There are continually questions about the effectiveness and purpose of search engine optimization (SEO). Every year, companies around the country look at their online efforts and wonder what they could be doing better.
Numerous Google algorithm updates and changes to the Google search results page (SERP) have only led to more questions. Many old SEO techniques that used to get results are simply not as efficient anymore.
Even well-established corporations with massive budgets have taken lumps with organic traffic. SEO now requires much more than just having great content.
All of this said, SEO is certainly still a solid investment for any company with a website.
What is SEO?
SEO relates to the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines. Ranking high in search engines helps websites get discovered when people are searching for keywords related to an industry, brand, or products or services.
Why is organic traffic so important!?
A study from Bright Edge found that organic traffic is responsible for more than 51 percent of all visitors coming to websites, trumping all other sources such as paid (14 percent) and social (5 percent) traffic.
- Organic traffic can be beneficial in a number of ways:
- A reported 81 percent of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases.
- SEO is more cost-effective.
- 30 percent of mobile searches are related to location, and 72 percent of consumers who did a local search visited a store within five miles.
- People can find a business anytime, anywhere.
87 percent of smartphone owners use a search engine at least once a day, and more Google searches take place on mobile than on desktop devices.
How Google rankings changed
Whereas it was once much easier to rank on Google, the process has become far more difficult. Google is much better nowadays at understanding the content and purpose of websites.
Two major changes that occurred in recent years include Google algorithm updates and the revamp of Google’s search results pages.
The following is a list of major SEO updates:
- Panda (2011) – Panda is supposed to penalize websites with poor quality content by stopping them from appearing in Google’s top search results.
- Penguin (2012) – Penguin has the sole purpose of penalizing websites exhibiting spammy behavior.
- Hummingbird (2013) – With a name coming from being “precise and fast,” it is designed to better focus on the meaning behind the words. Thanks to this update, Google can now understand complex phrases based on context.
- Pigeon (2014) – The Pigeon algorithm update is supposed to provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results.
- Mobile-first update (2015) – In 2015 Google designed an update to give a boost to websites that are mobile-friendly.
- RankBrain (2015) – RankBrain is a machine learning (AI) algorithm that helps Google process and understands search queries.
- BERT (2019) – Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. This new model recently rolled out by Google, is used to better understand natural language by processing words in relation to all other words in a sentence. BERT update helps Google consider the full context of a word and improve understanding the intent behind a search, sort of like humans can understand each other.
Google has between 500-600 updates and tweaks every year.
Google’s SERP used to only show organic rankings with the occasional Google AdWords ad. Now, the first page of Google has much more going on.
New Google SERP elements and changes include:
- Google Ads
- Featured Snippets
- Image Packs
- Knowledge Cards
- Knowledge Panels
- Local Packs
- News Boxes
- Related Questions
- Shopping Results
- Site Links
- Video Results
Google Search Ads
Ads on Google are traditionally displayed on top of search results pushing organic results down. Ads do not turn up for all queries but often appear with three on top and three at the bottom.
In some instances, Google extracts information from a well-optimized page, to answer a specific question asked in the search query. There are a few different types of Featured Snippets:
- Paragraph type
- List type
- Table type
- List Featured Snippet
- Paragraph Featured Snippet of the old version of this article
- Featured Snippet Example – Table Type
Images can appear for searches when Google deems that visual content would be valuable. These are shown in a horizontal row or as a grid of images, which link to a Google Images search.
For queries that request data information, Knowledge cards may be displayed on top of search results.
Knowledge Graphs, aka Knowledge Panels, extract data and information from reliable sources such as WikiData and Google’s own index. They appear on the top right side of search results when users search for common knowledge queries.
For search queries with local-related keywords, you might see local packs featuring a map, locations, reviews, prices, and more. They feature the top three local businesses relevant to the search.
If search keywords related to the latest news, you might see these somewhere on the search results page. They are usually reserved for news websites.
Questions will appear when Google thinks that there are more questions related to your search query.
Ratings sometimes appear for products, services, and other relevant items. You can see them in the form of 5 stars just above your meta description. Google scrapes GMB listings, Facebook pages, and other trustworthy sources around the web to compile a star rating.
Paid Shopping results or Product Listing Ads (PLAs) sell products directly with rich information, such as images and pricing.
When someone searches for an exact brand or domain name in Google, site links may appear as the top result in SERP. Site links can occupy five organic positions.
For some searches, you can even see relevant tweets in Google SERP.
Videos in SERP organic results appear only for certain keywords when Google deems videos as useful.
The latest research from Ascend2 found that an overwhelming 81 percent of respondents see their SEO efforts as at least above average.
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