by Michael Doyle, MD at Top4.com.au

As every new year begins, it’s important to examine the digital marketing landscape for the year behind us and the year ahead. From an SEO standpoint, there were several important developments in 2016 that will continue to evolve and grow in 2017 as Google continues to update their algorithms, but of all the things to watch out for in 2017, here are a few that Search Engine Land tells us to keep our eye on.

1. Optimization for user intent
Keywords are still important, but typing in simple words yields simple results. Web users today know exactly what they’re looking for, and search engines are getting much better at identifying user intent. Therefore, users are now entering phrases or full queries in search engines, which gather data and heuristics to provide results more effectively.

In 2017, brands will need to place value on optimizing their digital content based on intent instead of specific keywords. For your SEO strategy, it will be critical to:
1. Investigate. What are users searching for that brings them to your page? What questions do they want your content to answer?
2. Optimize. Once you’ve gathered your research data and found areas that need work, make the changes needed to boost ratings. Based on your research, tell a story by altering content to reflect the reader’s experience.
3. Adjust. Keep up with analytics to see what’s working and what’s not so you can update accordingly.

2. Rich answers and snippets
In response to our queries, Google often displays the required information directly in search results, along with other helpful websites, videos, movie or event information, reviews or specific dates. Structured data markup (schema markup) can help website owners achieve these enhanced listings on search engine results pages (SERPs). This markup works to assist search engines in understanding web content, allowing them to display that information in a way that’s helpful for users.

As an example, let’s say you search Google for tips to be happy at work. The SERP will feature a direct answer (featured snippet), followed by listings containing rich snippets relevant to your search query:

According to a Stone Temple Consulting study, the volume of rich answers appearing in search results has nearly doubled from 2014 to 2016. If this trend continues we’re likely to see an even larger number in the years to come. As you add structured data markup to your website it will increase your chances of having an enhanced SERP listing, being featured in a rich answer, or (in the case of branded searches) having a knowledge panel appear.

Users love quick access to useful information like this, so do yourself a favour and consider implementing schema markup for your website in 2017, if you haven’t already.

3. Cross-channel marketing
Cross-channel and multi-channel marketing sound similar, but in reality, they’re very different. Multi-channel simply means establishing a presence on two or more platforms. Cross-channel means using several channels to market your brand in an integrated way. For instance, if users are browsing products on a mobile app, but chose not to buy, you can send them targeted ads based on their searches via email or social media.

Multi-channel marketing is by no means a new phenomenon. Cross-channel marketing, however, is relatively recent extension of it. Cross-channel marketing’s primary goal is to create a consistent brand presence across multiple channels so users can move seamlessly between devices and platforms to discover information on their path to making a purchase.

Econsultancy’s fourth annual Cross-Channel Marketing Report shows 73% of respondents claimed that cross-channel marketing had a significant impact on increased conversion rates. However, it’s only effective if you know your target audience and their consumption habits.

Here’s a simple strategy that will suit any business:
• Know what the right message is
• Find the right time to release it
• Use the correct channel

4. Mobile growth
Mobile search is growing at a rapid pace and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down in the future. Traffic distribution is shifting from desktop towards mobile devices, with many websites already getting the majority of their traffic from mobile devices.

In May 2015, Google reported that mobile searches had exceeded desktop searches on the search engine. Since then, the company has taken many steps which signal that mobile, not desktop, should be considered as the default user experience. Google recently announced that it has begun experiments to make its index mobile-first.

5. Voice search
Voice search has been an ongoing project in the tech industry for a few years now. It has become one of the fastest-growing search options because it’s hands-free, fast and futuristic.

As technology improves with each update, the error rate of voice search plunges. In his keynote speech at SMX West 2016, Behshad Behzadi, Google’s director of conversational search, noted that the speech recognition error rate lowered from around 25% two years ago to just 8% today.

The goal for voice search in 2017 is to move from voice recognition to voice understanding. This involves changes with respect to:
• Previous searches
• Location-based context
• Context based on frequently used apps
• Personalized information
• Keyword research based on spoken queries

With massive improvements to Siri, Google Now and Cortana, SEO pros would be wise to closely examine voice innovation and think beyond text-based queries in 2017.

Conclusion
Users are increasingly more connected and engaged with the content they consume, so it’s vitally important for marketers to understand – and SEO pros to factor – these upcoming trends into the bigger picture to ensure you’re ready to take on future challenges.