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2017 Biggest SEO Opportunities

Seo's gather in Seattle for SMX AdvancedEvery year I attend the biggest SEO/SEM conference in North America. SMX Advanced is the only conference designed exclusively for experienced search marketers and attended by the top experts in the world. From small agencies like mine to the biggest corporate SEO teams, we gather to learn from each other and from the search engines themselves including Google, Bing, Amazon and more.

Here are the big takeaways for this year:

Page Speed
Page Speed is only an official ranking factor on mobile devices (the majority of searches are on mobile). But even on desktop computers, conversions go up as your page speed goes down. Google denies that user engagement is a ranking factor but all the latest studies show fast sites are in the top results and have the best clickthrough and conversion rates.
Interestingly, Page Speed is one area that small sites can actually beat the big players. Nimble code and web-specialized servers give an edge for this critical factor.
Mobile First
It’s not breaking news but we had another reminder at how important Mobile is. Google is moving to a Mobile First index. What they want to see for mobile friendly gets tighter every year! What was good enough two years ago may not be enough anymore.
Google’s Mobile First will take another 4 – 5 years to be fully implemented. Most SEOs expect testing to begin long before that.
Featured Snippets
You’ve probably seen these answers to questions at the top of search result pages. They’ve been nicknamed  “Position 0” because they are separate from and appear above ads and organic results. The consensus is – it is easier to go from position 6 to position 0 than it is to position 1. I’m back with specific details on how to make that happen!
Want to know what pages on your site are showing as a featured snippet? So does everyone but Google won’t be giving us that information because of internal politics.
Links
Links are still Google’s favorite way to find and prioritize content. Now that they are monitoring the quality and quantity of links as part of their core algorithm we are seeing changes in how they penalize and reward link policies. You are always going to be better off working on quality, relevant links that prove your business’s authority.
Buying links are less likely to generate a manual penalty. These days you have to be an egregious abuser to get locked out of Google. While you might not get removed from the SERPs, Google’s Gary Illyes said that buying links is basically like throwing away money. Google has gotten very good at simply ignoring those links even when on major publications like Forbes and Huffington post.
On the other hand, multiple sources have been testing large volume link purchases and have compelling data showing big boosts to SERPs.
Site Security 
You probably know that you shouldn’t put your credit card information into a web-form unless you see the address starts with https and has a little lock in the address bar.  Google has confirmed that https does give a small ranking boost and should be implemented on any website in the YMYL [Your Money or Your Life] categories.
I’ve been seeing security warnings on pages with no direct security risks at all. I’m currently recommending that all websites start planning a move to HTTPS in the next year or two.
Voice Search
Google (Siri, Cortana) find a [something] near me. Voice search is getting better, more conversational, hugely popular and will soon be reflected in Google Analytic data. Google Home and Amazon Echo type devices aren’t novelty gadgets anymore.
Google Algorithm Changes
There are usually two Google updates every single day. Most of the changes to the way Google ranks your website are minuscule. Many are based on the way real visitors interact on websites. Some changes are a result of the real life people Google hires to test their results. Don’t count on big updates taking down your competition. Make sure your website is the best it can be.
Curious about the guidelines? Google publishes the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines for everyone to view.
Content
It is always, always, always about the content on your site. You need to have the content that your customer/visitor wants and needs. If you guess what that content is, you are going to lose to websites that do the basic research. If you want Google to think you are the authority in your field – you need to give them an authoritative content packed website.
Mmmm coffee

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