Google has issued new SEO guidelines twice in the last year, but how much has really changed? We’re here to help break down the new information for you:
Focus on User Search Intent
The biggest game changer in the most recent update for SEO guidelines has been coming on slowly but now is more important than ever. If you’ve ever noticed the “People Also Ask” section of a results page with expandable answers, you’re already interacting with user intent on Google. Choosing the right keywords for your organic strategy has always been paramount, but now how they’re being used matters just as much. Google doesn’t want to have to guess what its human users want based upon just a few words.
In reality, a user’s searches trace back to a natural question, and whether that question is getting answered by your web content will affect their time spent on your website or if instead they’ll have to bounce back to the search results to try again. Better results lead to fewer missed transactions. So, it’s in Google’s best interest as well as your own to evaluate the intent of your prospective customers when they search for particular terms.
Google has narrowed intent down to four major categories:
1. Informational Searches — The who, what, when, where, or why of the topic. Users looking for this will want tutorials, resources, lessons, examples, guides, and best practices.
2. Navigational Searches — When a user searches for the name of a particular website rather than typing it in the address bar. Think of searching or Facebook, Amazon, 23andMe, etc.
3. Transactional Searches — These users are preparing for purchase. They often search for free, cheap, buy, coupon, for sale, near me, or particular name-brand products.
4. Commercial Investigation — These users are aware of a need but are still considering the purchase. They’re looking for comparisons of similar products, reviews, and updated information from previous products they’ve used.
Accessibility is Searchability
Improving website accessibility has been a long-time suggestion to help boost SEO, but now the need for these kinds of improvements is more than circumstantial. In the past, taking measures such as adding alt text to photos has been touted as a way to get more mentions of your keywords and phrases for rankings. Now, Google is evaluating sites based upon whether all users can interact with the content easily, whether or not they’re disabled.
When Google indexes a site, it now has the ability to check for seven points of accessibility:
- Alternative Text to clearly communicate important images for screen reader users.
- HTML Sitemap to help create quick navigation of your site for all users.
- Page Titles & Headings to help readers skimming to find the answers they need.
- High-Contrast Design to help low-vision users to clearly see your content.
- Video Captions to give users with a hearing impairment access to information in videos.
- Links & Buttons with anchor text to announce a link to another page.
- Readability to ensure users who are distracted, have learning disabilities, or aren’t navigating in their
native language can still access the information.
Reduce Page Load Times
Page speed has been a ranking signal for Google since 2010, but it’s becoming more vital as users grow more impatient. Load times that were typical five years ago are infuriating for users today as more and more websites invest in higher speeds, thereby normalizing them. As users are less likely to bounce from a site with a lower load time, Google will continue to promote pages with quick page speeds. If you’re wanting to stay in the running, look to reduce your page load times.
Don’t Forget the Basics
We’re here reporting on what’s new for SEO, but the reality is that some things haven’t changed. You’re still going to need to be keeping target keyword lists to use as a guide. The best way to rank consistently for what your users may be searching is by not just using user intent to knock one topic out of the park, but to consistently perform for the search engine.
Page load times have been a consideration for more than 12 years, website accessibility has been a focus for just as long. User intent is just a rebranded way of talking about the buyer’s journey that’s been well known for nearly a century. So, what do you need to compete? Take each of these practices up a notch. As more and more businesses look to compete online, you’re going to have to find new ways to innovate in order to get the same level of attention in SEO just like in product development.