Optimizing websites for search engines, mainly Google, has always been a combination of science and art, what with all the Google algorithm updates and technological advances made available to internet users around the world. Gone are the days of simply stuffing keywords into content to rank on the SERPs. Today, search engines want you to EAT – that is, show your expertise, authority and trustworthiness. This is why you need to develop your brand voice and connect with your users on a professional and personal level.
Here are eight trends you can take advantage of to beat the competition in organic search and enhance your online presence.
1. Voice search
Although voice search has existed since 2012, it has failed to gain traction, mostly because current technological capabilities always seem to fall short of expectations. The rise of voice control on mobile and dedicated virtual assistants in recent years, however, has proven that available technology is ripe with promise in 2020.
In 2016, Gartner predicted a rise of 30% in searches done without a screen by 2020, and this prediction may be about right. Voicebot's more recent survey from July 2019 showed that "nearly 60% of U.S. adults say they have used voice search and 47% expect to increase usage this year." The survey also found that 33% of adult web users use voice search every month.
At any rate, you would be remiss if you ignored the power of voice search and didn't optimize for it – and it's easier than you might think. The key here is making everything a conversation. There are three main strategies for voice search:
- Focus on long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are the star of voice search because people tend to use longer phrases when they are talking instead of typing. Also, long-tail keywords are almost always more specific, so they should be part of your SEO strategy.
- Study customer intent. Determine your focus keywords and ask yourself what users want when they use these keywords. For example, someone searching for "what is risk assessment" is in a completely different place from someone searching for "hire a risk assessment expert." Keywords are important in an SEO strategy, but determining user intent is arguably more important.
- Be mobile-friendly. Searches aren't done on desktops alone; to provide users a complete experience, you must ensure that your website adapts to the device it's viewed on – and quickly. A bad mobile website experience can turn customers away. This is a missed opportunity, because optimizing your website for mobile is not that hard to do.
2. Featured snippets
One of the goals of optimizing your website for search, aside from generating web traffic, is getting the top spot on the SERPs. However, a study by Ahrefs shows that even the top results are not safe from the power of the featured snippet. In fact, featured snippets take away clicks from even the No. 1 page result because they are enough for most searchers.
There are several ways you can improve your content ranking, but to be chosen as a featured snippet, you need to know what the users want and give it to them. Here are a few methods you can employ:
- Ask questions. Consider keywords in question form as opposed to just the keyword phrase. For example, instead of using "risk assessment" as a keyword, use "what is a risk assessment?" This way, your content will answer a user question instead of just presenting generic content.
- Check out popular Q&A portals. To see what most people are asking about a certain topic, consult Q&A portals like Quora and Yahoo Answers. Type a question about your topic and these portals will show related questions that you might have never thought to ask.
- Structure your content. A simple tweak to your content might be the difference between being selected as a featured snippet and sinking to the depths of SERP oblivion. You might not need to change your content and messaging itself, but its structure: Consider using FAQs, bullet points or numbered lists, tables, how-to sections, and shorter paragraphs to increase the chances of your content being chosen as a featured snippet.
3. Visual image search
Image optimization has always been part of a sound SEO strategy, and Google has always advocated for it. The tech giant has made changes to how users search using images on desktop, and you should be taking advantage of this feature. Images are integral to online searches, even showing up on the SERPs. When your images are featured on the SERP, it's like being a visual featured snippet.
These are a few ways you can get your images featured on the SERPs:
- Use high-resolution images.
- Optimize image titles and descriptions.
- Add alternative text (alt-text) to all images.
- Optimize image size and file types.
- Add image captions where necessary.
- Use a unique image instead of stock images.
4. Google My Business
This may seem unnecessary once you feel you've made your presence online. However, Google My Business will make your details immediately available to potential customers while also making your business more reputable online. Studies show that 88% of consumers who make local business searches on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours.
Claiming your company on Google My Business makes it easy for customers to find you online or offline. Here's how you can claim your business and get it verified by Google My Business:
- Create a Google account for your business.
- Search for your business on Google and click on Maps. If your business doesn't show up on the map, it hasn't been added yet.
- Click on the hamburger menu (the icon represented by three horizontal lines) to the left of the search bar and click on "Add a missing place."
- Enter the details of your business, including its name, category, hours of operation, contact information, URL and opening date.
- Click "Claim this business." Google will add your company to its listings almost immediately (give it up to 24 hours to display on the SERP). You'll receive an email with confirmation of your active business listing and a link to it.
- Verify your business either by phone or a postcard.
5. Editorial calendars
Editorial calendars, or content calendars, are important for every business, because they help you plan out your content instead of just publishing whatever comes to mind. Planning your content is vital to strategize and optimize your website for the search engines.
An editorial calendar allows you to flesh out topic ideas, publish content consistently, identify gaps in your content, better collaborate with your social media team and balance out your content topics. Here are a few tips to make your editorial calendar work for you (and your users):
- Know your target customers. This one is self-explanatory – how do you know what to write if you don't know who you're writing for?
- Know what type of content you publish. A comprehensive content audit of your published content will give you an idea of what's working and what isn't. After an audit, update your editorial calendar accordingly.
- Determine your publishing frequency. While there is no hard-and-fast rule on how often you should publish content, your business and content marketing goals will help you find the sweet spot in your content strategy. Research, experiment, and tweak your editorial calendar until you find it. Remember that consistency is key in publishing content.
6. Native content in social shares
Sharing your content on social media used to be enough to draw traffic to your website. These days, Facebook's and most other social networks' algorithms don't play nice with posts that take users away from their platform (e.g., to your website). Social media platforms want users to stay on them as long as possible, and external links are a hindrance to this objective. For this reason, most social media posts with links to external content are buried in the feeds and forgotten, if seen at all.
Social media is not a lost cause in content marketing, though. There is one way to ensure that your target audience sees your content on their social media feeds: Add native content to your social media posts.
The next time you post on social media, don't just put the title of your post and a link to it. Add a bit of native content, like a summary of what's discussed in your article or some compelling data points. This provides value through original content and engagement, which works for both you and the social media platforms.
7. Refreshes of old content
Publishing a post is not the last step in content marketing, and it's bad practice to forget about content once it's live. If you find content with constantly dropping traffic, it may be time to update and relaunch that post. You have two options for relaunching old content: You can revamp it and present it as brand-new content, or you can quietly update it with new information.
Whichever method you choose, you can boost traffic to older content because you now know better. You can add new information as it becomes available or take a different approach to the topic now that you know what doesn't work.
8. Spoken word
Podcasts are an oft-overlooked aspect of content marketing, but this is an excellent medium for those who are always on the go. Imagine if users could digest your content while running, driving, or lying in bed before they doze off for the night. This is where podcasts show the greatest potential.
It's not enough to just start a podcast, though; you need to make it available to your target audience. There are a few methods to make that happen:
- Optimize your podcast titles. Similar to optimizing for search engines, you should optimize your podcast for podcast-specific platforms. iTunes and other podcast platforms rely heavily on titles when ranking podcasts, so you must use a descriptive, interesting title.
- Recycle content. Take the content you already have and transform it into a podcast. This is a great way to leverage resources and improve your ranking on the topics you want.
- Repurpose your podcast for YouTube. On a similar note, you can also easily transform your podcasts into YouTube videos, opening up your content to more than 1 billion users. YouTube is a search engine in its own right and often part of the SERPs, so it should be part of your content marketing strategy.
These are just a few of the things that should be on your radar if you want to boost your business's online presence. These tactics will not only get your brand name out there, but also help your customers come to you. Make it a habit to revisit your SEO strategies periodically and make small tweaks whenever new information is available. Adaptability is key to stay afloat in the ever-changing SEO landscape.