As 2017 approaches just around the corner, it’s time to look at some of the main aspects of SEO that are likely to factor into its future. The SEO landscape is consistently changing, but certain factors will continue to be more vital than others.
People familiar with the earlier days of SEO remember what it was like when search engine optimization involved simple aspects such as keyword inclusion, generating large volumes of content, and linkbuilding. While these aspects are still relevant, they aren’t all that matters when optimizing a website. SEO is ultimately becoming more inclusive, with an emphasis on brand-building and directly influencing search queries.
Here are four huge elements that will continue to affect SEO.
1. RankBrain Will Always Influence Ranking
RankBrain isn’t the most important factor in website rankings on search engines. In fact, it’s the third, but it’s also largely misunderstood. Some people think they have the answer regarding how it operates, while others think their version is correct. The fact is that even Google isn’t entirely certain how RankBrain works, but it has been and will continue to be an integral part of search engine rankings.
RankBrain first got people’s attention as one of the first algorithm updates that Google revealed to major news outlets. Since then, it has become a major talking point among tech-savvy SEO gurus, but the exact way in which it works is puzzling to most.
One thing is certain: RankBrain doesn’t take backlink profiles, CTR, or content quality into account, unlike many other ranking influences. Instead, RankBrain exists for the sole purpose of interpreting queries and matching them with page content based on relevance alone. Subsequently, RankBrain will always affect ranking, and it now processes every single search query (an average of 63,000 per second), which is a huge difference from the barely 15 percent of queries it initially searched.
However, there is nothing that anyone can do to actually influence RankBrain, as the only thing it cares about is relevance, not keyword instances or any other variable SEO factor.
2. Rich Answers and the Knowledge Graph
Everyone who uses Google is familiar with both the Knowledge Graph and Rich Answers sections of Google searches, although they may not know what they’re called.
The Knowledge Graph is what users see when they ask Google a certain question, which pulls data from a variety of sources including Wikidata, Wikipedia, and the CIA World Factbook.
Knowledge panels will typically look like this on the right after performing a general search term, such as “matt cutts”:
If users ask a particular question, this knowledge panel may take the form of an answer box, which pulls resources to answer the question in a simple blurb.
40 percent of the time, Google queries display rich answers that feature these snippets instead of knowledge panels.
What this means is that companies will want to influence these results by editing and answering questions that clients may have via Wikipedia, or even Google Plus in certain instances.
3. The Role of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs)
Since February 2016, Google has implemented its Accelerated Mobile Pages project in Google search results, as part of their “Top Stories” results when using mobile devices. As of August, Google began to display links to AMP pages in main search results.
This is what they normally look like:
These pages are essentially much faster mobile versions of websites that enable mobile users to access them more easily than the normal sites. Currently, Google has 150 million indexed AMP pages in its index, and if users perform a search, they’ll see AMP pages even if there’s an app version.
Google is also still trying to figure out how audiences are engaging with AMP results, as only 44 respondents in a survey understood what AMP pages were, or what the acronym even meant. When Google tested a “mobile-friendly” label instead of the “AMP” and lightning bolt symbol, audiences responded more favorably, which may indicate that change will come.
So, keep in mind that mobile searches will continue to increase in volume, with Google taking measures to accommodate them.
4. Penalty Filtering in Real-Time
In September, Google made their latest and final update to Penguin, which simply enabled it to run in real-time as a spam filter. Several months earlier, Google also incorporated Panda into their core algorithm, though unlike Penguin it doesn’t update in real-time.
The obvious result of these updates is increased spam filtering capabilities, enabling Google to punish websites that utilize black hat backlinking, low-quality content, and other poor and outdated SEO strategies that used to work. This will force marketers to take more care in their SEO strategies in the long-term.
What We Can Anticipate in the Future
Google has made it clear that it intends to continue pushing machine learning to eliminate poor-quality content, while at the same time making search results even more relevant to give users the kind of information they want.
Today, SEO and content marketing are closely related, and they will only continue to intertwine with one another. If marketers pay close attention to how they’re engineering and pushing content, they can take advantage of these four main aspects of SEO as they inevitably evolve.