Conversational Queries Becoming More Prominent
By now, the significance of conversational is no secret among SEO experts paying attention. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make adjustments that give you a leg up on slower competition. If your SEO strategy was designed five or more years ago, there’s a good chance that the evolving nature of online searches will require your attention.
With the emergence of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, the search giant officially acknowledge the growing centrality of user searches that adopted lengthy and precise wording. The days of brief, generalized queries were quickly coming to an end.
There are a few reasons things have changed. Given the vast proliferation of information online, savvy searchers have resorted to more complex and robust queries in a bid to be more specific and cut through all the noise. Additionally, the prevalence of voice-based queries (e.g. via Apple’s Siri) has translated into more conversational styles that mimic how people talk—not how they type.
So what does it all mean for your potentially antiquated SEO strategy? First, it’s time to seriously rethink any reliance on singular keywords as a means of ranking more highly.
“Stuffing your site’s titles, descriptions, and articles with keywords in the hopes of ranking for associated user queries is no longer effective,” Search Engine Watch’s Jayson DeMers wrote last year. “Google doesn’t even consider keyword matching as part of its ranking algorithm anymore, and user queries are so long and complex that it wouldn’t matter even if it did. Add to that the fact that over-stuffing your site with keywords can actually earn you a ranking penalty, and trying to rank by using specific keywords becomes a potential disaster.”
The preferable alternative is thinking about your content more comprehensively. It isn’t about ensuring that content matches a specific keyword. It’s about forging consistency between that content and the kinds of topics (concepts, information, advice, etc.) for which people are searching.
“Instead of relying on keyword tactics, start looking at things from a higher perspective: long-tail keywords,” DeMers continues. “Don’t let the ‘keyword’ portion of that term fool you; long-tail keywords are just topics and extended phrases that people are searching for. For example, ‘who is the best podiatrist in Orlando’ is an example of a long-tail keyword phrase. Rather than optimizing for these phrases by including them verbatim on your site (like with a conventional keyword strategy), you’ll be writing topics that address these phrases and improving your site pages to make sure Google clearly understands the purpose and position of your company.”
In some respects, this is just another reminder that having great content should be your first priority. You can worry less about gaming the algorithmic system and more about fundamentally sound, useful material that people want. That’s probably a good thing insofar as it rewards websites that are doing things the right way.
The demise of keyword-based SEO campaigns should also serve notice that shortcuts to search prominence are in increasingly low supply. Though cost-effective in comparative terms, contemporary SEO is a long-term approach to exposing your brand and attracting consumers. That’s the organic nature of the beast. And while a better understanding of best practices can help you navigate the digital terrain, overnight (e.g. paid ad) solutions are almost always more costly.
The Video Generation
The written word may not be dead, but it certainly has some competition these days. We probably shouldn’t be surprised. Web users—like people in general—are attracted to things that are visually stimulating: images, charts, interactive graphics and—of course—videos.
This is an important addendum to just about every other SEO trend. Content is great, but visually appealing content is better. Social networking is nifty, but adding photos or videos to your social media posts is even more effective—especially when it comes to attracting visitors to your site in the first place. Conversion strategies are incredibly valuable, and it accordingly makes sense to engage or inform visitors with material that captures and holds their divided attention.
Developing more graphically-oriented content is generally more expensive, but it’s become awfully hard to avoid.
As Pop Web Design’s Vesna Savic put it earlier this year, “In the past couple of years, video content proved to be the leading factor which encourages people to click and become engaged. In fact, this led to video marketing even ‘threatening’ to take over the dominion in Internet marketing. This is supported by the fact that 62% of Google searches consists of videos (in other words, videos are highly searched for). This may not come as a surprise if we recall that Google had invested significantly into buying and improving YouTube. What optimizers need to do is to fly on the wings of this change and focus on this type of marketing.”
Plenty of caveats apply. Too much video can make life more difficult for mobile users. Poor quality video can reflect badly on your brand. This isn’t a strategy that should be adopted haphazardly.
But nor is it a strategy you should ignore.
Remember that video (or other visual data) can be extremely useful when attempting to help people solve problems, learn new information or better understand your business. Many visitors will prefer some kind of video or graphic to text for any number of reasons—perhaps because they’re easier to use or better hold their attention.
Videos can also serve as valuable calls to action, inspiring people to make a purchase or sign up for an email list. If they can see a product or service in action, they may be more inclined to respond. Reading about what you do can only go so far. Witnessing it in motion (or hearing from others who’ve done business with you) may be the real difference-maker.
Whether placing all your visual elements on one page or coupling them with text and distinct pages, you certainly have some options when it comes to implementation. The bottom line is that your content should be multidimensional and engaging. Relying on intriguing introductory text or sleek web design may be a start, but hooking consumers with something that moves and makes noise is often a much better start. And it’s certainly a more powerful way to keep them interested and on your pages.
Finally, there are a couple of important notes about using video in a way that best serves your SEO interests.
First, remember to incorporate relevant keywords into your tags and video description. Keywords may not be the principal ranking determinants that they once were, but they’re still useful indicators when working with video.
As Vital Design’s Ellen Stuart explains, “The SEO best practices you should use to help your videos be found is quite similar to the process you use when optimizing text content, except you’ll be using your keywords in your video title, tags and video description. Select 5-6 strong keywords using Google AdWords Keyword Tool, and use them as your tags and incorporate some of them into your video description. Your video description should be a clear, concise description of the video, incorporating some of the keywords you want the video to rank for.”
Second, whenever possible, it’s always a good idea to have written transcriptions accompany your video. This is useful in SEO terms, and it’s also helpful for visitors who may wish to revisit or take notes on your content.
Stuart continues, “To max out SEO for video content, you should also post the videos on your website, along with a written transcript of the video (if you prefer, these don’t need to live on your main blog–just placing the videos and text on a designated landing page or video page will help with SEO). Use SEO best practices on this text: include strong keywords, tags, meta descriptions, and h1 titles. Transcribing the videos can be tedious at first, but it will get much quicker with practice (this is a great argument for thoroughly scripting your videos ahead of time—you’ll be more prepared and you won’t have to do the grunt work of transcribing after the fact!).”
Now you have a website with richer content and another set of engaging items to share via social networks or otherwise use when attempting to attract visitors. Fully adopting the next wave of SEO best practices will invariably mean making the most of powerful visual elements that capture and maintain someone’s attention.
Final Thoughts on the SEO Horizon
Odds are this won’t be the last installment of “latest” SEO tips. So long as Google is changing its standard operating procedures, businesses of all sizes will be forced to adapt. And so long as web users are altering their behaviors, improving search rankings will be an evolving endeavor. In other words, these recommendations are just the beginning. Maintaining an effective and lucrative online presence will require you to remain up to date on all the latest algorithm updates and the conventional wisdom associated therewith.
It will also likely mean that you should keep an expert SEO firm like Adapting Online on speed dial, namely one with a proven record of keeping its strategies in line with the latest trends. With those trends poised for continued change in 2016 and beyond, you can never have too much help.
In the meantime, guides like these can help you maintain a meaningful degree of oversight over the process. Knowing the right questions to ask and goals to set is absolutely vital from a managerial standpoint—and in terms of ensuring you’re working with the right SEO agency or professionals.
Not all SEO campaigns were created equally. Gaining a competitive edge requires some patience, investment and a dynamic awareness of what the near-future holds.