Rethinking SEO Strategies for 2024

The GistIntent over keywords. SEO now prioritizes user intent and context over traditional keyword density.Multiplatform focus. Effective SEO strategies require a presence beyond Google, embracing diverse digital platforms.User experience key. Optimizing for user experience, like Core Web Vitals, is crucial for modern SEO success.SEO is transforming, again, with evolving SEO strategies! Aside from Google’s nth algorithm twist, changes in shopper behavior and advancements in AI will have a deep impact on Search as we know it. What should you prioritize to make sure your hard-won SEO dollars go into the right efforts? Five SEO experts weigh in on five big ideas to prioritize in 2024.But before we begin, there’s one big idea to rule them all. Let’s call it “InCoRe.”All your content must pass the Intent, Context and Relevance test. Period.Being on Page 1 no longer automatically correlates to higher traffic or high-intent traffic, and content visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs) is just the tip of the iceberg now. Increasingly intelligent search engines may decide the intent or context of the user is different, and shift the SERPs around in unexpected ways. As a result, SEO strategies will never be about just specific keywords again. Search engine algorithms today can interpret what and why users are seeking and are more focused on user engagement with the content than matching keywords. Alignment with “context” — the user’s search intent behind their search query — is now a critical element in SEO success, says Hank Azarian, senior VP of audience growth at creator-powered ad management company Raptive.Alignment with “context” — the user’s search intent behind their search query — is now a critical element in SEO success, says Hank Azarian, senior VP of audience growth at creator-powered ad management company Raptive.frender on Adobe Stock PhotosThat is why 2024 will be about building content richness with a better understanding of how intent, context and relevance sculpt the search results, says SEO consultant Gabe Gayhart. So how do you get there? Five experts suggest five key areas to uplevel your SEO game.SEO Strategy No. 1: Bury Your Traditional ‘Keywords’ MindsetRewire your approach to keyword research instead.Traditional keyword-style SEO is out. With Google standardizing quality content as “user intent targeted content,” SEO pros have to change how keyword analysis and mapping factor into their asset creation process, says Gayhart. Today, SEO is about understanding user intent based on the full spectrum of questions and related topics that arise during their research process, adds Dave Taylor, chief marketing officer at partner experience platform Impartner. Erika Varangouli, head of SEO branding at keyword research tool SEMRush agrees. “Keyword strategies focused on monthly search volumes, keyword research that only happens for one platform (e.g. Google), viewing keywords’ main role as page title components, or using calculations for keyword density are all limiting practices of a past era.”However, she cautions, while keyword-driven search strategies may be fading, keyword research itself is not going away any time soon. User queries today are more conversational and occur on various platforms beyond Google. While keyword research provides a solid framework for marketers to understand audience pain points and topics of interest, uplevel to a “multi-platform keyword research approach.” This includes keyword/hashtag/topic research from a range of context-relevant platforms like TikTok, Amazon, Reddit, Skyscanner, etc., to create the most effective strategies. Related Article: State of Search: Top SEO Strategies for 2023SEO Strategy No. 2: Bake InCoRe Into Content CreationForget silos: Everything is now part of the audience engagement strategy.Understanding keywords or key phrases is understanding your audience, their needs or challenges, and how your offering satisfies them. To that extent, keywords will never be irrelevant, says Erik Hinds, director of digital marketing at online building supplies company DecksDirect. However, since BERT and E-E-A-T, the focus has shifted to entities that give search engines the proper context and the relationship between the words in a search. Search engines sophisticated enough to recognize the user’s intent in a particular context will prioritize content that best matches that intent and context. Successful content must thus be optimized around highly relevant entities aligned with user queries, not keywords with the highest search volume, and thoroughly cover topics to address what users are looking for. Marketers also need to understand both — “topic clusters” and “semantic search” better. Semantically rich content is more adaptable to different contexts, covers related topics, and links entities more comprehensively. Baking InCoRe into your content strategy is also about what Varangouli calls “holistic content marketing.” SEO is no longer about “just” SEO. Marketers must become more intentional about collaboration between content, SEO, community, product development, sales, PR, social media, and other teams to align a common audience engagement strategy rooted in user search intent, context and relevance.Related Article: 4 Latest SEO Trends to Help With Better RankingView allSEO Strategy No. 3: Build a Diversified Search StrategySearch is still important to shoppers and buyers. But Seach > Google. While search engines remain crucial to connecting users with content, they will represent just one aspect of a broader strategy that encompasses user experience, content relevance, and audience engagement across various digital touchpoints, says Azarian. Buyers won’t stop using “search” to discover products or solve problems anytime soon. But “search” today can occur anywhere. Shoppers choose their “search engine” based on the type of “search” they’re making — the context decides the channel. These channels can include everything from social networks to private communities like Slack and Discord, forums like Reddit and Quora, podcasts, the comment/chat section of live events or YouTube, and increasingly, even ChatGPT. Although attribution software may still credit SEO for a bulk of traffic, we all know by now that the “dark funnel” is here to stay. If that’s not reason enough, Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) is already surfacing ChatGPT results and YouTube shorts as top results, and that’s sinking all your expensive blogs and eBooks even lower down the page. SERPs are also surfacing more than just blog posts, often including user-generated content such as forum discussions, product reviews, and video testimonials on page 1. This is why organic search will no longer be along the lines of “create X number of blog posts to rank for Y terms,” says Varangouli. Successful search-optimized content strategies will address audience pain points with traditional formats but also with the community manager answering threads on Reddit, social media teams launching specific campaigns, and search-optimized videos repurposed for TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and more. Taylor calls it “an ecosystem of content” — a substantial and consistent presence of your brand on all the platforms that could show up in SERPs, or where the shopper may search. Related Article: What Google Search Generative Experience Means for MarketersSEO Strategy No. 4: Optimize for Core Web VitalsContent today is not just about optimizing for search engines, but for user experience.A holistic SEO strategy for 2024 should, per Azarian, include aspects such as mobile optimization, site and page load speed, user engagement and even integration of multimedia elements. The focus is on creating a seamless and engaging experience for the user that would make them want to return to your brand, which is, in turn, favored by search engines tracking user engagement behavior. In both B2B and B2C contexts, this requires proper integration of user experience analytics with traditional SEO metrics.Core Web Vitals (CWV) is a set of metrics that measure real-world user experience for loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of the page. Google already says good CWVs are essential for success with Search, as they ensure a better user experience.In 2024, developers and SEO teams need to bond over CWV, says Gayhart. “If there is no water cooler discussion on CWV happening by the end of Q1, it’s time to begin changing the developer’s paradigm to incorporate CWV in all of their enhancements, fixes, and launches in 2024.” Metrics to focus on are “time to first byte” (TTFB), “interaction to next paint” (INP) which officially replaces ‘”first input delay” (FID) by March 2024, and signed exchanges (SXG) — an emerging technology which allows Google Search to prefetch website content and render the web page much faster, while preserving user privacy.Related Article: How to Use AI in SEO to Strengthen On-Page Strategies, Part 1SEO Strategy No. 5: Know Your SERPsIt’s no longer enough to know your keywords. In 2024, get to know your SERPs too. Thanks to advancements in AI and search tech, search results will likely change with each keystroke, says Gayhart. A shopper’s search and product discovery behavior can dynamically alter the SERPs, based on how Google identifies the location, trending product categories, shopping intent signals used, and even the date or day of the query. For instance, SERPs for the same query can vary on Thanksgiving weekend, Thursday night, and Sunday night. Or buying flowers on Valentine’s Day weekend versus Memorial Day weekend will show different results, even without the user specifying the timing in the string. SEO success will be enhanced by a deeper understanding of the kind of SERPs that come up for search terms or keywords relevant to your audiences, in varying contexts, and factoring that into your plans.Related Article: Balancing AI and Human Insight in Modern SEO StrategiesOptimizing SEO Is All About the User … and AI!No prizes for guessing that AI for SEO is the most exciting trend for 2024. According to Gayhart, AI-powered SEO tools can help tackle Google’s sophistication with more finesse and tremendous time savings. It impacts everything from schema strategy and internal linking to refining content structure to align with Google’s focus on user intent and content relevance. AI-powered search engines better understand the searcher’s intent from complex, descriptive, and often highly specific queries. They also learn continuously from user engagement and behavior to interpret and rank content and refine SERPs.Ultimately, it seems likely that AI-powered search will go in the direction of personalized recommendations and predictive search results. Acing “InCoRe” today will hold you in good stead when that becomes the new normal.

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