In many ways search has become the workhorse of digital: despite shifts in consumer behavior, year after year it tends to reliably deliver audiences to many publishers.
According to a recent analysis, Google's search engine continues to be the top external traffic driver to most content categories. Moreover, because of changes made to Facebook's News Feed, the share of visits driven by search has actually grown in the past year.
For publishers who have honed their SEO tactics, it can be tempting to sit back and become complacent. After all, if you're successfully attracting search traffic, why mess with a good thing?
This is a big mistake. While search may seem relatively set and stable, it is in fact still evolving quickly. Organizations that do not adapt their strategies to these changes can see large and rapid drops in engagement.
Specifically, publishers should keep a close watch on these five trends in order to maintain and grow their search traffic:
The traditional search engine results page is evolving
Remember when search engine results pages (SERPs) consisted of a simple list of ten blue hyperlinks?
In other words, the traditional approach — find a relevant page among the first group of results — is no longer the only way search is used. Increasingly, consumers find what they need on a results page immediately.
For publishers, this means appearing in the Universal Search and Knowledge Graph results is growing in importance. To do this, it's essential to ensure your content can be found and parsed by Google. So, pay close attention to the way pages are structured and how metadata is incorporated. Also, keep a close eye on which publishers are appearing in Universal Search panels for your topic areas and try to determine what approaches they're taking with SEO.
Mobile Pages have become the Foundation of Indexing
The ever-growing importance of mobile search is no surprise to publishers.
However, what many content creators are not aware of is that search is no longer just mobile-friendly, it has become mobile-first.
Earlier this year, Google announced that it would base its indexing efforts mostly on mobile pages, not desktop pages. As the company put it: "Since the majority of users now access Google via a mobile device, the index will primarily use the mobile version of a page's content going forward"
For publishers this means that efforts should not be concentrated on desktop pages. When tackling anything, from top-level content architecture to nitty-gritty SEO tactics, start by looking at your mobile pages first.
Mobile Page Load Speed Is Now Vitally Important
Most of the time trying to figure out what Google search does and does not value is a challenge. Largely the keepers of the algorithms tend to be opaque about the shifting importance of various ranking factors.
However, every once in a while the company explicitly publicizes a shift in order to spur faster change. That's exactly what happened earlier this year with this announcement: "Although speed has been used in ranking for some time, that signal was focused on desktop searches. Today we’re announcing that starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches."
Why such a big push? Because the company found that most mobile pages right now take a long time to load (15+ seconds) and that consumers have little patience for slow-loading mobile pages (53% of mobile site visits leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load).
This combination means that to continue to deliver the best results Google needs mobile pages to load faster, and if publishers want to rank well they better focus intensely on speed. When publishing pages ensure that they are loading quickly across all sorts of mobile devices, and also pay close attention to the size of the media files you post.
Local Search Has Been Integrated Into Overall Search
In an analysis conducted last year Google found that consumers were dropping location-based terms such as zip codes, neighborhoods, and "near me" from their queries.
At first glance this would seem to indicate that search is becoming less local. However, the opposite is the case: in truth, people have learned that Google knows where they are and so are starting to assume that every search they conduct already has location built-in.
In other words, general search is becoming synonymous with local search: When consumers query for terms they expect that the results will be the most-relevant ones to their location.
For publishers this means that it is no longer OK to think of search as being the same across-the-board; results are increasingly location-specific to the individual and content often needs to be as well. The good news is that as a publisher you may already have regional and city-level beats, which will give you a head start with reaching audiences in your area.
Voice Is Becoming a Key Way People Conduct Searches
Finally, it's important for publishers to keep in mind that the fundamental nature of search is changing.
Until now, people almost always queried a term by typing into some sort of keyboard. With the adoption of voice-controlled platforms such as Google Assistant, Apple Siri, and Amazon Alexa, that is no longer the case.
The rapidity and scope of this shift is breathtaking: According to a report last year, some 20% of searches on the Google app are already conducted via voice.
And it's not just early adopters who are enthralled with voice search: some 51% of Baby Boomers who own smart speakers say they feel empowered by these devices to be able to quickly access information.
As voice searching because even-more prevalent, content creators will have to adopt their strategies to take into account these different sorts of queries. Ultimately that is true of the other trends covered as well: to keep up succeeding with search publishers will need to embrace new tactics and approaches, not rest on their laurels.