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Last year was a volatile one for SEO strategy and internet marketing. We went from a world in which the world’s biggest search platform, Google, could be duped, to a world in which we’re not so sure anymore. Worryingly, especially for people who want to supercharge their internet marketing, old fashioned SEO tactics just don’t look like they’re going to work anymore.

These marketing woes stem from an update to the Google algorithm that launch late last year. Called Penguin, the update was designed to prevent internet marketers from just churning out junk content with the aim of fooling Google into thinking that the content was authoritative. As a result, Google’s algorithm has become a lot more “human-like.” It’s able to look at a 2000-word piece of text and use data to figure out whether it’s valuable to its audience or not, just like a regular person could. 

What this means is that things are shaping up to be very different in 2017 than they were in the summer of 2016. Here are some statistics that are going to shape your year ahead.

Long-Form Content Is King – But You Knew That Anyway

Backlinko, a website designed to help small businesses get their content strategy right, recently conducted a study on the length of the most popular articles online. They took all of the page search engine results and looked to see what they had it common. It turns out that the average Google first page results contain an average of 1,890 words which is longer than many people new to content might expect.

As marketers, we often hear stories about how short our user’s attention span is, and how we’ve only got a few seconds to communicate our message when they visit our site. But the Backlinko study helped to qualify those claims. It turns out that when people are actually looking for content to enjoy, rather than just information, they’re far more willing to invest their time in reading an article. They’re not just looking for something you’ve stuffed with keywords, like “SEO” or “generate backlinks” either. No – they want something that is either helpful to their immediate purposes, or entertaining and satisfying. It’s hard to be compelled by content that you know has been written for the purpose of tricking Google’s algorithm rather than delighting your intellect.

The bottom line? Write some high-quality articles of around 2000 words. If you can’t write in an engaging way, pay somebody who can: they’re often an excellent return on your investment.

Your Metadata Matters

It’s worth remembering that even though Google has closed some doors for SEO marketers, others remain open. Among the most important is the use of metadata.Metadata is the data about a page that search engines display to their users. For instance, when you search for “pizza shop” in Google, you’ll see a list of results saying things like “Steve’s Pizza In Chicago” or “Jimmy’s Pizza in Dallas.” This text is called metadata, and, like keywords, it’s essential to get it right.

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According to data provided by Dilate, 99 percent of the top ten sites in each industry use metadata optimization as part of their online strategy. This means that they actively test which descriptions yield the best results, draw the most people to their sites and lead to the greatest number of conversions.

A further 80 percent of top sites also us H1 tag optimization – meaning that they optimize the titles of their pages to correspond to user search inputs. Often you’ll find video and blog titles that contain long-form keyword searches in their title to maximize their ranking for particular keywords.

Penguin Is Coming To Get You – But Don’t Worry

As we discussed in the introduction, Penguin is here, and it wants to troll your business. It’s actually worse than neutral, punishing your web pages if they dare to publish content that users won’t find interesting or enjoyable.

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There is good news, though. Penguin is going to be updated continuously. It means that if you’ve already been punished for publishing sub-par content, there’s an opportunity to redeem yourself quickly, rather than having to wait for the next update and rejigging of Google’s ranking results. According to Google themselves, new rankings will take effect immediately after they re-crawl your pages. This means that there’s an opportunity here to transform dry, SEO content into something that makes Google’s users smile.

Businesses can now invest in tools that help them to navigate Google’s algorithms, making sure that their posts aren’t interpreted as being “keyword stuffed.”

The Growing Importance Of Inbound Marketing

Hubspot recently released its State of Inbound Report, where it catalogs all of the latest news in the inbound marketing sector. According to the report, more than two-thirds of marketers now say that inbound marketing is their top priority for the year ahead.

This statistic should come as no surprise to seasoned marketers. For years, we’ve heard about the ineffectiveness of banner ads and outbound marketing to generate significant returns. And for a long time, there’s been a distinct focus on generating organic search traffic, not paying Google a small fortune to advertise your business in search results.

But there’s a problem with inbound marketing: it’s a heck of a lot harder to do. First off, being creative and generating content that people actually want to consume is tough. According to the Hubspot survey, more than 65 percent of marketers said that generating traffic and leads through inbound marketing was their top challenge. Secondly, the number of inbound marketing products available right now on the market is mind-boggling to the extent that many small businesses are avoiding it entirely.

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There is help available, though, if you go looking for it. Many companies are now enlisting the help of an SEO reseller to provide them with tools to manage their projects centrally. These tools make it easier to do things like chasing up content provider companies and making sure SEO outreach services have done what they said they were going to do.

Google Is Going To Update Its Mobile Algorithm – And It Could Hurt You

Mobile has quickly become the platform of choice for accessing the internet. According to a report by the Global Web Index, 41 percent of people said that their smartphone was the most important device for accessing content online. 31 percent said it was their notebooks and a mere 26 percent said it was their PCs.

This suggests that businesses ought to be focusing on their mobile strategy in the year ahead. Not surprisingly, given these statistics, Google is taking a greater interest in mobile search. And given its dominance of search in the US and the UK, businesses better listen to what it has to say.

According to Practical Ecommerce, Google will be updating its mobile algorithms in January 2017 – or right about now. Smartphone content visibility is going to become an important ranking signal, meaning that anything that impacts the user experience while consuming content on mobile will decrease a page’s rank in search results. Mobile sites that obscure the user’s view with annoying pop-up boxes will soon find themselves at the mercy of Google’s new policies, falling down the ranks unless they remove these features or make them more mobile-friendly.

Google will also pay attention to content that does not perform as strongly on mobile and attribute the difference between mobile and desktop performance to annoying features on your site. 2017 could be a year, therefore, to have a cleanout of your website and make it leaner.

Google Will Also Punish You For Slow Load Times On Mobile

Google’s ability to twist the knife knows no end when it comes to small business. Slow load times, the company says, ruin user experience and, according to evidence from Search Engine Watch, can reduce conversions by as much as 7 percent.

Google wants to see more businesses using tools like accelerated mobile pages. These tools strip out all of the junk that makes page loading slow and just gives users with low-bandwidth the essentials they need to navigate your site. According to Google’s own estimates, using accelerated mobile pages could increase the speed at which your website pages load by anything between 15 to 85 percent, depending on your current level of optimization.

For businesses looking to generate more leads, mobile page optimization is a profitable strategy.

Appeal To Your Customer’s Curiosity Through Your Interface

According to Search Engine Land, a big chunk of internet traffic is driven by what it calls “micro-moments.” The basic idea here is that your customers make a choice to come to your site, not out of some inherent desire to experience your brand, but because they’re triggered to visit it by some fleeting, ephemeral experience.

According to the data, traffic comes to your site because of “I want to know moments” and “I want to do moments.” Thinking about what your customers might want to learn from you in the coming months is, therefore, a sound strategy to grab more traffic. Is there any inspiring advice you might have to offer?

As a Hubspot Agency Partner, we can help you get your business moving in the right direction. Contact us today to arrange a free, 30-minute consultation.