SEO is constantly evolving. Between Google working to provide the best possible results for its users, and SEO experts working to improve their techniques (and sometimes game the system), it’s hard to know how to keep up with the latest trends – and keep your business’s ranking competitive.
Here are some SEO trends that we’ve noticed over the past few months, and what we expect might be coming.
Desktop platforms will be sticking around
This is tangentially related to SEO, but we think it’s a good place to start.
We’ve been talking for months now about the enormous influence that mobile is having on global web traffic, with mobile device traffic overtaking the incumbent desktop in May 2015.
However, the steady growth that mobile has seen over other platforms is set to level off, largely because desktop losses are set to stop happening.
Rand Fishkin of Moz argues that mobile has taken nearly everything it can from desktop, and a lot of desktop functionality remains for things that require big screens (think photo editing and computer games).
Most everything that mobile was going to replace or take away from desktop use has been taken, and I'm skeptical that things like creative work, programming, long-form writing, computer gaming, and other tasks that big monitors and full keyboard+mouse inputs were made for can be successfully cannibalized by the screen that fits in our pockets.
Mobile is still poised for significant growth
, but going forward it will be carving that usage away from desktop platforms less and less. So while mobile is going to be important over the next year, don’t disregard desktop just yet.
In order to stand out for both Google and its users, you’re going to have to design your site a little more carefully than in the past.
For a number of reasons, users expect better web design now than ever before. Some of these reasons include:
- Improved drag-and-drop web tools
- Perceived decreasing price of web design due to templates solutions
- Increasing number of websites and user familiarity with the web
- Increasing reliance on device-specific apps (app experiences become the norm)
The result is that people expect a great user experience, regardless of what device they’re on, and increasingly see poor website design as a security risk and a company not worth doing business with.
In response to that shift, Google is assigning more and more weight to usability ranking factors to try and judge sites based on their user experience (UX).
These factors include things like formatting and layout, as Google works to deliver good UX, and good UX only.
Content reigns supreme
Or rather, supreme content
reigns supreme. For a long time, content and SEO have gone together like two peas in a pod:
SEO needs content to provide things like keyword opportunities, and content needs SEO to deliver its traffic.
However, Google is now ranking for quality in a whole new way.
Among some of Google’s new ranking factors in 2015 were readability and content length, premised on the idea that the best content is long-form that’s easy to read.
This year, we’re expecting even more quality factors to have an increased weighting in search result ranking, as Google aims to move to a content-first model.
A shift in keyword importance follows Google’s move to focus more on quality. Keywords are a bit of a thorny problem for Google’s new ethos of content, content, content.
While it might be good for the user to decrease the importance of keywords, keywords are the linchpin to Google Pay-Per-Click advertising.
Quite the conundrum.
However, even with that challenge, we think we can expect Google to reduce the importance of keywords, and focus more on the context that they’re used in.
Our advice is to ramp up your content marketing efforts and build a sustainable marketing model of content-led SEO traffic.
Is that easier said than done? Absolutely – but it’s also a much more stable model than relying on skillfully-placed keywords alone.
Rich answers + data structuring
Rich answers and data structuring are two points that are being talked about a lot right now, but we’re covering them together.
The first is rich answers, which is when you Google something and the first result is a selection of text pulled as the answer from the most relevant result.
For example, if you Google ‘data structuring’, you get the following result:
Similarly, if you Google something like ‘F to C’, you’ll get a calculator converting Fahrenheit to Celsius.
These are examples of rich answers. We can expect more of these as Google continues to grow its rich answer database.
The other factor is data structuring, which is (you guessed it) how data is structured, which in turn allows for rich snippets to be pulled.
Consider the following result for ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’, with numerous examples of structured data being presented:
We think that there’s going to be increased importance placed on data structures and formats with rewards and punishments to match. This will allow Google to generate rich answers more easily, furthering their goal of becoming an indispensable fountain of information.
Plus, rich answers are great for hands-free Googling, something that Google continues to develop.
Fortunately, Google has also created a tool to help you stay on top of your own data structures. Be sure to check out the Structured Data Markup Helper if you haven’t yet.
These SEO trends are all themed around the same idea – making it easier for the user
. Whether that’s with design, content, data, or better keyword deployment, Google remains committed to making the best user experience possible. And we think that commitment is really what’s driving its SEO policy.
Our advice to you for the coming year is to work less granularly on SEO and more on the big picture of what your user actually wants. As Google demonstrates again and again, if you can keep your user happy, then they’re all too happy to rank your site.
And if Google’s happy, then everything’s gravy.