One thing people should know about the SEO industry is that it has a highly volatile environment. Changes can occur over a long period of time or sooner than expected. The second thing they should know is that Google is the biggest mover in the industry. It may not be the only search engine in the world, but it is the biggest, most widely used, and the one that can influence the direction of the industry as a whole.
So, with the innate nature of the industry and the constant drive of Google to improve user experience (which basically goes back in a circle to the industry’s changing nature, because it drives the search attitudes of users), it is inevitable that the strategies for SEO will constantly change as well.
Profits can only continue if SEOs can keep up with the changing trends in the industry.
Changes to Improve User Experience
The users have always been the priority and the basis for majority, if not all, of the changes Google implemented for its search algorithm. When the company realized it had to improve its search results and produce only informative, high-quality websites that are relevant to the search query, they implemented the Panda update (which checked on website quality) and Penguin update (which validated the relevance, authority, and quality of websites by the strength of their link profile).
From these two updates alone, SEOs had to make some changes on their strategies.
- Website development became more content-centric.
- The Panda update emphasized the importance of content, that ultimately what makes a website rank is a long-term work on developing its quality and getting recognized through genuine brand recognition methods (natural linking, URL searches, social media mentions, and social shares). The best way to accomplish that is to publish very good articles and other types of content.
- The Penguin update also emphasized quality over quantity. It definitely changed people’s approach on link building. Instead of gathering as many links as they can, leaving URLs in comment sections of any blog they come across, link builders have learned to evaluate the value of the link, and whether or not it can fatten up their website’s link profile.
- The new rule is now this: get rid of low-quality links from mediocre websites because those can devalue your link profile. Aim for authority websites and websites with higher PR than yours to link naturally to your website.
- Approach link building as you would do outreach. Black hat link building such as link buying, and entering into link networks are to be avoided at all costs to avoid the weight of a PR penalty or complete removal of the website from Google’s index.
Changes Due to User Behavior
How people use search engines also influenced changes in the industry. Those who have gotten the hang of using search engines can easily get what they want to find on the Internet because they know to use vital keywords and phrases, and also search operators. For those who are not as adept at using search engines though, they tend to insert many irrelevant words and adjectives, and so they end up with results that are not exactly what they are looking for.
There are also times when the keyword we search for have several different exact matches. It’s like when you search for “Leonardo” and the SERPs will produce various websites on Leonardo da Vinci, Leonardo DiCaprio, a journal subscription, and other people, organizations, and establishments with the name “Leonardo.” Inexperienced searchers can easily make a mistake like this.
Another common user behavior is successively conducting searches regarding one topic. The first will be highly general, rather like the “Leonardo” example above. The next questions will start to delve deeper into the topic though, such as “Leonardo’s most famous paintings,” or “Leonardo da Vinci biography,” or even “who is Mona Lisa?” The rationale here is that the more information the searcher learns about a topic, the more refined his questions become.
These are probably why Google developed the Knowledge Graph in May 2012. This is a program that refines Google search results. It aims to provide users with the information they are looking for in as few clicks as possible. So when a user searches for a commonly used keyword or phrase, the search engine will produce several choices at once. The Graph will also predict what possible queries the user will be looking for next. Hence, when a user searches for “Leonardo DiCaprio,” Google will also show pages containing his filmography, biography, fan websites, latest news articles, and so forth.
This update and the behaviors of the users prompted SEOs today to adjust their strategies as well.
- Content writers are asked to write secondary titles within the articles or blog posts so that Google cannot be mistaken as to what it is—and the website is—about.
- Having a blog will be an advantage. It gives SEOs and link builders a wider area to work with.
- Incorporating keywords and phrases in main titles, secondary titles, and meta information is now important.
- Social media sites should be taken advantage of, especially for websites or businesses that target a local community or a defined group of consumers. Social media can help increase visibility and brand/name recognition.
Changes Due to New Mobile Gadgets
One important factor that drives user behavior is the development of new mobile gadgets year after year. The popularity of laptops did not result in a major industry change because user behavior was more or less the same with a desktop computer. However, when smartphones and tablets entered the picture in recent years, there came a noticeable change in both user behavior and search engine response.
When people use their phones to search for something on the Internet, it’s safe to assume that it is an urgent query because they opted not to wait until they could get in front of a PC or a laptop. It’s also safe to assume that these queries are spur of the moment ones that probably have something to do with where they are at the moment, what they are doing, or what they are about to do—like go somewhere to have lunch, or look for a gasoline station, for example.
Hence, Google looks at mobile searches differently from desktop/laptop searches. That is why both may produce different results. Mobile search tends to be more local than desktop searches.
For SEOs, this means that if they wish to rank in mobile search as well, or if they are targeting a local market, they need to do the following:
- Format websites for mobile devices. These sites tend to load faster and are easier to navigate on a smaller mobile phone or mini tablet screen.
- Strengthen local SEO by adding NAP details (business name, address, and phone numbers) on the website and being consistent with this info on social media, LinkedIn, and other official accounts of the business/website.
- Businesses should take advantage of local business listings and Google+.
Another trend caused by the growing popularity of mobile Internet is mobile search. People simply have to be connected via microphone to their phones, and they can get it to perform tasks without actually picking it up and pressing buttons or tapping on the screen. Voice search, for one, is increasingly popular today.
Now when people use voice search on mobile devices, they state their queries as sentences that one would normally ask a real person. For example, they’d say, “Where is the nearest department store?” or “Where is Sal’s Restaurant located?” These are complex questions that would normally clutter the SERPs with websites matching individual keywords, but not quite providing the information the searcher is looking for.
Google’s solution for complex problems is the Hummingbird search algorithm update. It is basically a brand new engine for search that retains the previous updates, like Penguin, Panda, and EMD. It deals with semantics and, along with the Knowledge Graph, gives Google search engine the ability to decipher the meaning behind complex questions in order to produce relevant results.
The increasing use of mobile search and people’s propensity to use complex questions resulted in the implementation of Hummingbird. In light of this, SEOs can do the following to keep up with the change:
- Have an FAQ page so that you can post questions that may be the exact things voice searchers will be asking for.
- Expand keyword research into including long-tail sequences that are truly used by the target audience/market.
- Local businesses should also incorporate popular names or lingo used by the locals to allude to their establishments or products.
Successful SEOs Match Industry Changes with Strategy Adjustments
Although there are solid rules in the SEO industry (black hat strategies are manipulative and merit penalties, for example), not everything will be constant forever. As technology churns out more gadgets, as consumer behavior shift along with each new gadget that comes their way, and as Google continues to improve and enhance its search and ranking algorithms, SEOs will always be compelled to change their strategies or at least adjust them in order to keep up and survive the trends.