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The State of SEO in 2017 #semrushchat

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The State of SEO in 2017 #semrushchat

Becky Shindell
The State of SEO in 2017 #semrushchat

Search Engine Optimization plays a huge role in making sure your website is easy for both users and the search engine robots to understand. If you want to be competitive with other online brands, a good, updated SEO strategy is a must in 2017. Are you up to date with the state of SEO today? To help you learn about some of the most interesting trends and novelties in the world of SEO, we invited Kevin Indig, SEO ninja at Atlassian, growth hacker, and startup mentor, to our weekly SEMrush Chat to discuss some of the newest Google SERP changes, updates, and much more:

Q1. What are the newest Google SERP changes? Which updates have had the most impact?

Intrusive Interstitials Mobile Penalty

In the beginning of 2017, Google announced that they began to roll out the intrusive mobile interstitials penalty. According to Google, pages that show intrusive popups, banners, or overlays called interstitials offer a poor user experience on pages that provide immediate access to its content. However, this penalty only impacts interstitials that show up right after going from a Google mobile search result to a certain page. The penalty will not hurt you if you have an interstitial that happens later in the click path of your site or on desktop.

Fred Update

Google hasn’t confirmed it yet, but in the spring there were many talks in the SEO community due to the reported drops in traffic. After Google’s Gary Illyes jokingly said that all updates shall be named Fred the name was actually adopted by the community. Barry Schwartz also suggested that based on data and the evidence of over 75 sites affected, Google's "Fred" update targets ad heavy, low value content, and affiliate sites. 

Phantom

If you're involved in the SEO industry, you have probably heard about the seemingly big February 7th Google update. According to a study by Glenn Gabe, the update led to a substantial movement of many websites. 

Machine Learning

In order to show users the most relevant results for any given query, Google is constantly working on ways to improve its services. One of the major steps towards this goal is RankBrain, which is an artificial intelligence system that uses machine learning to analyze both search queries and search results. For SEO purposes, RankBrain means that in today's world, digital marketers need to focus more on topics, rather than keywords. To learn more, you can read Kevin Indig's article on “How to rock SEO in a machine learning world.”

The Evolution of the “People Also Ask” Box

Unless you don't do many searches on Google, you've probably noticed that for some queries, Google displays featured snippets that are followed by a “people also ask” box. This doesn't happen for all of the queries that trigger a featured snippet, but it does happen for many of them.

Infinite “people also ask” boxes change according to a user’s search patterns; each time a searcher clicks an existing question, PAA generates a new one. This means that before a user clicks on a URL to visit a certain site he or she can simply look through multiple questions, uncovering a wealth of content.

Our chat guests also remarked that Google puts more emphasis on location and location-based search. In the time of mobile-first indexing, Google continues to cater to the mobile users and improve local search experiences. Digital marketers can only expect this trend to continue.

Let’s sum up!

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Do you have some different thoughts on the latest Google SERP changes? Share them in the comments!

Q2. What should people be doing right now in terms of SEO, especially over the next few months?

1. Optimize for Mobile

Although Gary Illyes said during the 2017 SMX West conference that Google doesn't have a timeline for launching its mobile-first index, there is no doubt that they have been moving towards this for awhile. As the search engine continues to place a greater emphasis on mobile, marketers need to adjust their strategies to how the search landscape is changing and implement the mobile SEO best practices.

2. Speed Up Your Site

Website speed is crucial on any device, but it’s especially important for mobile users who are on the go and looking for quick answers. These are the basic steps that site owners can take to make their pages load faster:

  • Optimize your images. Some images can slow down your site. Therefore, finding the optimal settings for your image can significantly improve your site’s performance.

  • Clean up your code. This process includes removing unnecessary characters from the source code while maintaining its functionality.

  • Reduce redirects. Redirects create additional HTTP requests which increase page load time. Therefore, too many redirects lead to a poor experience for users.  

3. Answer People’s Questions With Your Content

We have already mentioned that Google is trying to provide answers to questions that users type in the search box by offering instant answers and the “people also ask” feature. In order to increase your chances of getting featured in these boxes, you should invest your efforts in optimizing your content for niche-related questions. If you are going to make questions and answers a strategic part of both your site and content marketing strategies, you need make sure that you know your audience well. To learn what your potential users are asking, try out these simple, yet effective tactics:

  • Search for your audience’s questions and queries in Answer The Public.

  • Use Google tools, like Google Trends and Google Autocomplete.

  • Browse Quora.

  • Get Q&A inspiration on Twitter.  

4. Pay Attention to Voice Search Queries

With services like Google Now and Google Home, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon Echo, there is no doubt that voice search is on the rise. As of the end of 2014, 55% of teens and 41% of adults used voice search more than once a day in the U.S, according to Google's findings. As voice-activated digital assistants are improving, these technologies are increasing in popularity.

If you want to stay ahead of the game, you need to take action and make the most out of voice search for your SEO strategy:

  • Target long-tail keywords.

  • Use natural language queries.

  • Learn how searchers speak and phrase their queries.

  • Optimize your local listings.

  • Integrate Q&A-style content.

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Use these tips from our chat participants and keep in mind that with all the SEO changes that happen in the industry, you still need to stick to the best practices. “It doesn't matter what "the SERPs" are doing; if you adhere to SEO best practices and cater to users, you'll be fine,” tweeted ThinkSEM‏ - @ThinkSEM.

Q3. Technical Audits: Nowadays, what data should SEOs measure and analyze regularly? 

Measuring and keeping track of the progress of your online campaign is critical to success. It helps SEO professionals improve their strategies and fix potential issues. Our chat guests helped us make a list of elements that should be tracked and analyzed regularly.

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Specials thanks to everyone whose tweets we used to make this image: @Kevin_Indig@bill_slawski@SayanTheGeek@fernikolic@jurga@R8chel_Marie, and @revaminkoff

Make sure to check our study on 11 most common on-site SEO issues that can affect your traffic and user credibility.

Q4. How is voice search affecting websites’ SEO, rankings, and choice of keywords. How will this change in the future?

Voice search is on everyone’s lips in the SEO industry now. As of 2016, Google announced that 20% of mobile queries are voice-based queries. According to ComScore, by 2020, 50% of all searches will be performed via voice search. That being said, let’s look at some implications voice search has for SEO, rankings, and keyword research:

Conversational Content

When people use voice search, the way they phrase their queries differs from the way they type them with keyboards.

Voice queries have a different nature. People are now using digital assistants, like Google Now and Apple’s Siri, as if they are talking directly to their devices. As a result, their search queries tend to be longer phrases and even complete sentences and questions. The rise of voice search is now forcing digital marketers to make their content more conversational.

Long-Tail Keywords

Some people suggest that short-tail keywords will die in the future, while others don’t believe that they are likely to disappear entirely. Regardless of your opinion, there is no doubt that single terms and short phrases will become less relevant, because it makes sense to optimize content around topics rather than keywords.

Long-tail phrases, on the other hand, are natural phrases that are used in voice searches. Adding natural language to your content will help you with voice search results. To utilize natural language, you can create Q&A pages on your site including phrases that people speak in contrast to phrases they type.

Context Based on Location

Voice searches are more location-focused than typed queries. If you are a local business, setting up your website for local search is critical to its success. Pay attention to the following things:

  • Register with Google My Business and ensure that all important details are up-to-date, such as your business description, the right category, photos, your phone number, and opening hours.

  • Encourage your customers to leave reviews and make sure to respond to questions and negative comments from your clients.

  • Use schema markup for local SEO. The local section of Schema.org provides multiple categories that businesses can use.

  • Make sure you have quality photos and that they are accurate.

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As more people turn to voice search, marketers need to figure out how voice-based queries and results differ from search results and queries typed in the search box.  

Q5. What must-have tools (apart from GA) should SEOs use to accumulate data?

Finally, we asked our chat guests to share some helpful tools, apart from Google Analytics, that SEO professionals can use to accumulate data.

Here’s the list of both free and paid tools that make the data collection part of SEO more efficient:

Specials thanks to everyone whose tweets we used to make this list: @Kevin_Indig, @cubilizer, @allmikehall, @netvantage, @dannyraylima, @Mikuss, @seoscroggie, @FannyHeuck, @deren_baker, @SayanTheGeek, @RamkiJeyam, @SEOcopy, @ThinkSEM, @rsj8000, and @Alvomedia1.

That’s it for today!

Many thanks to Kevin Indig and our other chat guests for sharing their opinions on the evolution of SEO in 2017!

Join us this Wednesday to take part in our real-time site audit session!

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Becky Shindell is the US Social Media Manager at SEMrush and host of the weekly #SEMrushchat. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. You can find Becky at many of the US Digital Marketing Conferences, feel free to say hi!
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