The last few years have seen a huge progression in search marketing, a lot of which has become particularly prevalent in 2017.

Google’s goal has always been to provide the best possible search experience by showing the most relevant content at the right time and as quickly as possible. These days, in order to do that, there are many facets that need to be considered.

Here I’ve looked at several topical trends and where they might take us in the future:

Interstitials

The first update from Google regarding intrusive interstitials was confirmed at the beginning of the year, stating that this type of ad “can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller”, these ads visually obscure content that is present on the page below that has the potential to be indexed by Google, presenting the user with a poor experience.

We haven’t heard much about this update since, first impressions were of a pretty non-existent effect and very few cases of penalties were mentioned, if any at all.

This can’t stay as it is forever. I imagine it was a case of Google not going gung-ho in their approach and utilising a steady roll out, but it may have been too cautious. With any luck, we’ll see further updates that crack down on this annoying practice and eventually the end of its use. The penalty only applies to interstitials on that are returned in SERP’s, but perhaps we’ll see it expanded to subsequent pages.

Security

It’s obvious Google values site security and has been rewarding it for the last few years, beginning with awarding a slight ranking boost for adopting HTTPS.

Over the last year we’ve seen Google introduce a security warning for non-secure pages containing password or credit card fields, and come October they will expand on this by showing the warning in two additional situations: when users enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.

It’s pretty clear the stance they are taking and we can assume very confidently this trajectory of rewarding security will continue and evolve for a long time, perhaps even bringing in a negative ranking signal for non-adoption. In fact, in Google’s transparency report it says almost 70% of pages loaded over Chrome are now via a HTTPS protocol so there is pretty clear evidence of it taking effect already.

Structured data

In my opinion, the search engine results page is only going to become more and more visual, as Google adopts and displays more types of data marked up with Schema. They are constantly testing out different ways of displaying information in the form of ‘rich cards’ and in the knowledge graph.

A clear example of the direction they are taking is their proactive approach to support specialist scientific data that is perhaps only currently partially supported within Schema.org itself.

Early this year Google adopted schema markup/rich snippets within image search. Clicking on an image in Image Search can pull up a price and description of an item, showing that they are actively bringing in structured data to multiple areas of search. However, they have also been testing something a little more controversial – removing the original result where an answer box is being displayed instead. This essentially steals the information and offers a CTR to the associated website of absolutely zilch.

Whether this makes the final cut is yet to be seen, but it is unlike the big G to concede to the backlash of the SEO community.

In addition, John Mueller recently stated on Twitter how Google prefers markup within the site itself rather than using the (limited) Data Highlighter. This would suggest they can already digest more advanced information than they are offering to a less specialised audience.

Voice search

Whilst I believe text based search queries aren’t going anywhere, it’s undeniable that voice search is taking an increasingly large chunk of the search market, with Google stating it’s as much as 25% of mobile queries.

As consumer adoption of IoT devices and virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa rises so will voice search. Marketers, in particular, will need to understand the subtle differences between the two query types, the most obvious being the majority of voice searches are questions (who, what, when etc). It is also more convenient (being quicker than typing on a keyboard, whilst also enabling hands-free use) and smarter than ever due to the ever advancing machine learning behind it.

Mobile First

2017 has proven that it is no longer enough to just ‘optimise for mobile’ and your whole digital strategy should, in theory, be built with mobile search in mind from the ground up. 

Google actually stated their intentions to be mobile-first all the way back in 2010, but only started showing visible progress in 2014 with the introduction of the Mobile Usability report in Webmaster Tools, in preparation for the first mobile-friendly update. Incremental updates were made, including the adoption of AMP, until they started testing the mobile-first (separate) index at the end of last year.

They’ve recently stated their intentions to communicate as much as possible about progress and a go-live date. As with everything Google, you have to take their word with a pinch of salt, but as we’ve heard very little except that they are “many quarters away”, I’m not expecting anything until at least early 2018.

This is meant to be a very significant update, but won’t actually affect responsive sites a whole lot, meaning only those who are very far behind will see a drop-off.

Speed

Google has been keen to promote the improvement of site speed in recent years, benefitting everyone with the move to a mobile-led digital world. This coincides with the rise of AMP, Facebook Instant Articles, progressive web apps and even HTTP2.

Today’s richer web content demands more data over increasingly mobile and often poorer connections, and efforts are being made across the board to tackle the issue. Site speed is becoming more important than ever.

Hyperlocal

Local SEO isn’t anything new, but the term ‘hyperlocal’ has been floating around in the last couple of years coinciding with the major advancements in mobile. This is the idea that more emphasis is going to be put on ‘micro-moments’ such as ‘near me’ and ‘nearby’ searches (which are rising exponentially) that treat the user’s exact location with utmost importance.

The removal of most of the local pack results was seen as a shift towards this as more information could be offered in order to meet the demands of the user immediately. It was found back in 2016 that noticeably fewer pages were being returned in maps searches, suggesting a smaller yet more nuanced geographic area being covered.

Machine learning

Google’s Rankbrain has been around since 2015, and from what I understand (in very simple terms) essentially takes a gargantuan amount of qualitative data and processes it into quantitative data that it can then digest.

Around 15% of search queries are new, so it can apply what it’s learned from the other 85% to return better results. It was rolled out for all searches in 2016 so we can assume that the main algorithm is now more automated and reactive, and will improve itself over time. As there is no way to optimise directly for Rankbrain it remains to be seen how much of an effect this will have on us as marketers.

What’s next?

It’s clear that digital is going mobile, personal, and fast and it seems like the search world is just about keeping up. Back in 2016, Gary Illyes of Google said that marketers should spend 2017 concentrating on machine learning, AMP, and structured data, and so far that has proved pretty sound advice.

I think keeping an ear to the ground for development in the areas raised above and we should be able to stay ahead of the curve.

 

Jack Evershed – SEO Specialist
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