the 15% rarest in its debut in 2015). One of its goals is to try to understand the context around a query (e.g. if you type a question like “is there a coffee shop nearby” or a contextualised search like “best gaming laptop under $1200”).
I personally think RankBrain is a part of Hummingbird which itself is a part of Google’s general algorithm – and many experts do too. The alternative theory, which is supported by as many as the first, is that Hummingbird is THE search algorithm. However, most of the available information (which is light) shows that it mainly focuses on detecting intention behind keywords and so it matches with RankBrain.
Jayson DeMers, a contributor for Forbes, recently tested this search query: “that movie where the guy takes a pill to feel no emotion” and the first result was the movie he was thinking about via IMDb (Equilibrium if you’re interested).
Contextualisation is thus improving a lot – thanks to machine learning – and affecting how we see optimisation. Everyone tends to immediately think about keywords when talking about SEO; however, I doubt “that movie where the guy takes a pill to feel no emotion” appears anywhere on the IMDb page’s code. Companies thus now have to think about a user’s potential intention behind a detoured sentence and structure their website/page/landing page accordingly. So we can ask ourselves the question of whether keywords are still going to be super-relevant in the next couple of years.
In addition to contextualization, in September 2016, Google confirmed a Hummingbird update that changed another aspect of marketing strategies. The update aimed at making sure websites with low-quality content would not arrive first. In theory, that’s great. Except that many, many websites always focused on providing content in order to remain on Google’s radar – and were right to. But now, quality has become significantly more important than quantity. These changes notably created a shift in web practices with more and more long and detailed pages and articles providing lots of precise information to the audience.
SEO, UXO, SXO…
There’s yet again a division between people regarding SXO. It stands for Search eXperience Optimisation and there are two clans: one that thinks it will replace SEO and one that thinks it’s just a new formulation of long-existing term UXO, User eXperience Optimisation (aka SEO+UX). Originally, SXO was a combination of SEO and CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation).
Regardless of what you consider SXO to be, it is aimed at optimising the experience of a user who clicked on your link via Google’s search results. Ergonomy, responsive design, information easily available and readable… UX becomes more and more important in SEO, which is translated by Google’s algorithms paying attention to short/long clicks and pogo-sticking (in SEO, pogo-sticking refers to the fact that a user clicks on several links from the search results before having their answer, which means a website was optimised with the right techniques but actually fails to deliver). A short click (means there’s an almost immediate return to the search results) and pogo-sticking are two important SXO factors that Google more and more takes into consideration as it is evolving from a search tool to an answer tool.
Websites should thus pay attention to the keywords they choose and make sure that they deliver the expected results. For that, it is important to determine what the typical user searches for when coming on your website.
Just like there now is a ranking in app stores, voice search is becoming a thing. Cortana, Siri & Co display search results depending on various factors.
First, think mobile-first. Because, let’s face it, who actually uses Cortana on their PC? Second, you need to keep in mind that most people use voice search to ask for something nearby so local SEO will have an increasing importance in the years to come. Identically to the deep work that’s being done with traditional search, tech giants are working on how to understand voice versus simply recognising it, including understanding keywords like “near me” or “it” as a reference to your last query for example. Contextualisation is, therefore, an important voice search ranking factor.
And finally, long-tail keywords are also more likely to be searched by a user. Asking orally something to your phone takes fewer efforts than writing it in the search bar and experts are wondering if long tails are not going to outshine short tails in the future.
What do you think? Did you start changing the way to work on your SEO? Is it working?