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The endless quest to better understand—and exploit—search engine optimization (SEO) is about to get even more complicated. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of experts and consultants to help see you through the newest SEO trends and changes. But we wanted to give you a heads up all the same.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic of SEO, Adapting Online features a number of articles that explore the topic in more depth—so feel free to review some of those before proceeding here. In short, however, the idea is to maximize your website and content’s rankings in search results. That tends to increase your traffic and—ideally—your conversion rates. So if growing business is your bottom line and you use online marketing to do so, SEO is probably a nifty tool. While it doesn’t inherently replace other marketing efforts (social media, paid ads, etc.), it can be a particularly cost-effective supplement.

Building a site and posting things on it isn’t enough to get results, though. That’s why SEO firms have been in such high demand. They help bridge the gap between your web presence and the people most likely to take advantage of it.

Though some of SEO’s basic principles haven’t changed much over the years, much has evolved. Google regularly updates its search algorithms to better serve users, and our interactions with technology itself have had a profound impact on how people find information, entertainment, goods and services.

So take note. These are the waves of the very near future.

Keywords Are Evolving

So long as people search for things using words, the notion of a keyword will remain relevant. But attracting traffic is becoming less about using the exact keyword and more about focusing your content on the concept behind the keyword.

As SEO PowerSuite recently put it, “Experts agree—keywords and keyword research should still be the basis of your SEO and content marketing campaigns. However, Google’s Hummingbird update shifts our focus from researching separate keywords to researching groups of related terms and synonyms.”

In other words, you should remain focused on a core concept—but you shouldn’t worry about repeating the same term over and over. In fact, it’s probably better to cover your central topic as comprehensively as possible, accounting for the variety of search terms and phrases that may lead users to your content.

“Now that Google is able to recognize the meaning behind a search query, it gives a common answer to a number of ‘different-in-keywords’ but ‘same-in-meaning’ queries,” adds SEO PowerSuite. “So if you want to grab yourself a place in the Post-Hummingbird search results, you need your pages to be relevant not only to the core term, but for a whole group of its synonyms and related terms.”

Content Is Becoming More Interactive

This development has been in the making for some time. It’s but one way to prompt increased engagement with users. It’s not just about growing traffic to your site; it’s about keeping that traffic around for awhile—ideally converting it into clientele while you’re at it.

“Infographics, already hugely popular as a selling point, have never really taken off among users, but interactive content, similar (but more advanced) to online quizzes, does encourage user engagement and interaction with a brand,” writes Business 2 Community’s Keith Hodges. “2016 is likely to see this grow further with mobile and app use, as the smartphone is the perfect tool for user interaction.”

On average, people using the internet are busy and short on attention-span. It’s your job to keep them around for a bit longer, discouraging them from moving on to that next web destination too quickly.

Page Speed Is Even More Important

The facts here largely speak for themselves. Per SEO PowerSuite, 40 percent of users will bail on a site that doesn’t load in three seconds or less. And every second of loading time decreases conversion by about seven percent. What’s more, page speed is an important factor in search rankings. As if all that isn’t reason enough to invest in a new and improved site, remember that much of your traffic comes via mobile devices—where page speed can be even more of a deal-breaker. Put simply, this is no time to settle for the website architecture of yesteryear.

Mobile Is Taking Over

In 2015, Google announced that—for the first time ever—there were more searches via mobile devices than on traditional desktop computers. With the continued popularity of smart phones and tablets, this trend is highly unlikely to reverse itself anytime soon.

Huyen Truong of JeffBullas.com spells out what that means for you and your site, writing, “It means you need to have a mobile mindset for all of your website and product based decisions. Consider how your content will appear on a smartphone before finalizing your website, product pages, service pages and layouts.”

Your site’s mobile-friendliness should become a fundamental consideration in your website planning and potential revision.

“In other words,” Truong adds, “businesses must give thought to all of the following: mobile marketing strategy, mobile design, mobile search marketing and advertising, mobile e-commerce and mobile payment, mobile CRM (customer relationship management), mobile coupons, and integrating mobile, local and social.”

That covers just about everything. If your site is a dinosaur, you could be missing out on serious traffic, engagement and conversion opportunities.

Adapting to Voice Search

With the increased usage of virtual assistants and the voice searches they help us perform, there appears to be an evolution in what that means for search optimization. People are more like to begin their searches with question words, and they’re more likely to adopt complete phrases rather than isolated, typed-out terms.

“Not long ago an agency, Rosetta, published a brilliant article that shared the unique idea that voice search is marked by the use of question words: Who, What, Where, Why, and How,” explains Truong. “These are the question terms that will define our changing search patterns on mobile devices.”

Econsultancy’s Ben Davis foresees a similar trend.

“It’s been said that Google’s ultimate goal is to build the Star Trek computer,” he writes. “Something you instruct or converse with as you would another person, or which anticipates your needs as normal person would, and while we won’t get there in 2016 we will reach a point where the once lofty goal becomes something the mainstream masses could believe in.”

So what does that mean for you? Be more conversational and anticipate the more natural phrasing people will use in their searches.

“SEO’s focus has shifted from keywords to long-tail search terms,” notes Scripted’s Hannah W. “There’s no need to stuff unnatural keywords into articles as Google is now looking for answers to specific questions. One strategy for thriving in the voice search era is to find out what questions your target audience is asking and create content that answers them. Consider adding a Q&A service to your site that allows users to ask questions to which you later post answers.”

Moreover, the move away from awkwardly conjoined search terms reinforces the importance of simply focusing on the quality of your content. Your visitors’ engagement and your site’s reputation will only grow in algorithmic importance. Gaming the system is getting harder. But that just means you’ll be more rewarded for crafting useful, well-researched and fundamentally sound content. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

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