Search engines are constantly improving the search experience and, as a result, search engine optimization (SEO) is in a nonstop transformation. For SEO marketers, the challenge isn’t to simply understand the complex science behind the strategy -- it’s to be able to adapt to the ever-changing rules of the game.
The past few years have been exciting for SEO, marked by a series of algorithm updates, evolving techniques and fast-advancing tools that make SEO what it is today. To stay on top of the trends and equip their SEO arsenal with relevant strategies, most marketers scramble to learn or predict the emerging developments poised to shape the new face of SEO.
From the domination of voice search to the increasing role of RankBrain in providing search results, we’re expecting bigger changes on the horizon.
Marketers may start optimizing for voice search.
This past December, Google’s webmaster trends analyst John Mueller tweeted about webmasters asking for voice search data in Google Search Console. It reflects the current behavior among Search Console users -- more and more are seeing voice search queries separately.
This raises the question: Why do site owners suddenly care about voice search data? The simple answer is people are using voice search now more than ever before, and gaining insights into these queries gives marketers ideas for how to provide better experiences for those searching by voice.
In 2015, voice search jumped from zero to 10% of overall search volume globally. That means 50 billion voice searches were performed every month. And a Google study found that 41% of adults and more than half of teens use voice search multiple times per day.
When there’s demand, there’s supply. Many tech giants (not just Google) have invested in virtual assistants and, by extension, voice search. Google launched Google Assistant and Google Home, Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, Amazon has Alexa, and so on.
Brands and businesses that are reliant on search for web traffic have seen drastic implications from this rise in the usage of voice assistance. SEO marketers must conquer a new market: the virtual assistants. In 2018, we can expect more web pages to compete to be the favored result by voice assistants in order to reach the user.
The shift to mobile-first indexing will be completed.
The rise of voice search wouldn’t be possible without the rise of mobile devices since smartphones are the source of most mobile searches. If going mobile-first was important a year ago, it’s even more important now.
In 2016, Google took the first step toward mobile-first indexing, which is expected to culminate in mid-2018. That means, by the third quarter, if the prediction comes true, mobile indexing will take priority over desktop.
The new index will crawl the mobile version of a website’s content and determine how it should be indexed in search. It presents a significant change from Google’s old indexing practice, which involved crawling the desktop version of a webpage and indexing it in both mobile and desktop search results.
The tireless thrust for mobile is in line with a phenomenon that Google calls “micro-moments,” which are instant moments where users seek knowledge about an idea, a restaurant, an online store, a travel booking agency -- in other words, moments when people consume media. Naturally, micro-moments occur on a mobile device and have become a battleground among brands.
When searching on their phones, 65% of users say they are looking for the most relevant information without giving priority to the company or publisher providing the information. As the name suggests, micro-moments require urgency and instantaneity. SEO marketers must make sure to be there when these moments happen and be quick about providing the right results.
Machine learning will play a bigger role in providing search results.
When RankBrain was introduced in 2015, people had a vague idea about how it worked. And the case hasn’t improved much since. RankBrain is Google’s machine-learning, artificial intelligence (AI) technology designed to help process and deliver its search results. RankBrain appeared to turn the game on its head when it was announced as one of Google’s top three ranking factors. Since its rollout, RankBrain has gone from handling 15% of search queries to all of them.
Though the digital community is mostly in the dark as to the workings of this AI system, we know it analyzes user behavior to provide more accurate search results, and dwell time (the time spent on the page) is one of its most important factors.
RankBrain, in essence, is after user experience. So it doesn’t make that great of an impact on the way we approach SEO. Optimizing for a machine-learning technology is fundamentally optimizing for humans since its goal is to draw up predictions as a human would.
It has been predicted that by the end of 2018, machine learning will have a greater influence over traditional search results and, eventually, it will replace algorithm updates with its “automated, continuous, and iterative algorithm updating process.”
With RankBrain and Google’s integration of AI in general, there’s a stronger push for site owners to become more nimble and adaptable to constant, unpredictable changes in the delivery of search results.
SEO and search experience have come a long way since the 1990s. Over the years, we’ve witnessed how search engines have increasingly narrowed their focus on providing the best results for users. From the reliable, hands-free voice search to the dependence on machine learning, it’s interesting to see how search is taking shape, and it will be interesting to see where it takes our SEO approach in the coming months.
In other words, being mobile-friendly is the only way to survive -- and stand out -- at a time when people’s lives are defined by micro-moments. From page responsiveness to page speed to content readability, your SEO campaign must be ready to compete.