When it comes to Google ranking factors, there’s a whole host of myths that you need...
Ever since its inception, SEO has been a constantly changing beast that many specialists in the world of online search optimisation have tried to tame.
It is quick-paced and has evolved over time to become more sophisticated, sometimes to the annoyance of those who have jumped through all of the right hoops to rank their websites, only to find that algorithms had been changed overnight.
From Penguin to Panda, adaption to mobile and voice searching, and numerous Core Updates, SEO for Google has been something that has kept many on their toes. However, 2021 looks set to be a year that does not witness any major changes to the system - except for the Page Experience update which was implemented this year (but announced in 2020).
Instead, it’s predicted that a handful of key trends in SEO will continue well into next year rather than Google reinventing the wheel once again, changing the whole landscape of SEO.
Here we will take a look at some of the trends we’ve witnessed this year, and give you the lowdown on how you can improve your optimisation for the rest of this year at least.
It is estimated that in the three years from 2016 until 2019 the number of searches classed as zero-click increased around 5%, up to 49%. While this incremental figure seems small, it actually represents a whole lot of searches globally. This is primarily due to the fact that Google’s ‘featured snippets’ have altered how users obtain the information they need using SERP features.
Many times people will search Google for the answer to a question, and with those FAQs written right there in the top box ahead of search results, it only takes a couple of clicks to retrieve the answer without having to be diverted to a website. The option is there, however, to visit that website which Google has chosen as the best answer, and a percentage of searchers will still do that, but a black and white answer is usually enough to satiate the searcher in a matter of seconds and does not need a follow up.
What’s more, if a featured snippet question is clicked on, it unravels more questions immediately below, so a great deal of time can be spent clicking on those interesting questions the algorithm has thrown up, and thus a click to a particular website is not needed around half of the time. Google algorithms are also constantly increasing the accuracy of this type of zero-click search result.
So what can be done to get in on the act of this type of search result to boost your business? One of the main things you can do is to answer questions related to your business and aim to be an authority on them, consider this when choosing keywords. However just because a certain keyword is not getting any clicks, this doesn’t exactly mean that they are defunct, appearing in the search results boosts awareness and perception of your brand.
Google has always been focused on ranking pages that give the user exactly what they’re looking for. It’s not going to recommend a page that isn’t mobile-friendly or that allows annoying and intrusive pop-up advertisements, but as of May this year they’ve also added Core Web Vitals which will use a few more important metrics to assess your pages. This includes how fast the large elements on your page load, the time it takes for page response when it is interacted with, and how much items are shifted around throughout the loading process.
Ensure that your content is buyer-centric, directed towards their wants and needs, and not just reams of sales copy about how good you are. That’s great to note and does inspire confidence, but if it’s not giving the user what they came, an answer to their solution, then it’s not going to have the maximum effect.
There’s no use building all of your content around factors that make Google happy if your visitor themselves is not satisfied with the content they clicked through for.
There can be many reasons behind a search term, and it’s up to both you as the website owner and Google to quickly and accurately discover what the searcher is really looking for and throw up the right search results. Is the searcher seeking to purchase a product, get useful information on a topic, or just trying to navigate to a particular site?
The differences in search terminology can be subtle, however, you too have to gauge what the user is really looking for and build that into your SEO plan. RankBrain and BERT are two technologies that Google uses to assist with determining what the searcher is looking for, and using a myriad of factors such as location to ascertain exactly what is being demanded from the searcher.
Learn to align your own website content and product pages to what is being requested by the searcher, and you’ll be in a much better position to be displayed as a relevant result.
For example, users searching ‘best headphones’ are looking for comparison tables and ready compiled listicles of the best headphones to flick through, whereas searching ‘beats headphones’ will show that the user has already focused in on a particular brand of headphone, which should direct them to product pages.
The new algorithm known as SMITH has a similar role to that of BERT, and gives Google a much better understanding of content intent especially when it comes to longer more detailed pages which cover multiple topics within a sector. This allows you to address many topics on a single page rather than having to go through the effort of creating a wider variety of pages that may be more specialised.
E‑A‑T is what Google is looking for on your site. It stands for your Expertise in your sector, the Authoritativeness of your content, and your overall Trustworthiness. It isn’t a ranking factor that can affect your site directly, however it involves raters who will assess the search results according to this criteria. Google then takes this feedback on board and attempts to connect the dots and discover how E-A-T websites are, and then applies these changes to their algorithms.
Some of the steps you can take to stay on the good side of E-A-T is to create new content and keep it fresh and up to date. You should also have accurate, factual content, so be sure to link to other reputable, high authority sites for the benefit of your visitors.
Maintain your hold over a specific sector, don’t try to generalise. Reviews hold more weight than you expect, and it is also a factor that is put into the equation when discovering how trustworthy your site and services really are.
In 2019 it was discovered that nearly half of all web searches were conducted by voice, and that number is set to continue to rise. This is due primarily to many searches being made via mobile devices and also the increase in smart speakers in recent years.
By 2022 more than half of households in the USA will own smart speakers leading to many millions of more searches being conducted in this way. Google has recognised this change and has taken steps such as investing in things such as RankBrain which helps search queries to be understood on a deeper level, and Knowledge Graph which is able to make better connections between the searcher and what they are ultimately looking for.
There are some great tips when it comes to optimising your business for this increasingly popular search method. You can set up a My Business profile on Google where all of your most frequently asked questions about your business can be stored. You can increase the speed of your webpage loading times, helping organic ranking too.
Highly ranked pages with backlinks are likely to be pulled for voice results. Keep your answers short, nobody wants to hear reams of information on a certain topic when it can be answered in 25 words.
Having a website that has been optimised for use on mobile devices is now more important than ever, as more and more people use their smartphones or tablets to access search results rather than the traditional laptops and computers. It didn’t become a factor in ranking until 2015, however this indexing was bumped up to ‘mobile-first’ in 2019 to accommodate the changes.
You can see if your site has already been changed by Google to mobile indexing using the Indexing Crawler within the Search Console settings. It should read ‘Google Smartphone’ if it has. A main aim of your website should be to look great and function easily from whatever device your user has chosen, and that they can navigate to where they need to be in as fewer steps as possible.
It’s no secret that ranking for images in Google is a sure-fire way to increase traffic to your website, however this way of searching is changing for the better, and its potential is being realised more and more in this visually-minded society.
If you look at the popularity of applications such as Google Lens which was introduced less than 5 years ago, you will see how this mobile-friendly form of search is taking off. All you have to do is aim your device camera at an object or product and the search results will give you anything which looks similar for you to get inspiration from. This means if you are selling a product, then it’s important to have images of them on your website and tagged properly with alt text. Then when a user finds your image from something they’ve taken a picture of, your website will get that all-important click-through.
Since YouTube became the property of Google, the search engine has slowly been adapting ways in which video content is displayed on their searches. Sometimes on mobile, you may even be given a video to watch at the top of the search results instead of an answer, especially true if your search reflects the physical demonstration of something, for example ‘how to change a tyre’. SEO should not stop at words, but be sure to embed relevant and helpful videos created by yourself or others to gain that upper hand.
If you are already familiar with Google Discover then you know it has true potential to boost the traffic to your site pages. It is a feed for mobiles that suggests interesting content to users based on their past search results and activity from sites like YouTube, coupled with your location information and items you’ve acted positively to in the past.
Hundreds of millions of people use Discover every year to find content they are interested in, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. If you wish to qualify to be featured in Discover, then you should already have a strong foothold with your SEO, and always aim to meet all of the criteria in the policies – you can’t use it without doing this. As this feature is focused on mobiles, your site should obviously be mobile responsive and load quickly.
Don’t go for clickbait-style content, and ensure that there is an accurate description of current content that people are interested in. Also make sure that you have an attractive image to use, as this will be picked up and displayed directly in the feed for visual impact.
It’s clear that Google is getting smarter by the day when it comes to giving searchers what they want when they access the search engine, and with the trends above set to continue, it’s up to websites to get on board with the way the world is changing.
Audio, video and images are becoming more prevalent as users steer away from typing their search queries, however, the power of keywords still remains, so ensuring that you have a good mix and multi-faceted approach when it comes to SEO will stand you in good stead for whatever the future holds for SEO.
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