SEO Articles

Is it important for SEO to rank first in 2018?

Is it important for SEO to rank first in 2018?

When starting with SEO one of the top goals for businesses is to rank first on the search results.

It is the equivalent of success and lots of SEO professionals have been working hard to deliver a good ranking to their clients. As SEO is changing though, is it still relevant to aim for a #1 ranking on SERPs?

And if it’s not a priority anymore, what should you do instead?

Defining success in SEO

Every company would like to show up as the first result in a search engine. And it’s not just for the sake of vanity, as the top ranking increases your chances of improved awareness, traffic, authority.

There are more than 40,000 search queries processed by Google every second, which means that there are more than 3.5 billion searches every single day.

We were reporting back in 2013 how the top listing in Google’s top position receives 33% of the total traffic. The second position received 17.6% of the traffic, while the fifth result only received 6.1% of the traffic.

This meant that back in the day, the initial goal was to show up on the first page of SERPs and then to work harder to reach the top. It’s not always easy to achieve it and the authority of your site certainly plays a big role, but it was still considered the ultimate goal.

SEO has evolved quite a lot since 2013, which means that even the definition of a successful SEO strategy has changed. It’s not enough anymore to aim for a top ranking. At least, not in the organic search results.

How SEO is changing

The big difference with SEO ranking through the years is that search engines are becoming smarter. Users are happier with the ease of finding what they’re looking for and businesses have to adapt in the way SEO works.

There may still be companies that aim for the top ranking in SERPs, but is this still the definition of SEO success? If we want to combine success with ROI, then is it enough to rank first?

There are growing discussions on the organic drop of CTRs even on popular terms. 

This is due to the changing nature of SEO and how users search for a result.

You’ve probably noticed on your own that search has evolved and you won’t necessarily reach the first organic search result to find the answer you’re looking for.

Google’s focus on adding additional boxes and ads at the top of the SERPs reduced the chances for people to notice the organic results.

Think of it, nowadays you may be distracted by:

PPC Ads
Knowledge Graph
Social Information
Featured Snippet
News
Local information and Maps.

It’s not a distraction per se, but rather a new way of finding the answer to your questions.

This is a good change for the user, so all you need as a company is to adjust to this change when planning your SEO strategy.

Thus, you don’t necessarily need to aim for a top ranking, but you can still optimize your content to increase your success.

In this case, the definition of success becomes more practical and it refers to:

Increased clicks
Improved authority
Engaged users.

Tips to consider when aiming for SEO success in 2018

SEO becomes more sophisticated year-by-year and this means that your goals are also evolving. It’s not enough anymore as an SEO professional to promise top ranking.

Here are six tips to consider when adjusting your SEO strategy:

Aim for a good ranking, not a top ranking

There is already a change in perception of what counts as SEO success. It’s definitely important to rank as high as possible in SERPs, but you don’t need to aim for the top position to see an increase in clicks and engagement. Find the best way to improve your ranking step-by-step by paying close attention to Google’s updates.

Keep focusing on optimization

This is a good old tip but it’s still applicable to a modern SEO strategy. Do not ignore optimization of your copy either on your site or how it shows up in search results. Spend the right time to build a result that is relevant, appealing, and engaging.

Be creative

Search ranking is becoming more competitive, which means that it’s harder to rank on top of search results. This doesn’t mean that you can’t find SEO success though. You can go beyond organic search results to succeed, whether it’s with ads or an additional optimization to land first on featured snippets and answer boxes.

Here’s everything you need to know about featured snippets and how to make the most of them.

CTR affects ranking

Focus on your clickthrough rates. Your CTR affects ranking and there is a confirmation coming from Google’s engineer Paul Haahr. He mentioned in a presentation that a high CTR can affect your ranking as it gives the signal that your page grabs the users’ attention. Rankbrain can actually affect ranking to results that show up higher than they should have been, with the number of CTRs determining the permanent position.

Thus, make sure your page is appealing, optimize the headline, the description and the content to bring an increased number of visitors to your content.

Never sacrifice the quality of your copy

As you manage to bring in new visitors to your site, you want to ensure that they’re enjoying your content. Content is still a very important ranking factor for Google and it’s always a good idea to focus on the quality of your copy.

Find the best way to add value and make sure that your content is relevant for your target audience. Keyword optimization can still be useful but it’s the quality of your copy that will determine your ranking. Link building is still important, which reminds us that some basic SEO strategies are still prevalent even in an updated way.

Engagement matters

Once your new visitors land to your page and enjoy your copy, the next step is to keep them coming. You don’t want to increase your one-time visitors, but you’d rather have them visit your page on a regular basis. Thus, you want to convince them to proceed to further actions, whether it’s clicking on a CTA button, subscribing to your newsletter, requesting a demo, or even visiting multiple pages.

The time they spend on your site helps search engines understand if your content is relevant for them. In fact, the RankBrain update placed ‘dwell time’, the time a user spends on your site, as a very important ranking factor. It’s not enough anymore to bring in new visitors if they are not interested in learning more about your content and your site.

A good way to increase engagement is to focus on user intent and how people use search engines. Think like a user, not a business and create an optimized copy that will be both enticing and useful.

Should we stop aiming at ranking first?

You can still involve the top ranking as part of your goals, but it’s good to understand how SEO is changing. It could be a welcome addition to reach the top of the SERPs for your favorite keywords, but it’s even better to bring the ROI that will justify your efforts.

SEO is going beyond vanity metrics and it is focusing on delivering the best user experience. The more you spend time on understanding your users, the higher the chances of a successful SEO strategy.

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Block your site’s search result pages

Block your site’s search result pages

Why should you block your internal search result pages for Google? Well, how would you feel if you are in dire need for the answer to your search query and end up on the internal search pages of a certain website? That’s one crappy experience. Google thinks so too. And prefers you not to have these internal search pages indexed.

Google considers these search results pages to be of lower quality than your actual informational pages. That doesn’t mean these internal search pages are useless, but it makes sense to block these internal search pages.

Back in 2007

Many years ago, Google, or more specifically Matt Cutts, told us that we should block these pages in our robots.txt. The reason for that:

Typically, web search results don’t add value to users, and since our core goal is to provide the best search results possible, we generally exclude search results from our web search index. (Not all URLs that contains things like “/results” or “/search” are search results, of course.)
– Matt Cutts (2007)

Nothing changed, really. Even after more than 10 years of SEO changes, this remains the same. The Google Webmaster Guidelines still state that you should “Use the robots.txt file on your web server to manage your crawling budget by preventing crawling of infinite spaces such as search result pages.” Furthermore, the guidelines state that webmasters should avoid techniques like automatically generated content, in this case, “Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value”.

However, blocking internal search pages in your robots.txt doesn’t seem the right solution. In 2007, it even made more sense to simply redirect the user to the first result of these internal search pages. These days, I’d rather use a slightly different solution. 

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Blocking internal search pages in 2018

I believe nowadays, using a noindex, follow meta robots tag is the way to go instead. It seems Google ‘listens’ to that meta robots tag and sometimes ignores the robots.txt. That happens, for instance, when a surplus of backlinks to a blocked page tells Google it is of interest to the public anyway. We’ve already mentioned this in our Ultimate guide to robots.txt.

The 2007 reason is still the same in 2018, by the way: linking to search pages from search pages delivers a poor experience for a visitor. For Google, on a mission to deliver the best result for your query, it makes a lot more sense to link directly to an article or another informative page.

Yoast SEO will block internal search pages for you

If you’re on WordPress and using our plugin, you’re fine. We’ve got you covered. Your internal search results pages are noindexed by default in Yoast SEO. In addition, you can set a template for the page title of those pages, so the correct title will display in your browser tab or if your title is used in your theme.

You can set the template in the Search Appearance section of Yoast SEO. Just click on SEO › Search Appearance › Archives › Special pages in the left hand menu, and you’ll get this. This is the default template, but you can amend it, if you consider it necessary:

Most other content management systems allow for templates for your site’s search results as well, so adding a simple line of code to that template will suffice:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,follow”/>

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Meta robots AND robots.txt?

If you try to block internal search pages by adding that meta robots tag and disallowing these in your robots.txt, please think again. Just the meta robots will do. Otherwise, you’ll risk losing the link value of these pages (hence the follow in the meta tag). If Google listens to your robots.txt, they will ignore the meta robots tag, right? And that’s not what you want. So just use the meta robots tag!

Back to you

Did you block your internal search results? And how did you do that? Go check for yourself! Any further insights or experiences are appreciated; just drop us a line in the comments.

Read on: Robots.txt: the ultimate guide »

The post Block your site’s search result pages appeared first on Yoast.

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Ask Yoast: Workaround to create category page

Ask Yoast: Workaround to create category page

It can be quite a search to find the perfect WordPress theme. One that has a design you like, is nice and fast, and has all the functionalities you need. So, imagine you’ve finally found a theme you like, that answers all your needs, only to realise you’re not happy with the way it generates the category pages. Terribly frustrating, right?

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You know that category pages are important for your SEO efforts, so you want them to be to your liking. But what can you do? Is creating a clever workaround a good solution? And how is your SEO affected when you do that? In this Ask Yoast, I’ll discuss what you should consider before you go for a fix like that.

Saurabh emailed us a possible workaround for creating a category page:

I can’t style my category pages the way I want because they are dynamically generated. I thought of the following workaround: creating a regular page for each category, styling it and adding a blog module to show the right items and redirecting the default category to these pages. Is that a good solution, SEO wise?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page for my answer!

Building your category pages

“Well, from an SEO perspective, it might work, but it might make changing themes later on, really a bit of a hassle.

So, I would not do that. I would just go with the theme that already allows you to do what you want to do on the category pages themselves. That probably means you have to go with a bit more of a builder, something like DV, or Elementor or Beaver Builder which allows you to do a lot more on those pages. Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast, we answer SEO questions from our readers. Do you have an SEO-related question? A pressing SEO dilemma you can’t find the answer to? Send an email to [email protected], and your question may be featured in one of our weekly Ask Yoast vlogs.

Note: you may want to check our blog and knowledge base first, the answer to your question could already be out there! For urgent questions, for example about the Yoast SEO plugin not working properly, please contact us through our support page.

Read more: Using category and tag pages for SEO »

The post Ask Yoast: Workaround to create category page appeared first on Yoast.

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10 Simple Ways To Make A Mobile-Friendly Website

10 Simple Ways To Make A Mobile-Friendly Website

10 Simple Ways To Make A Mobile-Friendly Website

What is Mobile-Friendly Website?

As the name implies, a mobile-friendly website is a site designed, developed and optimized for users on mobile devices – and this is both more complex and more important than it seems.

On the most fundamental level, users want content that’s easy to view. If your text and pictures are too small, they’ll grow frustrated and leave – so appropriately-sized content is critical.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to create – mobile phones and tablets come in many different sizes and resolutions, so there’s no one format that will display perfectly on every device.

To solve this, today’s website templates are moving into a scaling format where they can quickly adjust to the device they’re displaying on.

Is My Website Mobile-Friendly?

Checking whether you have a mobile friendly view or not is easy – Google has a Google mobile site test called Webmaster Tool to do exactly that, and it’s accessible right here.

All you need to do is insert the URL of your web page and click on the ANALYZE button.

Google’s test will then analyze your website and display the result.

Analyzing your web page might take awhile…

You’ll see something like this if your web page isn’t mobile-friendly, Google will even list down why your web page isn’t mobile-friendly and suggest solutions for it:

Your mobile website design will look like this when mobile-friendly:

Why is being Mobile-Friendly Important?

In 2018, the percentage of users that are accessing the internet through some sort of mobile device is increasing consistently while the percentage of desktop users are heading in the opposite direction.

Just look at the graph below and you’ll have a clear picture of the trend, and it doesn’t take much to figure that one day, mobile users will outnumber desktop users by a lot.

Data from January 2017 to August 2018 shows how important a mobile-friendly website is.

If that graph isn’t enough to convince you to make your website mobile-friendly, this should – Google has recently updated their search engine algorithm to prioritize websites that are mobile-friendly on mobile searches. This means that even high-quality websites won’t be ranked highly for mobile searches if they’re not mobile-friendly.

In other words, you could be losing out on half or more of your potential visitors. Given today’s searching climate, making your website mobile-friendly is extremely important for your SEO – even if you have to build an entirely new site – is a (relatively) small investment to ensure you can maintain a steady stream of visitors.

If you’re still trying to figure out how to make a website mobile friendly, here are 10 simple things you can do to tighten up your code and make sure everything functions the way you want it to.

Don’t get caught by the #mobilegeddon, learn 10 Simple Ways to Make Your Website #MobileFriendly
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Tips to Optimize Your Website for Mobile
1) Use Media Queries

I know, this sounds like you’re going to talk to a reporter or something – but the ‘media’, in this case, is the content that you’re delivering to a user.

Media queries allow you to ask a device what size it is, then direct the browser to display things following the set of CSS that you have set.

Media queries are a key part of most mobile-friendly sites, but you’ll need to be sure that the system is properly configured for all devices currently in use – not just the two or three most popular. Make sure you actually look at the list or have some kind of ongoing subscription that gets the information for you.

2) Use Frameworks like Bootstrap

There are many frameworks out there that you could use for free such as Foundation 3, Skeleton or TukTuk. One of the more popular framework is Twitter’s Bootstrap.

Bootstrap is a front-end framework for your site designed to quickly and automatically scale your web page to any device. Using a pre-built system is much easier than trying to code every possible combination by yourself – and it’s much less of a headache as well.

However, you will need to check any framework you’re using for full compatibility with your existing site and goals. The more custom coding and functions your site has, the more difficult it may be to ensure everything works properly on a mobile device – don’t be afraid to call in an expert if you really need the help.

3) Don’t Disable the Submit Button

Mobile devices are popular, but many of them still aren’t entirely reliable – and this can be a headache for users who click a ‘Submit’ button only to have their connection drop out and see the button disable itself so they can’t try again. Trying to prevent repeat submissions is an admirable goal, but the realities of mobile connections means it’s not good to prevent them in this way.

4) Use a Responsive Theme on CMS

Responsive themes – such as those from Somothemes – make it easier to ensure a high-quality display for your users. This is something that many companies overlook when they’re trying to become mobile-friendly, and they shouldn’t – because what your users experience is far more important than how easy something is to code.

Moderne theme from Somothemes

Ideally, you’ll be able to get the best of both worlds – and responsive themes are outstanding for casual sites that don’t need a whole lot of customization in order to succeed.

5) Use Percentages

In the past, most people thought about pictures in terms of pixels – but the widely different resolutions on mobile devices mean that having a single size for images is an inherently bad idea. It just doesn’t work – so don’t do it.

Instead, configure things like images to have a certain specific width on the page – typically 100% unless you have a reason to do otherwise. This helps to provide a consistent viewing experience on many different devices and ensure that each image offers as much impact as possible.

6) Focus on Simple Designs

One major way mobile users differ from desktop users is their preference for simple site designs. This is a practical matter as much as anything else – things that are large and complicated will all but inevitably become slow on a mobile device, and one of their main demands is instant delivery of the content they want.

Simple designs also make it easy to keep their attention on the content you want them to see – mobile users often have notoriously short attention spans, and there’s definitely a point where keeping things simple can be more valuable than investing in an elaborate, complex theme.

7) Make Sure You Didn’t Block Javascript, CSS, or Image Files

Java is not a flawless system, but it is widely used – and together with CSS and image files, it’s one of the backbones of a responsive, mobile-friendly site.

One of your main goals here is trying to make your website universally compatible. It should display on practically any device that people would care to view it on, and for the most part, that means using software and coding that are universally accepted. The more specialized something is, the less likely your site will be compatible.

8) Optimize Image Size

When you’re dealing with mobile devices, the goal is to create images that have the smallest possible file size while still looking crisp and clear on whatever screen it’s being viewed on. This is because the bandwidth of mobile devices are much smaller compared to desktop’s and causes longer loading time.

So if you need your users to download a 1MB jpeg file just so they can see a thumbnail-sized image, they’re going to be frustrated and leave your site.

Remember, mobile friendliness isn’t just about having a nice site design – it’s about improving the user’s experience, and the load times they go through are a major part of that experience. Shrinking the file sizes uses less of their data (if they’re on a limited plan), helps load the page faster, and generally contributes to a positive image of your site.

9) Don’t Use Flash

Broadly speaking, mobile devices do not support Flash. The reasons for this are less important than the reality – if your website is still relying on Flash, then it’s not going to display properly on any mobile device.

Flash is an obsolete technology and nobody loves Flash, even on desktop. Even if you think you need to use Flash, you could find other technology that could replace Flash, so to be smart and safe, do not use Flash.

Switch to a compatible technology like HTML instead – and remember that if you want to do something complicated on a mobile device, it’s best to relegate it to the realms of apps.

10) Use Standard Fonts

Custom, creative fonts can help a website look nice, but mobile users don’t want to be constantly prompted to download new fonts to their phone – in fact, it’s more likely that they’d instantly reject any such request and navigate to a different website instead.

Fortunately, most of today’s devices come with a wide variety of fonts pre-installed, and chances are you’ll be able to use these when designing your site. There’s one more thing to note, though – some fonts are easier (or harder) to read at different sizes, so be sure you check the readability of your font before you’re done with your updates.

Final Advice

Finally, we have one more design tip to share with you: remember your directions. The average desktop is a horizontal screen – sure, we may scroll up and down, but it’s wide.

Mobile phones, on the other hand, are tall and narrow – so the width of your content is an important consideration. Whether you’re creating drop-down menus, adding pictures, or playing a video, always remember the direction of the device and how people will view the content.

And if all else fails, there’s no shame in relying on some professionals to fix your website to make it mobile-friendly. This might require some investment, but with the increasing amount of mobile users and Google’s updated algorithm, you could say that it’s a calculated and worthy investment to make.

10 Simple Ways to Make Your Website #Mobilefriendly. #Mobilegeddon.
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This post was originally written by Zhi Yuan and published on Aug 12, 2015. It was most recently updated on Aug 17, 2018

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Do You Need Local Pages? – Whiteboard Friday

Do You Need Local Pages? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by Tom.Capper

Does it make sense for you to create local-specific pages on your website? Regardless of whether you own or market a local business, it may make sense to compete for space in the organic SERPs using local pages. Please give a warm welcome to our friend Tom Capper as he shares a 4-point process for determining whether local pages are something you should explore in this week’s Whiteboard Friday!

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hello, Moz fans. Welcome to another Whiteboard Friday. I’m Tom Capper. I’m a consultant at Distilled, and today I’m going to be talking to you about whether you need local pages. Just to be clear right off the bat what I’m talking about, I’m not talking about local rankings as we normally think of them, the local map pack results that you see in search results, the Google Maps rankings, that kind of thing.

A 4-step process to deciding whether you need local pages

I’m talking about conventional, 10 blue links rankings but for local pages, and by local pages I mean pages from a national or international business that are location-specific. What are some examples of that? Maybe on Indeed.com they would have a page for jobs in Seattle. Indeed doesn’t have a bricks-and-mortar premises in Seattle, but they do have a page that is about jobs in Seattle.

You might get a similar thing with flower delivery. You might get a similar thing with used cars, all sorts of different verticals. I think it can actually be quite a broadly applicable tactic. There’s a four-step process I’m going to outline for you. The first step is actually not on the board. It’s just doing some keyword research.

1. Know (or discover) your key transactional terms

I haven’t done much on that here because hopefully you’ve already done that. You already know what your key transactional terms are. Because whatever happens you don’t want to end up developing location pages for too many different keyword types because it’s gong to bloat your site, you probably just need to pick one or two key transactional terms that you’re going to make up the local variants of. For this purpose, I’m going to talk through an SEO job board as an example.

2. Categorize your keywords as implicit, explicit, or near me and log their search volumes

We might have “SEO jobs” as our core head term. We then want to figure out what the implicit, explicit, and near me versions of that keyword are and what the different volumes are. In this case, the implicit version is probably just “SEO jobs.” If you search for “SEO jobs” now, like if you open a new tab in your browser, you’re probably going to find that a lot of local orientated results appear because that is an implicitly local term and actually an awful lot of terms are using local data to affect rankings now, which does affect how you should consider your rank tracking, but we’ll get on to that later.

SEO jobs, maybe SEO vacancies, that kind of thing, those are all going to be going into your implicitly local terms bucket. The next bucket is your explicitly local terms. That’s going to be things like SEO jobs in Seattle, SEO jobs in London, and so on. You’re never going to get a complete coverage of different locations. Try to keep it simple.

You’re just trying to get a rough idea here. Lastly you’ve got your near me or nearby terms, and it turns out that for SEO jobs not many people search SEO jobs near me or SEO jobs nearby. This is also going to vary a lot by vertical. I would imagine that if you’re in food delivery or something like that, then that would be huge.

3. Examine the SERPs to see whether local-specific pages are ranking

Now we’ve categorized our keywords. We want to figure out what kind of results are going to do well for what kind of keywords, because obviously if local pages is the answer, then we might want to build some.

In this case, I’m looking at the SERP for “SEO jobs.” This is imaginary. The rankings don’t really look like this. But we’ve got SEO jobs in Seattle from Indeed. That’s an example of a local page, because this is a national business with a location-specific page. Then we’ve got SEO jobs Glassdoor. That’s a national page, because in this case they’re not putting anything on this page that makes it location specific.

Then we’ve got SEO jobs Seattle Times. That’s a local business. The Seattle Times only operates in Seattle. It probably has a bricks-and-mortar location. If you’re going to be pulling a lot of data of this type, maybe from stats or something like that, obviously tracking from the locations that you’re mentioning, where you are mentioning locations, then you’re probably going to want to categorize these at scale rather than going through one at a time.

I’ve drawn up a little flowchart here that you could encapsulate in a Excel formula or something like that. If the location is mentioned in the URL and in the domain, then we know we’ve got a local business. Most of the time it’s just a rule of thumb. If the location is mentioned in the URL but not mentioned in the domain, then we know we’ve got a local page and so on.

4. Compare & decide where to focus your efforts

You can just sort of categorize at scale all the different result types that we’ve got. Then we can start to fill out a chart like this using the rankings. What I’d recommend doing is finding a click-through rate curve that you are happy to use. You could go to somewhere like AdvancedWebRanking.com, download some example click-through rate curves.

Again, this doesn’t have to be super precise. We’re looking to get a proportionate directional indication of what would be useful here. I’ve got Implicit, Explicit, and Near Me keyword groups. I’ve got Local Business, Local Page, and National Page result types. Then I’m just figuring out what the visibility share of all these types is. In my particular example, it turns out that for explicit terms, it could be worth building some local pages.

That’s all. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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The evolution of search: succeeding in today’s digital ecosystem – part 1

The world has fundamentally and irreversibly changed; since the launch of the smartphone, technology has enabled on-demand access to information and opened a Pandora’s box full of anything our hearts desire. This is challenging for marketers to find new ways to connect with audiences. For search engines, this was a turning point in the services that they offer.

Where before, “web search” brands – the likes of Google, Yahoo, Bing and Baidu – were consumers’ first port of call, they are now rapidly losing share to new competition (particularly Amazon, WeChat and Facebook) and formats (primarily from voice and apps).

Personalization has become a key battleground too, as customers don’t just want quick results, but tailored suggestions that are directly relevant to their lives. Search engines are having to adapt to stay relevant, bringing a much-needed change in dynamic between SEOs and the major players in the space.

Adapting search engines to the mobile-first user

Before discussing how to react to the change, it’s important to consider how and why we are in the situation we find ourselves in. With the launch of the App Store in 2008, users have been able to connect directly with the brands they love. But historically, this was only valuable if you knew exactly what you wanted and, more importantly, unhelpful if you sought to browse products from multiple providers.

With users turning to search to fulfill their needs, the apps evolved. While search engines gave customers choice, they were not able to provide a recommendation.

There was a growing user need for the ability to aggregate and tailor information; to provide choice, but save time browsing – and it was in this space, coupled with the increasing ubiquity of mobile technology, that Airbnb, Amazon and other brands started to thrive.

These platforms have become synonymous with the services they provide. We no longer want to browse across different websites to find the products we need, when we can look in one place – and so the balance shifted from search more towards apps.

Search engines are evolving to counter this challenge. A great example of this is Google Maps, which (albeit still an industry-leading service) has massively improved the features it offers to business (e.g. through Posts) and agencies via its Google My Business platform.

But there is a clear change in approach from Google around this; where before the focus was on collating information and limiting the customization options, this has shifted to providing marketers (and small businesses) with an extensive set of tools through which to enhance their listing and stand out from the crowd – and, importantly, increased support and guidance on how to use these.

The theme of search engines working more closely with search marketers is important, as this is both a necessity for both parties – and an opportunity.

Taking the step from ten blue links to “position zero”

Customer attention spans are dropping to seconds. This is a behavioral change that will underpin all future developments in the search space. As customers’ appetite for knowledge grows, we provide more information and the technology to allow for faster, more informal ways to consume this content.

I believe that as humans, we’ve passed the critical moment from which we cannot return; our brains are now fundamentally hardwired to continue looking for the next thing, and to succeed, marketers need to consider this as a broader psychological change. One that alters the way we do everything, not just create more content to slake our perennial thirst for more.

But what has this got do with search? In short, everything – and we’re already seeing the output of this change. As users seek to click less, the number of featured snippets showing for queries is rapidly increasing and there is an ever-growing number of rich result formats being launched into the wild.

These not only provide answers directly to searchers but, in many cases, offer a similar experience to the apps that search engines are losing out to. And yet, for some, “optimizing for position zero” has become the new “build a responsive site”, pre-Mobilegeddon.

A well-intentioned idea, but one that will not be executed upon until it is too late. This is ultimately the wrong approach and one that will cost your brand, business or clients dearly if you wait.

Unlike mobile, optimizing for answer queries is difficult. To start with, the latest stats put the number of new, unique queries seen every day at around 15%. The optimist will say this is an opportunity and should be a key area of focus for growth. However, the realist will rightly ask how you can create a response to a query that doesn’t yet exist.

This comes down to a broad change in mindset. Often, we are limited in thinking only about how to keep customers in the conversion funnel, or “customer transaction management” as Martin Newman of Practicology recently referred to it.

This approach will yield a good return, if you can make it work, but the space will be competitive (unless you have a truly unique product or service) and it’s likely someone will have already beat you to the punch.

Rather, we need to do true “customer relationship management” and think about the touchpoints you could have with your customers, based on what they need, outside of your brand.

Here, you’ll find searches that are yet to be owned, in places your competitors aren’t even looking – but your customers are.

A world in color, not two hundred ranking factors

Identifying the opportunity is, however, only part of the challenge. You may now have a better understanding of which area to target, but appearing in that space is another matter entirely.

When optimizing for the traditional ten blue links, search marketers often revert to the original concept of 200 ranking factors. This breaks down into themes of focus – accessibility, relevancy, authority, etc. – but the basis of our strategy is to satisfy a predetermined list of items we believe (through industry-wide testing and experience) have an impact.

However, I believe this is a limiting view, although that’s not to say that this approach doesn’t still work – it does – but it’s the difference between watching a film in black and white versus full color. In both you’ll see what’s happening: in color you’ll notice the detail, and this will add to your knowledge of the plot and the world the story is based in.

Google uses an algorithm to rank its results; this is the first thing SEOs learn when starting out. We also know that it uses machine learning to power parts of this and to test new features.

However (and this is key to understanding how to optimize for position zero), Google has access to trillions of data points around search and we know that, since 2012, it has mapped these out into “things, not strings”. This isn’t something we consider when focusing on our core 200 factors, but the information it receives clearly comes from somewhere and where there is a process to collate, there is an opportunity to optimize for this.

Google lists three steps to how search works – crawling, indexing and serving – but there’s a fourth. If crawling is “finding” the information, indexing is “cataloguing” and “storing” it, and serving is deciding how to display this back to users, we’re missing a step around “understanding” the information; often referred to as “parsing”. This is the part we know (definitively) the least about, but is fundamental to showing as an answer result.

This concept was deftly explained by Gianluca Fiorelli in the 2016 revision of his “Wake up SEOs, the new Google is here” post. Over the past 18 months, one thing has become clear – this is truly the future.

However, many still believe that “knowledge graph optimization” still centers around adding structured data. Undoubtedly, this is important, but as Gianluca states, “semantics (or the links between concepts and language) is more than structured data” and that we need to consider both the code itself and the website architecture.

To succeed in today’s digital ecosystem, we must build well-structured repositories of knowledge that crawlers can use to quickly engage their time-poor, information-hungry audience.

We must look to the user journeys and touchpoints our customers want to take, not the ones we think we should create for them. To again quote Martin Newman, “we must become customer-obsessed or die”.

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