Over the years, there have been countless rumors about search engine optimization (SEO) losing its relevance. Then, the 2020 pandemic happened and businesses doubled down on their SEO efforts. Announced Google algorithm updates became more important than ever, and so did adherence to SEO best practices.
As a result, businesses turned to their invaluable assets -their websites- and reevaluated their SEO, top to bottom. Now, after almost two years, we’re looking back at what has changed and what it means for SEO, and how to set our course for the future.
Here’s what you need to know about how to leverage search engine optimization in 2022.
The need for speed
SEO is now more technical than before, and we’ve been seeing more and more SEOs specializing in technical SEO. While technical SEOs aren’t expected to have top-notch coding skills, a working knowledge of how Google’s algorithm works is a must. That’s become ever more apparent with the roll out of the Core Web Vitals.
Rolled out in June 2021, Core Web Vitals have since been used as ranking signals. In short, they measure and evaluate the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of websites.
So, what’s exactly new about this? The novelty is that Google took it up a notch and made it a ranking signal. In other words, websites can now get a lower ranking score if they don’t abide by the prescribed (we called them “best”) practices.
As Core Web Vitals rolled out as part of the Page Experience Update, which was completed in August 2021, websites are only now seeing the effects and making informed decisions for the next year.
The future is mobile
It’s highly unlikely that a website would be able to rank at all in 2022 without a mobile friendly website, let alone make profit. SEOs have known about Google’s intentions to prioritize mobile versions of websites in search (even on desktop!) ever since 2016. In the meantime, mobile-friendly versions of all new websites started being indexed first by default in 2019.
Interestingly enough, we’re now in 2021 and yet not all websites have been moved to mobile-first indexing. This is why the SEO community expects to see more updates in this area in 2022. In fact, January 2021 statistics showed that around 90% of all internet users surfed the web on their mobile devices. That’s quite a dramatic piece of statistics to ignore.
Merging image and text searches
Long gone are the days of tweaking your copy with a few keywords, and securing a decent ranking spot. Luckily for creative marketers, Google continues to make things more playful with its AI milestones. The recent one is, somewhat unimaginatively, called the Multitask Unified Model, or more playfully shortened – MUM.
MUM will be introduced as an update to Google Lens and it will combine images and text into one search query. While Google Lens is a revolutionary app in its own right already, MUM will make it even more interactive. Not only will users be able to search with their phones, but also to type specific questions related to the image.
Behind this milestone stands Google’s latest effort to stay relevant, seeing that other properties have taken over some of its core uses.
Here are two actionable indications and insights for businesses:
- Optimizing images’ alt tags is no longer optional. Not optimizing images may result in losing valuable (and free) organic traffic from bottom-of-the-funnel leads.
- Geotagging images, especially product images, can maximize the potential of local SEO. Around 46% of all Google searches are local searches, so geotagging product images means customers in your area are likely to discover your products not only if they searched for similar or matching products, but also if they’re in or near your local area.
Voice search is (finally) here
Did you know that voice assistants will likely be used in roughly 55% of U.S. households by 2022? The fact that voice assistants have “infiltrated” our homes, our safe and private spaces, should be proof enough that voice search is becoming a reality. What’s more, a study reveals that almost 60% of internet users use voice search to find local businesses.
While voice search isn’t exactly news, we now have more reasons to believe it’s become more important in 2022. Firstly, Google rolled out the BERT update in 2019, employing the neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) to enable better understanding of search intent, not just the meaning of search queries. And now we have MUM, which Google says is “1,000 times more powerful than BERT.” It all points towards the fact that Google algorithm is getting more efficient at understanding conversational language. These are clear efforts on Google’s part to make voice search a reality.
What does this mean for businesses? Simply put, businesses should make their content more conversational in nature. In practical terms, this means creating more FAQ and how-to content, optimized not for a two-word search query, but the actual questions users ask in search.
Climbing to the top
One of the more interesting search phenomena is the zero-click search. If you ever performed a search and Google returned a box right at the top, containing an image and a text paragraph, or a few bullet points, with an image or video, you know what a featured snippet is. The logic behind a featured snippet is that users don’t have to click through to a website to find the information they need. Google makes it easier for them to find the information immediately after performing a search.
Why is this relevant? A study showed that almost 50% of all searches are zero-clicks. Furthermore, if Google sees featured snippets as directly improving the searchers’ experience, optimizing for zero-click searches means getting into Google’s good books.
Link builders’ lesson in ethics
Marketers, and especially SEOs, could easily be divided into two broad groups- those who dread every Google algorithm update, and those who do not.
Now, I’ll let you draw the conclusion to the following question: Which group is more likely to have used black-hat SEO practices?
What some SEOs still don’t understand is that there’s no gray area here. SEO practices are either black or white. Whatever practice that used to be frowned upon is now most certainly penalized.
What does this mean in practice? It means that the time has finally come for some creative brand storytelling and organic content marketing. We’ve already seen SMBs featured on top-tier publications – for free. That’s a divine amount of link juice from niche-relevant or nationally-syndicated, prestigious news sites, obtained for zero external cost. This is where we circle back to the basic principle of SEO content strategy – obtaining backlinks in exchange for real value. In this case, it is strategically promoted original research and data storytelling assets that earn coveted backlinks organically, and 2022 will definitely see more companies leverage these tactics.
Google goes shopping
With Amazon and Shopify, Google has never been much of a contender in the e-commerce arena, especially since Google shopping has always been more of an ad platform than online marketplace. In 2021, that all changed with the introduction of Google’s Shopping Graph.
In the words of Google’s Bill Ready, Google developed the Shopping Graph with the aim of “supporting an open network of retailers and shoppers to help businesses get discovered and give people more options when they’re looking to buy.”
With Google taking online shopping more seriously, businesses have a new channel to explore when promoting their products in 2022. Hailed as another AI milestone, the Shopping Graph works in real time, and is supposedly able to understand a constantly changing set of product information, inventory data, sellers, brands and reviews.
Accessible to all
Whether you run an online business or use your website for lead generation, you want to reach as many people as possible. This is where Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) come into play. While not a ranking factor, optimizing for web accessibility helps reach audiences that might otherwise be completely left out.
As a business owner, you can make a tangible impact by optimizing for accessibility. With AI solutions on the rise and likely to explode in 2022, why not ensure that a wider audience can make informed decisions about our products and services?