Imagine there are four people searching right now for that thing your company does best. Let’s say there are 40,000 results – that’s 4000 pages of results. Three of those four people will not even click on the second page.
It is a testament to the power of the algorithm, perhaps, because users found what they were looking for, but it also underscores why companies are desperate to get their content under Google’s nose.
Your customers are busy IT decision-makers and they do not have time to look for you. So how can you get your content on the front page of Google and what are some of the trends governing content SEO as we approach 2020?
A note: We know there are other search engines but not only does Google own most of the search traffic, most other engines follow suit when the search giant introduces an algorithm. It is for those reasons we are focusing on Google for this blog.
Write for humans first, search engines second
Years ago, developers could hack the system by loading pages with keywords. In response, search engines got smarter and built their technologies to better understand searcher intent. That means that today, writing for search engines means writing for the humans using them. We are not saying you should not think about keyword placement, nor ignore the tagging capabilities of your CMS. You still want solid SEO so the search engines can find you. That’s where a good understanding of the technology comes in handy.
Know how the technology works
Since its inception, Google has been trying to save you clicks. In the deep, dark past, the internet was organized by taxonomy. If you wanted to know about pangolins, you would click Biology then Animals then Mammals then drill down until you found your scaly new best friend. Aw, so cute. Then along came Google, which allowed you to search for what you wanted. At first, it was clunky. You had to be careful to word your search carefully, and even then the result you needed was usually a few results – or even pages – away. As search engines grew smarter and our time more precious, fewer and fewer clicks were needed to get the information we needed. That brings us to today: The Age of Zero Clicks. If we are looking for simple information – for example, what countries do pangolins call home? – we can find out on the front page of Google without even having to click.
Where once it was a race to take the #1 position in Google search results, now it’s a race to so-called Position Zero: the Featured Snippet box. Highlighted above all other results and with the capacity to bump organic traffic by a reported 6%, they have been called the Holy Grail of SEO. Users love them because they can often get the answer they seek right there on their screen.
However, like the Hollywood version, drinking from the Holy Grail can be a curse. Many developers and content strategists are struggling with the dichotomy of Featured Snippets: When the answer is right there on the screen, there are fewer reasons for users to click. Without the click, the site that surfaced this information has no ability to capture the user with ads, offers, subscriptions, or pixels, and the searcher’s loyalty belongs to Google rather than the site. Featured Snippets are taking their toll on organizations like Wikipedia, which reportedly saw its traffic plummet 21% when Google launched its snippet program.
So it depends on what you need your content to do. If you want to play the game, the SEO smarties at Moz have some great advice on how to optimize your content for Featured Snippets.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
Another way to get on Google’s front page is to engage in the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) program. AMP best practices have you optimize your page load times and content for Google’s mobile algorithm. You make your content easier to find and easier to display, especially in its news section, and you reap the rewards in clicks. Also something of a Devil’s bargain (you’re spotting a theme, perhaps), news outlets report that following Google’s AMP best practices curbed their ability to monetize their pages – in some cases by half. Yikes.
There is a search format that circumvents the Google front page entirely: voice search. Powered by voice recognition and enabled by nifty devices like smart speakers, there are an estimated one billion voice searches per month, and 22% of users have bought something through their device. Many experts are predicting 2020 to be the year when voice will overtake all other forms of search combined. Is your content ready for Alexa to read out loud? VentureBeat has tips on how to prepare your site for voice search.
Quality content is everything
Which brings us back to quality. While it is important to understand how the technologies work to give your content the best chance of reaching an audience, it is still readers who click (or listen), and it is readers who determine the quality score that guides search engine ratings.
Your content must deliver on its promise and match the user’s search. It must be timely, unique, resourced, and scannable by human and machine readers alike. In short, it must be great content. The best way to get on the front page of Google is to give people what they want and make it easy for search engines to see that.