The search landscape has come a long way. Do you remember how basic search queries were 20 years ago? If you’re under 30, you missed out on that golden era. Others will remember what life was like using Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator on Windows 98.
I vividly remember the first query I ever typed on a search engine. It was on Yahoo! and the query was “games.” Being an avid gamer at the time, I wanted to use this thing called the internet to find new games to download on my PC. Search engines weren’t as sophisticated back then, nor did we expect them to be, so we kept our queries short and sweet to maximize our chances of getting relevant results. The internet was relatively new to the search index was quite thin and didn’t have the trillions of pages to sort through like Google does today.
Search engines are now morphing into intelligent assistants capable of understanding complex queries and each user’s intent behind queries. As a business owner, you want your website to be ready for the next era of search. Here are some tips to make sure your website isn’t left behind:
Pay extra attention to mobile speed.
Mobile searches surpassed desktop searches three years ago, yet many people still think of mobile optimization as an afterthought. It’s not enough to settle for a responsive WordPress theme — you now need to take the time to optimize your mobile website’s UX and loading speed to improve your search traffic and conversion rates.
In its own words, Google stated over eight years ago that it was “obsessed with speed.” In 2010, it announced Page Speed as a ranking factor in its algorithm, and that was way before mobile devices and smartphones became mainstream. I would argue that today, given the fact that many mobile devices have limited bandwidth/memory, page speed carries even more weight as a ranking factor.
Businesses need to ensure their websites load fast on all devices. Using Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a good way to get tips on how to optimize your code. I also recommend using AMP to load your landing pages and articles for those that want to take their loading speed to the next level.
Optimize content for featured snippets, aka position zero.
According to the SEMrush Sensor, and at the time of writing this article, 11.28% of all search results had a featured snippet. Featured snippets are the holy grail when it comes to rankings because they show up before the top 10 results and are read out loud to people initiating a voice search from a smartphone, smart speaker, smartwatch or any voice-enabled device.
A study conducted last year by A.J. Ghergich found that the optimal length of a featured snippet is 40 to 50 words, and an earlier study by SEMrush corroborated those numbers. Keep that in mind when writing your content. One of our clients is making a killing with featured snippets through their glossary of terms section, in which they write short descriptions of the most common terms in their niche.
YouTube videos and their descriptions are also being embedded in featured snippets. I would recommend doing video over text any day, but my advice is to stick to what is sustainable. I’ve seen too many clients promise me that they would do X videos per month, and they ended up doing one to two for the whole year. Develop a content creation schedule you can stick to with whatever medium you are most comfortable.
If you want to learn more about this exciting topic, Search Engine Watch has a great guide on how to maximize your chances of getting “snipped.”
Optimize for questions, not just keywords.
Featured snippets are not just about keywords, as we are gradually shifting to a more conversational web. Some anecdotal evidence: My girlfriend has stopped typing anything on search engines since last year. All she does is ask questions verbally through her phone or our Amazon Echo smart speaker.
I’m noticing the same behavior by observing a lot of people around me, who seem to be very comfortable taking a conversational approach with search engines. This type of search behavior is only going to increase as smart speaker sales are expected to increase by 50% in 2019. We are slowly bidding farewell to the traditional search-and-scroll model.
As a business owner, use your website to identify and answer the most popular questions in your industry. Consider creating a Q&A section on your website with all the most popular questions in your niche. Quora is a good place to look for popular questions if you’re in need of inspiration. Remember to keep your answers within the limits stated above to maximize your chances of getting snipped. Also, the words “how,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “who” or “why” should be in your heading tags to make it easy for Google to understand what question you are trying to answer.
With hacks and breaches becoming more and more prevalent every year, it’s no surprise that Google wants websites to get SSL’d or secure sockets layer certified. All websites that collect any form of data should get SSL’d.
Don’t take my word for it. At the Transformation of Search Summit in New York last October, Juan Felipe Rincón, global lead of trust and safety search outreach at Google, stressed that Google is encouraging HTTPS adoption across the web.
For businesses that want to stay ahead in the constantly evolving world of SEO, it can get intimidating to keep track of all the different algorithm updates and optimization strategies. To simplify it, I like to tell clients that it boils down to one thing: understanding the big picture. What are search engines like Google, Bing, and others trying to achieve in the next two, five or ten years? Minimizing security issues and responding to search queries faster and more accurately through various devices are two big components of that mission. If your website helps search engines achieve that, you’ll reap the fruits of your labor.