SEO Success Is a Moving Target, but Good Content Will Always Be Crucial
While content marketing often bears no byline, vaguely crediting “the Editors” or another unnamed figure, it’s now important to give content thoughtful ownership, even if that means ghostwriting for the author. “Anybody who is writing online or running any sort of content marketing strategy should pay attention to this update. The author of your blogs should be someone who demonstrates reasonable authority in the industry,” Palfrey adds.
Trustworthiness is arguably the hardest requirement for content to meet, because from Google’s perspective, it relies on third-party sites to recognize the content as valid. In other words, if a trustworthy site links to a piece of content, it validates that content as reliable and trustworthy. But there’s really no secret to earning this recognition. The best advice experts have is to consistently link to trustworthy sites to gain their attention and receive a linkback.
The last, and perhaps most important, piece of the SEO puzzle is intent. Though a relatively new requirement for SEO—it became broadly used following Google’s December 2019 update of BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), a transformer-based machine learning technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training—intent is quickly becoming more important than keywords when it comes to the bulk of content. That’s not to say that keywords aren’t vital—they are, especially important in headlines and subheads—but Google is getting smarter with its understanding of what users want to find, and, thus, content creators must wise up too.
“Google moved away from exact match keyword optimization years ago, but our industry is somewhat slow to keep up. These days, Google doesn’t use the actual string of words that are typed into the search box. Instead, look at the context of the query and analyze potential search intent to generate results,” Steponaitis explains.
There are four primary types of search intent: informational, meaning readers want to learn; navigational, meaning readers have a specific site in mind; transactional, meaning readers want to buy something; and finally, commercial investigation, meaning readers want to eventually buy, but are still in the research phase. Understanding the intent with which readers come to a site can be game-changing for SEO strategy.
For example, to rank highly for the keywords “best car for families,” content creators must realize that the search intent in this phrase is commercial investigation, not transactional. The web surfer in this case is still comparison shopping. To earn traffic searching for this term, develop content that helps the reader make a decision rather than trying to push a product.
LESSER-KNOWN TRICKS TO SEO
It’s well documented that although SEO hacks such as keyword overload won’t pull the wool over Google’s eyes, there are some simple, strategic ways to boost performance. One approach is through featured snippets, which appear above the organic result, commonly referred to as “Position 0.”
To take advantage of this feature and generate more clicks, include a page of fairly general frequently asked questions and provide clear answers. For example, a sales software provider can post answers to questions such as “What does point-of-sale mean?” to cast a wide net and draw in readers. “More than 50 percent of Google clicks originate from featured snippets, which shows that they generate more than half of the clicks on search engines,” says Simon Dwight Keller, founder and CEO of SDK Marketing.
Another tip? Keep an eye on your crawl budget. Crawl budget refers to the number of web pages Googlebot crawls and indexes within a particular time frame. If the number of web pages exceeds a website’s crawl budget, Googlebots might not be able to crawl and index their important pages. “If your important pages do not receive organic traffic, you will have no conversion and no business. So a crawling budget is very crucial. The best way to increase the crawling budget is by identifying non-relevant pages from your website, such as tag pages, categories pages, and author pages, and block them from robots,” Keller says.
THE FUTURE OF SEARCH
As Google’s algorithms evolve, so too must SEO strategy. Good, thoughtful content from trusted sources will always reign supreme, but it’s important to maintain a pulse on upcoming changes. For one thing, looking into 2021, all businesses should ensure that they have mobile-responsive websites. Beginning in March, Google will only index (categorize for ranking purposes) website content that displays effectively on mobile phones. Desktop-only sites will no longer be indexed, warns Emily Gertenbach, founder and e-commerce consultant at EG Creative Content, a web content creation agency.
“If a company has two versions of its website—a desktop site and then a mobile site starting with ‘m’—this is not enough. They need one site that essentially resizes down to fit different screens. If a small business is using a website builder like Squarespace, Wix, or Shopify, they’re set. But businesses running custom sites on WordPress or another CMS may need to work with a developer to ensure their site meets the necessary criteria,” she says.
And there’s so much more to come in the evolution of search. “Keep track of other technological advancements, especially voice searches done through virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa, which are growing exponentially,” Dharmapuri says.
As voice search improves and consumers increasingly rely on it, content creators will have to adapt and learn an entirely new approach to SEO, because already, spoken searches take on a different pattern than typed ones. It’s only the beginning for voice search, but it is fertile ground for a full SEO upheaval.
Maria Minsker is a contributing writer based in New York.