SEO is anything but static. It’s a constantly evolving industry, plagued by rapid changes and shifting goalposts. As a result, we’re investing more than £50bn a year in trying to climb the SERPs, a figure that is predicted to rise to £57bn by the end of next year.
The industry has come a long way, and chances are the best is yet to come. While it’s not easy to predict what the future holds, there are some big changes happening right now that will affect the future of SEO as we know it. Here are three of the biggest:
Fred has prioritised user experience
Once upon a time, SEO was seen as a technical role; something to be dealt with by the IT team, probably involving lots of number crunching and not much creativity. But the balance is shifting. Google is increasingly obsessed with the user, and as businesses, we should be too, otherwise we’re going to start losing out.
Google was typically tight-lipped about its latest major update, coined ‘Fred’ by Gary Illyes, which happened around the 7th March this year. In fact, it was hard to get Google to admit there had been any major shake-up at all. However, the statistics said differently, and plenty of customers were reporting big changes in the SERPs position as a result.
What ‘Fred probably went after was low value content websites which value revenue over the customer experience. Many of the sites hit were content only type sites, such as blogs, where repetitive, uninspiring content was provided alongside ads and affiliate links. Some reports say that such sites saw a 50 – 90 per cent drop in traffic; a figure which could spell disaster for many profit making websites.
Alongside the penalisation of poor content, ad-heavy websites, it seemed as if Google was also penalising sites which had lots of questionable backlinks, either from low DA websites or from irrelevant sites not related to the subject matter of the page. All this is about user experience, adding value and providing the best content possible.
If you’ve been hit by ‘Fred’, here are a few tips to get you back on track:
- Identify old or poor quality content, and begin a process of rewriting, updating or removing anything which is liable to get you penalised.]
- Go easy on the ads and affiliate links; make sure the overriding presence on every page is your amazing content, not intrusive banner ads or Amazon links.
- Use a backlink checker to identify the sites that are linking to your website, and remove any spammy or dubious links you might have acquired.
- Look at the number of dofollow links you’re sporting. You should focus on high quality, relevant links rather than tonnes of links to places which may not be as valuable.
- Never use bots or auto tools to generate new backlinks, and avoid using paid links, link pyramids and other unnatural link building strategies.
Your customers want to read awesome information on your website, and they want to be able to click links to further sources of awesome information. That means no short cuts, no trash and no easy ride for you. Linkbuilding and content creation are the cornerstones of SEO excellence, so invest your time and expertise in this as you would in any other crucial area of your business.
AMP is affecting your ranking
Back in 2015, we reached a tipping point. For the first time in history, the number of searches taking place on mobile devices finally overtook the number from traditional IT technology. The mobile revolution was upon us, and Google was well prepared. Enter the AMP project (accelerated mobile pages), on a mission to make searching more efficient for those using small screen tech.
The AMP project intended to make the web better for everyone, particularly the mobile user. It orchestrated the creation of websites that performed better, by stripping out all the unnecessariness and presenting users with a lighter, more agile version of the website. And that, girls and boys, is a very good thing, particularly seeing as more than half of mobile users will abandon a site that doesn’t load in three seconds or less.
However, not everything about AMP is good. Although you’ll benefit from increased speed and a better customer experience, there are three clear downsides to this high speed upgrade:
- No ad revenue: Ads are stripped out of AMP, so that the mobile user will receive a faster loading, less cluttered website.
- No analytics: To deliver AMP, Google caches your website. That means it doesn’t actually tap your server when the user visits, so you have no footprint to track.
- Content variation: There is a chance your content could be different between mobile and desktop versions, particularly if you update regularly, as the mobile version will only be the last cache that Google took of your site.
Taking all this into account, and the fact you’ve probably invested heavily in a responsive website that works well on mobile, you might be leaning towards not using AMP on your website. Understandable, but there may be one more piece of info that could change your mind.
In October 2016, Google announced that its mobile index was to become its main index. This was a massive change, as desktop had always been the default, even for mobile users. But, since mobile overtook desktop in terms of searches, it comes as little surprise that the search giant has taken this decision, although it’s unlikely to be implemented until 2018. So, what does this mean for AMP and for your SEO efforts as a business?
It seems that AMP is not a factor in the ranking algorithm… yet. But despite this, when you consider the mobile first strategy Google is implementing, coupled with their obsession with customer experience (see point 1), chances are AMP is already affecting which sites are displayed first. Speed has always been a factor in ranking, and with more and more searches moving to mobile it’s likely that if you’re not using AMP, you’ll start to see an impact sooner or later.
Artificial intelligence is changing the world as you know it
Love it or hate it, AI is going to play a crucial role in our future in all sorts of ways. Just don’t expect robot butlers any time soon (sorry). One of the biggest AI’s out there is Google’s RankBrain. This intelligent search assistant is already one of their top three search ranking factors, weeding out the good content from the bad, trying to think like a human and aiming to find the most relevant content for every search term it sees.
AI is being trained using all the things human marketers use to get closer to their customers. These include content, links, user behaviour, trust, patterns, citations and much more. All this will be combined with ‘big data’, to produce results that match the user’s needs more precisely, learning and tweaking the process on the fly.
For humans, this is an incredible step. No longer will be fall foul of a static algorithm incapable of giving us the results we are looking for. However, if you’re a content writer, SEO or digital marketer, you’re right to feel a little uncomfortable with this vision of the future. With keywords taking a back seat and content only being ranked if it’s really what someone wants, the days of SEO ‘tactics’ and content optimisation could be numbered.
However, there could be some real benefits for businesses who are prepared to put the effort in too. Imagine being able to give your subject matter to an AI and have it spit out not only the search terms that will work best for your brand, but also exactly how and where to use those terms, not to mention how to change them for different locations, audiences, services and timings. Suddenly SEO is easier, more effective and has a healthier ROI. So, it’s not necessarily all bad.
Get ready for the future
The overarching theme here (if you didn’t pick it up already; seriously, are you even awake?) is providing the customer with the very best content possible. To prepare for the future is simple; just do it properly. If you’re creating amazing content, that is both insightful and unique, then your chances of maintaining a great rank are very high indeed.
For those who use short cuts, copied content, paid for backlinks and other blackish-grey hat methods, your days of securing a highly ranked spot are seriously numbered. Start doing it properly, or talk to someone who can do it properly for you, if you want to survive these exciting future changes.