As the domineering and unpredictable Google contemplates its next move, we’ve been musing over what will matter most in the search and digital PR industry over the next year or two.
So here’s some advice on where we think the industry is heading, based on what we’ve seen through our work, our knowledge of industry developments and what was reinforced at BrightonSEO.
Topics over keywords, becoming a subject library
Google’s aim for the near future is to push websites to become knowledge bases in certain fields, rather than chasing keywords with stand-alone pages.
There’s increasing focus on websites that offer clusters of content around a topic. Whereas it’s previously been customary for brands to show off their knowledge by filling singular pages with explanation, perhaps with links to case studies, the search giant will increasingly favour results for an interlinking group of pages.
Websites with pillar pages, giving a broad overview of the subject, supported by several in-depth cluster pages that each focus on specific aspects are recognised as the most authoritative sources. Digital campaigns can then drive visitors to both the main pillar page and its supporting content to boost authority of the whole cluster, as the diagram below shows:
The point is to create more in-depth discussion of a topic. If a website provides a wealth of genuinely unique information, and examines the different facets of the issues around it, it will rank higher. Google will look upon it as a font of knowledge for the particular subject, raising it higher up the rankings.
Although this is the case right now, which we have seen in practice for our clients, it will become increasingly important as time goes on.
Google’s trigger-happy page title rewrite habit is here to stay
Recently, Google has been more aggressive in rewriting the title tags that appear in SERPs (search engine results pages), changing 61% of them. Since these are the first things a searcher sees when looking through results, they have a big impact on click-through rates.
Mordy Oberstein described this as Google’s ever-improving AI “flexing its muscles” by saying it knows better, based on the page’s context. The rewrites aren’t always perfect, but they seem to be getting better as Google’s AI improves. Despite weighty backlash from the SEO community, complete with pitchforks and burning effigies, they’re something we’ll all have to adapt to.
The answer is to keep page title tags as close to the target search queries as possible, as Wordstream did in one case study. These rewrites aren’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, the reason for the feature is to attempt to improve the page title and make it more helpful. It just means that you need to monitor how and why they are changing, and make sure they stay relevant.
Schema markup is a forgotten goldmine
Popular? No. Just 1% of websites use schema. For a feature that has been around a while, the majority of websites just ignore it. That means, though, that using schema will gain a website an advantage over the other 99%.
Markup everything that is relevant: geographical information, FAQs, job postings, product info, people, recipes, and much more (see schema.org for more details). This helps search engines connect the dots and, ultimately, makes for better website visibility.
This, along with several other of these points, is something that we and others in the industry can see make a significant difference to our clients, when done correctly.
Long-tail keywords are perilous to ignore, even if they have no search volume
Given their specificity, many long-tail keywords (of three words or more) will show up as having low, or even zero, search volume in keyword research tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush. However, there are many cases where there is still valuable traffic to be won by creating content that answers these.
The answer is to treat search volume figures with a little suspicion. Instead of dismissing them, look at forums where people discuss the specific niche. What questions do they want answering? What are they asking on social media? What appears in the People Also Ask box on Google when you search for your topic? Answer these questions within your content, even if the keyword research tool declares there’s little or no search volume for it.
Once it’s published, it’ll likely start appearing for queries you hadn’t thought of. This is Google telling you “we think your page might be relevant for this search term”, so it’s worthwhile tweaking your content further for these questions will bring in even more traffic.
Technical SEO automation: the thing to watch for the next 12 months
Technical SEO is a key part of improving websites and ensuring they are the best they can be. Usually, it involves running reports and manually checking pages for issues, producing lists of improvements and making the changes. It’s an ongoing process that’s the latest field of work to be slated for automation, and a welcome one.
A good example is image optimisation. Sending a list of 2,000 images that need improving to a client’s IT team, after spending a few days collecting them, is unlikely to get a cheerful response. Instead, we can automate the collection of the problematic images, automatically optimise them and then save them where our client finds easiest to access. The time saved means we’re able to work on more creative solutions to bigger problems.
Fast websites enrich lives
No, it’s not a crass joke. Every second shaved off web page load times means more time customers get back to enjoy their lives. With the average internet user aged 16 to 64 spending seven hours online per day (according to a recent report by We are Social and Hootsuite), that adds up to a significant chunk of time.
Headless websites are becoming the new normal, allowing for lightning fast load times. We use tools like Semrush, Page Speed Insights and GT Metrix to help identify speed issues on our clients’ websites and alert them to the problems.
At Google’s mercy
Google is the single biggest hurdle for SEO or digital PR activity in terms of predicting the future. Across all devices, it has a 91% usage share worldwide, the next being Bing with just 3.1%. It’s safe to say that whatever changes Google makes affects everyone.
Every six months the search engine decides to throw a curveball at digital agencies to keep them on their toes. For some businesses, this is seen as a slightly spiteful inconvenience. However, the crucial benefit of this system is that it mixes the search market up and improves users’ experience every six months. Without it, the industry wouldn’t evolve as rapidly as it does.
The difference between nuisance and opportunity is just down to how well you adapt to each change.