Early this summer felt quiet for Google compared to the noise created by the May 2015 quality update. I think I’m just starting to see the impacts of the changes that kicked off in late June.
 
This summer, I found myself sharpening my data analytics and content marketing chops — it seems like the role of an SEO is simultaneously growing to be more creative and analytical at the same time.
 
Now that September is coming to a close, I’m realizing there were a few game changers that the SEO community reported in the past four months.
 
1) Google simultaneously restricts access to Keyword Planner and offers less data.
 
On June 27th, we saw signs that some changes were coming to the Google Keyword Planner with Cyrus Shepard’s Tweet. For new and small publishers, getting keyword search data became more difficult.
 
To see search volume from the Google Keyword Planner, you now need an active AdWords Account with billing information and a monthly spend. The AdWords community had a post documenting the change:
 
The tough part is that even if you assign a monthly spend, you won’t see search volume for each keyword. From the screenshot above, smaller publishers will now get ranges, like 1-100, 10-100k, 100k-100. I’m afraid that ranges here are what’s the worst. 10-100k makes traffic and revenue predictions less granular.
 
For larger publishers, exact keyword search volume is gone. Google will combine similar keywords into buckets. You may type in a specific keyword, but it will give you the search volume for another keyword phrase with bucket search volume.
 
2) SEOs will start talking more about longtail and less about shiny head terms
 
This summer, I found myself talking more about longtail optimization to engineers and other SEOs. What the is longtail? It’s the searches we use when we want to be more specific. It’s the keyword phrases that we type with maybe 3-7 words instead of 2. These phrases typically have less search volume, but they can add up to a lot of traffic.
 
If you’re a small or new publisher, these are the keywords that really matter. Even though we think of these keywords when we’re at a loss of how to get the traffic to move, they’re made by potentially great audience members.
 
3) Less clicks to organic results after the Green Ad Marker.
 
On April 14th, Google released the Green Ad Marker that replaced the old yellow symbol. When I loaded up the search results, I expected a lot more people to click on these Ads since they’re more visually subtle. Now that paid results look less distinct than organic, Google is capturing some of the traffic that automatically skipped past Ads.
 
With less clicks filtering down to organic search results, raking at the top seems more important than ever. I’d be interested to see a study on how aggregate site click curves have changed.
 
4) More focus on Position 0 with cluttered search results. The days of 10 blue links is long-gone and it has been for awhile. Other business stakeholders were talking more about what it takes to claim a rich result spot.
 
Why are rich results so important? For many cases, you could own both position 0 and position 1. What are rich results? They’re results that show everything from images to 5 ratings, as well as answer boxes. The answers boxes often take the coveted position 0. Most marketers are optimizing relevant pages for these types of opportunities. If you wan to dive into competing for a rich result, then make sure you have schema implemented on your site.
 
5) Since SEO is part of a wider marketing technology industry, there are forces outside the field that also impact what’s ahead. Hillary Clinton announced her initiative on Technology & Innovation and Brad Feld at Foundry Group was nice enough to create a summary for all of us.
 
I haven’t seen anything similar from Donald Trump, which may be more of a reflection of how out of touch his campaign is. Clinton’s proposal emphasizes technology innovation, access to high-speed internet, and using technology for more government transparency.
 
Since our work relies on a thriving technology sector, endorsing candidates who support the tech industry is important.
 
6) Data finally shows that pop-ups aren’t our friends.
 
It’s no secret that I don’t like pop-ups. Whether they’re for third-party ads or an internal ad for a newsletter to specific marketing campaign. I think they diminish the experience of a user on the site. I’m a person who can count the number of times a pop-up encouraged me to click or sign-up for something on one hand.
 
Just because I don’t like pop-ups doesn’t meant they’re bad for a website. I’ve had my suspicions that in an SEO world where event completion matters, pop-ups can’t be helping our cause. If Google’s stance about pop-ups hasn’t convinced you to remove them from your site, then the work from Danny Richman shows just how bad pop-ups are for users.
 
Not only do users trust your brand less, but they’re less likely to convert with pop-ups. For SEOs that are looking at the full funnel, time test whether removing a pop-up from a website will help your cause.
 
7) Data driven content matters more than ever.
 
I didn’t find a Tweet from the industry or a collection of articles to support this one, just my own experience. As the days of Black Hat and Grey Hat link building are long gone, content marketing continues to lead the industry as one of the best ways to get links to a website.
 
Working hand-in-hand with PR teams, content agencies, or getting down in the weeds on acquiring data from public APIs is the way of the link building future. If you’ve been putting off a data-driven content piece because you weren’t sure if they perform, I’d start to put your fingers to the keyboard.
 
From small to large business, data-driven content is one of the most powerful link building strategies SEOs have in 2016.
 
Have you seen any other trends emerge in the field this summer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!