Google is constantly evolving the way it evaluates websites so it can continue to deliver the best search results online. Fail to keep up, and it won’t hesitate to leave you behind.
Thousands of online businesses fall victim to Google algorithm updates every year, and are forced to wave goodbye to organic traffic that was sustaining their sales. If you want to maintain or improve your rankings, you must be adaptable.
To help you stay one step ahead, we’ve put together our top SEO predictions for 2017. Read on for expert advice on protecting and improving your search performance in the next 12 months.
Over 20 per cent of mobile Google queries are voice searches. But we expect that to increase with adoption of Google Assistant, which was released back in October. Although the software is currently exclusive to Pixel smartphones in the UK, a Google spokesperson has said: “Our goal is to make the Google Assistant widely available to users, and we’ll continue to launch new surfaces over the course of the next year.”
Like Siri and Cortana, Google Assistant is a virtual assistant with a voice-user interface. Although its own AI (artificial intelligence) addresses some user queries, many responses are powered by Google Search. That means voice searches will be on the up.
This matters because voice queries tend to be phrased differently than their typed counterparts. Users speak more naturally than they type, and that translates into higher search volumes for long-tail and question keywords. Producing information-rich, quality content will be crucial if you want to rank for keyboardless queries.
Google Home could be a major driver behind voice search in 2017. Currently available in the US and likely to go global next year, this voice-activated speaker joins Amazon Echo in bringing a new type of technology to the modern home.
The smart speaker is powered by Google Assistant, so users will be able to issue voice commands, engage in conversation with their device, or ask questions such as ‘How’s the weather today?’. As Google Home doesn’t have a screen for displaying search results, search-powered responses must be in audio.
Google can only provide audio results where there is a featured snippet, or answer summary, which it can read aloud. However, featured snippets were only present on 15 per cent of search results in July, according to rank-tracking software STAT. This would leave Google Home users with a lot of unanswered questions.
As such, we expect to see the prevalence of featured snippets increase throughout 2017 — especially among queries beginning ‘how, who, what, where, when or why’.
Google Home credits sources for answer summaries, so having your content featured means getting your brand in front of more potential customers. Plus, answer boxes should continue to feature prominently on the search results page, and that means more clicks via mobile and desktop.
Earning a featured snippet means finding out what questions your target audience are asking, and publishing quality answers optimised for search. Schema markup could also play a role.
Schema markup allows Google to better understand the semantics and structure of your content. If you publish a recipe, Schema lets you ‘label’ details like the cooking time and ingredients list with behind-the-scenes code.
There’s no concrete evidence that Schema markup directly improves search rankings now, but that could change in 2017. That’s because it could be instrumental in enabling Google to roll out featured snippets to more search results pages. Schema will help Google locate the right types of information, so it can extract the best possible answer summaries for its users.
Structured data also enables rich snippets: search results with extra details such as star ratings and prices. These allow users to make a more informed click, and thus enjoy a better search experience, so Google will be keen to encourage widespread implementation. That might mean making Schema a ranking signal.
Mobile-friendly algorithm updates
As part of an effort to improve user experience for an increasingly mobile audience, Google has begun rolling out a mobile-first index. This evaluates websites from a mobile rather than desktop perspective, ensuring the best possible rankings for its dominant user base.
That means it’s more important than ever to deliver a quality user experience on smartphones, most importantly by implementing a mobile-friendly design. But a mobile-centric approach to content and tech will also play a role.
The mobile-first index is only just coming into effect, despite Google announcing that smartphone queries outstripped desktop activity back in May 2015. That means there could well be more mobile-friendly updates in the pipeline.
We anticipate AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) becoming a ranking signal sooner rather than later. Faster-loading news articles are currently indicated by an AMP lightning symbol in mobile search results — just like mobile-friendliness was once indicated with a label. Implementing AMP now is likely to stand you in good stead for 2017 and beyond.
Keeping up with Google is a tricky business. It tends to keep its updates under wraps, and there’s never any failproof way to improve your rankings. Ultimately, if it’s good for your users, it’ll probably be good for your search performance, but keeping an eye on algorithm updates — or working with a digital marketing agency that does — is the best way to protect and grow your business online.