Every year brings new SEO challenges and surprises. The year 2017 won’t be any different, but we do expect these topics to be important considerations in the new year:
Interstitials / Popups on Mobile Devices
We’ve all seen mobile sites with a popup covering the content we were trying to read. These popups will be punished by Google in early 2017. Like ads above the fold, Google feels these popups harm the user experience – and they do not want to send visitors to such sites. Many survey and tool vendors such as ometrics and surveygizmo have been proactive to make sure their clients are not at risk, but some vendors may not be aware.
SSL / HTTPS
Google is really pushing SSL, and this is the year they accelerate their plan to make the web secure. Having your entire website served over HTTPS used to be rare, and only credit card or health privacy transactions were secured. And even that was spotty. But Google has begun a campaign since 2014 to secure everything. Two years ago, Google introduced a rankings boost for sites entirely on SSL. Last year they provided better features in Search Console. And we started to see SSL as “must have”. But progress has been voluntary in many regards, with other business objectives prioritized first.
Next year, new developments will force your hand: Warnings will start appearing in Chrome. Come January 2017 the Chrome browser will show increasingly dire warnings for any site that hasn’t moved to HTTPS. Starting with pages that have credit card or password fields:
Initially, users will be warned:
With more dire warnings for insecure sites later in 2017:
AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
AMP is the super-speedy loading of pages you’ve likely seen in some mobile results. After you setup AMP on your site, Googlebot places your content on it’s super-fast servers – but making it look like your URL. AMP was just for news sites, but now Google has opened AMP up to other sorts of sites – and 700k+ sites have been using it! If mobile traffic is important to your site, AMP will likely become vital over the next year.
Google just loves schema. We’ve seen over this last year as schema has helped increase pages indexed, and expect it to play a greater role every year. As artificial intelligence is used more and more in the “Rank Brain” algorithm, sites that can be easily categorized by Google will received more visibility. I for one welcome our new overlords… subject to future review.
Links are still an important part of Google’s algorithm. But sustainable, authentic link earning is always the best longterm approach in link building. So how can you get these links?
1. Content marketing
Produce great content, and reach out to authority sites and influencers in your space.
2. Business Development Link Building
All of those traditional activities such as sponsoring a baseball team, joining the chamber, or participating in online communities/forums are actually great ways to get links.
Publicity is that powerful branch of public relations that provides links and visibility from media sites.
These methods of earning links have the best longterm potential, and are quite powerful for building and keeping rankings.
The shrinking organic traffic (more ads at the top), increased competition, and ever-changing nature of organic search require more effort than ever. Gone are the days of getting your site “SEO-ed” and expecting free traffic. All traffic is either earned, or easily taken away. May you experience a great new year with SEO!
Google is quickly becoming the self-appointed internet police force. To be fair, it sure is nice to have Google warn us when a website may be compromised and spreading malware. Google recently gave some false positives, but otherwise does a good job of keeping the internet a safe and happy place. Now Google is going a step further and is targeting mobile experience. With dramatic increases in mobile search over the last several years (and decreasing desktop search), Google is on a mission to identify mobile-friendly design and usability. Google is again changing the face of the web by mandating these features for sites that wish to rank highly in search results.
Text vs Images
In the early days of the web, browsers did not support multiple typefaces / fonts. Designers used jpg and gif images to create buttons for their menus and navigation, but search engines couldn’t read the words – missing an important signal about the URLs being linked to. A compromise had to be made, and for designers it felt less than ideal. The advent of web fonts have breathed life back into web design, but it was a difficult transition for many.
Slow website loading times are repulsive to Google in a couple of different ways: Not only are Googlebot’s crawlers tied up, but user experience suffers as well. Google can see bounce rates increase and knows they didn’t deliver the “right result” in those ten blue links.
Ads Above the Fold
Google’s own advertising system helped create a world of sites filled with ads. Users developed ad blindness and ad blockers, but usability still suffered. Having ads at the top of the page became a signal of poor quality to Google, and they rolled out an algorithm update specifically targeting these designs. Moving the ads meant a reduction in revenue for many sites, but changes were made to preserve the sweet flow of Google traffic.
Google’s latest improvement for the web is happening in mobile.
Last fall, they started testing labeling which results were mobile friendly, showing tags next to sites on mobile devices. Google has announced a big change is coming in April for their mobile search results: sites will be severely penalized for a lack of mobile usability. Labels will be given to mobile friendly sites, too. It’s likely that many sites will see a drop in ranking when this goes into effect. Google and Bing both understand mobile is their most important battleground for marketshare, and Google assures us the change means “users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” For businesses, it will be vital that all pages pass Google’s Mobile friendly test, check Mobile Error Reports in Webmaster Tools and watch for common mistakes on mobile.
Not sure of next steps for your site? Time to start testing – or maybe a redesign from that “good place”. Need a good interactive agency or website design firm? We’ve worked with agencies and designers. And we partner with the best! Talk to us about your needs, and we’ll introduce you to the right match.
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[Updated Nov 1, 2016]
“How do you write great title tags and meta descriptions?” That is the question that clients ask me most frequently. And it’s a complicated question, for sure! There are several components to writing great titles and descriptions, but there are also a few specifications that each company will want to consider for themselves.
I’ll address the considerations first. The goal is to write title tags that are Google-bot-pleasing, but you also want to have titles and descriptions that are functional and helpful to the human visitors to your website. This can be tricky when the approach is different when thinking of writing for bots versus humans. My best advice: somewhere right in the middle is your best bet! Write naturally and use the same voice that you are using in your page content, but include keyword phrases that are specific to the page.
Title tags must fall in a range of characters, but also need to fall into a size range to appear complete in Google search. This size range has to do with the number of pixels that a title tag takes up on the page. For example, if you’ve got a title tag with a couple of w’s in it, that will take up far more space than a title with several lower case l’s and i’s. Just look at this spacing difference: www lil. The three skinnier letters take up about as much space as one of the w’s! Why does this matter? Well, in Google search results, you are allotted a specific amount of space for the title of your page. This went into effect in early 2014 when Google updated its search results page. There was another update to the format of Google’s search results in 2016. Now, search results have a bit more space on the page. Yay, but, wait, there are also some other things to consider: like how many words you use, where the break might show up in those words (if you use too many) and the fact that Google is now appending the brand name to the end of the title tag in some cases. You want your page titles to appear complete in the results, while getting you the most out of this limited function. Unfortunately, this all makes it really tricky to say that there is a specific number of characters that you should use for each title tag. Around 52-55 characters is probably a pretty safe bet, but if you think you might be using a lot of wide characters (or if you test and find that Google is appending your brand name to every title), choose to use a few less letters.
Meta descriptions also have a size range that you want to target for full effect in Google search results. Meta descriptions are not used in Google’s algorithm, but a good meta description raises your organic click-through-rate. Google can tell human searchers are clicking through to your site, and likely takes that into account with your ranking. Google also does see short or duplicate meta descriptions as a site quality issue – so I guess it is indeed part of their overall formula. Recently, Google has made some changes to how they display descriptions and in some cases, they are chopping up your beautiful descriptions and taking bits and pieces of your content and adding that to the description so that they can highlight more of the search terms a user typed into the search bar. In addition, Google will sometimes add a date to the beginning or end of the description field in search results. Considering all of this, however, I still recommend meta descriptions of between 139 and 156 characters. The seem to work best, no matter what Google decides to do with them. Again, strive to convey your message to human visitors with your natural writing style, but include those keyword targets specific to the page. When writing meta descriptions, entice users to click on your search engine result by listing benefits and a call to action. In addition, the meta description should be different for each page of your website.
I have written a plethora of title tags and meta descriptions for a wide range of clients and what I’ve learned is that if you are organized and set up systems, even the largest websites can have all new titles and descriptions before you know it. I recommend setting up a spreadsheet and setting columns for old titles, new titles, character count, old description, new description and character count. Once you get used to using the spreadsheet, you can set the width of the columns to help guide you to the right size while you are writing.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed about getting your titles and descriptions in order, just give me a call. I’ve just about got it down to an art and I’ve also got a few tools in my tool belt that can automate some of the process that may be bogging you down. I’m here to help! Questions? Shoot me an email or a message at @jannavance on Twitter. Good luck!