The internet and its related technologies are evolving at an exponential pace and it might sometimes be difficult for us digital marketing folk to keep pace. While in the good old days, SEO and keywords were more or less the only things required to drive traffic to websites, the game has changed considerably over the years. As we discussed in the last issue, today there are numerous marketing techniques apart from the traditional ones, like voice search, virtual reality, TikTok, digital PR and whatnot. Does that mean SEO isn’t the mighty solo warrior that it once used to be? On the contrary, it still remains one of the primary elements in the modern marketing scenario, working alongside and complementing other methods to drive traffic.
It is key to understand how the digital world and SEO have evolved and how they work today. In the beginning, SEO was just that, search engine optimization, an approach where you included relevant keywords so that people searching for specific topics ended up at your website where you offered them solutions. Then came spammy people who tried gaming the system by stuffing keywords and attempting to trick search engines. The years have seen Google fight back, improvise, and introduce numerous steps to keep spam at bay. SEO is indeed a very multi-layered subject now; Google’s most recent updates to their algorithms like E-A-T and BERT seem to have shaken up the system, and it is up to the digital marketer to keep up.
Voice search is rising in popularity as can be witnessed by the surge in sales of assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Even in India, an increasing number of people prefer using Siri and Google Assistant over traditional search due to their convenience. Over time, people will start typing search queries in the same way they speak, which means long-tail and very specific queries. These same people are also very likely to be in the consideration stage and are more likely to convert, as they are looking for precise answers to their questions. Remember, when your customer does a voice search, they are more likely to ask “which is the best digital marketing agency in Kochi?” rather than “digital marketing agency Kochi”. Bulleted lists raise your odds of ranking for voice queries, and as most voice queries are local, enhancing your website for local SEO is a good idea.
You might not know what a featured snippet is, but chances are very high that you have seen countless examples while searching for information. For instance, when you type “How to fix corrupted sd card” into the search box, Google comes up with a small box that is displayed at the top of the results, above paid and organic ads. The answers are typically pulled directly from the content that’s already ranking on page one, but that doesn’t mean Google can’t also pull from lower-ranking search results. Featured snippets make it very easy for the user because they don’t have to usually click on anything or leave the page to view the solution. The sad part is that Google doesn’t let you mark your page as a featured snippet, but of course, you can suggest content for the snippets that Google creates via rich results and meta description tags.
Adding structured data to your site helps Google understand the page better; for example, a review, recipe, business, or event. In the second method, Google sometimes uses <meta> tag content to generate snippets if it is thought to give users a more accurate description than can be taken directly from the page content. As a digital marketer, you can aim for question-based search queries and keywords, as well as refer to questions from the “people also ask” section, as it offers an understanding of related questions for a more detailed answer.
BERT (Bidirectional Transformers for Language Understanding)
Artificial Intelligence is quickly evolving to become an integral part of our lives, and it’s the same when it comes to AI’s role in SEO. Google’s latest progression, Bidirectional Transformers for Language Understanding or BERT, is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing. Impacting 1 in 10 queries, BERT is intended to give Google an understanding into how language is used and helps it comprehend the context of individual words within searches. Google itself says that the algorithm represents “the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.” SEO marketers who apply BERT models boost their chances of ranking on the first page for featured snippets in Google SERP.
As a marketer, you should understand that you cannot optimize for it as Google only uses BERT to improve its understanding of natural language. What you can do is optimise for the intent behind search queries because intent matching is essential to crafting strong content. Essentially, as with most other factors mentioned here, the aim should be to produce natural-sounding high-quality content.
E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness)
Before we get into E-A-T-ing, you should know what “Your Money or Your Life” topics and pages are. Google’s Rater Guidelines describe YMYL as a page or topic that “could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” Majority of today’s SEO-oriented websites typically have YMYL pages or topics, but Google is taking measures to ensure that low-quality YMYL content is weeded out. Even companies with a poor reputation, for instance, will find it tough to compete with those higher up the charts. Poor customer service reviews, negative feedback, or even technical or security issues on the site will be scored, leading to lower rankings.
Basically, this means extremely high-quality content that is written by authorities on the subject, people with expertise and credentials to write on those topics. The future will focus more on the integrity of publishers, while the war on fake news and spammy content will get even stronger. This means it will be increasingly challenging to receive organic visibility for YMYL queries without credibility.
So, we come to E-A-T, or “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness”. In order to give precedence to quality YMYL pages, Google will look at the overall reputation and E-A-T of your company and the individuals who publish content. Even though E-A-T isn’t an algorithm or ranking factor, nor can you optimise for it, you can implement changes to ensure your site sends the right quality signs to Google.
Topics and Semantics
If you thought SEO was all about stuffing keywords into your content, you couldn’t be more wrong! These days, Google is valuing semantics and topic modelling over both links and keywords. The search engine giant has become smart enough to perceive what a user is looking for based on just a few simple words, and by carefully figuring out the semantics, Google intends to provide users with much more accurate information. For us digital marketers, this translates into creating high quality, in-depth, and meaningful content for users.
Many studies show that a clear information structure is also vital for the search engine crawler and your user to better navigate and understand the content. For instance, if your site sells smartphones, you could create quality long-form articles about various models, related tech, reviews and much more, which could then be grouped into various topics. Search engines relate to high-quality content, but they still don’t fully understand the context. Structured data will not only help search engines better understand what is on a page, but also how each element relates to other elements on the page, and how that page relates to other pages within the website.
Quantity over quality will always be a losing combination in the eyes of a search engine, but quality, especially quality combined with quantity, is a winning association. Studies have shown that the top 10 results in Google SERP have, in addition to high-quality content, an average length of 2000 words. While that means web pages with long-form, high-quality content enjoys more visibility, you should aim to answer your user’s main search query in as detailed a manner as possible. Longer articles also increase dwell time (the duration which people spend on a page), telling Google that users enjoy your content, thereby netting your site a better ranking for that search query.
Has watching videos taken up a big chunk of the time you spend online? If yes, then welcome to a rapidly growing population that thinks likewise. Be it on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram, more and more video content is being pushed out daily and the number of subscribers and viewers is similarly increasing. People love video, and so does Google! Who wants to read a boring car review when you can watch it online, complete with hi-def visuals, crisp voiceovers and tons of details? Videos are here to stay and it should be a vital part of your SEO strategy and digital marketing efforts. Research shows that videos are 50 times more likely to show up on the first page of SERP than a web page with plain text. Creating a video these days is super easy, but remember to make one that supports your existing website content. Once you’re done, Google also makes it extremely easy to embed YouTube videos on your site, and after the search engine giant is done indexing your video, your site will most definitely receive increased traffic.
With more and more people using their smartphones for browsing, shopping around and purchasing online, it is little wonder Google is placing utmost importance on the mobile experience (Google moved to mobile-first indexing on the 1st of July 2019). Your website cannot just be mobile-friendly, it has to be optimised first and foremost for mobile, then for desktops – that way, you also don’t need to optimise for speed after launch.
Diligently study your mobile SERPs and performance insights because you need to thoroughly know your search results, competitors, expected traffic, and ultimately, the improvements needed to bring visitors and revenue.
Getting influencers to market your products and services has been around for several years now. While influencers are seen as a problem by some, you cannot deny the importance from a marketing perspective. With ads proliferating the online space, a growing number of users are looking for genuine information they can trust, and most times, the source of that data are influencer reviews. While buying a new TV, aren’t you more likely to watch YouTube reviews than see an ad for the same?
While most influencers are major celebrities, athletes or even simply internet celebs with tens of thousands of followers, a lot of companies are gradually turning to local accounts with a smaller social media following to influence buyers. Why? Utilising influential people on social media who reach your target demographic builds trust, theoretically giving you higher returns on investment. Studies prove the significance of influencer marketing for companies, especially those in fashion, beauty, e-commerce, travel, and lifestyle. Partnering with an influencer helps you generate traffic, increase your online visibility and increase your content reach. The backlinks you earn from influencer sites also show authority to Google and improves your SEO efforts.
SEO, just like everything else with Google, is an ever-changing process. When you think you know everything there is to know about SEO, algorithms change and updates happen, leaving you confused. So, the fact that you have to be up-to-date with the latest SEO news and trends is a no-brainer, but also understand that modern SEO is an integrated and holistic process that needs both online and offline marketing strategies to succeed. It requires long-term vision and strategy, in addition to a sound investment in technical strategy, knowledge about semantics and more.