Photo illustration showing "2017 review" and "SEO"In the long game of SEO, changes tend to happen over the course of years. Most the developments for SEO in 2017 were gradual, including shifts in local listings, answer boxes, and voice search. However, we also saw one upheaval that only took a few weeks and offered some major opportunities for ranking improvements.

Subtle shift: HTTPS is now standard

Since 2014, Google has been encouraging migration to HTTPS, due to security concerns with HTTP. In October, they made it official: any site that gathers any user information through forms – including contact forms, email opt-ins, and even on-site search functions – must be HTTPS or Google Chrome will show the site as “Not Secure” in the address bar.

On the plus side, while HTTPS doesn’t mean “bulletproof security,” it is much better than HTTP at protecting your site from being hacked. Also, HTTPS sites tend to rank higher than HTTP sites, as we’ve seen with our clients’ sites, all of which have been HTTPS for at least a year, and for ourselves since migrating this site to HTTPS.

Subtle shift: Featured snippets offer insight as well as rankings

Featured snippets appear at the top of search engine results pages, usually in formats like answer boxes, “people also ask,” and numbered or bulleted lists. For a couple of years now, we’ve been coaching clients on how to rank in these results, with many successes, and in that time, we’ve gathered data that shows another value of appearing in featured snippets.

By studying the queries for which our clients have achieved featured snippet status, and the pages that ranked for those queries, we’ve gotten very useful insight on searcher intent for those queries. And that insight has helped us shape our clients’ content to better meet searchers’ needs.

Subtle shift: Voice search can overlap with featured snippets

Voice search has been part of the search landscape for five years now, but it’s still a relatively young channel, and voice-specific SEO is still in its early stages as well. This year, we were able to analyze voice search data and featured snippet data for our clients and discovered that many of the same approaches that help a page rank for an answer box also help with ranking in voice search.

This makes perfect sense considering how search engines are constantly evolving to approximate human language and expressions. When we ask a question, whether through text or voice, we tend to use simple language in a standard query format (“what is…?”, “how do I…?”), and search engines are getting better and better at recognizing and responding to that.

Subtle shift: Local featured snippets show more info

Over the past year or so, Google has added lots of additional features and tools to Google My Business, including: messaging, wait times, URLs for specific actions such as scheduling an appointment, posts, plus more improvements in analytics for your local SEO.

As a result, the “local graph” that appears for businesses contains more information than ever, and all of it is geared at the user. (There’s no place for “about our mission statement” in the local graph.) If your business has customer-facing locations, this is a great opportunity to boost your appeal to searchers who are in your vicinity–i.e., likely to actually visit.

Sudden upheaval: Snippets ignore meta descriptions, get almost twice as long

Unlike most SEO changes, which involve incremental changes and evolve over time, Google’s move to allow up to 320 (or so) characters in a listing’s snippet was extremely fast by SEO standards. In mid-to-late November, SEO experts started noticing longer snippets appearing in search results; by Dec. 1, Google employees had confirmed the new practice. In less than 2 weeks, search engine results page (SERP) listings looked drastically different.

But the real change wasn’t the snippet’s length; it was in the source of the snippet’s text. Before November, snippets were generally taken from meta descriptions that were only viewable to bots. Now, Google is scraping snippet text from the page content as well as the meta description, depending on the searcher’s query and perceived intent. There’s never been a better time to ensure your content aligns with the questions your site users ask and the information they seek.

There’s also never been a better time for the (un)Common Logic SEO team to wish you and your team a very happy holidays. See you next year!