The beginning of the year is always the perfect time to find list after list of trends and predictions for the coming year relating to a variety of subjects. For web designers, marketers, business owners, and others with a vested interest in an online presence, getting information about SEO trends and predictions usually ranks rather high on their ‘to do’ list each year.
When it comes to lists, especially those for trends or predictions, most writers will put together a ‘top ten’ that provides the reader with the ten most popular items (or the items that are expected to have the most impact). This leaves the searching reader with plenty of digging to do, in the form of searching the internet and scouring the pages of countless websites for the information they are seeking.
Rather than leaving it up to you, the reader, to scour the internet for as many SEO trend and prediction lists for 2017 as you can, I have curated a complete list in this post. Outbound links to external sources, of which there are many, are NOT provided because WordPress feels that outbound links appear to be nefarious in some way.
SEO Trends and Predictions for 2017
- A greater focus, especially from search engines like Google, on Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs). AMPs are designed, via code changes, to load web pages on a mobile device almost instantly. Google is already showing SERP preference for AMP content, despite the fact that page load times are more often the result of data transmission speeds instead of design coding. AMPs are Google’s ‘baby’ so preference despite flaws is expected.)
- Page load time will continue to have a significant impact on SERP positioning. Optimizing page load times for mobile experiences is the dominant focus, especially since mobile device usage numbers continue to climb steadily. Google implemented a mobile-friendliness algorithm in mid-2015 and the search engine juggernaut continues to make tweaks to ranking factors that impact mobile content. You can check your web page(s) at Google’s online Mobile-Friendly Test.
- Developing and implementing an effective content marketing strategy will remain important for the coming year. Content continues to be ‘king’ and there is no way around the fact that high quality content always outperforms lower quality content. An effective content marketing strategy as a core component of your overall SEO strategy will assist you in determining what content works best when and where, and how well it is performing once it is in place.
- Link building is not only an effective strategy for driving traffic to your online content, but it also continues to play a role in your content’s positioning in search engine results. The long-term results of strategic link building can have a substantial impact on your content performance and remains an important factor in SEO.
- Page Authority may have a higher influence on SEO and search results than Domain Authority. This will be due to the fact that some domains have become tainted over time if they have been used for certain negative (in the eyes of search engines) purposes. Pages, on the other hand, are almost like fingerprints in that no two are ever alike, and it is easier to rank imperatively on Page Authority when determining content worthiness than it is to rank using Domain Authority. Google examines both Page and Domain Authority, as part of their many ranking factors, with no official statement regarding whether one has more weight than the other (though they have stated that they do not use an ‘overall domain authority’ ranking signal).
- Personal branding will have an elevated importance in search engine ranking and greater popularity among online users. Personal branding is the development of a ‘brand’ that is associated with you personally, not with your company, product, or service. It is a great way to emphasize your online identity and style, and it also promotes your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Personal branding lets you draw attention to your content individually, rather than attracting attention because your content falls under a corporate umbrella or business brand.
- The content revolution will compel a content evolution back to shorter content, but with a twist to benefit the on-the-go mobile user. A decade ago everyone was scrambling to churn out as many 300 word posts as they could in a single day, just to increase their saturation level. As time went by, the trend shifted toward longer, more detailed content that provided more value to the reader. Articles and blog posts began to easily exceed the 3,000 word mark, despite there being experts and analysts on the long and short side of the content length debate. In 2017, we will see the trend devolve back to shorter content, but they will no longer be the bite-sized fluff pieces of a decade ago. Content creators will, instead, be packing as much ‘punch’ into each piece as possible while keeping the word count to a minimum. This trend shift is largely due to the continued increase in mobile device usage and the time constraints of on-the-go people who don’t have time to sift through a 3,000 word piece to find the 300 most important words.
- Despite a shift back toward shorter content, long-form content will remain popular and valuable to a large number of users. While mobile users want the short-and-sweet content when they are on the go, long-form content stays popular because it provides in-depth, highly detailed, and thoroughly discussed subject matter. Shorter content may see preference for users and search engines, but longer content will not disappear at all, or lose that much ground in terms of search result positioning. The key to keeping longer content popular in search results is to ensure that it stands out from the thousands (and millions) of other pieces of content published to the internet on a daily basis.
- Speaking of content, great content will – as always – be highly important for SERP ranking. As the internet becomes more saturated with content, however, this means that the struggle is real for content creators to develop original, informative, and value-filled content that hasn’t already been done and re-done to the point of exhaustion.
- Artificially intelligent ranking components (like Google’s RankBrain) may change the way web designers and content creators optimize web pages and content to adjust for allegedly intuitive machine-learned ranking signals. A variety of publications and online experts provide the answer for ‘what is Google’s RankBrain‘ along with details on how it works and how it can affect SEO.
- The focus on user experience optimization (UEO or UXO) will see a revival, not that it has declined in prominence since becoming an important element of SEO over half a decade ago. On-page optimization emphasizes UXO and search engines have taken note of the fact that internet users prefer pages that are very user-friendly. Aside from navigational ease and more simplicity in design, users also look for certain qualities and attributes of well-designed pages that increase the opportunities for lead generation, sales conversion, longer time spent on pages within a site, more shares and back links, and other actions that improve visibility, traffic, and page ranking.
- As search engines continue to cater more to mobile users with preferential search results, apps will become more dominant (for users and SERPs). The number of mobile users continues to increase, and search engines have to provide mobile-optimized results to stay in the game or get left behind. This means that mobile apps will increase in prominence in mobile search results, and SEO must be fine-tuned to accommodate a higher demand for apps.
- Personal digital assistants (like Siri for mobile and Cortana for desktop) will become more prominent in terms of usage. This adds another machine-learning element to SEO and search results, as users begin to rely more on the ‘assistance’ of their PDAs and less on manual entry of specific search parameters. PDAs already see significant use for mobile users because they allow more hands-free operation, and desktop usage of PDAs is growing as well (albeit more slowly than mobile PDA usage). Search engine optimization should be shifted to factor in the increasing use of digital assistants, and there is some speculation that PDAs could actually function as a replacement for search engines.
- Long-tail keywords and specific phrases will become even more important. Internet users become more savvy over time, and gone are the days of simple search queries accomplished with a word or two. Users generally know exactly what they want and are more frequently entering longer phrases to narrow down the millions of results generated by a search engine. A refined search query with very specific wording yields refined results, rather than pages of mostly useless links that must be plowed through to find exactly what the user is seeking. Designers, content creators, and marketers will have to ensure that keywords compensate for this trend shift and SEO should be tailored to align with highly specific search query input. Keep in mind that Google has stated title tag keywords are not relevant for ranking purposes.
- Google provides rich answer and branded search results to users who enter certain search queries, and structured data markup in your web design can provide opportunities to have your content featured in those results based on user queries. Structured data markup is also known as schema markup, and using it allows search engines to give more informative responses to search queries. According to a Kissmetrics blog post about using schema markup for SEO purposes, this type of page coding tells a search engine what your web page means, not just what it says.
- Speaking of Google’s rich answer results, pages optimized for placement as a rich answer naturally see higher ranking. This means you should include SEO for search queries that will place your content higher on SERPs through its selection as a rich answer. With users being more selective with their long-tail search queries in 2017, it is imperative that you match their queries with tailored rich answer results.
- Utilizing cross-channel marketing will become more important because spreading your brand across multiple channels in an integrated way will significantly increase traffic, leads, and conversions. Multi-platform marketing has been in use for a while and considered part of a core SEO strategy, but cross-channel marketing allows you to retain a user’s interest if you have lost it on another channel. Integrating your brand, company, products, or services across several channels allows users to move from one platform or device to another without losing engagement with your business.
- Mobile-friendly optimization will become almost mandatory for 2017. Mobile usage surpassed desktop usage some years ago, and the number of mobile users only continues to grow. Search engines are responding to that usage by using ranking signals and delivering results that are optimized for mobile devices, and the trend continues to shift toward highly preferential treatment on SERPs for mobile content versus non-mobile content.
- Because more users are interacting with search engines on mobile devices than desktop computers, local search will achieve higher status in search results. As a result of this, marketers should ensure that SEO includes options for local search results where applicable, especially if your business is brick-and-mortar and relies to a large extent on local and personal patronage.
- SEO will evolve to focus on the most important ranking signals, rather than the entire list of signals. According to various experts, analysts, and studies, there are less than a dozen ranking signals that have the biggest impact on search results positioning. Web designers, content creators, and marketers will refine their SEO efforts to place an emphasis on the signals that make the biggest difference in search results, rather than trying to encompass a list of hundreds of signals on one page, site, or piece of content.
- Natural/organic link building will be more important and effective than ever, especially with intuitive content evaluation from RankBrain and other adaptive digital assistance. Using different platforms to create organic links will be more significant for SEO, and search engines have already established a preference for organic links.
- User-focused content design and creation will rise to the top in terms of what designers are publishing on the internet. When search engine ranking became the ‘end all, be all’ of web design years ago, content creators and web designers began designing content for machines – the search engines. It is now evident that designing for machines is not the way to go. Despite best efforts to implement the perfect SEO strategy, content designed for users always wins in the end. This means marketers will have to focus more on finding out who their target audience is, what they want, and how it can be provided to them, in order to enhance the user experience and create content specifically for the wants and needs of the user, rather than the algorithms of the search engine.
- Social media signals will have greater impact on search results as search engines lean more toward SERP personalization. It has already been predicted that social media signals are, in fact, a ranking signal (despite Google’s denial at the time), but studies have continued to show that social media signals do make a difference for search results. With search engines paying more attention to delivering personalized results, it is only natural that social media – which dominates the lives of many internet users – will indeed have more of an impact on the results provided for search queries.
- With the increasing necessity for long-tail keywords (see #14), keyword research will remain a top priority for an effective SEO strategy. Once you have identified your target audience and learned more about what makes them tick, you will also want to know more about what keywords and phrases they are using to perform their online searches. This means that you will still need to perform keyword research to stay ahead of the curve and keep your content aligned with current user demands. Some words and phrases may fall out of use or lose popularity in favor of others, especially as internet users become more capable in their ability to phrase their search queries with more natural and conversational language.
- Mobile optimization will increase its focus on data security. With more people using mobile devices and mobile content to search and shop, they are also sharing more of their personal data. This goes beyond a name and email address to information like bank account numbers, credit card information, and other very personal data. Mobile content will have to promise security to individuals wishing to share that information or lose out to a competitor who can. (As a side note, Google started giving ranking boosts to secure sites in 2014, so there already exists a benefit to your SEO efforts to increase mobile security of your content.)
- Lead and revenue generation optimization will focus less on search engine placement and more on diversified platforms for developing a following and popularity. Product, service, and information search queries provide users with a list of results that might as well be pre-packaged. The most popular companies get listed first, that’s a given. Many marketers are trying to make their way into that list of popular results, often to no avail. Instead of trying to get into the top ten on a search engine, you should diversify your content on a wide number of platforms and channels to achieve popularity elsewhere. Search engines cull results from everywhere on the internet, and if your content is highly rated and extremely popular on social media sites, YouTube, app stores, or other locations, it will get noticed by the search engines.
- There will be more emphasis, for marketers, to track visits, leads, and sales to know where those users came from. Site analytics for SEO purposes has always been important for online businesses, but it is often performed in a more generalized way. By knowing which of your marketing efforts is providing you with the most returns – whether it is in terms of traffic, lead generation, conversion rates, or sales revenue – you will be able to streamline your SEO in a more specific direction. Did your visitor arrive at your site through paid search? Organic link building? Social media advertising? Using SEO metrics is important for you to know if you want to capitalize on the opportunities presented.
- The use of video content, and optimizing web pages to include video, will become more pronounced. Video content is steadily gaining popularity as an SEO strategy because of the increase in mobile users. Providing a message via video is easier on mobile devices and mobile users often have no difficulty with viewing the content and immediately acting on it while they are on the go; in fact, many mobile users prefer video feeds over text-based content because it requires less attention to the small details.
- It is expected that Google will implement Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) as a ranking signal at some point in the near future. Google has provided guidance on PWAs, as well as a PWA checklist, to assist web designers, and some analysts believe PWAs will become a mainstream part of site design. As such, it would then become necessary to modify your SEO strategy to include optimization for PWAs. They are supposedly reliable, fast-loading, and engaging, which means the user experience will be enhanced by their use.
- While SEO may experience a shift to focus on more important ranking signals (see #20), marketers should adapt their SEO efforts to utilize a holistic approach. SEO is, after all, the sum of all parts, even though some of those parts are more effective than others. A well-rounded, fully-engaged, and effectively implemented SEO strategy will encompass a rich variety of SEO factors, rather than just a few select ones deemed ‘most important.’ The highlight can be on those few elite signals, but the overall effort should make the best use of the wide range of SEO options available.
- With millions of potential competitors on the internet vying for the attention of users, companies will have to refine their brand image into one that stands out in a significant way. Ideally, you want your business to be recognizable in a word – literally. Whether that is your company name, logo, products, or services, your brand image must reflect what you are known for, and you have to attain global saturation of that brand awareness. No matter what market, niche, or industry you belong to, you want users to look for you by name. Start working on brand awareness, brand marketing, and cultivating a brand image that is recognizable, shareable, and considered the ‘authority’ in your field.
- The authenticity of content will be extremely important in SEO for 2017. This is partially due to the fact that we have entered the era of ‘fake news’ and inaccurate product information. The internet is already over-saturated with content, making it easy for a few minor changes to produce information that looks legitimate (but isn’t), so it will be important to report data accurately and avoid embellishment or fiction (unless warranted). Search engines cannot yet tell if web content is true or false, leaving it up to the user to find out once they’ve selected a link from their query results; false information creates an extremely negative impression. This is something you do not want associated with your site, brand, business, writing, or products/services. Always verify the authenticity of information before you publish, to avoid the backlash of inadvertently misleading or misinforming your readers, visitors, and users.
- There will be a revival of technical SEO to ensure the structural integrity and functional stability of online content. Technical SEO focuses more on the behind-the-scenes components of a web page or site, ensuring that all parts of the site are working as they should. Nothing is more frustrating to a user than to click a link and receive a ‘dead page’ error; this can sometimes cause the user to leave a site altogether in favor of one that works as it should.
- The importance of effective content marketing remains prominent. Years ago, content marketing was considered as a peripheral addition to SEO, rather than a core component of optimization. With the impact of rich content clearly showing that it makes a difference in search results, content marketing (along with content optimization) has become a vital part of an effective overall SEO strategy. The content marketing process may continue to be refined and streamlined in the future, but it will stay in place as a critical part of your SEO efforts.
- While natural/organic link building (see #21) will be emphasized, link building itself will also stay as important in 2017 as it has ever been. A great deal of online content receives much of its attention from inbound links, whether those are paid, organic, or otherwise. Search engines pay attention to the number of links pointing to a site (and where they come from), which means that obtaining links from relevant, authoritative sites is highly desirable. You should make sure you avoid, as much as possible, any inbound links that come from sites or content that is not relevant to the content to which it points, or links that come from locations that are filled with spam, fluff, thin content, or other undesirable traits.
- The importance of content usability will increase in 2017. Search engines already pay attention to how long a user stays on a web page, which is an indicator of the ‘value’ of that content. Valuable content typically translates into a high level of usability, meaning that the page and content are easy to use, read, decipher, and share (if desired). A high level of content usability means that your content can be read and acted upon regardless of screen size and device type, and some usability standards are now incorporating voice-activated content for mobile devices (especially since Google is transitioning to a ‘mobile first’ stance on search result placement).
While this list is certainly not authoritative in terms of what trends and predictions will be written in stone, most of the items listed here were culled from a consensus among SEO experts, analysts, and other individuals. You can take it with a grain of salt or take it to the bank – either way, you should be prepared to evaluate your current SEO strategies and refine them, if necessary, to keep your content aligned with what search engines and users are looking for.