The Evolution of SEO: A Marketer’s Guide

Your website is a valuable asset. SEO is a great way to maximize that investment and gain equity over time (without solely relying on pay-per-click advertising).

And it used to be so simple: add keywords to your metadata and let the search engine do the rest. But the SEO landscape has changed dramatically. If you’re a marketer, your approach now needs to be almost as sophisticated as Google’s algorithms.

Keeping up with Google

Why focus your efforts on Google? Google dominates search, with Bing and Yahoo! a distant second and third place. In the United States, 88.3% of all searches are made using Google. That market share rises to 95.29% of searches using a mobile device.

Google maintains that dominance by constantly looking for ways to improve search results. In fact, Google updates its algorithms as many as nine times a day. Without hiring a full-time SEO expert, it can be tough to keep track of all the developments. But there are five core updates you should know about.

1. Taking user intent into account

Google now takes user intent into account — not just keywords. Their algorithms try to predict what goal you had in mind when you typed in a query. They employ AI to assess numerous factors, such as the type of question you ask and your previous browsing history. In practice, this means that the results for each user can vary, and each user may start to see different results as they delve deeper into a topic or brand.

Marketer consideration: Does your website answer patients’ questions at every stage of their journey?

2. Prioritizing mobile websites

The majority of searches are on a mobile device, and Google has moved to mobile-first indexing. This means they primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages (rather than the desktop version). They also provide different results for mobile users (mobile results don’t match desktop results 50% of the time).

Marketer consideration: Take into account how users are searching for your information.

3. Changing the results page

Google has also changed the way they serve up results. They’ve introduced formats that allow you to view and interact with results in new ways, such as featured snippets, instant answers, and the knowledge panel. More and more, Google tries to answer your query without you ever having to leave the page (known as zero-click results). This means aiming to be number one on the list of organic search results is no longer the only game in town.

Marketer consideration: Does your content generate the type of results with the most impact?

4. Assessing which sites users can trust

Google regards any content that could impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety as “your money or your life” (or YMYL) pages. For these types of searches, Google assesses page quality based on E-A-T, which stands for expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Google claims that E-A-T isn’t a direct ranking factor, but it appears to have a big impact on healthcare websites. General medical searches very often serve up results from a relatively small selection of well-established domains (eg, Mayo Clinic and WebMD).

Marketer consideration: Think carefully about which content is ownable and how you can enhance the authority of your site.

5. Including user experience as a ranking factor

Google recently announced they will start to consider user experience (UX) as a ranking factor in 2021. They will assess page experience using Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics for key aspects such as load time, interactivity, and the stability of content as it loads. Google will continue to apply existing factors, including whether sites are mobile-friendly or use intrusive interstitials.

Marketer consideration: Does your user experience live up to the quality of your content?

What does this mean for you as a marketer?

Long gone are the days when you could build a website first and then add SEO metadata afterward as a “special sauce” to attract visitors.

Your starting place now needs to be a thorough understanding of the patient journey — what information do they want, when do they need it, and how are they looking for it? This deep knowledge needs to be woven into the fabric of your website, along with an awareness of how to use technical search elements to your advantage.

To find out how we can help you keep pace with the rapidly evolving SEO landscape, please contact Martin Kearton and the SEO Task Force at Patients & Purpose.

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