Ranking on the first page of Google search results via keywords used to be a priority for most businesses—but things have changed. Keywords became so central that Google got smarter about which ones could actually trigger hits in search results. The Hummingbird update from Google, which launched in 2013, allowed Google’s algorithm to analyze not just keywords, but context. User intent became the top dog in SEO.
After the Hummingbird update, companies that used a certain word too many times would be blacklisted, cutting them from search results altogether. Businesses must now prioritize customers’ intentions because Google includes more than links to other sites on its main results page. Read more about proper best practices in our white paper.
The Rise of Featured Snippets
Google’s featured snippets have changed the value of SEO. There is no tried-and-true, one-size-fits-all way to guarantee your position in featured snippets; instead, you must focus on data-driven, relevant content. If users search a popular location, current topic, or trending TV show, they will see a variety of recommendations, such as the latest news stories, other search suggestions, and ways to watch the television show. Your job is to know your audience and fill in the gaps.
Featured snippets come in four categories: paragraph, video, list, and table. Paragraphs offer short explanations in answer to a question. Videos appear in the snippet section in response to queries for footage. Lists provide step-by-step instructions or a bulleted list. Tables organize data. All of these snippets appear before the top search results. That’s why more than 50% of clicks originate from featured snippets.
Although the types of snippets vary, the best practices for optimization remain the same. Here are a few:
- Be concise: If your main information is too long, it won’t stand a chance of showing up in featured snippets.
- Consider search intent: Think about the motivation behind your audience’s queries and try to use language that might go with your keywords organically.
- Use quality images: When people are looking for something specific, Google will often pull a picture of it. Use accurate photos with descriptive alt tags.
Optimizing for Voice Search
More than any other trend, voice search is changing the way people acquire information. Up to 50% of all search activity is done vocally, and that number will only grow as technology evolves. Thus, the best way to draw attention online is to phrase your content as if you were answering a question.
If you are optimizing for featured snippets, you are already on your way to showing up in voice-search results, since more than 40% of voice-search answers are pulled from featured snippets. People want answers in layman’s terms. Search topics are conversational. When using Google in its early years, people often strung words together with little structure. For example, to find a toy for a child’s birthday, a parent might have searched, “kids toys birthday.” Today, people ask their devices a fully formed question, such as, “What are popular toys for six-year-olds?”
The takeaway? SEO is changing as technology advances—and you can’t afford to be reactive. The evolution of SEO is still unfolding. Prepare now, and you won’t get left behind.