SEO Trends in 2024: What You Need to Know to Succeed
by Mike Khorev
Meta description: SEO in 2024: What’s changed? What’s staying the same? Learn the latest SEO best practices and how to improve your website’s ranking in search results.
While digital marketing and SEO are infamous for being constantly evolving, arguably, SEO has undergone an even more drastic shift in the past year due to the rising popularity of AI in the mainstream market.
Google—and other major search engines—have been increasingly adopting AI into their search algorithms, which has a very significant impact on how we should approach SEO. This phenomenon has made 2023 and 2024 pivotal points in SEO’s evolution.
With that being said, as we delve further into the rest of 2024, it’s crucial for marketers and SEO professionals to grasp the latest trends and developments that define the state of today’s SEO.
It is more important than ever for marketers to understand the role of AI in Google’s search algorithm and how Google is using AI to improve its search results. This is where this article comes in.
In this article, we will explore the current state of SEO in 2024, and the topics we’ll cover include:
- How Google Incorporates AI in its search algorithm
- How Google views AI-generated content
- Google is getting (even) better at recognizing the quality of backlinks with SpamBrain AI
- The shift to user behavioral factors as a quality indicator and ranking factor
- Google’s update to its helpful content system
- How Google shifts its indexing approach and now significantly reducing the amount of content indexed
- How the changes in search algorithm will affect technical SEO
Join us as we explore the ever-changing SEO landscape in 2024 and uncover the most effective strategies you can adopt.
1. The Role of AI in The Current Search Algorithm
It’s no secret that AI (Artificial Intelligence) has been rapidly gaining popularity in recent years, especially due to the surge of LLM (Large Language Model) tools like ChatGPT, Bing AI, and Google Bard.
The rise of these LLMs has changed how users consume content and has also made a significant impact on the search algorithm and SEO.
There are three main ways how AI has impacted Google’s search algorithm:
Google’s adoption of AI in its search algorithm
In recent years, Google has been one of the most prominent players in the AI revolution, especially with its introduction of Google Bard. However, Google has also used AI in a wide range of its products and services, including in its search algorithm.
The integration of AI in its algorithm has enabled Google to analyze a larger amount of data with remarkable efficiency. In practice, Google’s new AI-driven algorithm can more efficiently understand complex patterns and nuances in a user’s natural language, intent, and context, resulting in more precise and relevant search results for this user.
This has enhanced Google’s search algorithm in several important ways:
- A better understanding of intent and context: With the utilization of advanced natural networks and machine learning, Google has made significant strides in understanding the underlying intent, meaning, and context behind search queries, even when the query is phrased in an ambiguous, conversational, or complex manner.
- Personalized search results: This deeper understanding of user intent and search context has also enabled Google to provide more personalized results tailored to individual users.
- Providing higher-quality search results: AI has also enabled Google to improve its understanding of complex natural language. The new search algorithm can now better interpret the context, sentiment, and semantics of content, allowing it to have a more accurate analysis of the relevance and quality of information included in web content. In turn, this allows Google to provide more relevant search results that match the user’s search intent.
To summarize, Google’s adoption of AI in its search algorithm has not only paved the way for more advanced, efficient, and accurate search processing but also significantly improved the search experience for users. Google’s integration of AI in its algorithm has enabled it to process a larger amount of data, better understand user intent, and deliver increasingly relevant and/or personalized search results.
By adopting machine learning technologies, Google has taken significant strides towards bridging the gap between computer understanding and human’s natural language, resulting in a more user-friendly, natural, and intuitive human-computer interaction in its search engine.
Google’s views on AI-generated content
One of the core capabilities of LLMs like ChatGPT or Google Bard is their ability to generate content (i.e., email, social media posts, blog posts, etc.) much faster than any human content creators. This phenomenon has sparked a debate on how Google and other search engines will view this AI-generated content in their search algorithms.
Google has made it clear that its primary mission remains to deliver high-quality content to its users, and it does not particularly care about whether the content is written by humans or generated by AI. Quality and relevance are what matter.
This means two things:
- Even if a piece of content is 100% AI-generated, it can rank high on Google’s SERPs as long as it is relevant, authoritative, and valuable to human readers.
- We can’t get away with trying to game the system by using AI-assisted content generation without producing meaningful and substantial content.
While AI tools can aid in creating outlines, optimizing content for SEO, and performing analysis, it is not (at least, yet) a substitute for providing relevant and valuable information that meets the intent and expectation of human readers.
Better detection of low-quality links and spam
In 2018, Google introduced SpamBrain—an AI-powered spam detection system—to its algorithm.
SpamBrain is able to accurately identify and penalize spammy/irrelevant content more effectively than Google’s previous methods, allowing Google to accurately and quickly identify websites that used spammy tactics, including keyword stuffing, link schemes (i.e., Private Blog Networks,) cloaking, or other manners.
In addition to SpamBrain, Google has also adopted AI to improve its ability to detect the quality of links.
Links (especially backlinks/inbound links) remain one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s ranking algorithm. By being able to more accurately differentiate high-quality and low-quality links, Google can ensure that only high-quality and trustworthy content can rank on top of its SERPs.
This AI-powered spam detection system can ultimately help Google to improve its search engine’s user experience. By preventing spammy, irrelevant content from ranking high on the search results, users are more likely to find high-quality and relevant content that meets their intent with every search.
2. The Increasing Prominence of User Behavioral Factors
In recent years, there has also been a noticeable shift in search algorithms towards using user behavioral factors as a measure of content quality.
In the past, Google relies more on traditional SEO metrics like keyword density or backlinks profile, but Google now takes into account how users interact with web pages: how long do they stay on the web page (dwell time)? How high is the bounce rate? How many pages does the user browse before they leave the website?
These user behavior metrics give Google valuable data to determine the web page’s relevance and value in front of its target audience’s eyes, which will significantly affect the page’s ranking in the search results.
For instance, a search result with a high click-through rate suggests that this page is attractive to its intended audience and matches the audience’s search intent. In such cases, Google may decide to bump up this page’s place in the SERP.
On the other hand, a page with a high bounce rate indicates that the users don’t find the page relevant and might not find enough value in it. Google may then decide to demote the page’s place in the search ranking.
Integration of anonymized data in ranking algorithms
In addition to the prevalence of user behavioral factors, Google’s adoption of AI and machine learning in its search algorithm has enabled it to leverage anonymized user data, including but not limited to the search times entered by individual users, the page that they visit, the links that they click on, and so on.
Google uses this anonymized data to train its machine-learning models, so it can better understand the meaning behind search queries, what users are looking for, and how to rank pages according to collective user preferences and behavior.
Analyzing anonymized data also enables Google to identify trends and patterns, gain insights into user behaviors, and enhance the accuracy of search result ranking.
Evolution of helpful content updates (H/C4) for user-centric content creation
In line with Google’s increasing focus on user behavioral factors, Google has also been working on a new initiative called helpful content update (H/C4), which is designed to reward websites that publish informative and helpful content to its users.
With this new algorithm update, Google now uses a variety of factors to measure the content’s “helpfulness,” ranging from the accuracy of information, readability to social sharing and user engagement metrics.
This H/C4 update represents Google’s increasing focus on providing its users with the most useful and relevant content possible, which means that marketers/SEO practitioners would need to shift their focus from solely optimizing content with high-traffic keywords to actually creating content that addresses the target audience’s needs and delivers value.
To summarize, the SEO landscape is experiencing a rapid and notable shift toward user behavioral factors, which has three main implications for SEO:
- Marketers and SEO professionals need to focus on creating content that is helpful and informative to human users rather than trying to “please” the search engine algorithm alone
- It’s critical for SEO practitioners to keep track of user behavior metrics on their websites to understand what their users are looking for and optimize accordingly
- SEO professionals need to use the right techniques and tools to optimize the website and its content for user behavior
We should view this evolution of search algorithms in using user behavioral factors a quality indicator as a positive development for SEO. By prioritizing user engagement and satisfaction, websites can provide a more rewarding experience for users rather than simply trying to rank higher on the SERPs.
3. A Growing Importance of User Experience Optimization (UXO) in SEO
Still related to Google’s shift to using user behavioral factors in ranking websites, in today’s digital landscape, the importance of User Experience Optimization (UXO) in SEO has also grown significantly.
UXO is the effort of designing and optimizing a website so that it is easy to use and navigate in order to provide a seamless and user-friendly experience. The lines between UXO and SEO have become increasingly blurred, and the ability to harmonize the two becomes increasingly crucial for SEO professionals.
This means that to achieve success in SEO, it’s no longer sufficient to merely optimize the website for keywords and get more backlinks; we must also consider user-experience-related factors such as mobile responsiveness, page speed, optimal navigation, and clear CTA (call-to-action) elements to ensure optimal user experience.
It’s now a necessity to combine traditional SEO strategies with UX best practices to create a seamless, more satisfying user journey to increase engagement and achieve higher visibility and success in the SERPs.
4. Higher E-A-T (Now E-E-A-T) and Brand Building Requirements in SEO
E-A-T in SEO stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness, referring to Google’s concept of using these three factors in assessing the quality of websites and their content:
Expertise: refers to the level of expertise and depth of knowledge demonstrated by the content’s author or creator (in their respective fields). Websites that exhibit a high level of expertise in their content are considered more trustworthy/credible and may rank higher.
Authority: refers to the level of respect and recognition a website (or individual) holds within a particular field or subject area. Websites that have been published longer and have more backlinks from other authoritative sites tend to have higher authority scores. Google views these authoritative websites as reputable sources of information that are valuable to its users.
Trustworthiness: this factor relates to the reliability and credibility of information provided by the website as a whole. Websites that have maintained a strong reputation over the years and have demonstrated a high level of transparency are more likely to be considered trustworthy by both Google and its users.
To put it shortly, websites that are considered by Google to be E-A-T rich are more likely to rank higher in the SERPs.
Still aligned with Google’s mission of providing users with high-quality, relevant, and trustworthy information—as we’ve discussed in the previous points above—, the importance of E-A-T has also increased in recent years.
There are a few key considerations regarding E-A-T and its impact on SEO in 2024, which we will discuss below.
E-A-T becomes E-E-A-T, another ‘E” for experience
Very recently, in December 2022, Google added an extra E to its E-A-T concept, with the extra E standing for Experience.
This decision was based on the idea that the experience of a content’s author would directly correlate to the content’s information quality.
For example, a piece of content about how to fix a leaky faucet from a certified, experienced plumber would be prioritized over another piece of content from someone without any plumbing experience.
So, how can SEO professionals and marketers address this new E? How can we demonstrate experience in our content? There are three basic things to consider:
- If possible, have your content written by certified experts in the field
- Cite sources from authoritative websites
- Include reviews and testimonials from satisfied customers
Of course, traditional SEO best practices like creating high-quality content, building backlinks from relevant and quality websites, and others would also help to improve the E-E-A-T of your web page.
Demonstration of expertise in content marketing
To strengthen the E-E-A-T of your web page, it’s essential for the web’s content to demonstrate expertise and credibility. This can be accomplished through various means, but here are some of the most effective ones:
- Make sure the content is informative and well-researched. Provide your readers with accurate, relevant, and up-to-date information.
- Use clear and concise language. Make sure you speak your audience’s language and that the information is easy to understand. Avoid using technical terms or jargon that your readers may not be familiar with.
- Cite your sources. Support your claims and arguments with evidence from reliable sources like authoritative websites, academic papers, industry publications, or government reports.
- Write from a position of authority. Throughout your content, demonstrate that your content is well-researched and that you have a deep understanding of the topic at hand.
- Use visuals to get your points across. You can include charts, diagrams, or infographics to illustrate your points and make your content easier to grasp.
- Include feedback from experts. Getting and featuring feedback from experts on the subject can help improve your content’s credibility and to ensure the information included is accurate.
- Be passionate. When you are passionate about the topic at hand, the enthusiasm will come through in your writing. This may help convince the readers (and Google) that you are a credible SaaS SEO expert and consultant.
- Be up-to-date. Make sure the information included in your content is accurate and up to date. Regularly review and update your content with new information.
The importance of brand building in SEO
To demonstrate your strengths in E-E-A-T, it’s critical for businesses to build a strong and consistent brand identity.
In fact, brand building should be the main foundation of your E-E-A-T SEO strategy that will also help your business (and your website) stand out from the competition and establish your credibility in front of your target audience.
Here are some tips on how to strengthen your brand identity for E-E-A-T:
- Create a strong brand identity. Define your brand’s purpose and values, choose an easy-to-pronounce and remember the brand name, and develop a strong visual identity (logo, color schemes, etc.) Make sure your brand identity is clear, easy to remember, and consistent.
- Regularly publish high-quality content. Consistency in creating/publishing content—both in terms of quality and quantity— is critical for building a strong brand identity. Your content should be well-written, well-researched, informative, and relevant to your target audience. All pieces of content must be properly optimized according to SEO best practices.
- Be active on social media. In this digital social media age, having a strong social media presence is a great way to establish brand awareness and communicate your brand identity with your target audience. Be active on relevant social media platforms, share high-quality content, and actively engage with your audience.
- Live your brand: your brand identity is more than just a set of brand names, logos, and colors. Rather, it should be an identity you live and breathe every day. Be consistent in your branding across all channels, and your brand values should show in everything your business does.
5. The Changing Landscape of Link Building
Link building has always been an integral part of SEO for decades, and the idea behind it has always been the same:
Inbound links (or backlinks), which are hyperlinks coming from other websites to your website, are treated as votes of confidence. When a website links your page, this website essentially says that it trusts your page and its content, and Google will capture this signal.
This is why the more backlinks coming to a website, the higher this website will rank on the SERP, even more, if the links are coming from relevant and authoritative websites.
Yet, while this same concept remains, the way these links are evaluated and valued by Google has changed significantly in recent years.
In the past, link building was more often seen as a numbers game: the more links you had, the better. However, Google’s algorithm has become much more sophisticated in understanding the quality and context of links, so now the focus has shifted towards the quality and relevance of the links rather than simply quantity.
Meaning, if you are a basketball-related website, a single link from NBA.com could hold more value than 50 links from brand-new or unknown websites.
Google’s refinement of quality detection algorithms and link framework
The link framework considers the overall networks of links on the world wide web, and by analyzing this link framework, the search engine can better understand the connections between different web pages.
Google has refined its link framework in recent years, allowing it to better understand the context behind each backlink and the quality of websites the links are pointing to.
With this refined link framework, as well as the use of AI technologies in Google’s search algorithm, Google is now much better at recognizing spammy link-building schemes involving low-quality links.
This AI-driven algorithm analyzes signals and patterns to distinguish between natural links and those that are created solely for search ranking manipulation purposes. As a result, Google has actively penalized websites with low-quality or manipulative links (both those on the linking and receiving ends.)
6. Evolving Importance of Technical SEO
In the past, technical SEO often took the supporting role and was seen as relatively unimportant compared to keyword optimization.
However, as Google’s understanding of websites has improved along with the shift towards user behavior factors, technical SEO has become more important due to the following reasons:
- Improved understanding and interpretation by Googlebot. Googlebot (Google’s web crawling bot) has also significantly improved its ability to crawl, interpret, and understand web pages, along with the context of the content. Websites that are technically optimized are more likely to be indexed and ranked by Google.
- Shifting focus towards output, structure, and UX. As we’ve discussed above, Google is now placing more emphasis on UX (User Experience) in its search algorithm. Websites that are technically optimized are more likely to provide optimal user experience, increasing the likelihood of higher rankings.
- Reduced emphasis on traditional SEO elements. Google’s updated, AI-driven algorithm means that traditional SEO optimizations, such as title tags, header tags, and alt texts, are becoming less important than UX and behavior-related factors. They still hold some importance, but with search engines now more capable of understanding contexts, the reliance on specific keyword placement within these elements is reduced.
While technical SEO is a pretty deep subject on its own and deserves its own guide, here are some tips for improving the technical aspects of your website for SEO in 2024 and onwards:
- Make sure your website can be indexed and crawled properly. In most cases, you can make sure your website is indexable and free from crawl errors by following Google’s webmaster guidelines.
- Optimal page speed. Users will abandon websites that load slowly, increasing their bounce rates. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to assess your website’s performance and optimize accordingly. Compress and optimize images/videos and use efficient coding practice to improve speed performance, use content delivery network (CDN), and invest in a good hosting service (or a private server).
- Optimal structure and hierarchy. Structure your website in a way that makes it easy for Google to understand. Use consistent and easy-to-understand headings, organize your content in a logical way, and maintain a good internal linking structure.
- Optimize for mobile. Google is prioritizing mobile-friendly sites to rank higher in the SERPs. At the same time, more people are exclusively using mobile devices to browse the internet. Adopt a mobile-responsive design, make sure everything is readable (and clickable) on smaller screens, and ensure your site loads quickly on mobile devices.
7. Expanding Content Quality Factors
We have repeatedly mentioned how content quality is increasingly becoming more important as a ranking factor.
To reiterate, Google’s mission is always to provide the highest-quality and most relevant content to its users. To achieve that, Google is continuously updating its algorithm to ensure a more accurate and efficient evaluation of content quality.
One of the most significant changes in recent years is the integration of AI technologies and language models into Google’s algorithm, improving Google’s understanding of the meaning and context of texts.
These advanced, AI-driven algorithms can accurately analyze various aspects of text content: grammar, coherence, topical relevance, and readability, among others, to evaluate its quality. This ensures more accurate and efficient evaluation for ranking purposes.
The potential shift towards SERP personalization and predictive search
Another SEO trend that is likely to impact content quality factors is Google’s potential shift towards SERP personalization. The logical next evolution of the search engine results is for them to become more personalized based on individual users’ behavior, search history, and preferences.
Again, this is made possible by the adoption of AI in the search algorithms, allowing Google to anticipate the user’s intent and provide relevant results, even before the said user completes the search query.
More utilization of aggregated data
One of the key challenges for Google in using content quality as a ranking factor is subjectivity. A piece of content that is considered good by one user may not be relevant at all for another user. These varying preferences and interpretations mean there are no one-size-fits-all criteria on what constitutes high-quality content.
To address this, Google and other search engines have put more reliance on aggregated data (i.e., data on user behavior patterns) to assess content quality on a wider scale.
SEO practitioners should consider this bigger picture of aggregated data when crafting and optimizing their content. Content that engages with users, aligns with the user’s preferences and especially satisfies the user’s search intent will be prioritized and will rank higher.
8. More Strategic Content Indexing Approach
In recent years, Google has implemented some strategic measures to reduce the amount of content that it indexed, especially during the initial crawling process.
It’s no secret that there has been an increasing volume of content circulating on the internet, and unfortunately, a massive number of them are irrelevant and low-quality. To improve its search results and Google’s desire to focus on more relevant and high-quality content, it’s simply necessary not to index the lower-quality content.
With the improved algorithms, not all content encountered by Googlebot will be deemed relevant and valuable for indexing. Instead, before indexing, Google will first determine the value of this content based on a number of factors, especially user demand and content quality factors:
- User demand is measured by the number of times this page has been visited and how long the users spend on the page. The more the content is “consumed,” it will be regarded as more relevant and high quality.
- Google will also take into account content quality factors like the relevance of this content to the user’s search query, the authority of the website/domain, the structure and quality of writing, and so on.
The increasing importance of measured and balanced content strategy to ensure indexing
With these changes in how Google index content, it’s becoming increasingly critical for SEO professionals to have a balanced, measured, and holistic content marketing strategy.
Here are some things to consider:
- In order to be indexed by Google, content must meet Google’s quality standards and be relevant to user queries. Content marketing strategies should focus on creating content that is valuable and relevant to the target audience.
- Conduct adequate research to understand the keywords your target audience frequently searches and topics that align with their interests. The idea is to create content that provides relevant information while addressing these demands.
- Don’t solely focus on quantity. It’s typically unwise to publish too much content too quickly. Give Google time to crawl and analyze the content. Also, publishing too much content too fast can lead to duplicate content and other issues. Always aim to balance content output with relevance and quality.
- Regularly keep track of the performance of your content. Monitor whether the content has been indexed and its performance in the SERP. Make adjustments accordingly.
- Incorporate visual elements, such as images, videos, or infographics, to improve engagement and user experience.
Tips and Best Practices for SEO Success in 2024
As we can see, SEO practices have evolved significantly in the past couple of years or so, and Google has become much more sophisticated in its understanding of search intent and context.
To address these changes, SEO professionals and marketers must also adapt and evolve, especially in these areas:
- Understand the fundamentals: it’s now a necessity for SEO professionals to have a solid understanding of SEO fundamentals like keyword research, technical optimization, on-page optimization, and link building, among others.
- Stay updated: it’s critical for SEO professionals to stay informed about the latest algorithm updates, industry developments, and trends so they can use these insights to adjust their strategy.
- User-centric approach: to rank higher in Google’s SERP, now we should focus on creating content and optimizing the web pages with the user in mind. Focus on improving user experience and providing valuable content that meets the user’s search intent.
- Technical optimizations: pay attention to technical aspects like website speed, crawlability, mobile-friendliness, and structured data markup, among others. Optimize your website to ensure it’s easy to use by human users, informative, and understood by search engines.
- Continuous learning: SEO is a dynamic and always-evolving field, so it’s important for marketers to commit to ongoing learning and professional development in order to keep up with emerging trends, new techniques/methodologies/technologies, and industry developments.
- Follow reliable sources: follow reputable industry experts, digital marketing/SEO blogs, and official Google guidelines to continuously learn from reputable sources.
- Test, measure, and optimize: implement tracking and analytics solutions (SEMRush, Ahrefs, Google Analytics, etc.) to measure your SEO performances. Use data to inform your future decisions and improve your SaaS SEO strategy.
With all these developments in SEO and Google’s search algorithm, an SEO professional needs to be passionate about the field and dedicated to continuously learning and growing as a marketer. Without a genuine interest in the field, it will be very difficult to keep up with all the latest trends, continuously improve your skills, and stay ahead of the competition.
As a marketer, you’ll need to be open to change and be ready to adapt your strategies as the SEO landscape continues to evolve in the rest of 2024 and onwards. Be ready to embrace new techniques, technologies, and drastic industry changes to stay competitive in the field.
Last but not least, remember that SEO is a long-term game, and it will take time and effort before you can achieve success in the field. Continue to stay informed, follow the latest best practices, and maintain consistency, so you can improve your chances of achieving sustainable and meaningful success in the world of SEO.
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