What to expect for SEO in 2017

Looking into the crystal ball...

End-of-year planning is one of the best times to review upcoming trends and be ready for what might be headed your way in the next year. When it comes to SEO in 2017, there are some new trends that you’ll want to plan for now so you’re ahead of the curve.

Half of the battle when it comes to successful SEO is knowing what changes you need to make to your website so it can stay on the top of search results or take advantage or changes your competition was slow to adapt to.

2017 will see some new changes to SEO that impact user experience, not just on your own website but in how users interact with search engine result pages. In particular, Google is focusing on security, better user experiences, and Google properties dominating the top of search results.

User experience ranking bumps for mobile search

SEO in 2017 Mobile

Within the last six months of 2016, we’ve seen a lot of changes coming from Google in the form of minor updates that target mobile-friendliness. While most website owners who are active in maintaining their websites have a mobile-friendly website, we can likely expect SEO in 2017 to set its sights on more nuanced user experience criteria being mixed into rankings, especially when it comes to mobile devices.

Based on 2016’s trends toward easy-to-use websites, website owners will likely see SEO benefits by improving user experience on mobile devices.

 

Website owners can check their website’s mobile-friendliness using Google’s free tool but should be aware that mobile-friendliness is page specific and each page on their website might get different results from the test.

One of the most pressing changes coming up at the beginning of 2017 is an SEO change targeting intrusive pop-ups on mobile devices.

 

Google announced earlier this year that websites with pop-ups on mobile devices should be aware of a new ranking signal used in the algorithm in the new year. With three basic types of pop-ups specifically targeted, most website owners are looking toward new ways to capture emails on smaller screens.

If you have pop-ups on your website, consider removing them for mobile users or risk a downgrade in search engine rankings come January.

As part of user experience, loading times are also a priority for high ranking websites. 2016 saw the advent of Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP for short, as an option for faster loading pages in a special carousel in search results. After a few months of an adoption period, AMP pages have been included in regular search results towards the end of the year.

2017 will likely see a big increase in AMP pages’ importance in Google search results.

 

AMP pages also might gain ranking across social media platforms that also participated in the AMP project. Now is the time to set them up on your website to make sure you stay at the top of search results.

Besides improving your website on smaller screens, smart website owners should anticipate a deepening focus on mobile features on Google, like click-to-call features and new search engine result layouts specifically to make search results more accessible for smaller screens.

SEO and SEM divide widens

Search engine marketing, or paid ads on search result pages and partner digital networks, has changed in 2016 with new ad features to expand the amount of space available for ads in Google’s search results, optimized for mobile devices. Google also removed right sidebar ads in 2016, reducing the number of ad spots on search result pages.

There’s a divide between SEO and SEM that will likely only get bigger in 2017 as Google continues to make big changes to Adwords.

 

With an increased use of mobile devices estimated in 2017, we’ll likely see the top of search results being even more biased toward ads than organically ranked websites with larger ad listings taking up prime real estate on search results pages.

The more ads that take up space at the top of search results, the fewer opportunities there are for website owners to use the merits of their website and content to get top spots in search results organically. To improve SEO in 2017, website owners should strongly consider SEM as part of digital marketing campaigns.

SEO in 2017 Targeted SEM Campaigns
Consider targeted search ads to gain prime real estate in search results.

Beyond SEM getting a bigger slice of the search engine results page in 2017, it’s likely that Google will continue to pull back on search volume information available to the general public. In 2016, we saw Google start to throttle Adwords’ Keyword Planner Tool information for accounts that were not paying for ads with Google. In 2017, we’ll likely see a doubling down on this as Google strives to protect their intellectual property from other parties that resell or abuse the information available in their Keyword Planner Tool.

Get creative with keyword research.

 

This means SEO and content marketers will need to get even more creative with keyword research and look to other sources for keyword information to help them target the right keywords in their content and website optimization. Website owners who want to create highly targeted SEO content should consider investing in SEO tools to help them in 2017 as information from Google becomes tightened.

The importance of SSL in 2017

SSL certificates that encrypt website information transferred between the user and the website are going to likely increase in importance almost as quickly as the calendar page turns to 2017. Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s FireFox, among others, are releasing updates in the new year to alert users of unsecure websites.

SEO in 2017 will focus heavily on security.

 

Although SSL certificates do have a minimal impact on rankings, there is an indirect effect most website owners are likely unaware of that’s much more important — engagement information can have an impact on your website’s SEO.

If your users steer clear of your website because of insecure web pages after landing on them from search results, you might see a decrease in your search engine rankings. Plan to install an SSL certificate on your website at the beginning of 2017, if not earlier, to help maintain your search engine positions.

Google becoming more nuanced in 2017

2016 saw some big updates to the Google Algorithm with rolling updates for Panda integrated into the core of Google’s ranking factors. While this was big news for websites who might have been caught using SEO techniques Google wasn’t keen on, website owners should be aware of the more nuanced approach Google is positioning themselves to take in the future.

Google’s RankBrain, or artificial intelligence that learns and is used as part of ranking, is likely to play a larger role in 2017.

 

RankBrain functions by trying to make connections between search terms and webpages that may be what the searcher was looking for — without using exact match keywords. In 2013, 15 percent of searches had never been seen before by Google and that likely lead to the rise of RankBrain to solve that problem. In other words, Google has been focused on better serving searchers who have unique, never-before-seen searches.

Exact keywords will likely become less important in 2017 as RankBrain’s knowledge increases.

 

Instead of focusing on finding the exact phrasing someone might use while searching, website owners should focus on solving the problem or answering the questions their potential customers are searching as exact phrasing becomes less and less important over the next year.

How to handle SEO in 2017

With predicted changes coming to SEO in 2017 to focus on better serving users, website owners should focus on a few things:

  • Making sure their website is impeccable for mobile users of any screen size.
  • Remove distracting pop-ups for mobile users.
  • Focusing on smart investments between SEO and SEM for the most opportunity.
  • Installing security features on their website.
  • Focusing on providing content that is relevant and helpful and less focused on exact keyword phrases.

To kick 2017 off to a good start, website owners should consider taking stock of their website to get a good picture of their current SEO and what they can do in 2017 to make it even better.


Also published on Medium.

Image by: dolbinator1000 via VisualHunt / CC BY

Kim Herrington
Kim Herrington is the founder and co-owner of Orsanna (http://www.orsanna.com), a digital marketing and website design agency in Conway, Arkansas. Kim specializes in creating digital marketing strategies that integrate content marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization and online advertising to help clients succeed with ROI focused digital marketing. Kim has worked with companies both big and small to achieve business goals and increase client revenues. Kim also teaches digital marketing strategies to entrepreneurs on a budget at KimberlyHerrington.com (https://www.kimberlyherrington.com). Kim is a graduate of Hendrix College with a degree in English and French. She enjoys spending time hiking, speaking French, and baking.