Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has long been the “secret sauce” of website design. The challenge is, and always has been, that SEO is a constantly moving target. New search devices and ever-changing algorithms can make it difficult for companies, especially smaller organizations, to keep up. SEO is so valuable to companies of all sizes that over $70 billion is expected to be spent on SEO services this year alone. The best way to keep up with SEO is to stay ahead of the game. That means peeking into the future. Here is a look at the factors that will likely affect the future of SEO and online marketing.
Quality, Original Content
While not exactly new or futuristic, quality, original content will continue to play an important role in SEO. Repeated use of keywords or keyword phrases in meaningless content will not help in SEO and may actually harm your efforts. To some degree, this makes SEO increasingly important from the creative side and less so on the IT side. If you can determine what your clients and prospective clients are looking for and provide original, valuable and timely content to provide that information, you will be well positioned moving ahead. Getting started can be as easy as monitoring what questions you get most frequently on the phone and in your emails. Target content around your areas of specialty. Make sure content is useable and actionable. When possible, ask clients the type of content they are interested in. Keep in mind, content doesn’t just necessarily mean text. It could also mean images, graphs and video.
Build a habit of discussing with your agency your calls that have the most potential from the last month. This helps keep your agency connected to what is happening in the office.
Mobile Searching and Marketing
Again, not exactly new, but the use of mobile devices for searches and to make buying decisions continues to grow. Positioning yourself for the future of SEO means making sure your web presence is mobile-compatible and loads quickly on mobile devices. As search engines become more sophisticated and more users make purchases via mobile devices, you want to make it as simple, quick and easy as possible for them to do so. Having the ability to market directly to users where and when they are making a buying decision is powerful. Make sure your website is capable of delivering.
Most of us prefer either our phone or computer. And thus we tend to check our website on one but not the other. If you don’t have a mobile-compatible website, you are years behind the curve. Usability is a huge component of SEO. Check both versions to ensure your visitors will experience a simple navigation that is well laid out.
Directly related to mobile search and marketing is the fact that users are increasingly impatient. This means your website must load quickly, especially on mobile devices. According to Google’s own research, over half (53%) of all mobile users will abandon a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load. It is likely that loading speed will continue to be a factor in how search engines rank websites. Speed is already critical as a marketing tool. It is becoming more and more important in searches. Give users what they are looking for quickly and you will do better with your SEO.
You can check your website’s load time here: https://tools.pingdom.com/
Voice Searches and Artificial Intelligence
Fueled by popular personal assistant devices like Alexa and Google Home, the number of voice searches has exploded, with no apparent end in sight. These devices not only turn verbal commands into searches and tasks, but use that verbal information to build a profile. As these devices, and others like them, get even more sophisticated, they will become better at not just executing searches and purchases, but in anticipating them. Typically, typed searches are brief: “Lawyers in Smithville.” With voice searches, long-tail search engine phrases will become more common. Without the “burden” of typing, users are likely to be more comfortable saying, “Alexa, find me a local lawyer in Smithville who specializes in personal injury accidents.” Artificial intelligence is able to determine user intent and help guide searches to appropriate sites. Build common long-tail phrases into your site today. It can pay dividends as voice searches continue to grow.
Been to a conference lately? What did they talk about? Have a conversation with your agency about some potential upcoming cases. If your potential clients are talking to Google about you but new information isn’t on your website, you aren’t going to show up in the search results. Get it on your site.
A Great User Experience
The future of searches and online marketing will lie not just in terrific content and quick-to-load mobile-capable websites, but in the overall user experience. This means websites that are easy to navigate, to get needed information or a make a purchase, will perform better in searches than those that offer challenges. Now is the time to review every aspect of your website to make sure it provides a superior user experience.
Go to your website. Where do your eyes naturally go? As you scroll the page is there a natural path that your eyes take? Or are you confused about where to look? Your website should lead the visitor to where they (and thus you) want to go.
There are indications that Google’s relatively new RankBrain will help users by searching for “brands” that may best serve their needs. You can prepare by building your brand now. This involves developing and maintaining a consistent message through your online marketing. It means making sure your social media, content, imagery and SEO are working in harmony. It means targeting your audience and knowing what they are in search of. The better you know your audience, the better you can build your brand to suit them.
What is your brand? It should be more than ‘Hey I am a personal injury lawyer and here is my logo and these are the colors we use.’ Start with your own story. Ok, you are an attorney; why did you become an attorney? Why are you still an attorney and not something else? There are easier things to do than be a trial attorney, so something must have transpired to make you choose this life. Open up and share it with people. And yes, make sure your logo and colors are consistent, not just on your website but also on your social profiles and other citations like Google My Business.
One of the ways search engines have improved in recent years is through localization. While consumers may be fine making some purchases from any part of the country or even the world, many prefer to get services or purchase certain products from a more local provider. In the case of mobile devices, they may be in search of services close to where they are right now. If you haven’t already, make sure your location and nearby communities are mentioned throughout your website in searchable text. Be sure to include city, state and zip code. You may consider using your location in a tagline like “Smithville’s Choice for an Accident Injury Attorney,” or similar verbiage.
Proximity to the searcher is the No. 1 factor in who shows up in the map listings. Make sure your listings are correct and that you have a solid number of them. Ask your agency for a list of citations that have been built. The more, the better, provided the NAP (Name, Address, Phone) is consistent across all of them, down to the comma. This number should most definitely be above 50 and ideally above 100.
Think Like a Search Engine
It can help you to remember that the goal of search engines is to make their own user experience superior. This has them looking for ways to provide the best searches possible. While, early on, search engines may have been able to be “tricked” through so called black-hat techniques, they have increasingly been improved to provide more relevancy and now can determine quality of content and gauge the quality of the user experience. As mentioned, increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence is learning how and why consumers are searching and is directing them to websites that can best fulfill their needs. If you think like a search engine company, you will be better prepared to deliver a website that is valuable for your clients and prospective clients. It also means you will have a website that provides search engines just what they are looking for.
Is your agency utilizing black-hat techniques? The simple question to ask yourself is this: Are these efforts improving the overall experience on the internet, or are they merely designed to get my website to rank? If you are posting content on a website that doesn’t serve a purpose beyond links, it’s probably black-hat. Are you doing something that Google has explicitly said not to do? That’s black-hat. Do you know what your agency is doing? No? That’s a problem. You don’t need to know everything, but if you ask a simple question, they should be able to give you simple answers.