Google are constantly making adjustments to their search engine ecosystem, and it’s expected that any Search Marketing agency worth their salt not only keeps tabs, but keeps ahead of the industry. Every small change that Google makes in their UI, or algorithm has a huge effect on both website owners, and internet users and the digital marketing industry. So what’s lies ahead?
While no one can exactly predict what Google has planned in the coming years, Google themselves are always hinting at the direction they are taking search. There are also many bits of analysis, strategies other information that can be surfaced by taking note of what industry sources are saying publicly. Personally I like to follow blogs eg: Ahrefs, Moz, Google Search Blog, Backlinko and industry leader twitter accounts (although exactly who is considered “good” is a point of contention in our office!) eg: Rand Fishkin, Matt Barby, Nick Eubanks, Brian Dean & Ryan Stewart (among others).
Ask for the time or give Google a math program and you’ll (almost always) instantly be presented your answer without having to scroll through any search results. Google even recently went as far as testing (temporarily) a UI feature where the actual organic results were suppressed behind a “More Results” click-wall button. While most websites won’t be affected by this feature, it’s only a matter of time before Google starts keeping more people in the search engine rather than directing them to individual websites.
There now a pletora of techniques Google uses to keep searchers on the SERPs and to deliver the most useful results first time.
Googles recent re-introduction of featured snippets earlier this year reinforced a change in the way search results are presented to searchers. The idea of Featured Snippets is that Google not only crawls web-pages but attempts to apply a language processing analysis to web-pages in order to interpret the topics, questions and answers to questions. Then to interpret a searchers search intent and present a direct answer just below the AdWords area – the lucrative Position 0:
Featured Snippets play an increasingly important role in getting information to users quickly – often without the need for a click, so the searcher may not leave the SERPs. With the right techniques and directed effort it is entirely possible to rank for featured snippets – this is exactly something we’ve done a few times at Synapse – by ranking Freeparking in Position 0 for several keywords in their niche.
The way we interact with the internet and content has changed. There is a continuing shift happening in finding information, where voice is quickly becoming the preferred interaction for specific query types. Assistants like Google Assistant, Google Voice Search, Alexa, Cortana and Siri are all leading the charge with their respective owners (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple) heavily betting on and investing in a voice-led search future.
In a similar way to how Featured Snippets serve an authoritative answer, asking Google Assistant a question will often serve a Featured Snippet answer directly. For example – a search for “What do hedgehogs eat?” might get a snippet like:
Then when asking your phone “OK Google – What do hedgehogs eat?” you may get the result:
There is a fairly strong link from Featured Snippet to Voice Search result – when Moz tested this back in 2017, the result was about 71% reuse from snippets to voice, although this depends on the question intent and type – text based answers were most likely to share an answer response. Optimising for these type of voice searches will continue to share parallels with Featured Snippets and is definitely an area of focus as Position 0 becomes more highly contested in 2018.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
Google’s AMP project, which is a couple of years old at this point, can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. The issue they’re trying to solve is in the same vein as Facebook’s Instant Articles. Essentially AMP is a mobile-first Google-hosted version of an article on your website, with specific technical optimisations and restrictions aimed at making the article pre-loadable and improve the user experience from a mobile device.
As Google puts it, “The AMP Project is an open-source initiative aiming to make the web better for all. The project enables the creation of websites and ads that are consistently fast, beautiful and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms.”
While the AMP standard is open-source – the way the pages are crawled and hosted by Google is anything but. Essentially the content is hosted on google.com under the /amp/ sub-directory as a mirror version of your website canonicalised to the blog article URL on your own website.
The AMP project shows how much emphasis Google is placing on fast-loading websites and the importance of mobile friendly design that keeps the growing number of mobile users in mind. Interestingly, Google has even gone so far as to setup a development team to improve the WordPress eco-system. Wouldn’t be surprised if they have eyes on ensuring WordPress properly implements AMP and tries to include it in wp-core (currently done via plugin).
From an SEO perspective, it’s especially important for authority websites like news publishers and well-read blogs to implement AMP if they want a chance at being visible in the Google News Box.
There is a trend in Google serving up more-relevant and tailored results that fit a searchers intent more closely than they may be served by clicking on a page. Ultimately, Google’s core product is to provide the right answer weather that involves going “off-Google” to find out or staying engaged without actually leaving google.com. While some changes may come across as alarming to existing web-businesses, this only presents opportunity for cutting edge SEO’s to deliver.