Search engines continue to be the number one driver of new business for most small businesses, so when they make changes to how they rank or display website results, everyone gets a little on edge.
While SEO and digital marketing in general is great because it’s more easily measured than traditional marketing methods, it can be challenging to keep up with the barrage of constant changes. Google alone changes its search engine algorithm more than 500 times a year.
While updating you on every change would be a much longer column, I want to make sure to keep you “in the know” on major changes or trends that are currently impacting your business and will continue to grow in importance in 2018.
In 2015 Google announced that 15 percent of the searches that were being performed on their search engine were being at least in part handled by an artificial intelligence that Google had dubbed RankBrain.
Fast forward to today and Google’s machine learning AI RankBrain is involved in all 5 billion daily searches, but according to Google, AI only changes the way results are ranked in a portion of the queries. The exact percentage is unknown at this time as Google likes to keep these details close to the vest. An educated guesser like myself would say that number has increased significantly from 15 percent and will continue to increase.
The most recent data shows that 20 percent of searches performed on mobile are voice searches. According to comScore, that will grow to as much as 50 percent by 2020. Why the large increase? It can take a while for the general population to adopt and get used to a new feature. In general though, people can more easily produce coherent thoughts via voice and typing one’s searches takes longer. Natural language processing has improved significantly in the last few years and people feel it is more acceptable to perform voice searches in public.
More and more people are also using voice to send emails or text messages as well because it is much quicker and easier to get out one’s thoughts. Why is this important? When someone performs a voice search it often produces different search results than typed-in results due to the way we speak our queries and the fact that they know the input was a voice search so it may be more convenient to get a voice answer. This means that getting your website to rank for these results requires a slightly different approach than traditional methods and many companies have not adapted to this.
Search engines have been doubling down on UX (user experience) for quite some time. Since 2009, search engines have been pushing the importance of website load times for improved user experience. They’ve rolled out updates based on sites with poor content, pop-ups and even website security SSL/https update. In January of this year Google announced that they would be expanding their page speed ranking factor to mobile searches starting in July of 2018.
Why such a heavy focus on user experience? If you were referring your customers to a business, you would want them to have a good experience, right? If they weren’t, would you continue referring your customers to that business? It’s that simple.
Many industry experts, including myself, believe that Google is using other user engagement metrics in determining user experience, such as pogo sticking (where someone hits your site and jumps right back to the search results), time on site and conversions (directions, calls, forms completed) in their ranking algorithm though they haven’t yet admitted to this (except a couple statements that allude to it).
In 2015 Google made an update to its algorithm that was referred to by many as Mobilegeddon. Prior to that time, they were already treating searches on mobile different than desktop searches, but this time they wanted to use their influence to improve the Web experience. So, in a rare move, they heavily publicized this algorithm update. Mobile searches on Google surpassed desktop searches in 2015 and are continuing to grow, so it only makes sense that search engines will put a heavy focus here. Google is moving to a mobile-first index, which means they are prioritizing and crawling your mobile website first. What does that mean? Well, it means if you aren’t currently utilizing a mobile-friendly site you need to change right away. It also means that if you’re using the separate mobile site over the desktop site, you could run into issues as Google’s going to prioritize the mobile site content over the desktop site. This clearly ties in heavily with their push towards improving overall user experience.
Digital Assistant Technology
Digital assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana are the battleground for the future of our attention. These companies believe that we will increasingly utilize our digital personal assistants as the go-between to perform a number of tasks, order products, procure services and even handle many of our communications.
If you were going to hire a personal assistant, what would you want them to be like? Would you want them to not know anything about you and your needs? Would you want them to only do things when you asked them to? Probably not.
My guess is that you would want someone who understands you, your needs and what you like, as well as what you don’t like. You’d probably want them to predict your needs and proactively take care of tasks for you. These technologies will combine a number of technologies and features with the goal of being the best personal assistant you have ever had.
The future of SEO and digital marketing will follow three macro trends that I refer to as the “Three Ps.” The “Three Ps” stands for Personalized, Predictive and Proactive. While many companies will be unexpectedly caught in the wave of changing trends, many will take advantage of these and ride these waves to a newfound success. My hope for you is that you are the latter.
Kevin Getch is the founder of Vancouver company Webfor and director of Digital Strategy. He started his career in marketing more than 14 years ago and was a member of the Vancouver Business Journal’s Accomplished and Under 40 Class of 2014. Getch can be contacted at Kevin@webfor.com.