Search Engine Changes and How They Affect Your Content

March 3rd, 2017

Updates in Search Engine Optimization have brought content marketing full circle. Nowadays, Google actively abolishes websites that include keyword stuffing, multiple thin pages, misleading information—in essence, Google is encouraging us to be better writers.

But isn’t this the way it should have always been?

When you are able to develop content that is genuinely useful and interesting to your audience, that same audience is more likely to engage with your material, increasing the success of your website and business. This type of content will then also naturally improve your websites SEO results, as well as improve the quality of your online presence.

Below we explore this, as well as some other major search engine shifts, which directly affect how you should be approaching your website content. Understanding where search engines are headed will not only help to keep your website competitive, but will also ensure your message is reaching the audience it is intended for.


So with that, let’s dive in!

A Mobile-Friendly Shift

Is your website mobile-friendly? You’ve likely already run into this question many times.

Updating their Search Quality Ratings Guidelines, Google has recently given extra emphasis on the importance of having a mobile-friendly website. As users are more frequently using their mobile phones and tablets (over laptops and desktop screens) to search for information, websites that are not mobile-friendly may fall behind. When people are unable to access, navigate, and read all of the information on your webpage with ease, they are likely to lose interest and abandon the site.

To have a mobile-friendly site means that when a person accesses your web content on their handheld device, they aren’t forced to “pinch and zoom” to get at the content. Google also recommends having a design that is responsive to the size of various screens, which is the preferred route to having a separate site for mobile devices and a separate website for desktop.

Google’s shift to mobile-friendliness affects content by forcing us to think about how someone is consuming content via the medium. After all, mobile devices have smaller reading screens, and people consuming content on mobile are often opting for a quick ‘snack’ rather than a full course meal. While content developers could still write the same detailed content as they always have, mobile users are not likely to keep scrolling and scrolling down, committing to read a long post in its entirety. When most people go looking of for an answer on their phone, they want a quick and tightly packaged response. So – while large-screen webpages have much more physical room for the development of information, writers have had to adjust to the idea of keeping marketable content as concise as possible. Content writers have also been forced to articulate an answer within the first paragraph of content – ensuring a reader receives what they’re looking for before losing interest and leaving the page to look somewhere else.

Long-form content still has a place on mobile, there’s no doubt. If it didn’t, there would not be such wide adoption of e-books on mobile. However, the medium encourages us to focus heavily on our target audience. Are they likely to consume this piece of content on a smartphone? If so, then perhaps we should consider length, the images we opt to use, our desired calls to action, etc. We not only need to think about the reader, but also consider how the reader will best engage with the content we’re putting in front of them.

Link building as PR

It’s no longer common practice, nor is it particularly effective, to purchase or incentivize links that deliver a user to content. Even asking for links is often now considered outdated. It’s far more applicable to acquire links organically; in other words, have people come across or land on your page because they want to, not because you’re asking or positioning them to.

So – how do you receive these organic engagements? Hard work. Link building isn’t what it once was—it’s now essentially a Public Relations strategy. This practice involves reaching out to bloggers and industry publication editors as an expert in a specific field, providing links to applicable sources that may benefit that organization’s developing stories. Positioning your webpage as a reliable resource validates your page as useful, and drives traffic to your site. By acquiring links from media sources naturally—because they were genuinely interested in linking to your article—the next time Google crawls from those outlets to your content, it will give your website that much more credibility, and thus improve SEO.

Engagement VS. Keywords

Traditionally, the importance of populating a webpage with keywords for search engine ranking took precedence over user happiness. SEO departments worked vigorously to compile data concerning which words, when optimized, would lure the most users to a page. SEO would pass this data on to content writers for keyword-focused content to develop.

However, a major shift has occurred. No longer are SEO specialists identifying keywords for the use of content developers – the value of content itself, is now taking priority.

Web developers realized that keywords were getting traffic to a webpage, but that content, which was created only for the purpose of including a keyword, was not providing customer-focused information. Without creating content with user intent in mind, people would stray from these pages quickly – damaging the website’s SEO performance.

Searchers normally have one of three main reasons to conduct a search online: transactional (want to buy), navigational (want to go to), and informational (want to learn). Businesses must now think of content not only in terms of the audience that they’re trying to reach, but also in terms of matching that audiences’ intent. The more you are able to focus your content on what the searcher wants, the more effective you will become at solving both reader and customer problems.

Voice Search Is on the Rise

Siri. Love her or hate her, there’s a lot to be said about what she can do. Siri, Apple’s on-board automated assistant, can help with tasks such as remembering a date, booking an appointment and sending a text message to a friend.

What is of increasing interest is how people are using automated assistants like Siri to search the web. If you ask Siri a question she can’t answer, she’ll take to a search engine (Siri uses Bing)—and that query data gets tracked. Similarly, Google Now will track voice searches from Android device users in the same way as text-based queries are tracked.

The main difference is in the way that people search via voice. They are more inclined to use natural language—including stop words like “and”, “if”, even “please” in their query. This has necessitated a search engine to decipher the true meaning of a query, while sifting through far more specific information. For example, we’re not typing “cheetah running speed”, we’re asking a search engine: “OK Google, how fast can a cheetah actually run, in kilometers per hour?”

These spoken questions are very specific, “long tail” queries. The issue is that they don’t hold enough search volume to gather trend data from. You’d be far more likely to get search query volume for something like “cheetah running speed” rather than the longer variation.

The beauty of the long tail query is that it is so specific that you have a great chance of ranking highly for it. For example, if you were to create a piece of content called “How Fast A Cheetah Can Run In Kilometers per Hour”, and you optimized the heck out of it, your chances of your content ranking when someone searched for that query would be very high.

How does this effect content? Google is pushing a shift for content to adapt to the: who, what, where, why, and how questions that audiences are asking – providing more user-friendly and immediate answers. This then challenges content writers to use alternative methods of communicating information, such as blogging, as a way to specifically target searcher intent – developing content based on common user interests and concerns.


Search Ads Disguised

You may not have noticed, but Google has been transforming their small search result “Ad” indicator.

Over the course of AdWords history, Google got rid of the yellow backdrop (sometimes called the sandbox), introduced the small “Ad” icon, changed the icon from yellow to green, and most recently changed the icon again to be an outline; arguably even more indiscernible.

While these new design shifts may seem small, the change holds great significance. Basically, Google is trying to blur the lines between what is a paid and what is an organic search result.

It would seem that Google has done this to intentionally blend and disguise paid ad results with organically listed results, making the difference between the two less obvious. This is likely to increase visits to paid-for ad sites, as many users previously became accustomed to skipping past advertisements – noting the yellow indicator and moving to the organic green results instead.

It is then more important than ever to have engaging content on your web pages, increasing the flow of natural traffic to your site, as well as positioning your brand in a competitive place on Google’s result list.

With great content, organic users will spend more time on your site, increasing your popularity. It is also becoming critical to invest in SEO research, understanding how to make your website competitive with other paid-for advertisements.

As Google continues to improve its algorithms, it is important to keep your website’s content up to date and on trend. More than ever before, businesses must work to understand their customer demographics through detailed analysis, to get a clearer sense of what these users might be searching for. Our web content needs to be informative, helpful, and engaging for our audience, otherwise people just won’t bother reading it.
While it may seem hard to keep up, the team at Treefrog is passionate about keeping on top of industry shifts. Should you need us to help navigate your business through these changes, we’d be happy to help.