What is needed to execute a successful 2018 organic search program is not a mystery. The best practices are widely known with many outlined below. The challenge is the ability to execute against these best practices while keeping an eye toward the accelerating rate of change in the Google search algorithm and in how people search.
As a white hat practitioner, my goal is always to produce high-quality keyword or thematically targeted content that is coded, formatted and executed in a way that exceeds the quality offered by the competition. Here are some quick thoughts on how to execute a winning organic search plan followed by some of the emerging challenges in the way Google is presenting content and advertising in the search results.
What is Working in 2018
Rank Brain, Googles AI Algorithm, Is About As Smart As a Third Grade Student
Google is getting very specific about the types of content that should appear for a particular keyword search. For example, someone looking for car insurance wants the names of local insurance agents. Another person that queries "car insurance plans" is interested in comparing features and benefits across companies. Google is getting really good at matching search intent to content delivery.
Carefully research the types of content Google is showcasing before executing any content plan.
Organize content into Google Snacks
Search results are often organized around blocks of content called snippets or the knowledge graph. These are a short question and answer blocks that feed sections of the search results. The goal is to appear in the "position 0" snippet which is above the organic search results.
Use tools such as answerthepublic.com to discern the top queries or snacks for any search.
Content Must Be Semantically Relevant
- Longer is better with no less than 895 words.
- Make good use of headlines, sub-heads, internal links and external links
- Add a table of content to boost engagement
- Check content vs. the top 10 results with tools such as ntopic.org.
While Google keeps on stating that these are of declining importance, I do not believe it. Links count if they are from high-quality sites AND if there is traffic moving through those links.
Social Has Influence
Social shares are less important than the quality of the profiles where the shares occur. If an Influencer shares your content it counts.
53% of consumers will abandon a site if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load (source: Google, 2018)
Write Longer Descriptions
Most organic search descriptions are now around 330 characters. Use the space to reinforce why a visitor should click on the result while including the semantically related keywords that speak to the search engine.
The net takeaway is simple. Produce great content that exceeds the expectations of visitors and that is better (quality, engagement, length) than the competition.
2018 Organic Search Challenges
While the rules of engagement for organic ranking are clear, search ranking is becoming more challenging for those topics where Google is reducing the amount of real estate dedicated to organic search. Topics such as travel and any search with a clear shopping intent are slowly being reduced in favor of Google produced content.
Mobile Results Do Not Look Like Desktop Results
Take the search for flu on mobile.
First Screen (all advertising)
2nd Screen (via scroll)
Organic results do not appear until the searcher scrolls to the 4th screen. Since Google has determined that the content above the organic results have higher relevance, the number of people seeking an organic result is significantly lower. Every search term has a different dynamic. In this case, if targeting the word "flu" a paid approach would probably make more sense.
Voice Search is Rocketing Higher
Voice search is being integrated into devices across the Internet of Things. Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, and other devices are influencing how to think about search. According to ComScore, 50% of all searches will be by voice by 2020. Other estimates show that 40% of adults use voice search at least 1x a day (Location World).
Google Content Replacing Publisher Content
Google is replacing organic search results with content developed by Google. Just type a city name into Google and select travel guide.
Or a job search:
The good news is that Google is better at discerning the meaning of content and why it should rank. The bad news is that the amount of real estate dedicated to organic search is shrinking and promises to get even smaller. Factors like voice make organic even more challenging for marketing teams to succeed in this channel.
Regardless, every marketer should be identifying and tracking the bundle of keywords that align with the KPIs of the business. When executing a search plan, a portfolio of paid and organic can be used to optimize a company's search presence.