I used to think Google was unpredictable and they’d just come up with a new ranking signal without any warning, and leave the world all shook up and speechless; but seriously NO! The truth is that sometimes Google is unpredictable but as per Googlers’ presentations at SMX West 2016 San Jose, Google’s pretty open about where the future of search is going. Obviously there are certain blank spots on the map but SEO experts at SMX shared their findings on the same on basis of their impressive research. I’ve put up a list of key takeaways of the conference: the 6 major – and often surprising – SEO trends and factors to watch this year.
1. How to do keyword research for consumer intelligence?
2. Voice search and what it means for SEO
3. Machine Intelligence: Can you survive RankBrain?
4. AMP spreading further in Google search and is the NEXT BIG THING
5. The links of the future are… not technically links
6. It’s official: Google uses click data to rank pages
How to do keyword research for consumer intelligence?
We’ve heard a lot about the importance of keyword research for on-page SEO. But have you ever thought keyword research as the most trustworthy source of consumer and market insights?
What happened to the good old customer surveys for getting market insights? Isn’t asking your customers what they need the best, easiest, and most effective way to get honest answers and use it as a data point to create your strategies? Interestingly the ‘key’ is keyword here.
50 to 84% of consumers don’t provide honest responses about their behaviors in marketing surveys.Tony Verre, Founder, DreamFire Digital Marketing
According to Tony Verre from DreamFire, consumer surveys don’t always tell the truth. Well this can be hard to believe but Tony cited some examples where big brands loses BIG BUCKS investing in marketing strategies based on consumer feedback:
- Wal-Mart decluttered its shelves based on feedback from consumer surveys. They lost 1.85 billion dollars.
- Coca Cola, in response to the Pepsi Challenge, spent $4 million in a nationwide taste test to create NEW Coke. That was a bust.
- McDonald’s spent $300 million to create the Arch Deluxe in response to consumer feedback for an “adult burger,” which they retired as a failure a year later
There are 3 reasons why customers don’t always provide honest responses about their behaviors in marketing surveys:
First, They want to sound superior to the guy or girl next to them.
Second, They want to fit into the social norm.
Third, They are too polite and won’t tell you your idea sucks.
The BIG QUESTION is, if we can’t trust customer’s whom can we trust? SEARCH ENGINES! No one is going to lie a search engine and surprisingly queries people type is search box is absolutely best – and honest examples of what they like.
The great relief is that there are bunch of keyword research tools available for getting consumer insights with Amazon and Google topping the powerhouses of consumer search behavior data. According to Tony 4 keyword tools that search scientists bet on are: Google Trends, Google Predictive Search (aka Google instant results), Google Keyword Planner and Amazon Predictive Search. All you need is to analyze and interpret them properly to get actionable insights on:
What problems are people facing in your industry?
What needs are they solving with products like yours?
What bothers them most about your competitors?
What, on the contrary, do they like?
There are phases in the consumer search journey and being aware of those will let you make sure you meet your customers’ needs at each stage, and guide them smoothly on to the next one and a result you will end up with an actionable on-page SEO strategy as well as a holistic marketing strategy.
Recommendation: Unlock the potential of these suggested data driven keyword research tools including Tony’s favorite and Get inside consumers’ heads using observable and quantifiable data to figure out what your consumers’ needs and wants.
- Google AdWords Keyword Planner
- Google Trends
- Google/Bing Related Searches
- Amazon Predictive Search
- Google/Bing/Yahoo Autocomplete
- Competitors’ pages
- Google Search Console & Analytics
- Keyword discovery
- Long Tail Pro
Image Credits: Bruce Clay Inc.
Voice search and what it means for SEO
Lately, Google has been taking a lot about its increasing focus on mobile “aka mobilegeddon” and as we know people conducted more searches on smartphones and tablets than on desktop in 2015. But what exactly does it mean for SEOs? In the long run, it’s beyond going mobile-friendly …. it’s all about SPEECH & VOICE!
The ratio of voice search is growing faster than type search.Behshad Behzadi, Principal Engineer, Google Zurich
Google reports that 55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search every day on the Google app and that the amount of voice search is growing so fast. Sounds sci-fi-ish ? Not exactly! With speech recognition word error rate at 8% currently and going down steadily, voice search provides users for quicker and hands-free search alternative from typing.
So for SEO’s it means conversational and semantic context search is getting far more bigger shape and a complete end to exact-match keywords. Secondly, people using voice search has different intentions and looking to either get quick answers to their queries, solve a problem or to fulfill an immediate requirement. Which means now onwards you should have a mobile-friendly way to give answers to your consumers.
Also, Google’s next frontier is conversational shopping, which would allow you to buy products without the click of a button.
Machine Intelligence: Can you survive RankBrain?
RankBrain is one of the new things that helps Google in being persistent to provide the searchers with the best possible search results. What is RankBrain actually? RankBrain is a machine learning intelligent system that analyzes search results of past searchers and picks the most relevant ones to display at the top of the SERP based on the data analysis. Google did also mention that RankBrain is the third most important factor in its ranking algorithm.
Hence, it’s important for SEO’s to understand that there’s no universal list of things to add to pages and make RankBrain fall in love with your site. But one thing SEO’s should keep in mind is Relevance score. Relevance is the key for good rankings, and RankBrain is perhaps Google’s best way of detecting relevance to date. When optimizing for your keywords, it’s more important than ever for SEO’s to think about user intentions and fulfilling the need behind the query — Relevant, holistic content is more important than ever – even if that does not imply using exact keywords in page copy.
Relevance can literally be anything on the page that leaves a positive effect on user experience. Marcus Tober and the Searchmetrics team found that for ecommerce and health, pages with more content and more interactive elements are more successful for higher relevance score.
Eric Enge and his colleagues at Stone Temple Consulting analyzed 163 queries from their database of cached Google SERPs to see how RankBrain has already impacted search results, All of the 163 queries met the following criteria:
1. The search results shown indicated that Google didn’t understand the query;
2. There is a reasonable set of results that Google should be able to find for the query.
Then, they compared the cached results from July 2015 (before RankBrain) to the ones Google currently provides for these queries, and found something pretty staggering: 54.6% of the results have improved. That’s a very strong score.
RankBrain will do a better job of matching user queries with web pages, so you’d be less dependent on having all the words from the query on your page.Eric Enge - CEO, Stone Temple Consulting
Here’s an interesting example from Stone Temple’s study: in July 2015, Google returned some pretty confusing results for a keyphrase that, to a human, seems pretty straightforward. Now, they are doing a much better job in January 2016 for the same keyphrase:
Eric admits that not all of the SERP improvements they saw may have been due to RankBrain, but he strongly believes that a lot of the changes were RankBrain-related.
AMP spreading further in Google search and is the NEXT BIG THING
AMP or Accelerated Mobile Pages is an open source project by Google that helps webmasters create lightning-fast mobile web pages. AMP includes three parts: AMP HTML (regular HTML with some restrictions and extensions), AMP JS (a library that ensures the fast rendering of AMP pages), and AMP Cache (Google’s cloud cache intended to reduce the time it takes for content to load on a user’s mobile device).
We are going to be rolling out AMP elsewhere, including in search.Dave Besbris, Vice President of Engineering, Google
Google officially launched AMP into the search results this February for some queries, but it’s going to affect more searches soon. Google’s objective is to solve 2 major problems with AMP:
1. The poor user experience on mobile due to slow loading pages.
2. The increasing use of ad blockers on mobile devices.
Publishers, advertisers, Google itself aren’t getting the revenue from ads they are used to get and believes that more and more mobile users opt for adblockers due to the consensus that pages with ads load slower.
- Web forms, for lead generation or other purposes,
- Embedded comment systems,
- Some unsupported ad formats,
- Videos via players not supported by AMP,
- Interactive visualizations/charts (Google Maps, etc.),
Currently, AMP results are only displayed in Google for publishers and news sites. But according to Googler Dave Besbris, it’s “an important time to get your feet wet” for all other industries as well.
The links of the future are… not technically links
For years now links are considered to be the most important ranking factor and SEO’s tried best to optimize and manipulate it quite often. But time is evolving and search engines are getting smarter. Now search engines have figured out a best way to understand what to trust and surprisingly linkless mentions are much more important.
Years ago, Bing figured out context and sentiment of tone, and how to associate mentions without a link. As the volume grows and trustworthiness of this mention is known, you’ll get a bump in rankings as a trial.Duane Forrester, Vice President of Organic Search Operations, Bruce Clay
Obviously, links would continue to be as important as earlier but what has changed is along with links you need to get positive mentions and gain reviews for SEO too likewise reputation management and brand awareness.
It’s official: Google uses click data to rank pages
The debate on whether or not Google uses user CTR’s in its ranking algorithm has been there for long, and at SMX 2016 Google’s ranking engineer Paul Haahr finally raised the curtain on the issue.
When you run a search on Google, you’re in at least one experiment.Paul Haahr, Ranking Engineer, Google
According to Paul, Google uses a bunch of “metrics” to evaluate and rank SERP’s. Those metrics can come from human quality ratings and, more importantly, live experiments: A/B experiments on real traffic like other websites do, look for changes in click patterns much more harder to understand than your expectation. Thousands of such experiments are run for Google searchers in real time, at any given second.
Google swaps search results returned in response to queries and then looks at how the change affects the click-through rates of those results. After an experiment is finished, Google re-rank search results accordingly.