As 2016 begins to fade away in the rear-view mirror, it’s the perfect time to assess what search engine behemoth Google has been up to and its impact on content. It certainly hasn’t been idle. Change has been thrown at SEO specialists, writers and web designers with impunity, and more change is likely to come next year.
So, what exactly has Google done to keep content creators on their toes? Here’s our quick summary.
Mobile is a must
It’s been clear for some time that mobiles have become our go-to vehicle for searching the web, and Google has stepped up to the challenge of meeting our demands for speedy mobile content.
It’s adopted a ‘mobile first’ strategy, which means that if your web pages aren’t optimised for mobile use, you could be in trouble. Essentially, Google is creating a mobile index, which means that the mobile version of a website will be seen as the default option when it ranks your site.
Making your site fit for mobile isn’t just the job of web designers and developers – content writers need to get their hands dirty too.
According to research by Searchmetrics (read more Searchmetrics ranking here), mobile content is around 1/3 shorter than that created for desktop. Speed is key for mobile, so while content shouldn’t be super short, you do need to think about its usability. Lists and bullet points are excellent ways to boost readability and make your content user friendly without sacrificing too much important information.
Don’t forget the AMP
This leads us to the next point. 2016 also saw the launch of another acronym to join the likes of SEO, SERPs and CSS. ‘AMP’ stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and it pretty much does what it says on the tin.
If you’re eagled-eyed or an SEO pro, you may have noticed the introduction of a carousel at the top of a search results page when you use your phone. (Don’t believe me? Type in a cheery topic such as ‘Brexit’ and see what you get.) On this carousel is a little label that says ‘AMP’. This label means that this content has been designed specifically for mobile use and will be super speedy and lacking in irritating pop-ups or complicated web design. These pages have ‘stripped back’ HTML, which is what makes it so perfect for mobile.
Generating lots of lovely AMP pages has thrown many online publishers into a frenzy. You’d do well to get in on the act, as it’s likely that this is a trend that will continue to be rolled out next year. Many popular CMSs, such as WordPress, have a plug-in that will convert your content to an AMP for you.
Location, location, location
The list of ridiculously-named algorithm updates continued in 2016. Not only was there the Penguin update, but Google also snuck in another update that professionals in the know named ‘Possum’.
Possum largely affected local results and Google Map. Experts found that the changes meant that local businesses that sat just outside physical city/town limits suddenly had a surge in the rankings for keywords containing the name of that town or city.
The update also places greater emphasis on the location of the searcher, which may affect location-specific content. Someone searching the same keywords in London may therefore get a very different set of results to someone in Norwich.
So, if you’re creating content for local businesses, getting the location information correct and ensuring that it is the same across the whole site is a priority.
It’s all in the ads
Google also spent 2016 toying with the way its ads are presented. Once upon a time Google Ads were positions to the right-hand side of the search results. This was perfect for desktop, but now that we are using our mobiles, this wasn’t such a great position.
As a result, Google has shifted its sponsored pages to the very top, and has made them look very similar to organic results. Unsurprisingly, the battle for the best position among organic results AND adverts has intensified.
Excellent content that is consumer-focused, useable and has something to offer will determine the winners.
Content is still king
Content writers will be pleased to hear that good, relevant and, most importantly, well-written content is still gaining in ranking importance.
Tweaks to Google’s algorithms mean that the content that is most relevant to a searcher’s enquiry is trumping other results. At the same time, backlinks seem to be becoming less important – according to the Searchmetric report anyway. They found that in 2016 just 53% of the top 20 URLS included the keyword in their title – an SEO no-no a few years ago.
Voice your questions
Perhaps the biggest development has been the introduction of the Google Assistant and the growth of voice search.
Voice search may seem like a fad, but it’s definitely here to stay. At Google’s annual developer’s conference, Google CEO Sundar Pichai reported that 20% of queries on its mobile app and on Android devices were voice searches.
This will only grow with the introduction of Google Home Assistants into homes this Christmas.
Voice searches pose content writers and SEO experts with a bit of a problem – how do people find your site or discover your brand, and how do you measure search results?
Many questions have yet to be answered, but it’s still early days. However, you can gear your content so that it has a little more chance of being picked up by Google Assistant.
The key to this is getting your content into a ‘snippet’ answer by Google – no mean feat. A ‘snippet’, in case you don’t know, is a little paragraph answer that appears at the top of the Google results page when you search certain questions. For instance, type in ‘What is CSS?’, and you will get a very concise answer plucked from a website.
Chances are, if you now turned to Google Assistant and asked ‘What is CSS?’, you would get some, or all, of this snippet read out. It would hopefully be included with a citation that told you where the information came from.
To get yourself a snippet spot, think about questions that you can easily answer (ones that relate to your site and its information, obviously). All you have to do is answer that question in a concise way, adding a little bit of extra information in the latter sentences.
Of course, the advent of voice search doesn’t mean that SERPs are now a thing of the past – not yet anyway. Both Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa both have apps that save links to what you search, so keeping your content SEO-ready is still important and will continue to be important throughout 2017.