Another year of MozCon, another year highlighting tremendous sea-changes in Google and search engine optimization. While shifts in the SEO landscape are obviously nothing novel, it appears Google is growing in sophistication at an exponential rate, turning content development and on-site optimization into even more of an art form.
Key Takeaways Part 1 will highlight how user behavior, engagement and loyalty have become Google’s key algorithmic inputs for determining search relevance, with insights from Moz’s Matthew Brown, Dr. Pete and Rand Fishkin, as well as SEER Interactive’s Wil Reynolds.
Content is King? Yeah, we get it, but how do we get our content to wear the crown?
The mantra for digital marketers these days is content is king and keep building content. Content strategy is now the number two service offered by digital agencies (behind SEO), and over two thirds of marketers believe blogs and articles are the most effective content format. This is why there are over 2.5 million blog posts published per day.
That astonishing number generates a lot of noise that makes your content difficult to hear by anyone. This swell is leading to content fatigue, where consumers can no longer keep up with the ceaseless barrage of information pummeling them every day. The exhaustion leads these consumers to tune out the noise entirely, making them deaf to the content we work so hard to develop.
But what can be done to avoid content fatigue in an increasingly competitive information landscape? Moz’s Matthew Brown says stop trying to write content for everyone and start building the loyalty of a smaller, refined reader base. Increasing reader loyalty requires identifying your most valuable audience, learning their needs inside and out and creating content that successfully addresses these needs.
Avoid content fatigue by building a loyal audience
Say about 10% of your site’s traffic comes from loyal visitors who return to your site regularly. If you can increase that loyal traffic to 20%, it may be the most sustainable content strategy you can achieve.
In order to build loyalty, you must optimize content for return visitors. Find out what makes them come back to your site and double down on it. Sometimes it can be an aspect of your page layout or site design, and other times it can be the type of content you create and how you deliver it. Whatever is it, keep at it.
If you can get loyal readers to return to your homepage five times per month, that’s all you need for sustained content and site success.
That’s a great strategy and all, but how about some specific tactics that will build loyalty help content stand out amid all the noise?
We live in an ADD culture where nothing makes eyes glaze over faster than another wall of text (just like this one!). Keep your audience’s attention by making your content as interactive as possible! At the very least, there should be some form of interaction for every 1,000 words of content.
Some opportunities for interactive content:
- Linkable assets: Add links or embedded multimedia to provide your audience additional useful pieces of information throughout the article.
- Let users control their story experience: Create choose-your-own-adventure style content, or content that changes based on geo-location.
- Break the article template: Have the article scroll from left to right, or utilize parallax to create a constantly changing experience as the user scrolls.
- Gamification: Make your content feel like a game, providing awards or incentives at the end; this will keep your audience from even realizing they are reading just another piece of branded content.
At the very least, do something that will make your audience laugh. Even the driest B2B industry has its inside jokes; know the pain points of your client’s industries and create funny content that addresses them. Want to go viral? Be funny first.
Take Advantage of New Google Features and Tools (even if they do not stick around forever)
Google search engine results pages have changed significantly over the years and now feature hardly any organic results above the fold.
Right now, Google could decide to entirely eliminate organic listings from the SERPs by incorporating nothing but direct answers, featured snippets, knowledge graphs, maps, AdWords ads, local packs, etc. So what’s stopping them? Moz’s Dr. Pete says Google still needs people to inform its data, and if Google’s SERPs are nothing but Google content it will lose its people.
So, with all these features preventing users from clicking through to the organic search results, what is an SEO to do to compete in today’s Google landscape? You can no longer think of a typical organic listing – the blue link – as your only opportunity.
Optimizing for Google Direct Answers
Google Direct Answer boxes are featured snippets that answer basic questions, generated from websites marked up in structured data. Now 64% of SERPs have either featured snippets, knowledge graphs or both. This may be considered disruptive by some SEOs, but it should considered as an opportunity instead.
The information in these snippets is still pulled from organic content, and it may be even easier to rank prominently in an answer snippet than it is to earn the number one organic ranking. All your content has to do to be eligible for an answer snippet is rank on the first page, regardless of position. Even if your content ranks at the bottom of the first page, it will appear in the snippet if Google sees it as most semantically relevant to the question. That’s a lot less work!
But the question endures: If I adjust a page to be pulled in by a featured snippet, will people just read the snippet and not click through to my site? Maybe, but you’re actually getting two organic positions if you get in the answer box, and most answer boxes don’t cover the entire question so users will likely click through to your site anyway.
Don’t be weary of the brave new Google world; embrace it, even if you don’t think some of these features will be around forever. Remember Google Authorship? Google Authorship came and went, but the people who took advantage of it for the two years it was around experienced huge CTR and engagement increases. The same can be done with Google’s new features.
An SEO’s job is to embrace change. Incorporate these new concepts, don’t run from them.
What is Going to Win in the Future of SEO?
In his closing presentation, The Wizard of Moz Rand Fishkin dropped a lot of truth about the future of Google and the future of SEO. As any SEO professional can attest, Google’s last three years of advancements have wiped out a decade of old-school SEO practices. Even tactics that may have worked in 2013 will have no effect today.
Search query success metrics will be what matters most to Google in the future. Google simply wants to get the search engine result pages right for its users and because of this, searcher output factors – how users engage content after a search – will matter as much or more than classic on-site ranking inputs like creating keyword-optimized copy on a crawler/bot-friendly website.
We are now entering a two-algorithm world for on-site optimization:
- Algorithm 1: Google’s ranking inputs, which we all know and love
- Algorithm 2: Searcher output, or how searchers interact with your content.
Searcher output includes:
- A high click-through rate at the SERP position.
- Short vs. long clicks (i.e. did a user click on the site and then immediately go back to the SERP, or did they click on the result and spend a lot of time on the page or visit multiple pages.)
- Engagement and task completion: Did visitors convert on a site goal or make a purchase?
- Were other subsequent Google searches done after visiting a site? Did the site effectively answer the user’s question? Or did they need to continue searching to find the answer?
Click-through rate is already highly relevant to SEO and will only become more important in the future. Convincing searchers to click on your link should be at the forefront of your optimization strategy. This includes optimizing the title, meta description and URL not only for keywords, but to convince as many searchers as possible to click on your link.
Branding and branded searches are excellent ways to drive up CTR. Branded searches can actually influence a brand’s visibility for non-branded searches as well. So make your brand ubiquitous with the service or product it provides (easier said than done) and watch your rankings rise. Paid search can also help raise brand awareness, which can in turn influence organic branded searches and CTR.
Of course, CTR means nothing if searchers are bouncing from your lousy content. If your content doesn’t fill the gaps in your searchers needs, it won’t be seen as relevant. Your content should be as comprehensive as possible about its topic. Identify angles that may be missing from competing content that covers your topics. Google is looking for signals that demonstrate a user is finding what they need without having to search again.
And even though Google refuses to admit it, social shares have a direct effect on the performance of your content. An excellent new KPI to track is the number of shares and links per 1,000 visits to your site.
Forget SEO, Win Over Your Customers’ Hearts and Minds and You Will Win the SERP
Expanding on Rand’s premise that branded searches can help increase CTRs and ultimately, SEO rankings, Wil Reynolds of SEER took it a step farther by saying if nobody is searching for your branded terms, you are doing something very wrong.
The future of SEO will depend on winning the hearts and minds of your target audience and target market, not simply winning the SERP for the most valuable non-branded keywords.
Don’t think of content in the context of Google; think of content as a means of making the world a better place for your audience. If Google didn’t exist, what content would you create to fulfill your customer’s needs? Is it the same as what you’re doing now?
When your content, resources and services become so vital and indispensable to your industry, niche or vertical, your brand will ultimately become synonymous and will change how your customers conduct searches. Think about how many people now search for “Airbnb” rather than “vacation rental.” This is a strategy that extends beyond SEO, but will have an unparalleled effect on your search success.
If you work on helping people solve problems and the links and rankings will follow. Winning the hearts and minds of your customers will eventually win you the SERP as well.
Look out for Key Takeaways Part 2, which will explore the state of mobile, voice and app search, as well as just what in the hell is going on with your Analytics account.