Google changes its algorithm over 500 times per year, according to Moz, and keeps the ins-and-outs of these updates largely under wraps. It’s little wonder that small businesses looking to maximise their search visibility have trouble keeping up.
Search engine optimisation isn’t something to be undertaken lightly, either. Putting one foot wrong can land you with a Google penalty that wipes your rankings, taking your organic revenue with it.
There’s no formula for success on the search engine results pages, but the three most important things have always been and always will be:
Making sure your website is technically sound,
Producing quality content for your audience,
Generating or earning relevant backlinks
But what emerging factors should you sit up and take notice of in 2017? In Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors 2017, three ranking signals were given more weight: mobile friendliness, site speed, and featured snippets. Find out more below.
Over half of global Google searches are made on a mobile device, and it’s expected to keep growing. If the search engine wants to keep its user-base happy, it needs to deliver mobile-friendly results.
Google intends to launch a mobile-first index in 2018. This means that the algorithm will evaluate the mobile rather than desktop version of a site when determining rankings — no matter what device the searcher is using.
Mobile users are clearly a priority for Google, so they should be a priority for you.
If you haven’t already, adopting responsive web design is a crucial first step. This ensures you have a single version of your website which automatically adapts to different screen sizes. You can get more advice straight from the horse’s mouth by entering your URL into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
Site speed has been a direct ranking factor since 2010, but the rise of mobile has put a bigger emphasis on load times. That’s because mobile internet connections can make sluggish pages even slower, and users are more impatient while on the move.
There are plenty of tweaks you can make to shave milliseconds off load times — PageSpeed Insights will give you a good idea of what’s slowing your site down.
But if you really want to get ahead of the game, make use of AMP (accelerated mobile page) coding. Fast-loading AMP pages deliver a better user experience, and receive special attention in Google search results. AMP isn’t a direct ranking signal at the moment, but everything points to it being one soon.
Featured snippets are excerpts of content from the web, displayed on the search results page in an effort to provide instant answers to user queries. Some say they discourage click-through by their very nature, so they’re not worth pursuing.
If you ask me, their #0 position above the organic search results makes them well worth competing for. They also gain exposure through voice search, as Google Assistant reads them aloud in response to user queries.
Occupying the featured snippet means working out what questions your target audience are asking, and providing quality answers. Even if you don’t earn the #0 position, this type of content can have a multitude of SEO benefits, including:
Improving contextual relevancy for target keywords,
Generating natural backlinks,
Earning exposure in People Also Ask boxes,
Increasing time onsite,
Reducing bounce rate
Mobile-friendliness, site speed and featured snippets have emerged as the three biggest search trends in 2017. As long as you have SEO fundamentals taken care of, paying attention to these ranking signals is a great way to gain a competitive edge in the search results, and future-proof your site against Google algorithm updates.
Marc Swann is search director at Glass Digital