How to Refine Your SEO in 2017

How to Refine Your SEO in 2017

Do you remember keyword stuffing, bogus press releases, link exchanges and thin, repetitive content? About 15 years ago, it was pretty easy to game the system and leap to the top of the SEO charts (at least for a while.) But practitioners of these dark arts threatened the very existence of search engines, so considerable resources were focused on successfully sniffing them out. Google and others continue to refine their algorithms to deliver the best possible user search results. So what should you be focusing on to improve your rankings in 2017?

Here are a few suggestions based on our experience and that of our clients.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

It has been almost a year since Google incorporated this into search. Simply put, AMP is a new standard in HTML design for mobile devices that is guaranteed to render pages substantially faster than regular HTML. And with more than half of all searches now originating from mobile, it’s only natural that Google wants to help. Their position is this – if your site adheres to these “HTML-Light” standards, it will optimize the website experience of your mobile visitors.

How does AMP work? By stripping out some of the more complex code in HTML and making extensive use of cloud caching, pages render much faster and more accurately the first time. To do this, certain tags (like forms) can’t be included, and others must be in a certain order. Most of the CSS code can be used, but JavaScript is restricted. Check out this blog on Moz for a more technical discussion of how it all works.

Early on, marketers wondered if AMP was just a trial balloon – something Google was trying out to see if it was accepted and/or adopted. As time passed, it seems more likely that Google is committed to AMP. They have publicly stated that it is central to their future plans, but it also supports one of their primary tenets – delivering a great user experience. Some publishers also grumbled that due to the restricted HTML, they weren’t able to generate the ad revenue of non-AMP mobile pages. These complaints seem to have dwindled as sites like CNN and The Washington Post report comparable ad sales for both page types.

One more thing – while Google won’t (and probably can’t) enforce AMP compliance as a ranking factor, it can use page speed. Data suggest that AMP-enabled pages load as much as 30 times faster. Keep this in mind, because Google certainly will.

Make Your Site Voice Search-Friendly

Think about how you ask someone a question. Do you say “Pizza near me,” or are you more likely to ask “Are there any pizza restaurants near Rayford Road?” According to, voice search is growing rapidly, and over half of U.S. teenagers already use it daily. Fortunately, it is pretty easy to optimize your site for voice search – take the regular search terms you already have researched and found to be SEO-worthy, then rephrase them as questions. Repeat these questions in your content a respectful number of times and you’ve done it. Yes, it adds more work to what can already be a tedious slog, but the potential for better rankings makes it totally worthwhile.

There’s another reason to consider voice search in your SEO strategy – the potential for landing a “featured snippet.” You may know these as “rich snippets” or “direct answers,” but they are the special search answers that appear in a block at the very top of the first SERP. Anyone occupying this featured position will enjoy dramatically higher CTRs, and data suggest that voice search responses are more likely to generate a featured snippet answer. If you have audio search results, Google will introduce the answer with “According to (your website)” – a great branding moment, doncha think? There are many online tools that can help you turn search phrases into sentences – be sure to check them out.

And Don’t Forget the Basics…   

Google changes its search algorithm more than once per day, on average, but it would be a big mistake to try to bob and weave to their whims. You can’t possibly tweak your site daily to match their every move. However, industries have sprung up attempting to translate what they value so the rest of us mortals can take note. It is generally agreed that just two of Google’s 200+ ranking factors account for half of the weight in determining where a given site appears in SERPs. These are links and content.

The importance of links (like everything else) has evolved over time. Links have been very important to Google since the beginning (i.e. 1998.) Links are a great indicator of the quality of information, the type and clarity of information presented, and the level of trust searchers place in a given site. While the importance of link quantity remains high, what has evolved is Google’s ability to measure link quality. Link quality is highly correlated with their “organicness” or as they put it, “naturalness.” Natural links are not those that were just added by your company (like for social media accounts,) paid for, or exchanged with others for mutual benefit. Natural link growth occurs beyond your direct control, so these are virtually the same as earned media. You can have a strategy focusing on activities that will create earned media (or natural links,) but you can’t actually create either yourself.

Last but not least, we have content.

Much has been written about the importance of publishing quality content because it is essential to hold or improve your ranking. There is also frequency – experts recommend posting new content at least weekly, and preferably several times per week. Adherence to a posting schedule is also highly recommended. And Google likes long form content, as data show it will rank higher than short posts. By long form, they mean at least 1,000 words, and feel free to go 2,000 or more if you are (or have) an engaging writer. But you can’t just be good – Google wants great. To be a true influencer, you need to publish the best stories on a given subject, and do it consistently. Do this, and you will enjoy what FirstPageSage refers to as the “Wikipedia Effect.” You will be looked to as a thought leader. It is well documented that Google wants to continuously improve the search experience of its users. It also wants to cultivate reliable, quality sources of information that it can draw upon repeatedly. This is why the crowd-sourced Wikipedia occupies the top spot of many searches. You want that spot for your company!

So in 2017, keep an eye on Google’s latest tweaks, but remember that what they first identified as important to searchers twenty years ago hasn’t changed. Post the best, and get the best to endorse you. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut.