Leaning into SEO as Google shifts from search engine to portal
How to prepare your company for Google's new customer journey for search.
Google’s SERP is almost unrecognizable compared to what it looked like just a few years ago. The changes aren’t just on the surface, either: Google is becoming less search engine, more portal, said Jessica Bowman, CEO of SEO In-house and Search Engine Land editor at large, during her keynote at SMX Advanced this month.
This evolution is fundamentally altering the customer journey from search, with Google owning the process by enabling users to bypass clicks to websites to get information, take action and even transact. This will have repercussions for just about every company. Bowman offered several plans of action for SEOs preparing for these changes and said investments in SEO will be more important than ever.
Build and train your SEO army
“When I evaluate an organization, I find that every role has activities they do that affect SEO, and SEO needs to be integrated into those activities,” Bowman told Search Engine Land, “The SEO team has to figure out what those are and then train people to do that.”
Larger companies should incorporate SEO into their daily vernacular, said Bowman. This way, you can conscript dozens, if not hundreds, of staff members into your “SEO army,” get them advocating for it, quoting best practices, involving the dedicated SEO team and flagging missing requirements on a day-to-day basis.
Although non-SEOs aren’t expected to be authorities on the topic, their 20% of effort stands to make 80% of the impact on your brand’s overall optimization, Bowman said. It will be up to your main SEO team as well as upper management to empower them.
Expand writing competencies
Product information, news stories, how-to guides and various other types of content may receive higher visibility on SERPs if they appear as a knowledge panel, within a carousel or as a featured snippet. Your writers, be they bloggers, copywriters, social media managers or anything in between, need to be creating content that is comprehensive and authoritative enough to compete for organic visibility, said Bowman.
Understanding and correctly implementing schema on your site can help crawlers make sense of your content and, consequently, increase the odds that it gets displayed as a featured snippet. Featured snippets and other rich results, of course, illustrate the double-edged sword nature of Google’s portal-like interface: They increase your content’s visibility and yet users may not click through to your site because the information they need has already been presented to them.
Event, FAQ, speakable content and much more — Google now supports dozens of markups for various content types, making schema a valuable tool for modern SEO. If you’re using WordPress’ CMS, Yoast has revamped its schema implementation to streamline structured data entry, but it’s still important for your development team to be able to verify the quality of your code.
“Particularly for large, global companies, they need to think about these smaller search engines that are less sophisticated than Google but still drive a decent amount of traffic in international markets,” Bowman emphasized.
Monitor and study mobile SERPs
“The problem is, a lot of us work on our computers, and so we’re checking things out on the desktop interface,” Bowman pointed out. Beginning on July 1, all new sites will be indexed using Google’s mobile-first indexing, with older sites getting monitored and evaluated for mobile-first indexing readiness. Since the majority of searches now happen on mobile, brands need to closely examine the mobile SERP and account for updates and changes in order to create content that’s optimized for the devices their audiences are using.
“I think the reason that we, as an industry, have not been talking about this is because of that — we’re not really studying the search results on a mobile interface to truly see they’re [Google] taking it over, and as mobile takes over, they’re going to gobble up some of our traffic. I think once they’ve got it [the mobile SERP] mastered and they know it’s a strong user experience, it’s only a matter of time before they do that to desktop as well.”
Take advantage of big data
“Hiring a data scientist is better than hiring an SEO to study the data,” Bowman stated simply. Data scientists are better equipped to identify commonalities and trends that you can use to improve your optimization efforts, inform your content strategy and enhance user experience (UX).
During her keynote, Bowman also recommended that brands make use of the Google Chrome User Experience Report to compare site speed to the competition as well as reference UX metrics from popular destinations across the web. You can then be more proactive.
Google’s search results interface has changed dramatically, but brands and agencies that can shake the inertia, rally their staffs and reorient their processes will be the first to spot new opportunities and novel ways to reach their audiences.