Below are my thoughts on the future of SEO in 2018 that will have an impact on content creation strategies for big and small businesses alike.
Trend 1 – Natural Language Processing
What is natural language processing (NLP)?
Traditionally a domain of computer science, natural language processing is a field of artificial intelligence “concerned with the interactions between computers and human (natural) languages, and, in particular, concerned with programming computers to fruitfully process large natural language data.” (according to Wikipedia)
In 2018, the ability of the Google search algorithm to move beyond keyword recognition into semantic meaning is quite astounding. Google has been putting immense amounts of research into orienting the algorithm towards NLP, and scrolling through their findings is quite illuminating.
Why does natural language processing affect how my site ranks?
For two reasons.
1 – Because more people are searching with their voice rather than via text. Google has always adapted their algorithm to reflect the changing patterns of search behaviour, and a move toward natural language comprehension has been in the works for years since mobile came to replace desktop as the dominant search platform.
2 – No longer are keywords king. Today, topics are king. Now it is all about answering specific questions rather than incorporating keywords at a specific density on pages you want to rank for that keyword with.
The general orientation with Google algorithms has always been to properly interpret search queries. For many years the computational capacity of the algorithm was not developed enough to understand searcher intent when a question was entered into the search bar. A SERP would produce a list of sites with relevant keywords related to the question, and this was the extent to which it could understand searcher intent. The issue was that, if the search query was at all vague or too long, the algorithm would not produce accurate results.
Today, the algorithm is smart enough to interpret long questions with specific requests, and this means the content on your site no longer needs to be overly reliant on keyword density and keyword hyperlinking. Content should be focused on answering questions and solving problems while incorporating keywords naturally throughout the text.
Trend 2 – The Answer Box/Featured Snippet
Google has instituted an answer box for a lot of question-related searches. Interpreting what best-practices go into landing this coveted answer box slot will take up a lot of an SEO’s time in the coming year.
What is the answer box?
According to Google, the answer box (or answer summary) is “a snippet extracted programmatically from what a visitor sees on your webpage.”
The answer box is usually a portion of a complete text that would otherwise appear in the results page, but in this form is highlighted and extracted for the ease of the searcher.
Here is an example of an answer box when I type in the question: “what is content marketing?” …
It appears as though the answer box is designed primarily to answer specific questions entered into the search bar.
Or, to quote Google: “when we recognize that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results.”
What does it mean for my search strategy?
Google’s answer box has shifted the focus away from strictly keyword content production towards dealing directly with questions. It is a more accurate reflection of search query structure, which often comes in the form of a question anyways.
The importance of questions is certainly backed up by some initial research into search query trends with the answer box. Stone Temple Consulting looked over 1.4 million queries and found that questions had a 480% increase in the percentage of keywords in snippets. These keywords were also most likely to appear within the paragraph structure of a page rather than as a headline, or page title.
Trend 3 – Increased Meta Description
It has been forever since Google last updated the chunk of text they accept in the meta description. For clarities sake, remember that the meta-description is the text that appears under title and URL of your pages in a SERP…
Only recently have Google increased the number of characters allowed in a meta-description from 160 to around 300. What does this mean for your organic search going forward?
According to SEO expert Paul Teitelman, the new character limit allows you to take “immediate action” with your organic search strategy. Stressing how simple it is to make the change in the backend, Paul points out you can “pack in more keywords as well as a call to action at the end. If you are an e-commerce site, you can put your keyword-oriented descriptions in there and finish off with something actionable.”
The change has immense practical significance for organic search ranking and conversion potential for an average small business owner. Putting highly descriptive meta-descriptions on all pages of your site (including your blog!) offers two benefits. First, it is easier for Google to pick what to display in the search results if the on-page keywords match the title and meta-description. Second, it gives the searcher exactly what they are looking for: informative content.
These are some of the SEO trends to keep pace within 2018. At the end of the day, optimizing your site for organic search ranking remains a complicated assortment of tasks that is nearly as hard as actually surfing a wave!
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