Search Engine Optimisation is always evolving, and last year was no exception - with no fewer than 10 algorithm updates (announced ones, anyway) in 2023.
Search engines, and in particular Google, have focused a lot of efforts in recent months on ranking websites and authors that truly demonstrate their expertise on the topic. This is becoming increasingly important with the rise of AI-generated content, where factually accurate search results are being demanded by most of its users.
These changes do not mean that Search Engine Optimisation has changed drastically in recent years. As SEOs, we're used to seeing a fast succession of changes within our industry. Instead, it means we have search results that are better than ever, and more difficult than ever to manipulate - which can only be a good thing.
Without a doubt, SEO is as important for your online presence as ever - being able to adapt to what ranks well and to understand why, means a greater chance of success (and organic traffic gains) for your business ahead of your competitors.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at our thoughts about what’s on the horizon in terms of SEO trends for 2024 that are going to shape your optimisation strategies going forward…
It wouldn’t be an SEO Trends in 2024 article without a section about AI, so let’s cover this first.
With AI tools such as ChatGPT having become widely available for anyone to use in the last year, the use of AI technology has therefore become more widespread than ever before. Whether this be with content creation, idea generation, schema markup, making AI-generated images, or anything else you can think of, artificial intelligence is everywhere online.
Bing announced its investment in ChatGPT, and Google created a competitor in the form of Bard. Both of the biggest search engines therefore have their own ideas of what AI should look like in the form of a chat-based tool, which means that we as SEOs need to be alert and adapt as this technology evolves.
Google has pushed this one step further with the trial of Search Generative Experience, which is currently in testing. This aims to provide an AI-generated response for questions, in particular those that might offer limited results in traditional search.
While this might seem scary to think that an AI-generated answer could appear at the top of search results, the reality is that this is not much different from Featured Snippets which have been around for quite some time now.
If SGE were to make its way out of testing and into Google’s live search results, we might find that clicks that websites receive for long-tail keywords such as questions might become fewer - but, this would be reliant on Google’s Search Generative Experience being able to provide trustworthy-enough answers that users don’t look further down the search results for more specific information.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that these AI tools are currently based on the information they can gather from currently published content, and this will be very difficult to move away from. Therefore, focus on being the expert and providing the highest quality, most valuable content, and you’ll remain in a good position.
This takes us nicely into E-E-A-T, part of Google’s search guidelines that details their focus on treating content more favourably if it demonstrates experience, expertise, authority, and trust in the subject matter.
What this means is that if you’re determined to be a market leader in your industry, that knowledge should be readily apparent from the content that exists on your site. This ranges from examples such as displaying true customer reviews of your service, producing hands-on reviews of a product with your own video and imagery, using detailed FAQ sections to answer common questions or even fundamentals such as having a business address and contact details readily available on your site.
Plus, by ticking these boxes for E-E-A-T you’re also inadvertently ticking some big human behaviour boxes too! Showcasing reviews and user images/videos on your website helps define social proof for users, making them more likely to buy your product/service.
While creating unique and engaging content helps build saliency and will attract (and hold) the attention of users as a result of novelty bias. And, let’s not forget that FAQs are a great way to reduce and remove friction making it easier for users to remove their own barriers to purchase - it’s a win win!
These are just some examples, but this ties into Google’s Helpful Content Updates that have rolled out several times over the last couple of years.
Google’s focus with recent Helpful Content Updates has generally been to provide improved ranking performance for genuine topical authorities, which is all the more relevant with the rise of AI-generated content.
By ranking a website deemed to be an authority for a niche topic, Google can therefore be much more confident that the content being provided to the user is extremely likely to be of high quality and to be of much greater detail than a brand who has a focus across a wider range of topics.
However, this is also not a new thing in terms of Google prioritising “helpful content” generally - content should always be written for your readers, ahead of SEO, it’s just that in recent years Google has deliberately given the name “Helpful Content Update” to some of its updates to reiterate the point.
With the launch of the November 2023 Core Algorithm Update, one of the biggest winners by far was the user-generated content platform, Reddit.
The graph below shows the organic visibility for the domain in the UK (red line) and in the US (blue line). In the UK, the site saw a 22.9% increase in organic visibility as a result of the algorithm update.
It’s not just Reddit that saw significant visibility gains either - other popular platforms such as Medium and Quora also saw big gains.
This demonstrates that Google is moving favourably towards user-generated content and UGC websites in general, at least in the short term. This plays into the messenger effect theory, whereby consumers are more likely to pay attention and value a message delivered by credible sources but also those similar to ourselves - making UGC an effective method for capturing this attention. So it makes sense that Google would favour it too!
Content on these types of websites typically is very conversational, often in ‘question and answer’ format. This could be a method to try and ensure that AI-generated content is more difficult to find in particular for long-tail question searches.
Alternatively, it could also simply demonstrate that conversational content will rank well for the foreseeable future, and your strategy ought to adapt accordingly to take advantage of this. Where can you add user-generated content on your own website, whether it be with product review content, questions and answers, or hands-on user feedback. User-generated content is in effect another form of E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authority, Trust), so should be taken seriously when it comes to developing your content strategies.
With all of the above in mind, some of these tactics and SEO strategies can be much more advanced than is perhaps necessary, depending on the SEO maturity of your website.
It’s therefore important to not skip the basics. Optimised content, metadata, heading tags, page speed, internal linking, and technical SEO basics all play a big part in the foundations of your keyword ranking performance. Create an SEO checklist and work through the basic high-impact optimisation techniques before you move onto more complicated tactics.
Don’t run before you can walk with your optimisation strategy, and in 2024 the SEO best practices are just as important as they ever have been. With metadata optimisation alone, we grew a client’s revenue by a staggering £60 million year on year, which really shows how important the SEO basics continue to be.
Some of the biggest gains we saw in 2023 were with the implementation of site-wide internal linking strategies. Many sites have great content but forget about tying all the relevant pages together with internal linking.
By deliberately linking to key pages through keyworded anchor text across an entire site, we have seen some huge keyword position gains that would not have been possible with any other strategy.
The way people search has changed as technology and habits change. Whether that be changing your preference in terms of which search engine you use, or changing the entire way you search. The latter is particularly applicable to younger audiences, with the rise of social media platforms such as TikTok, meaning that for some people searching on a traditional search engine such as Google or Bing might not be part of their search journey at all.
Depending on the audience you’re targeting, therefore, it might be applicable to shift your efforts towards optimising for TikTok search (or other social media platforms) - if your audience is searching on TikTok, and you’re optimising for traditional search, your strategy is going to be outdated and not going to work.
The fundamentals of SEO still apply regardless of the platform, whether this be keyword research or content development, we just need to adjust our strategies accordingly.
With 40% of Gen Z looking to TikTok for search over Google there is a growing demand for brands to widen their focus to video content creation. Optimising video content to display key phrases is going to be inevitable, there’s no point optimising for traditional search if your audience isn’t there.
Plus, with visual learning being almost 83% more effective than text alone, and the average adult attention span sitting at around eight seconds - there’s a big opportunity here to help clients pioneer this challenge.
Instead, brands should be thinking about the role of TikTok in the overall customer experience for younger demographics and how it plays into search and brand awareness. It’s also likely to be a key focus for conversions with 72% of Gen Zers reporting purchasing something after seeing it advertised on TikTok.
While AI and Search Generative Experience are exciting additions to our industry, it’s important to take a step back and ask whether the basics are in place to allow your site to be ranked to its fullest potential in the first place.
Use information from recent core algorithm updates to see which direction Google is heading in terms of the type of content it favours, and react accordingly. The winners, however, as always, will be those who hit the mark before the algorithm update comes into play.
Helpful Content Updates mean just that, your content should continue to be user-focused and have your readers ahead of any ranking metrics. By producing good (helpful) content, and following optimisation basics, you’re setting yourself up for success in the long run.
If you’re looking for extra support with your SEO requirements and integrating video with your search strategy we’d love to hear from you!Contact Us
Andy drives high-quality, high-converting organic traffic to a wide range of businesses, from local companies to global brands.
A strategic search marketer, Andy’s expertise lies predominantly in ecommerce websites and technical SEO, and is particularly adept at finding opportunities to provide quick wins and long-term return on investment.More about Andy