It’s competitive out there. While it has always been true that consistent, informative content improves your ranking on the Google search results, the truth is: content on its own is not enough anymore. Savvy SEOs need to stay on top of more than the tiny details, they must be proactive in adapting to broader trends that are reshaping the search landscape as we know it.
One peek at search results on any query quickly separates the lackadaisical from the aggressively enthusiastic SEO. Staying competitive means changing the way you develop content, and making some structural adjustments to your website. But don’t panic. We’re here to tell you what it takes in 2018 to thrive in the cut-throat world of search engine optimization.
Context is king
There’s been a lot of conversation in recent years about the optimal length of content — be it a blog post or an evergreen content page on your site. Usability folks will tell you that humans have a shrinking attention span, so keep it short. But recent wisdom among SEO folks says the opposite: in 2018 you want to be writing longer content that goes into depth about your topic.
This has to do with two key criteria Google uses to determine which content is relevant to a user’s query: dwell time and user intent.
It’s common knowledge that Google prioritizes pages that have more user engagement. When someone clicks on your search result, then lingers on the page to consume your content, Google assumes that the content on your page has value. Over time, Google will increase the rank of a page that has lower bounce rate, higher clickthrough rate, and a longer time on site.
In other words, short keyword-stuffed blog posts aren’t going to cut it like they used to. To improve your dwell time, go deep: develop longer, more relevant and complex content that your audience will actually want to read.
There’s another reason why you want to go long, rich and deep with your content in 2018. Google’s search algorithm is no longer focused on simple keywords and keyword phrases; it’s now sophisticated enough to ascertain the intent behind a user’s query. In other words, it analyses the context behind a search query to bring up results in response to what a user actually wants to do — i.e. shop, find information, consume media, etc. The algorithm finds relevant content by analyzing the relationships between words to understand the purpose and context of a piece of content.
So how do you develop content that taps into user intent? You take time to understand your target audience by developing user personas that unpack their motivations. When you know what motivates your target market, you’re better equipped to create content that addresses their individual needs.
Instead of simply integrating individual keywords into your content, go deeper with phrases that are semantically relevant to your content and audience. This strategy addresses the growing complexity and specificity of search queries — for example, instead of typing “shoe care”, someone may search on “how do I weatherproof suede dress shoes?” By creating richer, more complex content, you will be able to integrate more contextually relevant phrases that will be picked up by algorithms geared around semantics and user intent.
The fact that people are typing less and speaking more to find information is also a key driver behind the shift to longer, more contextual content. According to Comscore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. This is a massive shift from the wholly text-based approach we’ve taken to SEO since day one.
As we know, people search more colloquially when they’re not typing on a keyboard. Optimizing for voice search is therefore also about context and understanding your target users’ intent. Knowing what a searcher is likely to ask for, and being able to craft a response that is relevant to her is once again about cultivating a deep understanding of your audiences and their needs.
To capture voice searches, your content must integrate long-tail keywords and phrases that address your users’ most frequently asked questions. Get ready to place more emphasis on natural language queries, such as “Where can I find the best espresso in Montreal?” Once again, optimizing for voice search involves creating longer, more in-depth content that incorporates complex keyword phrases and rich, relevant answers.
Go mobile first
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: if you haven’t adapted your content to be mobile first, you have your work cut out for you in Q1. Google is rolling out its mobile-first index in the upcoming months. This means Google’s algorithms will soon be ranking search results based on the mobile version of a website — not its desktop version.
How can you prepare? Make sure all your content is available and indexable on the mobile version of your website. If you have an m-dot website, it’s time to hustle and make that website responsive. And Google highly recommends implementing its Accelerated Mobile Pages, which dramatically speed up mobile page load times and performance. The end result: pages that Google likes because they load quickly, have lower bounce rates and deliver a better overall mobile experience.
Use structured data markup to take advantage of new SERP search features
By now you’ve noticed that Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs) are getting crowded. Your organic results are now contending with paid results, pesky competitors, and shiny new features such as maps and direct answers.
Called search features, these new content morsels in the search results are convenient for users; they’re constructed to appear at the right time, in response to the right query (user intent at work again). Search features can also be very lucrative for digital marketers if you know how to make them work for you.
With a little knowledge and tweaking, you can ask Google to feature a search feature — such as a recipe, breadcrumb, review stars or carousel — that features your website’s content. To make this happen, work with your IT team to apply structured data that helps Google better understand the purpose and context of your website content.
Here is where savvy marketers are truly getting an advantage: They are applying a schema.org vocabulary to mark up their pages with metadata that makes them easier to read and understand by the major search engines. Done properly, your pages stand a chance of getting more impressions, higher placement in the SERPs, and dramatically higher clickthrough rates.
The best time to start is now
We’re past the point where SEOs can stay on the content side of things and not get involved in the deeper, structural aspects of the sites they work on. Begin by educating yourself and your IT team; understand where your website is at today, and what steps are needed to start implementing Accelerated Mobile Pages and structured data.
Then create a roadmap. Get management on board by explaining what can be gained by investing in richer content and more complex structural changes to the website. Share stories, such as the case studies by The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, which show what can be gained by publishing Accelerated Mobile Pages.
We know SEO will continue to evolve. Once you get these changes under your belt and are able to measure the results, you know there will be more adjustments to come. By beginning with these (now essential) projects, you and your team will be better equipped to take full advantage of what’s coming next.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SEO Analyst @ Bloom