Future of SEO
What do the next few years hold for search engine optimisation? Since almost all businesses rely on organic search traffic, it's vital to understand the direction of travel with search engines and SEO. Here's my brief analysis of where we are currently heading.
Top ranking factors
There are hundreds of factors which determine where your website sits in the search results, but the top three factors are: on-page content, inbound links and (since fairly recently) inputs from Artificial Intelligence software, such as Google's RankBrain.
Since on-page content and AI deliver more reliable results than inbound linking (which is easier to falsely manipulate), inbound linking may decline as a ranking factor in future.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
This technology allows search engines such as Google to actually host your content instead of you hosting it. It only supports a small subset of the functionality that "full-featured" web pages do.
As a result AMP pages load and display really fast. This is good because pages that are loaded with ads tend to display very slowly on mobile devices.
You provide the content by supplying it on your site in a special format called AMP, then Google will take it automatically and display it direct from Google instead of from your site, and credit you at the bottom of the page.
As the user experience is held to be better, these pages will be ranked higher in search.
However, it's controversial because Google allows you to "swipe right" to another provider's content instead of staying on your website.
And some content providers, including major newspapers, have said that ad revenues from AMPs are lower than than from self-hosted web pages.
Voice and personalisation
Personal assistants such as Google Now, Siri and Cortana are set to grow massively and change the future of search.
Currently, the most popular voice requests are to for travel directions, time and weather updates, dictating text messages, playing music and getting TV and film listings.
But that's just the tip of of the iceberg. As these assistants are personal, they will tailor search results according to how you have interacted with them in the past. This bypasses the search engine results pages and goes straight to the relevant content. In a similar way, smarthome devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo are bypassing visual interfaces and moving straight to voice interfaces, which requires a "direct to result" approach (perhaps a throwback to Google's I'm Feeling Lucky - remember that?)
User experience (UX)
User experience (UX) is another huge factor in upcoming SEO. UX means the quality of the experience a user has when visiting your site.
For example, if your site is laid out in a logical, appealing and easy-to-use way, we say it is a good user experience.
On the other hand if your content is bland or weak, badly put together, badly laid-out and unappealing, users won't stick around because it's a poor user experience.
Google is wise enough to know that if a website has a great user experience it is probably a better bet to send a user there than to a site with poor UX. Google measures UX in a number of ways.
Three easy ways to check your UX is to look at page dwell time - the amount of time a user spends reading your page. Bounce rate - the % of users who hit your site and flounce straight off again, disgusted by the lack of relevance to their search.
New platforms for search
Off-search engine search engines will continue to rise. When we think of search we tend to think of Google's search bar or search page. But actually the biggest search engines are social networks such as YouTube, Facebook.
And social media content has appeared in search results for a long time now. Google can now index the content inside mobile apps and incorporate this into searches even when the user does not have the app installed. Little wonder, since 84% of time on mobiles in spent in apps, especially social networking and messenger apps such as SnapChat and WhatsApp. What you can do with your apps - especially social networking apps - is set to increase. Facebook now have instant messaging, SnapChat lets you send money to friends via SnapCash.
For small businesses, this all means three simple things to do right now:
- Keep producing great content for your online presence, assisting your existing and new customers in every way possible
- Improve the user experience of your website
- Consider using Accelerated Mobile Pages