Six months into 2017 and, like every year before it, Web professionals have differing opinions about what digital trends are the most important and how they should influence current strategies as well as the tactics necessary to achieve first page (and first place) rankings through the remainder of the year and beyond.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is no different. It is a useful practice, however, to look to your peers (and the competitors who employ them) to understand the optimization methods they value most highly, as they may be focused on critical areas you or your own firm may have overlooked. For instance, has your enterprise taken steps to optimize its content for voice search?
Last year, approximately 20 percent of searches on Google and 25 percent of mobile queries on Bing were voice searches according to the companies themselves. The growing popularity of voice search is only set to increase with greater mobile adoption as well as voice-activated devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa.
To tackle the former, consider this: In 2011, Pew Research Center found that 35 percent of Americans owned a smartphone of some kind. When surveyed in Nov. 2016, 77 percent of Americans reported they owned a smartphone - with lower-income Americans and those ages 50 and older exhibiting a sharp uptick in ownership over the past year.
Across all demographics, voice search is a very accessible tool as queries can often be conducted while behind the wheel (hopefully with the help of a voice-operable system), for those who may have struggled searching in the past because of spelling errors or typing issues, and as a tool to get a quick answer from the couch (in the case of smartphones) or across the room (in the case of home artificial intelligence devices).
Google Home and Amazon Echo, for example, are changing how consumers expect to obtain information and how brands should optimize their digital presence. Queries can range from "find me a good Italian restaurant nearby" (just think of how these voice assistants interpret "good") to "When is Mother's Day?".
While it will be up to companies to develop the use-cases for home assistants and their businesses, these devices will continue to expand to serve all types of queries. After all, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month this year (a 128.9 percent increase over 2016), according to eMarketer.
The industry is only now beginning to see the impact emerging devices will have on nearly every facet of communicating and information gathering. Enterprises are considering, for instance, how they will increase their visibility within app environments where traditional SEO practices are not as effective (some of these channels do not rely on links/citations as an indicator of popularity - a key component of SEO).
Smartphone users can, for instance, order food on Eat24 without ever visiting the mobile Web; they can chat with a friend, get an inside look at their favorite local bar or read the news on Snapchat; they can contact a suggested realtor within Zillow; and they can make purchases from participating retailers within Pinterest. What's more, each app uses its own algorithms to rank companies and content over others.
Ranking on Link-Less Channels
A look at optimizing content and companies for channels that don't use links to surface results at wsm.co/linkless17.
These are just a few of the mid-year SEO trends that should influence 2017 optimization strategies, but not everyone assigns them the same high priority. Our panel of experts have their own thoughts about SEO developments and their level of significance.
Trend Watch: A Marathon, Not a Sprint
Brenna Lemieux is the director of content and SEO at Insureon, a commercial insurance agency and brokerage whose mission is to simplify how small businesses, freelancers and independent contractors find commercial insurance.
Lemieux advises that in light of Google's recent so-called "Fred" update (with its ongoing tweaks and improvements rather than a single, large rollout), it is more important than ever to think of SEO like a fitness regime.
"SEO is not something you achieve and forget about - it's an ongoing process," said Lemieux. "What Google considers best practice today may be useless (or harmful) in a few months (remember authorship markup?). The good news is that, like fitness, SEO is more manageable (and effective) when you make it a part of your daily or weekly routine."
Trend Watch: Mobility, Security & Consistency
Udayan Bose is the CEO of
NetElixir, a search marketing agency and Google Premier Partner with 200-plus clients worldwide.
Bose thinks businesses should be concerned with making their websites mobile first, securing their websites and targeting users through a consistent brand message.
"Without an integration of all three aspects, SEO will falter in 2017 and a steady decline will take place in search engine result pages," said Bose. "You can rank well and still not have the quality engagement that drives revenue and traffic."
Trend Watch: SEM for Better SEO
Ivy Lamb is a content editor at Manta, one of the largest online resources dedicated to small businesses. Lamb advises companies to put paid and organic search to work in tandem to boost online leads and sales during the middle of the year.
"SEO and search engine marketing (SEM) are different digital tools aimed at achieving the same goal: getting customers to click on your website when they search for something specific online," said Lamb. "The secret to a truly effective strategy though is using SEO and SEM together. My mid-year SEO takeaway? Do not neglect your long-term SEO strategy when you begin SEM advertising."
Trend Watch: Humanized Optimization
Will Chamberlin is the director of technology at SocioFabrica, a global digital strategy and technology firm specializing in service design, email marketing and product development. His advice for following mid-year SEO trends?
Simple, take a more human approach.
"In the past, optimizing websites and content for SEO was more of a mathematical, robotic process that could be gamed (e.g., keyword stuffing, etc.)," said Chamberlin. "Now, due to an abundance of algorithm updates including artificial intelligence systems like Google's RankBrain, website owners and content creators alike must take a more human-centric approach by focusing on user experience and value of content.
"This can be done through providing a seamless user experience for visitors, quality content marketing, utilization of natural language, etc. In layman's terms, what is good for the target user is also good for SEO."
The Next Six Months
It should be clear that SEO trends vary greatly on who it is assessing them. Focusing on where people are, reaching them with relevant material and providing them an experience that does not frustrate them, will always be on trend this year and next.