Disclaimer: This article has been submitted to the Fort Hays State University for the Spring semester 2017 as my research paper. I am making it public so everyone can read it but please do not copy it elsewhere without my written permission.
SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization refers to all the techniques that are meant to improve the visibility of an online website. For instance, that covers the submission (indexing) to the different search engines, positioning that allows web pages to have a high rank in the search results – means mainly, positioning the website or specific pages of the website on the first results page for certain keywords.
The difficulty of the SEO aspect lies, not in the websites’ advertisements on the search engines but rather on structuring the content and the internal/external (On-Page, Off-Page) mesh so that the pages will be well positioned in the search results with the chosen keywords. Overcoming these kinds of challenges is not an easy thing.
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The majority of Internet users, if not everyone, tend to use the different search engines such as Google to find relevant information, depends on what they are looking for. Literally, we do question the search engine using some queries that contain keywords so that we find the needed information that best meets the expectations. Therefore, and as per this, choosing the right keywords to optimize our websites on is the very first and essential tips to start with.
In this research paper, we are going to mainly go through the SEO basics, covers some tips and tricks, analyze the trends, what kind of improvements we can implement and expect what the future of SEO. All of this can allow us to stay ahead of the curve.
Key issues with current trends:
SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) overhauls
SERP (Search Engine Result Pages) refers to search results as displayed after a query. It is essential to understand that from one user to another, the results for the same search engine can vary, depending on the settings chosen by the user (language, number of results per page). But also, according to the place (country, region) from which the request is made or the terminal (mobile, tablet, desktop) or sometimes according to requests previously made by the user. The A / B testing to test different displays. As such, it is not uncommon for a site to disappear from SERPs on a request for 24 to 48 hours, and then reappear. This means that we must wait at least 72 hours before worrying.
For instance, it is not because we see a website in the first position and/or search results page that necessarily is on it. To get a result that is as close as possible to what most users see, it is advisable to clear the browser’s cache/history, or even to navigate using the incognito mode.
The main issue with all of this is that we cannot tell how many times SERPs algorithms were altered and have dramatically changed the last decade and everyone can handle the changes; some of these changes are so small, it’s okay to deal with, others not. Looking back at how SERP used to be and how it is now, this will make us revise our consideration and what we should do to overcome the change for a better SEO positioning.
The death of keywords (as we know it)
SEO used to make sense only in terms of keywords, that is, words used by visitors to search. The first thing on SEO was just to determine the keywords on which one wishes to position the pages of their site. That was before, now is definitely different, the keywords we have in our heads do not always correspond to the keywords used by the visitors, might because they tend to use the shortest possible terms or to make spelling mistakes. Even if we play good at it and try to use one of the several tools that allow comparing the search volume of a specific keyword on different search engines, we won’t really do it right. Search is no longer about the sentence we enter; it became about launching a normal discussion with the visitor. This change has heavily affected the way we deal with search engines, simply once search is about discussions vs. query, we can no longer purchase or play with keywords, instead, we have to engage ourselves in the discussion. The simply answer to this issue is that Google and the other search engines have changed their ways of thinking. In short, keywords are dead; unique content is a king.
Organic vs. Paid SEO
SEO is not necessarily paid for because the search engines index websites free of charge and it is not possible to pay them in order to get a better position on the SERP.
It is enough that other sites point to ours for example so that the engines visit it and the more popular, high-quality links, the better a site will rank. However, the methods to be implemented are numerous; sometimes complex and a simple mistake can have important repercussions, which is why many companies do hire SEO professionals to help them out with this process. On the other hand, with paid SEO it is possible to buy keywords on the search engines. They are called sponsored links, which they will be shown around the so-called natural search results. This is referred to as SEM (Search Engine Marketing) as opposed to SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO tends to be a vast notion, requiring a lot of experience and with many hidden difficulties, it is advisable for companies to call on specialized SEO agencies that will be able to advise and accompany them.
Web pages content
Facts as page title, URL, body text, meta tags, hyperlinks and many more have to be taken into consideration in order to have an optimized result. For instance, any page’s title must describe the webpage’s content as precisely as possible (in under 7-10 words and 60 characters). The title is a very critical as it will appear in the user’s favorites as well as in the search history.
Moving to the page’s URL, most if not all search engines attach major importance to keywords present in the URL, especially to the ones that are shown in the domain name (.TLD’s however do not have any impact). Companies and organizations are advised to use a fitting file name that contains one or two keywords for each of the websites files rather than names like page1.php, page2.php, etc.
Passing to the web page’s body and in order to improve the content of each web page, the content must be transparent, as an example, it must contain as much text as possible that is index-able by search engines. I mean, page content must be high-quality content aimed at visitors. However, it is possible to improve it by making sure that different keywords are present and highlighted.
A very important and essential thing to consider is the hypertext links. In order to give each of our pages maximum visibility, we should set up internal links between your pages to allow indexing robots, or crawlers, to browse your entire website structure. Setting up external links is as well a very a very good idea.
That is pretty much everything that we have to know considering the SEO. I admit most of what covered fall under the On-Page tricks but are far enough to optimize our websites if we really followed the good habits.
The future of SEO
Last few years were rich in SEO announcements; many trends are being implemented. As per my personal thoughts and experiences, I am sharing with you the main keys that we have to consider when optimizing our websites.
Mobile prioritization. Mobile becomes a priority thing to consider and work on. The popularity of mobile devices, especially since the launch of iPhone, back in 2008, the most known and widely used search engine, Google, has clearly shown the importance of optimizing any online platforms for mobile use. Indeed, starting from last year in 2016, mobile queries have absolutely bypassed desktop searches in Google search. Therefore, optimizing a website for mobile use is a must. This is something that was not really necessary to do so in the past.
Image and videos. Nowadays, from a SEO perspective, we have to admit the fact that there is a way more focus on image and video rather than just text (even though body text is still the most recommended trick for organic SEO). This also linked to these kinds of creative advertising tricks are getting more and more popular, I mean, we are seeing a different kind of paid search everywhere, with either video and/or for instance, ad articles.
Local Search. Google and most other search engines have changed the way they return results per location. With the recent updates these last years, ranking algorithms for local result have changed, giving well-optimized websites per country-region a big advantage in search results. For instance, starting with even the domain names, a domain that has a ccTLD such as .CA, will rank more for any Canadian visitor considering another clone website with different TLD. Without even digging more into the algorithms, Google confirmed that some terms such as ‘Nearby’ and ‘Near me’ have doubled in its searches. This simply means that visitors as well are more concerned about local business, and would certainly appreciate SERPs related to their regions.
Secure (SSL) Search. It is really worth it to know that Google has already started giving a ranking boost to secure HTTPS/SSL websites. This change has taken effect in mid-2016. In short, switching to HTTPS, increases ranking and security. Even if it is a minor ranking boost, working on all SEO aspects is a good habit to have an optimized website, overall. One more last thing before we move on this: Anyone who is willing to perform the change and switch from HTTP to HTTPS, he should properly handle the migration otherwise this will make his traffic suffers. For example, we are obviously to tell Google that the actual website uses HTTPS and not HTTP, with some sorts of redirects such as with .htaccess.
The Search Conversation. Google and the other know search engines have always given us search results that are somehow related to our search and browsing history.
Last few years, in a tr, to create a more natural search experience, search engines, at least what Google has confirmed, started working on a way to implement search results that are based on our “search discussions” — across different devices, using voice search. For instance, I will take an example to use Google voice search for a simple search query [Laptop]. As any search query, the engine gave the normal result set for that question. Nothing so impressive here, aside that Google handled my bad English accent, as it is my third language.
Now, trying to do another search query, this time for BestBuy. The impressive in this story is that Google assumed that I am in the same search “discussion” and is treating both search queries (for laptop and for BestBuy) as part of a larger discussion; therefore, it went ahead and automatically changed my search query to [BestBuy Laptop] even though I only searched for BestBuy. Even though the search’s quality and relevance are quite doubtful, I guess this is going to be a huge step forward improving and implementing a new the search experience.
The changes are affecting Organic & Paid Search. If in the near future this kind of search query change goes viral, it simply can affect the whole SEO industry. From an SEO view, no SERPs will be static to everyone. For instance, if a user searches first for BestBuy and then for Laptops, the results will be shown for [BestBuy Laptop] instead for just [BestBuy]. Basically, the results will differ from visitor to visitor. That is how the keywords might be useless. This is already starting to affect every business online; we are started seeing many changes with most of the well-known web platforms.
When years go by, there might be surprises and trends coming up, but when it comes to optimization, there are things that do not change. The simplest tips are for instance to always opt for quality more than quantity and to be observant about what is happening in the world.