The factors affecting how a website gets ranked in search engine result pages often change, making it difficult for the majority of professionals — even those directly responsible for their company’s online acquisition and retention efforts — to keep pace.
However, even with the ever-changing digital landscape, there are four immediate developments affecting every digital business today. Let’s explore the search engine optimization (SEO) trends (specifically, the SEO developments having a direct impact on an online company’s bottom line) that every professional should know.
On April 21, 2015, Google updated its algorithm, with the clear intent of giving mobile-friendliness a greater impact on how it delivers search results to users. The term “mobilegeddon” was coined because many feared (and are still holding their breath) that their website’s rankings would plummet if they did not have a mobile-optimized website.
In reality, however, most who knew about mobilegeddon likely took the necessary steps to avoid losing organic search traffic — in fact, Google reports a 4.7 percent uptick in the proportion of sites that are mobile-friendly in just the two months since it announced this change.
For the unfamiliar, Google has been making strides for quite a while (years, really), encouraging website owners to implement a website design that would cater to a user regardless of which device he or she is accessing. This is because Google’s stated goal is to provide users with the most relevant, high-quality results possible; a non-optimized website, on the other hand, forces users to resize (often clumsily) the content on a Web page, frequently leading them to abandon the page altogether.
What’s more, Google recently reported that more than half of searches are made from mobile devices. Not having a website that caters to these users does not bode well for a website’s search rankings or user experience, as the two tend to go hand in hand.
While Google’s recommendation is “Responsive Web Design” (RWD), an approach that conforms to the device being used, the other primary option is to create a dedicated mobile website. Professionals can see the difference between the two in a couple different ways.
For example, from their mobile device, they can go to a popular website like Sears.com. They will notice (a) the website is optimized for their mobile devices, as in there is no need to expand content or “pinch and zoom” to make it readable and (b) that the URL has changed from sears.com to m.sears.com. This is the biggest indication that Sears offers a “dedicated mobile website” (rather than Responsive Web Design – which uses the same structure, but recognizes the device type). Users can check to see if a website is using responsive Web design by going to a popular website (even from their desktop computer) like Starbucks.com, and simply re-sizing their browser to the size of a smartphone screen.
Takeaway: There is a lot to learn about mobile-optimized design as it relates to both user experience and search rankings, but the key point every professional should know: if their respective company does not offer a website that caters to all users, regardless of device (desktop, smartphone, tablet and even emerging wearable technologies) then their brand reach will plummet. The reason: their website will not be delivered to mobile users in the search engine result pages (SERPs), which is where the online journey of the majority of consumers begins.
Starbucks uses responsive design, which can be seen when a user resizes their desktop browser to the size of a smartphone screen and the URL does not change.
Google My Business
Google has now combined many of its visibility features (how a company looks when it is returned as a search result) into one platform, Google My Business. The platform provides one place to manage all of a user’s Google business apps (YouTube, Google+, Google Analytics, etc.) and even track and respond to customer reviews, as well as ensure the accuracy of their business info (name, address, phone number).
Takeaway: Every professional would be wise to review their Google My Business account and add fresh content to their Google+ pages from within the dashboard, including images that will appear in their search result. What’s more, brands should encourage their customers to leave reviews on their Google+ page, which can also appear in the SERPs and provide Google with signals that a brand is deemed trustworthy.
Google My Business provides a one-stop shop for all a business’ Google needs, making it a no-brainer for brands to spend time optimizing their Google+ page, like posting fresh content, adding photos and asking for reviews.
The majority of marketers are creating and publishing more content – blogs, whitepapers, infographics, social posts, videos – than ever before, because it not only provides websites with additional brand awareness and traffic (high-quality content tends to be shared often), but also tends to keep users on their sites longer (a great indicator of a high-quality website). What’s more, an engaged audience equals a loyal audience, one which buys frequently and promotes a brand to their friends and family.
When it comes to Google, how recent a content update was done, site reputation, social shares, time on site and traffic are just some of Google’s 200 ranking factors, which can all be given a boost through relevant, high-quality content. But what is relevant, high-quality content? That is dependent on an audience.
Takeaway: Before creating content, professionals may want to check out Google Trendsto see what their audience is searching for and develop content based on those insights.
Google Trends provides brands with insights into what their audiences are searching for, which can be used to create relevant content and further their SEO initiatives.
With the creation of content comes the need to share said content. With billions of social media users worldwide, brands cannot afford to ignore social media – nor can Google.
For example, when a brand creates a social post, and that post is commented on or shared with others, this provides numbers that prove users are interacting with a company. While social signals and how they relate to how a company is ranked in the SERPs are widely debated, there is no doubt that search engines are using social networks within their search results: for instance, Google recently began working with Twitter (again) to havetweets show in relevant search results on Google.
Google also recently gave businesses the opportunity to include their social profileswithin its Knowledge Graph panel on the search results (see image). These are just two examples of how Google is using social media in its search results.
Takeaway: It would be wise for professionals to take a measured approach to social media to ensure it’s not a “time-waster” and to follow the updates Google is making to its SERPs when it comes to social media.
Google now offers companies the ability to prominently display their social profile information in the search engine result pages. (Photo courtesy of Google.)
The bottom line in all of this: Google may not be the only search engine exists, but it’s far and away the most used, making it the most influential in how a brand acquires and retains customers on the Web. It’s important to continually stay knowledgeable about the changes that Google makes to ensure a company’s website is set up for success and profits in the amazing but complex “digital jungle.”
Managing editor at Website Magazine, writes and edits, manages the publication’s contributor relations and social media accounts.