If you’re familiar with SEO, you already know that search engines have been evolving for years. There was a time when all SEOs had to worry about was having the right keyword density and high PR links. But boy has things changed.
We’ve seen a shift away from keyword density to artificial intelligence trying to determine the searcher’s intent and presenting increasingly targeted and relevant results to users. User search patterns have changed too and search engines had to adapt. This means that the many SEO strategies of a few years ago are not only obsolete but could actually end up destroying SEO efforts. But what exactly makes a good SEO strategy in 2018?
2017 was the year of the digital assistant. And it has also been the year SEOs really had to start thinking about conversational queries as part of their strategies.
Conversational queries are the searches that occur when we ask the information appliance in our home or infotainment center in the car to search for something. This is also called voice search. Search engine optimization for these types of queries is called conversational SEO or voice SEO.
According to a recent study by Northstar research on mobile voice search habits, a staggering 55% of all teens say that they use voice search at least once per day. The number of adults was 41%. Not only does this show that voice search is now playing a major role in SEO, it also shows that the trend will only go up.
One of the ways to capitalize on conversational queries is to integrate long tail conversational queries as part of your on-page SEO. Get a list of the questions people would ask about your business. Then look for places to list these questions on your website.
For example, instead of a generic “hours of operation” header, use the header “When is X business open?” In addition to a map capsule, put headers that describe “how to reach X from Y thoroughfare”. You’ll get extra points when you talk about free parking within an easy walking distance of your business since the discussion of cross-streets and local landmarks are good for ranking well with local search queries.
Another way to rank well for conversational queries is to add an FAQ section to product pages. List the questions people ask your customer service department or tech support about the product on your website followed by the answer. Your official answers will then come up with the results to those questions when asked of an information appliance, and you may reduce support calls to customer service, as well.
In a world where there are literally a billion other online competitors, improving your local SEO rankings is becoming increasingly important. Unless you’re a national brand or sell internationally, you should integrate local search terms into your marketing content and website so that you show up in front of your most likely customers.
There’s no point in showing up first in a service provider search if 95% of the visitors aren’t in your service area. If someone is looking specifically for local service providers, you’ll also be overlooked in favor of better local search engine optimized businesses by people who want to hire a business like yours. And most people are searching locally unless they’re looking for general information.
There’s another reason why your SEO strategy should focus on local. It is very hard to rank well for a category like insurance, pest control or medical advice. However, you could still rank first for the local keyword combined with that category. In short, you may not rank in the top three for “vets” but you could rank first for “my city name vets”.
One commonly overlooked source of local references are business directories. Your business information needs to be correct and uniformly repeated across all business directories. Use the same business name, phone number and address on all business directories for each store location. Note that this is a great place to put a link back to your business, generating organic traffic to your site, though no one should have to visit your website to find out where you’re located or when you’re open.
Audio and Video Content
Audio and video content as a percentage of the content we consume is growing. Podcasts don’t yet rival radio in reach, but they’re popular with those who want to listen to in-depth analysis on a subject without trying to tune into a talk radio show when it airs. Then there is video content with its far greater engagement than the printed word, while for marketers, the fact it can’t be scraped and posted elsewhere is a plus.
You need to apply search engine optimization to your video and audio content so that it is findable. This includes good titles for videos so that your how-to video, your behind the scenes tour, and interviews come up in reference to broad searches for that type of content and searches related to your brand. Tags on video pages aid in this process, but rich descriptions that contain the right keywords matter more. If you want the SEO of your video to explode, upload transcripts of the text to the same or a linked page. You’ll simply add value for your viewers if you provide closed captioning.
Artificial Intelligence and Searcher Intent
Besides secretly plotting to take over the world, the greatest but the nearly invisible application of modern artificial intelligence is in determining search engine results. As a matter of fact, RankBrain, the AI behind Google’s search engine, is now the third most important factor in determining your SERP.
RankBrain is constantly mining content to find correlations between terms to try to determine context. It also uses user behavior to determine which sites should be privileged.
Search engines know that they don’t always get it right. Yet every set of search results can be seen as a massive A/B test. If you’re the top link and the link gets clicked, that’s a point in your favor. If they bounce away from the page in a few seconds, whether the page clearly isn’t a match or simply takes too long to lead, that’s a point against you. The longer people stay on your page, the more search engines associate your content with the expected intent of the searcher.
The worst case scenario is when you come up in searches utterly unrelated to your content, such as an article on painting nails for a style blog or swimming pool covers comes up in home improvement searches instead.
You can use latent semantic indexing, secondary search terms that better position your content with the audience, to improve the fit. In the nails example, the content could be tweaked by adding secondary search terms like “manicure” and “fingernails” to avoid coming up in unrelated searches. If you’re selling items for the game pool instead of items for swimming pools, include terms like cue, balls, and billiards so search engines know exactly which contexts should include your content.
If you want to dominate SEO in 2018, you’ll have to get with the times and adapt to the new reality. Nice “long tail keywords” and “high-quality backlinks” just won’t cut it.
You’ll have to shift your SEO strategy to fit the way search engines present data and determine the fit of content relevant to various queries and give users what they want. While it does not eliminate sound SEO strategies, SEO is now increasingly becoming consumer driven, so you’ll have to develop strategies that favorize users, first and foremost.