• November 2011

The Future of Search Engine Optimization

By Nancy Wigal
Search Engine Academy Washington DC

If you look back to what we knew 20 years ago about the Internet and websites, who would have guessed that an information-sharing mechanism would have such a profound impact on our professional and personal lives?

Or that this information-sharing vehicle would shape world revolutions, change our shopping habits, and make things obsolete we thought would never end, among other things? Or that it would create entire new job functions and support services?

While some folks feel the culture is changing too quickly, Search Engine Optimizers (SEO)—people like me—look forward to the Internet’s future with joy and excitement.

We know that what worked last year to get your Web pages ranked higher on the search engines isn’t going to work this year—or next. If there’s one characteristic we SEOers share, it’s that we don’t like being bored.

In fact, to be effective in the future, we need to constantly adapt to the searcher’s query requirements and needs. But even with all the changes that happen, there’s one thing that’s going to remain constant in searches: high-quality content that readers want and need. Here’s why.

A Little History Lesson

Way back when Alta Vista was the search engine of choice (if you remember Alta Vista, you might still miss it, like me), first-generation SEO folks were more concerned with the technical aspects of websites, such as the programming, coding, and meta data.

As the search engines evolved and refined their requirements, we SEOers have had to keep up with them to meet the challenge of staying relevant in getting better search results.

Since the search engines don’t always kindly tell the SEO world what they’re going to do to influence search results for Web pages, we really don’t know what the entire future of search looks like, but we do know this:

The one constant about the Internet is high-quality, very useful, extremely relevant content to meet our needs.

This means that content is king. And queen, and prince, and princess. It always has been and always will be, because we use the Internet to find answers to questions, solutions to our problems, and the speediest pizza delivery available. The only way this can happen is with good, reliable, interesting content.

SEO specialists can only optimize for the here and now, based on the clues we receive from the search engineers. And since content is the one thing we can consistently count on to be very important, here are tips to keep you in step with the content part of the future of search.

Nancy Wigal’s Four Tips for SEO Success

1. Create and optimize a captivating, interesting, useful title for every Web page on your site.

A great title or headline tells readers what they are going to find further down. Get a great copywriter if you have trouble writing titles. You only have a few seconds at best to capture visitors’ attention when they land on your page. Very often, the title will either inspire visitors to read further or cause them to click the “back” button on their browser. Not only that, but search engines consider an optimized title or headline when ranking and indexing Web pages for search results.

2. Get your most important information “above the fold.”

Just as printed newspapers put the hottest stories on the front page, at the top, so should you. This could be the latest offer on discounted products, a well-written link leading visitors to your services page, or something that is timely and relevant in your industry. Be sure to optimize the first paragraph with your chosen keyword phrase to help the search engines rank your Web page higher in search results.

3. Use a “call to action” to prompt your readers to do something.

Whether it’s purchasing your products, or signing up for email or newsletter updates, tell your readers exactly what you want them to do. Perhaps the most important thing your readers can do is call you. Be sure your phone number is at the top of every Web page, clearly visible. Did you know that the snippet that’s featured in search results for your Web pages can also show your call to action?

4. Leverage the power of human scanning behavior.

Are you familiar with heat maps? They track the way we read pages on a computer screen. They look very much like a capital “F.” When reorganizing your content, think about heat map patterns and see if you can take advantage of them. Click here for a great heat map created by Jakob Nielsen, a leading usability expert.

The Bottom Line

No matter how websites evolve, we are always going to use this scanning pattern to determine if we’ll stay on a Web page or not.

So while we may not be able to predict the future of search for many elements, we do know that our content must be informative, interesting, and up at the top of every Web page to meet the needs of both human visitors and search engines.

About Nancy E. Wigal

Nancy Wigal owns and operates Search Engine Academy Washington DC, an organization that trains and certifies anyone with a website on the search-engine optimization (SEO) techniques necessary to have their pages show up higher in Internet search results.

With two-, three-, and five-day SEO training and certification courses, as well as customized SEO-training packages ranging from four hours to two days, you and your team will learn the latest and most comprehensive ways to increase traffic to your website.

For more information, call 202.725.1422 to see what SEO training is right for your organization, and visit www.search-engine-academy-washington-dc.com online for course offerings and registration information.