3 Ways SEO Has Changed and What It Means for Your Site

Search engine optimization can at times be a frustratingly mysterious subject. With knowledge of the basics, communicators can analyze and improve their rankings. But sometimes it can seem that no matter what you do, your content and websites plateau outside the top 3 results on Google.

Like almost everything in the digital space, SEO is in a constant state of flux. Driven by Google’s mandate to give web searchers the best possible experience, algorithms are continually tweaked to deliver on that promise. The only way for communicators to stay relevant in such a space is to stay informed and always use the latest tactics.

To decode SEO in general and comprehend where it’s going, you have to understand where it’s been. Allison Fabella, global director of SEO, CareerBuilder and speaker on PR News' upcoming SEO Strategies That Will Help Your Message Find the Right Audience webinar, looks at some of the most significant developments in SEO and what they mean for your sites.

The Evolution of Mobile

Over the past several years, Google has slowly been turning up the dial on mobile as a ranking factor going from a whisper to an in-your-face scream. At the core of all mobile factors is site speed and performance. In 2016 a sluggish site simply can’t survive in a competitive landscape. Here’s how I see the phasing in of mobile for SEO over time:

  • Phase 1 (around 2011): Google implied a preference for responsive/mobile-friendliness
  • Phase 2 (Spring 2015): “Mobilegeddon” forced mobile friendliness with diminished rankings for sites who didn’t pass the test
  • Phase 3 (early 2016): Accelerated Mobile Pages “AMP”—Currently Google’s latest “it” feature. With its search results prominently displayed in a carousel above the regular results listing, this is a giant incentive to make site pages AMP friendly. Originally offered just to publishers, this feature is quickly rolling out to many other industries including e-commerce, travel, recipes, etc.

Enhanced Search Results Displays

The ubiquity of mobile paired with today’s immediate gratification culture (who scrolls below the fold anymore?) has made “special” result displays an even bigger prize for SEOs. While not all of these features are new, Quick Answers, Rich Cards, Star-rated reviews (plus other Rich Snippets), and of course, Local are all situated above the regular search results—sometimes in giant boxes—and create an irresistible click opportunity for searchers on the go.

Rank Brain + User Signals

Search engines have always somewhat paid attention to user behavior. However, search activity is more important than ever with the rollout of Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence technology, RankBrain. Known as Google’s “Hal,” RankBrain is currently considered one of the most important ranking factors and incorporates thousands of sub-signals to get to the heart of users’ search intent. And what better (albeit creepy) way to figure out what users want (or don’t want) than to carefully monitor their behavior? Some user signals that Google looks for to indicate search result satisfaction:

  • Click-through rate from search results
  • Time spent on site
  • Bounce rate
  • Pogo sticking
  • Social shares

Follow Allison: @alli12

Follow Mark: @MarkRenfree