During the past few years, Google released major updates to its search engine algorithm, including the "Panda," "Penguin," "Pigeon," "Payday," "Pirate," and "Mobile Friendly" upgrades. These algorithm changes often leave digital marketers and search engine optimization (SEO) practitioners scrambling to adapt, especially when their websites suddenly drop in Google search rankings.
What's next on Google's algorithm to-do list? It's hard to say, because the company is famously quiet about its plans and doesn't always acknowledge updates after they roll out. Of course, it's difficult to plan for the unpredictable.
However, some hints of what's to come do exist, and there are steps search pros can take to prepare. Here are five tips and insights from the March 2016 SMX West search marketing conference, as well as a number of individual interviews with SEO expert, to help you prioritize SEO efforts.
1. Voice search is big, and it's only getting bigger
Google's director of Conversational Search, Beshad Behzadi, talked at length during his SMX West keynote about the future of search, showing scenes from the "Star Trek" TV show and the movie "Her" to illustrate points.
"The world is becoming increasingly mobile," Behzadi said, and in 2015, Web surfers performed more mobile searches than desktop queries. Modern devices, whether they're smartphones, smartwatches, or even cars, move with users and understand the context of where they are. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), "we'll be talking to even more devices" in the near future, according to Behzadi.
More mobile devices mean more voice search, because mobile keyboards can be difficult to use when their owners are in motion; the keys are too small for any significant amount of typing; or the devices (such as IoT gadgets) lack keyboards altogether. (Google's Android mobile OS includes voice search features in its Google Now and Now on Tap services.)
Speech recognition tech continues to improve, with error rates down from 25 percent "a few years ago" to about 8 percent today, Behzadi said. (At its June 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple claimed its virtual assistant, Siri, had an error rate of 5 percent.)
The result is that more people today perform longer "natural language queries," such as "What's the weather like in Paris?" instead of short, typed keyword queries, including "weather in Paris." Due to a growing number of mobile voice searches, Google is seeing longer queries, according to Behzadi.
As smartphones and other mobile devices get smarter, natural language queries will evolve into "conversational search," which takes into account users' current geolocations, the context of the search, and information about them, such as search history or places they used Google Maps to find in the past, Behzadi said. For example, if, while standing outside a restaurant, you ask your smartphone, "Show me the menu," it will understand that you want to see the menu of the restaurant you're at, according to Behzadi.
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