The Author
Alyssa Ordu

Alyssa is a keen traveller, cocktails & dad jokes enthusiast who does Marketing, in that order. A lover of outreach, connect with her for opportunities to collaborate, or exchange a pun or two.

Read more from Alyssa Ordu

We spoke to our Customer Advisory Board – comprised of world class search stars – to hear their take on the biggest SEO challenges this year.

Preparing for the mobile index, moving to HTTPS, creating AMP pages, removing interstitials, JavaScript render testing, adding new Schema tags, supporting HTTP2, preparing for voice search, real-time indexing and machine learning applications were ranked in order of importance.

 

SEO Challenge #1: Prepare for the Mobile Index

As we know, Google began testing its mobile-first index last Autumn, which focuses on mobile versions of websites for its ranking signals, only resorting to the desktop version if no mobile version exists. This has been a long time coming, as the first whispers began over a year ago, and Google has consistently informed us most of their searches are mobile – but the catch is their index is desktop.

Well, not for long folks…

It will come as no surprise that our CAB voted preparing for the mobile index as the top SEO challenge for 2017!

So, what might the mobile index look like?

Only joking :)

“The mobile index seems to have many of the same user heuristics as desktop in that qualitative measures such as long click and dwell time seem to continue to show significant impact on rankings.”
NICK EUBANKS, VICE PRESIDENT OF DIGITAL STRATEGY AT W.L. SNOOK & ASSOCIATES

In order to prepare, what should SEOs bear in mind?

“When the mobile index goes live, if a site is not properly prepared, there could be massive losses in not only ranking visibility, but more importantly in organic generated traffic; critical to conversions.”
ALAN BLEIWEISS, SEO CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AUTHOR

“AMP is essential.”
DAVID SOTTIMANO, VP STRATEGY AT DEFINE MEDIA GROUP

“Make sure that a ‘mobile first crawling approach’ delivers the same results, e.g. make sure your content is fully available and accessible, integrate structured data to mobile view as well, and apply performance optimization strategies tailored to mobile.”
BASTIAN GRIMM, PRESIDENT OF ORGANIC SEARCH AT PEAK ACE

Final thoughts...

“Your website should already be mobile friendly.”
FILI WIESE, EX-GOOGLER & SEO CONSULTANT

Read more expert opinions on the mobile-first index.

Read our latest news on mobile-first index.

 

SEO Challenge #2: Move to HTTPS

What do security, privacy, and speed have in common?

Yep, you guessed it – they’re all benefits of HTTPS. That said, the biggest benefits are often our biggest challenges.

A cautionary note:

“Moving to HTTPS has a lot of benefits, but can also bring a lot of technical challenges. As more of the web is moving to HTTPS, and browsers are starting to show HTTP sites are insecure to users, it’s becoming more important to make the switch to HTTPS with your websites.

Keeping in mind that moving to HTTPS is a switch for life and from that moment onwards you will always need to maintain a HTTPS version of the website. However, the benefits do outweigh the cons with improved security, keeping referral data and potentially improved rankings. Also don’t forget to utilize HSTS when possible. If you haven’t switched to HTTPS, then this is a priority for 2017.”
FILI WIESE, SEO CONSULTANT & EX-GOOGLER

 

But, what if I like my HTTP house, and I don't want to move to HTTPS?

“A site could eventually show up with an actual, call-out type warning that ‘this site is un-secure’ in Chrome browsers, even a site that doesn’t otherwise need HTTPS could lose visitors because of it.”
ALAN BLEIWEISS, SEO CONSULANT, SPEAKER & AUTHOR

Yikes!

Read more.

 

SEO Challenge #3: Create AMP pages

In response to the ever-increasing need for speed, Google & Twitter’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (or AMP) project, was specifically designed mobile pages really, really fast.

Which means they can help you avoid this….

Though a stripped down version of HTML at its core, or a ‘diet HTML’ as Will Critchlow wittily put it, these fast-loading, lightweight pages, are serious contenders in the heavy-weight technical SEO ring this year.

Should I play ball?

“Google is going all-in with AMP and, whether we like it or not, we have to play along. AMP for eCommerce is around the corner and this is something you do not want to be late to the party for.”
BARRY ADAMS, SEO CONSULTANT AT POLEMIC DIGITAL, SPEAKER AND COLUMNIST

Still not convinced?

You’re an SEO, if you’ve responded to Google’s request for you to “dive” with “how deep?”…You may have been burned before, and be on the look out for proof…

“The Washington Post saw a 23% increase in mobile search users who return within 7 days. Slate saw a 44% increase in monthly unique visitors. Wired saw a 25% increase in click through rates from SERPs, and Gizmodo saw 80% of it’s AMP traffic to be new traffic.

Overall, a DoubleClick study (2016) compared ad performance on AMP and non-AMP mobile pages across 150 publishers and found that 80%+ of the publishers realized higher viewability rates, and 90%+ of them drove greater engagement with high CTRs.”
ILYAS TEKER, CONSULTANT & FORMER SEO DIRECTOR AT IPROSPECT

That's pretty compelling stuff, but in an industry where debate sparks from its very core, surely not everyone agrees...

“I despise most of what AMP is, and does, and causes in regard to challenges. Sure, if you implement AMP, you may see benefits. Especially if you have painfully slow existing pages for mobile visitors. But, there are loads of concerns with AMP. You end up with a Google URL that is ugly, painful and harmful for many reasons.

AMP also means you need to strip out a ton of potentially important content and functionality that may exist for reasons OTHER than SEO. Failing to include main site navigational links in AMP pages, loses stickiness, and user experience. I’d prefer site owners to speed up their existing sites – that’s the proper best practice from a sustainable perspective.”
ALAN BLEIWEISS, SEO CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AUTHOR

Read more.

 

SEO Challenge #4: Remove interstitials

In the startup world we often positively refer to companies as disruptive. In SEO, we negatively refer to interstitials as disruptive, which they quite literally are.

I think we can all recall that moment when you’re basically prevented from exploring a website, until you obey by clicking on a link or an ‘x’. Ugh, annoying! The Big G agrees that it detracts from overall UX angle.

Hence, our CABs voted Removing Interstitials in fourth place.

What changes are we likely to see in relation to interstitials?

“For full-page interstitials, you can expect to eventually be penalized. In fact, Google’s said that as of January 2017, that’s a ranking factor.”
ALAN BLEIWEISS, SEO CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AUTHOR

How might this be rolled out?

“I believe we will start to see pages heavy on interstitials treated similar to thin content pages during panda updates.”
NICK EUBANKS, VICE PRESIDENT OF DIGITAL STRATEGY AT W.L. SNOOK & ASSOCIATES

Read more.

 

SEO Challenge #5: JavaScript render testing

In the past few years we’ve seen a wide range of Javascript frameworks arise. The Javascript language has become more powerful, more nuanced and more complex, which has made testing all the more important. Though SE’s have notoriously struggled with crawling it.

How might this change in 2017?

“React, Backbone, Angular, Meteor and other JS frameworks are dominating the web. Google will have no choice but to respond and step up their JS crawling and indexing abilities to keep up to speed with development.

Currently, Google cannot execute many events such as scroll, click, etc. I expect this to change in 2017; which requires significant technical testing to be done by SEO and development teams to ensure Googlebot is able to view, crawl and index JS pages correctly.”
DAVID SOTTIMANO, VP OF STRATEGY AT DEFINE MEDIA GROUP

What are common errors due to a lack of or inadequate testing?

“Here’s a couple examples of failed JS – JSON-LD gets implemented, yet you don’t use a pre-render model. If you don’t pre-render, what will happen for any service (search engine or otherwise) that can’t handle JS properly?

Another issue – using JSON-LD while failing to ensure you’ve included all of the required properties for a given entity. If you don’t test, that’s a fail point. Special characters added into your code can cause parsing problems. The list goes on and on…”
ALAN BLEIWEISS, SEO CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AUTHOR

Read more.

 

SEO Challenge #6: Add new Schema tags

What happened when Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo! collaborated?

If you answered Schema, you’d be right!

Schema are specific tags or microdata that can be added to HTML to improve the way a page is represented in SERPs.

 

“Schema cleanup or a schema re-fresh is definitely a high priority for PC going into next year. There is a lot of opportunity there for us.”
JACQUELINE URICK, HEAD OF SEO AT PAMPERED CHEF

 

SEO Challenge #7: Support HTTP2

Whoa, HTTPS or HTTP2, do I want one, both, and if so, how should I lay out the migration order?

“It doesn’t make any sense to only switch to HTTPs without doing HTTP2 because HTTPs will be slower if not using the new protocol. There is a bit of overhead due to TLS / handshake, etc. – I strongly recommend doing both.”
BASTIAN GRIMM, PRESIDENT OF ORGANIC SEARCH AT PEAK ACE

 

“HTTP2 is probably the web’s most exciting change, everything is going to get a lot faster and more secure – because HTTP2 browser support will largely require HTTPS. No more sprites, and no more need to combine JS / CSS files, etc…Page-speed tools will need to catch up, developers will have to undo their best practices for the current web to accommodate for HTTP2, and I’d expect to see a lot more innovation as a result of speed gains.

As for SEO, I think this translates into being able to deliver richer experiences for users we attract from search results without having to worry about speed issues (to a certain extent) – I’m excited to see what will be possible as a result of HTTP2 and how Google will handle/rank HTTP2 enabled sites/resources. As for preparation, organizations should jump on the HTTP2 bandwagon carefully as the SEO industry doesn’t have enough experience or public studies just yet, there are still sites having trouble transitioning to HTTPS correctly.”
DAVID SOTTIMANO, VP OF STRATEGY AT DEFINE MEDIA GROUP

While we're talking about the need for speed...

“It can seriously help with page speeds. And while you’re at it, if your site runs on PHP, move to PHP7 because that’s also a serious speed improvement point! And while AMP may “appear” to be a speed “solution”, it’s a really painful, un-elegant, and seriously problematic way to address speed issues, not to mention that AMP is only good for a portion of a given site’s speed needs. Meanwhile, if you move to HTTP2, and PHP7, you’re going to add speed improvements across the board, not just for mobile.”
ALAN BLEIWEISS, SEO CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AUTHOR

If I switch to HTTP2 am I focusing more on humans...or bots?

“Before you can utilize HTTP2, you do need to move to HTTPS. The advantages of HTTP/2 (in combination with preloading) are mostly for the user (not as much for the search engine) but can lead to a lot of direct positive user signals. Websites thrive in Google rankings on positive user signals, so this is most definitely a major recommendation for 2017, if you are not utilizing HTTP/2 yet.”
FILI WIESEEX-GOOGLER & SEO CONSULTANT

Sounds like it’s a good time to be a user then.

 

With the likes of Siri paving the way for the Echo’s and Alexa’s of the world, Voice Search is seriously having its moment.

What does this mean for SEO?

“Voice search and similar digital assistants will change the search ecosystem in dramatic and unforeseen ways. Prepare to shift tactics quickly and drastically as the needs & requirements to thrive in this new world of SEO become clearer.”
BARRY ADAMS, SEO CONSULTANT AT POLEMIC DIGITAL, SPEAKER AND COLUMNIST

 

In practical terms, how do I prepare my website for voice search?

 

  • “Content: You should include more terms like ‘who, what, where etc.
  • Optimize for more long-tail keywords.
  • Consider adding a Q&A service to your site that allows users to ask questions to which you later post answers.
  • Schema markup”

ILYAS TEKER, CONSULTANT & FORMER SEO DIRECTOR AT IPROSPECT

Read more.

 

SEO Challenge #9: Real-time indexing/Google indexing API

What's the verdict?

“Assuming the real-time API becomes generally available, get in on that.”
JACQUELINE URICK, HEAD OF SEO AT PAMPERED CHEF

“Google has gotten pretty good at indexing, however if your site is not easy to index then that would be my focus.”
FILI WIESE
EX-GOOGLER & SEO CONSULTANT

“If you have a site where time sensitivity matters, then real-time indexing is a good thing. It’s invaluable. Except you need to be sure your dev team is up for the task of following the Google RealTime API guidelines, and is willing to do proper and true QA testing, and that this too is yet one more “For Google” effort, that may or may not be around six months or a year from now.

SO yeah, sure, if you have the time to “play” with it, and it makes sense for your business, go for this one. Just be careful, cautious and aware this could turn out to be another shiny object that ends up being thrown on the “oh well” scrap heap. And please follow Google’s directions on this.”
ALAN BLEIWEISS, SEO CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AUTHOR

As is common with SEO challenges, it’s incredibly important to not only consider the value of the concept, but evaluate the impact of the change on your site and its users.

 

SEO Challenge #10: Machine learning applications

There’s been a lot of talk about machine learning in the search-O-sphere in the last year. Moz Wizard and Search hero Rand Fishkin even did a presentation on how we’ve entered a two algorithm world, but there’s also been a lot of hesitation from SEOs.

We asked why that might be, and why most of our CAB ranked this SEO challenge in the grand 'ol spot of last place...

“Why? For who? If you are not already basing your entire focus on human emotional value coupled with ensuring search crawlers and algorithms are able to properly access and interpret that in how those emulate human experience, you’re missing out on what matters.”
ALAN BLEIWEISS, SEO CONSULTANT, SPEAKER & AUTHOR

“I put machine learning applications as last mostly because whatever machine learning search engines are doing is out of our hands. It will be fun to watch people theory craft throughout 2017 around this topic, however. At the end of the day, build content and features for the people who actually use your products and services. That is never going to change.”
JACQUELINE URICK, HEAD OF SEO AT PAMPERED CHEF

So, what have we learnt?

As SEOs we are spoilt for choice in terms of the exciting challenges to jump into this year. BUT, before we do, it’s as important as ever to stay critical, and remain dutiful data-junkies, who test, test, & retest before assuming and applying changes to our sites’ based on what’s buzzing in the industry, or the latest whisper of a potential algo-update!