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15 SEO Experts Share Link Building and Keyword Research Predictions for 2017

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15 SEO Experts Share Link Building and Keyword Research Predictions for 2017

Hardik Oza
15 SEO Experts Share Link Building and Keyword Research Predictions for 2017

To be honest, there’re no good topics for SEOs to discuss other than about link building and keyword research. So, I decided to join the “expert roundup” and publish an awesome post.

So let's dive into the answers!

I'll start from Cyrus (obviously, He is my online mentor)….

Cyrus Shepard

  1. Cyrus Shepard

Twitter: @CyrusShepard 
Website: cyrusshepard.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

This is a terrific question in light of 2016’s fake news problem and Google working hard to be an authoritative, trusted source of facts.

Recently, Google faced controversy for the un-factual results shown for the query “did the holocaust happen?” In response, Google tweaked its algorithm to show more authoritative, trusted answers.

What does this mean for link building?

My prediction: Going forward, look for links from trusted, authoritative sites to carry even more weight than they have in the past. This means links from topically relevant pages and trusted sites are as important as ever.

Less important: Internal links, links from off-topic pages, links from sites with few trusted links, further degradation of widget-type links, etc.

Understand that links are still hugely important in Google's algorithm and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, but perhaps not forever.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

Funny enough, my keyword research process has changed very little in 7 years (even after RankBrain) except for the tools that I use. Today my primary tool is Moz’s Keyword Explorer, although I hear very good things about Ahref's Keyword Explorer as well.

What has changed in the past couple of years is how I approach building content after keyword research.

The past couple of years has proven how important user engagement signals are in Google's algorithm — either directly or indirectly. So, satisfying user intent has become my #1 priority.

For example, I’m much more likely to optimize for more keywords on the same page today, and creating much bigger pages in the process. Every page is an attempt to be an authority on the keyword query, and answer as many questions as our visitors may have, all in a single canonical resource.

This means focusing the page around a central keyword query, and creating a branch of questions plus related topics to include. I find Moz's Keyword Explorer particularly useful for this, as well as Google’s “People also asked” feature.

John Doherty

  1. John Doherty

Twitter: @dohertyjf 
 Website: www.johnfdoherty.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

I honestly think that the future of link building is fewer links. Website usage signals are going to take a much stronger role over the next few years.

That said, I also expect that Google will factor in more strongly the usage signals of links as well, so that they apply way more weight to links from sites where it may actually send traffic. And with that, nofollow/follow will cease to be a thing that matters.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

I love the Rankbrain/Hummingbird era. It means that people have to write better content than just keyword-optimized copy. I've always hated "keyword-optimized" copy because it was harder to be creative in your writing.

That said, I use tools like Onpage.org and their TF-IDF tools to make sure that I am incorporating semantically related keywords into copy that is being written. I foresee that there will be a lot more tools coming out that incorporate synonyms and closely related terms in the future.

Bill Slawski

  1. Bill Slawski

Twitter: @bill_slawski 
Website: www.seobythesea.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

Links have been behind rankings of web pages for almost 20 years now at Google, and they have created a mature science behind that technology.  They have shown some signs of potential replacements as ranking signals, but they have been telling us about some of those types of things since the earliest days of algorithms such as PageRank. 

The earliest PageRank patents told us that they possibly could use actual user data instead of the probability information generated by links to calculate rankings – it is good to have back up plans.  We have seen Google implement upgrades such as the Penguin update to help overcome manipulation of link signals; but it’s likely that Google will continue to use links in search rankings until they have an alternative that they have a lot of confidence in. 

Given the many experiments that Google conducts every year, they may have approaches developed that could be put into place.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

Keyword research in a Rankbrain era can possibly be based on something like better understanding the meanings of words in knowledge bases and knowledge graphs as described in Google’s patent on Context Vectors, where they are trying to better define the different meanings and senses of words that might be found on web pages. 

A Google whitepaper out recently described the value of looking at co-occurring words that tend to appear around pages ranking well for specific queries, and there is value in uncovering such words, and seeing how they might be related to keywords. 

I tend to look at Wikipedia for Knowledge base research and Google to find pages that might contain co-occurring words.

Dan Sharp

  1. Dan Sharp

Twitter: @screamingfrog
Website: www.screamingfrog.co.uk

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

I believe links will continue to play an important role in scoring in the longer-term. While I believe other user and social related signals will increase in weight over the coming years, links will continue to be an important factor. Yandex dropped links from their ranking algorithm in some verticals, and a year later turned it back on again. While they claimed at the time the test had been a success, turning it back on spoke volumes.

The future of link building will continue to be like more traditional PR, with ‘content’ playing a large role. I think, and hope, content marketing strategies will mature, with big content becoming more related and integrated into what the business is about, rather than some of the very separate, less relevant and quite random almost desperate pieces we are seeing at times just to attract links.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

I don’t think RankBrain has made any fundamental change in how we do keyword research. Google now have a better understanding of words, relationships and natural language which means you can actually write for people and be more natural in page alignment and copy.

I have seen some say we should be targeting groups/themes of keywords as if it’s a new concept, rather than one everyone had already been doing for a long-time. I really like this post from Dr Pete on keyword research and Rankbrain in particular.

We use a combination of tools for keyword research such as the Google Keyword Planner tool, moz keyword explorer, Grep Words, Ahrefs keywords explorer, Ubersuggest, Google Trends, Sistrix, SEMrush, Searchmetrics and lots of others, depending on the exact job in hand.

Dan Sure

  1. Dan Shure

Twitter: @dan_shure
Website: www.evolvingseo.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

Links will in my opinion always play an important role in rankings. But Google is getting super smart and detailed when it comes to knowing what links to count.

Links need to be a result of something – not the goal. A great link means you've done really good PR, content, networking, customer service, a product – or done something so meaningful it matters enough to get a good link in the first place.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

I don’t distinguish keyword research pre-RankBrain or post-RankBrain – they are the same thing to me.

However, one thing I am constantly chasing is ‘keyword gap opportunities’ – SERPs in which you can probably rank content, and without a ton of link building.

Tools I love and use for this are SEMrush, Moz keyword Explorer, Answer The Public, internal Search Console data, internal PPC data and yes, still the AdWords Keyword Tool!

Marie Haynes

  1. Marie Haynes

Twitter: @Marie_Haynes
Website: www.mariehaynes.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

I think that links will always be important for ranking. Google has done experiments trying to rank sites without using links in the equation and the results were not good. But I think that Google is getting better and better at only counting links that actually have purpose beyond just SEO. They’re already confident enough that they can discount links with Penguin as opposed to demoting sites who have unnatural links.

I think there are a few link tricks that are still working, but each year Google gets better at only counting truly natural links.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

It sounds to me like very few people understand what RankBrain is. I have some ideas, but I don’t feel that I know enough about it to make proclamations on how it works. I think though, that we've already seen that SEO is moving away from optimizing your site for certain keywords and more towards making your site as useful as possible.

If you are able to answer questions for your users and if you can do this in ways that are better than your competitors then you should do well.

My favorite tool for doing this kind of work is Google Search Analytics inside of Google Search Console. I like to find phrases for which I'm ranking outside of the top 3 positions and then seeing if I can modify my page so that I answer those questions better. For example, let's say I have a page that sells green widgets.

Let's say I'm ranking #5 for, “What size of green widget should I buy?,” but I actually haven’t addressed this question on my page. I’ll then add a heading to my page saying, “What size of green widgets should you buy,” and perhaps a guide to help people understand sizing better. If this is a keyword phrase that has the potential to bring a lot of customers my way then I'll also add internal links on my site where appropriate anchored with things like, “size of green widgets,” and similar terms.

Again, the key is in finding as many ways as possible to make your website helpful to people.

Julie Joyce

  1. Julie Joyce

Twitter: @juliejoyce
Website: www.linkfishmedia.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

I don’t think the importance of links is ever going away. I think other signals could become a bit stronger potentially, and maybe we’ll see a few more signals getting added into the mix, but since links are how people move around the web, I can't see them ever becoming irrelevant.

I do think we will be looking more towards traffic potential in the future though, and not simply moving up in the rankings.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

I am really not a fan of keyword research anymore, and haven’t been for a long time. When I do it, it’s usually for a PPC client and then I'm using the Google Adwords tools. If I do it for any other reason I tend to look at SEMrush, but as I say, it’s not something I focus on at all.

If I’m building links I want the anchor text to make sense for both the site linking out and the client so I’d much prefer to do that naturally instead of trying to cram in a money keyword because 100,000 people search for it every week.

Himanshu Sharma

  1. Himanshu Sharma

Twitter: @analyticsnerd
Website: www.optimizesmart.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

I think Links will continue to play important role in search ranking for another year or two. But overtime, as machine learning algorithms get better, Google is likely going to rely, less and less on links.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

I use Google Adwords and Search Console queries report data. I sometimes also use SEMrush.

Andrew Dennis

  1. Andrew Dennis

Twitter: @andrewdennis33
Website: www.pageonepower.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long link will continue to play an important role in search ranking?

In my opinion, the future of link building is very bright! I was extremely pleased with the recent news about Google’s link-based algorithm Penguin, and what it means for link building.

Because the algorithm is taking a devaluation rather than punitive approach, Google will be able to police (and devalue) link spam without creating so much fear and uncertainty around links. If a site owner secures a link that appears manipulative to Google, they can simply devalue it and move on, rather than algorithmically penalize the site for a link the site owner might not even know about (this should help combat negative SEO as well).

Furthermore, because the new Penguin algorithm updates in real-time (as Google crawls the web) real, worthwhile links can be more impactful as spam is devalued at a faster pace.

Until the way humans use the web and search fundamentally changes, links will continue to play an important role in search rankings. Of course links are a core factor for Google’s rankings, but links were useful and important before Google came along. Links help us navigate the Internet and find the information we’re looking for, and that’s why Google values them in their search algorithm.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

I don’t think you need to change your approach to keyword research because of RankBrain.

RankBrain helps Google better understand queries, so you should still focus on the keywords and phrases that are relevant and important to your business and making sure your website or content is the best result for these queries.

There are a number of great tools available for keyword research. Some tools I would recommend include:

Matt Janaway

  1. Matt Janaway

Twitter: @MJanaway
Website: mattjanaway.co.uk

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

Link building won't disappear anytime soon; it will just get more complicated and harder to undertake in the correct manner.

SEOs should start practicing link earning sooner rather than later as earned links are much more natural than most actively built links.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

Google understands language more than it ever has before, and it will only continue getting better as time goes by. Synonyms and related keywords are an excellent way to increase traffic to a page if you correctly plan your keyword research. Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Moz Keyword Explorer, Ubersuggest, and Ahref Keyword Explorer are all amazing tools, but from my experience, they are not very accurate at suggesting related search terms that do not include your main keywords.

To generate on-page content ideas, head over to Answer The Public. Enter your primary keyword and select your country. Then click “Get Questions.” It will offer questions, propositions and alphabetical ideas pertaining to your keyword. The questions tell you what your visitors would want to know about your keyword, so you can use them to enrich your pages, write blog posts and enhance your content marketing.

Eric Enge

  1. Eric Enge

Twitter: @stonetemple
Website: www.stonetemple.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

I believe links will play an important role for a long time to come. The reason is that links play an important role as an endorsement in a way that social mentions and user engagement signals can’t. When someone creates a link to your site, the following is true:

a.) They have to go through some effort to do so. This may be editing HTML code or some document in a CMS system that they have. This level of effort is distinct and more extensive than what is involved in either a social mention or a user engagement action.

b.) The implemented link is persistent and becomes associated with their brand, even if only at some low level. If you implement a link and a user clicks on it, and it’s a total crap page or very spammy, that does not reflect well on the person that implemented the link. You can argue the second part of this one for social mentions too, but social shares are not persistent. On Twitter, for example, their gone in minutes, so if you link to something crappy in a social post, the impact is fleeting. On a web site, the impact persists.

c.) And, here is the big one. When you implement a link on your site, you're saying that you think highly enough of the resource that you’re linking to that you are willing to have someone LEAVE your site to go see it.

As the web continues to evolve, I believe that these factors will remain aspects that are unique to links.

That said, other new factors will continue to creep into the equation. For example, as Google better understands user queries and content, it will do a much better job of matching user intent with the pages that best meet that intent. Nonetheless, links will remain an important factor in that environment.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

I don't actually think that RankBrain changes keyword research for me much. To me, the key has always been to understand user intents and create pages that match up really well with that. Even with that way of thinking, keyword research has always been incredibly valuable, because knowing what language customers use about products and services like yours makes it far easier to communicate with them. RankBrain did not change my thinking about all of this at all.

The bigger impact came from the degradation of Google's Keyword Planner. Since that data became much less useful, keyword research has become a lot harder, and we need to dig harder to find the information that we need.  For that reason, I like to use a wide variety of tools as possible.  Some of the ones I like to use are:

1. Google Keyword Planner - still useful, even if it's not as good as it used to be

2. Google Search Console - you can set some info on what's sending you traffic already

3. Site Search — If you don't have a site search function on your site, add one, and then mine it to see what phrases people are searching on within your own site.

4. Moz Keyword Explorer

5. Keywordtool.io

6. Wordstream's Keyword Tool

Using multiple tools is important, because Google severely limits what data they will show you, and each third party tool has very limited access to raw data. But, by combining them all (or several of them), you can still get a pretty good idea of the overall landscape.

Britney Muller

  1. Britney Muller

Twitter: @britneymuller
Website: moz.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

Link building will continue to be essential for SEO because it’s one of the most reliable metrics for Google to reward fresh, quality pages (despite being abused occasionally).

The best kind of link building is natural (not asked for) because you produced an incredible piece of content that people genuinely want to link to, like: http://rcs.seerinteractive.com/money/

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

Keyword research in a RankBrain era should be no different than before. You should still seek out opportunities to fulfill your user intent. Focus on providing valuable content to each stage of your customer acquisition funnel.

And don’t forget to search for those keywords and evaluate what’s currently ranking (such a simple, yet forgotten piece of the keyword research puzzle). From there you should set out to create a much better, faster and mobile friendly resource.

Michael King

  1. Michael King

Twitter: @iPullRank
Website: ipullrank.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

My hope is that marketers are starting to realize that link building in a vacuum is a bad idea. Rather, a combination of paid and organic channels in addition to targeted outreach yields the strongest, most natural result.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

Our approach to keyword research has not changed as we've always clustered keywords following the persona-driven keyword research model.

The only thing we're starting to incorporate more of is an understanding of search features for the determination of whether there are opportunities for featured snippets and such.

Gianluca Fiorelli

  1. Gianluca Fiorelli

Twitter: @gfiorelli1
Website: www.iloveseo.net

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

In the long term I don't know, and nobody can tell if links will still play a fundamental role in rankings as they play today.

In the short to middle term, I am quite confident that backlinks will still be very important for the simple fact that the web sees them as one of its foundation stones.

Moreover, hyperlinks are the fundamental way of citing other documents, and citation is at the base of human knowledge. Therefore links as a signal of relevance are and will continue to be important.

However, this does not mean that search engines (and Google) won’t continue to explore other ways to determine the relevance and popularity of a web document, as they actually are doing already with Entity Search or with On Page ranking factors.

So, to conclude, I do not think that links and link building are going to die in the future, but possibly their weight respectively as ranking signal and SEO discipline won’t be heavily influencing rankings.

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

Sincerely, I did not change my way of doing keyword research because of RankBrain. The big change was when Hummingbird rolled out back in 2013, and RankBrain is nothing but a patch (or added algorithm) of Hummingbird.

My process tends to be this (although it can be slightly different depending on the website I am working on):

  1. Study the niche targeted by the website;
  2. Determine the personas targeted by the website;
  3. Analyse how the different personas talk, refer to and search about the topic related to the targeted niche;
  4. Individuate and map the consumer journey persona by persona;
  5. Conduct keyword research for each of the buyer personas targeted (this is not needed every time, but I have seen better performance when done);
  6. Consider what keywords are targeting the competitors
  7. Cluster the discovered keywords both into topical areas and conversion funnel phase (or, as I have recently preferred,) in “See,” “Think,” “Do” and “Care” clusters. (Learn more about these in this post by Avinash Kaushik: http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/see-think-do-care-win-content-marketing-measurement/)
  8. Conduct a content audit to see what keywords/topics are already targeted by the site, and with which content and what keywords/topics.
  9. In the case of keywords already targeted by the website, analyze how the site ranks for them both on desktop and mobile search and annotate opportunities and gaps in both search environments.

The Tools I use are (without a specific order):

  • Keyword Explorer by Moz
  • Keyword Planner, only for keyword clustering
  • Similarweb for competitor research
  • SEMrush
  • Answerthepublic.com
  • Infinesuggest
  • AhRefs Keyword Explorer

Patrick Coombe

  1. Patrick Coombe

Twitter: @Patrickcoombe
Website: www.elite-strategies.com

Q1: According to you, what is the future of link building? How long will links continue to play an important role in search ranking?

All SEOs know that links are still one of the biggest building blocks of SEO. Do you want to know why you don’t see lots of & black hat on-page optimization & services out there? It’s because links are so powerful, it has generated a black market in and of itself. Another black market has spawned to make black hat links look like white hat links. It is a constant cat and mouse game.

From an algorithmic perspective, I don’t see any way that Google can get rid of links without being easily gamed. So, for the time being we will continue to focus on backlinks. Until then, as I always say: “As long as there is search, there will be SEO.”

Q2: How do you initiate keyword research in a RankBrain era? What tools do you use for it?

This is one area where I haven’t really strayed from the normal day to day over the last 10 years. I still use Google Keyword Planner. I’ve used a few that have features that might be a little better, but for some reason I keep going back to what I know. I am a creature of habit.

There are without a doubt some great features out there, but for me I prefer a lack of features.

I'm not going to name any names but a very popular SEO tool keeps adding more and more features — and I keep getting more and more confused. There are over 100 features, and I use about 4 of them, maybe 5 or 6 – the rest of them (to me as a professional SEO) are totally unnecessary.

I'd love what you think about their views, please share your opinions in comments!

Hardik Oza is an SEO Consultant using expert link-building techniques to enable his clients’ websites to gain organic traffic and visibility. You can follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn. Hardik's last article for SEMrush was "Google Answer Box: A Useful Addition to the Knowledge Graph."
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Patsy Gillispie
I really like that SEO has moved more to focusing on relevant content. I couldn't stand the old school pages that were so full of keywords and phrases that it seemed the sites only made sense to search engines. Beautiful content just makes so much more sense. If I stumble across a site that looks like it's been keyword stuffed I move on. Such good news for real designers and content builders. And thanks to everyone who shared their tool box.
Very informative very helpful
very helpful, informative and great advice from each SEO expert.
Cody Oelker
Thank you for such an informative article! Getting a real perspective about SEO from industry experts seems to be helpful. We can learn something new from each advice. I have been working with many businesses, small and large, for many years to help them grow their business in an honest and powerful way but I still have learned something new from this post.
I look forward to more comprehensive and insightful posts like this in the future.
Cheers!!
Hardik Oza
Cody Oelker
Thank you Cody! :)
Very Helpful.
Hardik Oza
Anirudh Chauhan
Thank you Anirudh! :)
Wow great article. Amazing to get a perspective from so many industry experts. Thanks Hardin.
Hardik Oza
Sarah Miles
Thank you Sarah! :)
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