What factors will define your rankings in the results pages from 2015 on? An aggressive link building strategy is still more important than quality content? What is the weight of mobile in the optimization best practices?
These and many other questions come out of the hat every time Google and the other search engines make changes to their algorithm. As ranking factors evolve, so do digital strategies. The analysis of SEO ranking trends, therefore, needs to become an integral part of your marketing routine.
The inspiration for this article comes from a recent research from Searchmetrics, which year after year analyzes in depth the structure of the algorithm. Search Ranking Factors 2015 is the perfect place to look for variations and signals that Google is changing the rules of search.
Analyzing the top 30 search results for 10,000 relevant keywords on Google, the report aims to identify the key elements that high ranking websites have in common and provide insights and benchmarks for marketers.
If you look back on what happened to the optimization in the last five years, you will notice remarkable changes in how SEO rules condition not only content strategy but also digital marketing strategy as a whole. 2015, in particular, has seen a massive change in the industry.
Of course, we refer to the mobile-friendly update, already affecting the destiny of all companies involved in the online competition. The biggest consequence of the new algorithm is the awareness that mobile SEO is now critical to delivering a great customer experience.
Why is SEO connected to customer experience? In the last decade or so, the Internet has disrupted the connection between brands and customers. The dawn of a new generation of clients - the digital customers - has forced marketers to review the purchase funnel, and adapt the customer journey map to include the digital touch points.
Google suddenly turned out to be our main reference to share opinions, find product information and make purchases. Marketers have long struggled to keep up with the rules arbitrarily decided by Google and the other major players (Yahoo, Microsoft).
The parameters of good search engine optimization were set up, but it was clear to all that this was not a ‘Word’ carved in stone. And then a second revolution happened: the Internet went out of the house, and the smartphone became the daily companion for all our activities.
In 2015, the point of no return was passed, when mobile searches have overcome desktop searches. Now a broad 60% of the entire traffic on Google comes from mobile connections, with more than 80% of users using the smartphone as the favorite tool to search the Internet.
The building and management of a positive branded experience are impossible if you don’t take the dynamics of mobile transformation into account. The mechanism created by the Big G, after all, adapts to changing times, and our times tell that mobile devices and empowered customers walk hand in hand.
This relationship revolutionizes purchase behaviors and forces (again) marketers to embrace technology and innovate their digital strategy, in the name of an omni-channel presence, mobile first.
Customers know what they want, and they want it now, easy and seamlessly. If you can satisfy their needs, and be always present when they ask for help, then you are halfway in your race to relevance.
In the world where purchase decisions are mostly made with a tap or swipe on a smartphone screen, result page ranking equals the preference ranking in your customer’s mind. Your clients (actual and potential) will ultimately reward brands fully optimized for the mobile experience.
From a quick overview of the Search Ranking Factors 2015 report, it is clear that Google is following its path with determination, stepping away from plain keywords and moving towards relevant content.
Higher-ranking websites are those that try to understand the user’s intention and behavior as a whole, working to reflect these patterns in quality content and site structure. From here descend four major SEO ranking trends that will define your brand in the next years.
RELEVANT CONTENT MATTERS
The key finding is that factors associated with the quality of content have more weight year after year. Higher ranking pages tend to have more words, but quantity is useless without a proper organization. Content marketing, focused on customers’ needs, evolves in the name of relevance.
As the number of digital touch points increases, a holistic approach seems the only appropriate to offer what users want when they want it. Mobile app development and social engagement optimization now contribute to content consistent and your presence coherent.
MENTIONS REPLACE LINK BUILDING
Forget the days when link building was the key to SEO paradise. The times of unnatural links are over, and also links in wider terms might be doomed. The number of backlinks to a page from external sources is still a factor correlated with ranking positions, but the overall importance is declining.
At the same time, mentions are growing in relevance: whenever your brand is mentioned on websites other than yours (social media included), your ranking will increase. Again, you need to understand the user’s intention and ensure you optimize content for all platforms.
USER EXPERIENCE IS CRITICAL
The mobilegeddon has brought to light the need to optimized for the mobile customer experience. Your website - and online presence in general - must be fully usable, regardless the device. On average, 30% of sites that appear in the top 30 Google.com search results use responsive design to optimize the search experience.
Responsive is critical, and it is now considered prerequisite, not something exceptional. Search habits are moving beyond the desktop; thus the emergence of mobile SEO, even more than just a website: social media, apps, e-commerce, app stores, blog, advertising.
SEMANTIC SEARCH ENGINES
Keywords have always been the basis of search engine optimization, yet their importance in the future will steadily decline. The problem is that marketers have learned to use them in a mechanical way, as a technical element more than the core of content.
Keywords are becoming obsolete, and the focus on one or two short keywords is not your insurance against ranking drops. The evolution moves towards semantic search optimization, which focuses more on the meaning of content than on the content components like plain keywords.
Google is more focused than ever on offering good quality contents, but SEO is - and will always be - a technical matter. On-page factors - such as title tag, meta description, and quick load - are still standard requirements that all high-ranking pages display (and that affect social pages too)
You need to find the perfect balance between great content marketing and technical elements. Between customers’ needs and your business goals. Cheating with black hat SEO tactics won’t help you save a bad customer experience.
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