Preparing for SEO in 2017: yes it’s that time already

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It might be hard to believe, but we will soon be entering the fourth quarter of 2016 and it will be time to start preparing our digital strategies for 2017.

The world of SEO continues to change at lightning speed.

Customer usage and expectations, not to mention Google’s algorithm updates, keep us marketers continuously making adjustments.

Complacency will easily destroy your rankings, and this will be dangerous for any business interested in surviving in modern marketing.

Considering that 93% of online experiences begin with search, prioritizing the latest best practices in digital marketing and optimization will be critical to the success of any website.

As we prepare to head into Q4 2016, it is a good idea to look at the trends and developments that we have seen throughout this year to start to understand where we are likely heading next.

Here are a few trends that we singled out as being particularly important as we prepare or 2017…

Schema

Using a schema markup is becoming increasingly important with changing Google and user trends.

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Schema makes it easier for search engines to understand your site, thereby helping to ensure that it is displayed correctly. Schema can also be particularly helpful when Google decides to display rich answers, such as Quick Answers or a Rich Card.

Google likes to display answers that make it easier for users to find what they are looking for. Currently, rich snippets are displayed for recipe and videos, AMP articles, local businesses, music, reviews, and TV & movies. Although this may change in the future, using the schema helps to ensure that your site is always ready.

Google has also been increasing its usage of Quick Answers, growing from just over 22% in December 2014 to over 40% by the beginning of 2016. Schema can help make the purpose and content of your site clear, so your text is more appealing for a snippet boxes.

Of course, we can not neglect the trends of SEO 2017 without talking about RankBrain and artificial intelligence.

Since this machine learning is now Google’s third most important ranking factor, brands need to make sure their sites are easy for a machine to interpret. Schema can help make this a reality. As artificial intelligence is likely to grow in the future, using schema now can keep your site prepared for whatever the future brings.

Hybridization and breaking down barriers

As users become increasingly sophisticated online and the demands of digital marketing draw professionals closer together, it is clear that the brands maturing in modern marketing break down the silos that separate their digital marketing departments.

Mobile users access their email messages, desktop users redeem social media coupons, and those clicking on your PPC ads expect a consistent user experience with what they had when they landed on your site through organic.

To reach these customers, an estimated 80% of digital marketers worldwide expect to be running hybrid campaigns, and professionals need to be prepared for these changes.

To make sure your team is on board:

  • Host trainings where you help members of different teams get to know each other’s goals and strategies
  • Create collaborative projects where members of different teams come together for joint goals
  • Develop common documents between the different teams that define vocabulary, expectations, and roles so that everyone can communicate effectively

Changes on the SERPs

Google has been experimenting this past year with the SERPs. Specifically, they have been increasing the number of characters allowed in some of the meta descriptions and titles.

then-and-now

This trend can be a challenge for marketers to take advantage of because they have not been rolled out to all websites, nor has Google announced that they are permanent.

For the sites that do receive the extra real estate, however, there are great opportunities for including more keywords and more compelling descriptions to help attract people to the website.

To take advantage of these developments, you should consider:

  • Continuing to use your main keyword at the beginning of your title and meta description in case you are restricted to the original character limits
  • Using the extra space to expand your description
  • If your meta descriptions are less than 100 characters, increase them to avoid having your description get buried with the new longer limits

SEM alignment and intent signals

Since searches with commercial intent on average display a higher number of ads at the top of the page than other searches, click-through-rates are lower for organic search results as compared to those with fewer top-of-the-page.

4 pack results

Knowing which terms have organic search results above the fold is critical to prioritizing efforts.

For these topics, organic and paid search teams should work together in targeting these terms to boost ROI for both paid and organic efforts.

It’s also important for these teams to understand what content is currently ranking for these buying terms and to align their content strategy and planning to create web pages and assets that map to what searchers are looking for.

Conversely, for discovery topics where search results have fewer ads, organic search teams should take the lead in identifying content needs and developing high-performing online experiences that attract and convert more customers.

Mobile and speed

Since Google first introduced the AMP project at the end of 2015, the importance of speed, particularly on mobile devices, has grown.

Google has always known that slow load times hurt the user experience, which is why a one second delay results in a 7% reduction in conversions. With AMP, Google can amplify the importance of speed.

AMP was initially created for news sites. The format strips away all the extras of a website, helping it load faster. According to Google, using AMP can improve loading speeds by 15 to 85%.

Mobile has also seen a growing emphasis on the importance of micro moments.

micro moments

 

The micro moments describe the reflex of people turning to a device to answer an immediate need.

These needs fall under one of the following categories:

  • The I-want-to-know moments
  • The I-want-to-go moments
  • The I-want-to-buy moments
  • The I-want-to-do moments

When brands are able to answer these needs, they are able to provide the optimal mobile experience and improve their reputation.

These AMP pages serve the I-want-to-know moments in particular. Recently, however, AMP has begun spreading beyond this niche industry to the I-want-to-buy moments, with eBay optimizing millions of pages for ecommerce users.

As speed, due to the AMP optimization, begins to dominate more of the mobile digital ecosystem, it will become even more important for brands to shorten their loading times. Even brands that do not use AMP will still be impacted by the increasing expectations of customers for fast sites.

To make sure your brand is ready, consider:

  • Avoiding unnecessary images and scale down the images that are placed
  • Do not use images that are very complicated and would require long load times
  • Keep only the essential cookies
  • Compress your website if possible

SEO in 2017 is likely to be just as surprising and exciting as it has been in the past. Brands need to use their time now, however, to start strengthening their sites for the trends of the future.

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