With the second quarter of 2017 upon us, and great speculation over what the year has in store for SEO, I have decided to write an article focused on the most important game changers in search engine optimization for the year. In part 1 of 2, we will talk about “User Intent & RankBrain”, “Structured Data & Google My Business” and “Local SEO”.
User Intent & RankBrain
One of our biggest focuses in 2017 will be to consider and prioritize “User Intent” and “RankBrain” when developing your content and web pages. Examine these items coupled together, not individually.
Without a doubt, search engines are focusing on the quality of content and are getting smarter about how to classify pages. In the past, the more keywords you had within your content and the more links you had to your site, the better it would rank - but all of that has now changed. We should no longer think about these items as the holy grail of rank. Links and keywords are still important, but instead of quantity we should be focusing on quality.
So, what should I do to get all these great things together?
Create great content with targeted keywords that will naturally get quality links!
“That’s not easy” – you might argue. Well, SEO is not supposed to be easy and we are meant to offer a user what they want. So, if you create good content you will naturally be using targeted keywords (keywords related to your content), and if the content is good you will naturally see links pointed to it.
User intent will be highly affected by RankBrain.
What is RankBrain?
RankBrain is the name that Google baptized its machine-learning artificial system. It is used to help process search results and return results to the user, and while I believe it helps with the most common search queries, it is even more important for rare search queries or queries that have never been seen before.
Google revealed that 15% of its search queries have never been seen before, which results in about 500 million searches a day that Google has to “guess” about the best results to deliver.
RankBrain works in the following way:
A user types in Google “best albums of 2016”.
RankBrain receives and interprets the query and determines search intent: “this person wants to know what the best music albums of 2016 are” and then selects the ranking signals to guess what the best possible result for the user would be. Ranking factors are several, including:
• Related Topics
• Domain Authority
What happens is that Google retrieves results based on these ranking factors, and then adjusts the results by adjusting ranking factors based on signals that users provide.
If a user searches for “best albums of 2016”, the “engagement” and the “freshness” of the page, as well as “domain authority” are all important. To get to these results, the user has given signals to Google, and these signals are then interpreted and adjusted in order to retrieve the best results possible.
For example, Google may have noticed that users only clicked on pages that are from 2017 or late 2016 and thought “ok, it is vitally important to display pages that are recent”. This can also explain why you do not always see the same results, sometimes even seconds later, with the same search query.
And of course, this all points to the same path: develop pages that are relevant to the user so that Google can display content related to your business. You have probably heard a few times that “content is king”. Now, more than ever, this is a valid quote in SEO. And I am willing to bet that this will be big in 2017!
Structured Data & Google My Business
Search engine crawlers are still machines, and although search engines improve their algorithm on a regular basis (RankBrain, as one example), it is still useful to inform search engines what your pages are about.
Using Structured Data will allow the search engines to better understand what your pages are about, how they should be classified, what purpose they serve, and how they should be displayed in Google.
If you are selling products online, for instance, using appropriate Structured Data based on Schema.org will tell search engines the name, description, price and condition, among many other characteristics of your product. Many times, those characteristics will be properly displayed in search results, both on desktop and on mobile.
One important thing to note regarding Structured Data is that “over optimization” by including more details or keywords on your Structured Data than those needed will have an opposite effect and will lead to potential devaluation in rankings.
Google My Business
To complete the information you provide via Structured Data, and to provide easier access for potential users/customers you should always use Google My Business when applicable. Things like homepage, business category, phone numbers, business hours, etc. can be included here.
All business information submitted is verified by Google’s team. So, Google will eventually remove details that are not accurate or added just to try and obtain more visibility. An example of this is the “categories” section of Google My Business: if you change this often or add too many unrelated categories, you will end up losing visibility on the categories your page doesn’t belong to, as well as on the categories it does.
Local is an ongoing area of improvement in Google, and we can expect that in 2017 the localized search results will be even more noticeable and more impactful to both users and businesses.
If you are attentive to your website statistics (and to the web in general), you will notice that there has been recent growth in terms such as “… near me”. Google’s solution has been to retrieve business results near the user performing the search query. The same happens when, for example, a user in Texas searches for “restaurant”. Google retrieves results close to the user, as it makes no sense to retrieve restaurants in New York for a Texas query, right? Right!
You can read more about Local SEO in my last article (and despite it being targeted for larger companies, the concept still applies to every local business.)
What can we expect from local SEO in 2017?
More precise results from Google to the user, and the increased relevancy of the Google Maps functionalities. Fewer nationwide results and more local results.
Ranking signals for local search
The strongest ranking signal in Google Maps and Local Searches is primarily the location of the business. Other signals can include the usual SEO signals (such as domain authority, social mentions, quality inbound links, etc.)
You might argue that local searches are biased by the location of the businesses closest to the user performing the query, and while that might be true to an extent, it is also true that if users find your business relevant for that same location, your business might actually rank higher both in Google Maps and in the SERPs than competitors that are closer to the user. In this, “RankBrain” also has an active role.
To summarize: do a bit of homework, study your audience and your competitors, and create great content that serves those near you.
Hang tight! Part 2 is coming soon and will focus on “Mobile”, “Google AMP”, “Security” and “Voice Search”.