It may come as no surprise that more than 70 percent of customers start their purchase journeys on their laptops, phones or tablets. Knowing this, you may have even hired an SEO expert or digital marketing agency to help you capture some of this search traffic. But how much is the target customer actually influencing that strategy?

The landscape of search marketing is drastically changing. Keyword ranking just doesn't cut it anymore -- not with the varied ways consumers are looking for information and the different devices they're using to access it.

Today, a solid search marketing strategy has to be equal parts data and customer. It's about taking all elements of the customer journey and experience --brand, content, design, etc. -- and integrating them into the search strategy. The following are a few important trends to keep in mind in developing an SEO plan of attack.

  1. The ubiquity of voice search

As more consumers bring internet of things (IoT) assistants like Amazon Echo into their homes, they're adapting the way in which they search --and it's markedly different than their text-based interactions with traditional search engines.

For most of search's history, SEO marketers honed in on keywords, correctly assuming that searchers would rather type in the gist of what they're looking for versus asking in a complete sentence. That's no longer the case as consumers become more comfortable talking to their automated assistants.

This shift in behavior means marketers must take into account the careful wording and question-oriented manner in which consumers are looking for information. Furthermore, Google, which is the master of monitoring trends in search behavior, has already begun to adapt it's predictive search, now prefilling the search bar with more complete sentences versus a set of keywords.

Having a mobile-first strategy for capitalizing on what consumers say and how they say it will prove tantamount to success going forward. That's because as systems get to "know us" better through speech pattern recognition, they'll know consumer preferences more intuitively.

2. The customer-experience

Naturally not every search is conducted out of an intent to buy. More often than not, we simply want to gather information. With that in mind, how can you extract the data you already have on your customers and their behaviors and apply it to your SEO strategy?

What challenges, motives, stages in their life, or pain points trigger a search? Where do they begin their search and what are the initial questions they are looking to answer?

Having an intimate knowledge of your customers is crucial to building an effective search strategy. It will help you identify not only what they're searching for and when, but why they're looking for something.

With that level of understanding you'll be able to create content that provides the answers they're looking for. This will establish and build trust, and demonstrate that you understand them. They'll begin to see your brand as a resource and when they're ready to move further down the purchase path, guess who will be more top of mind.

If that sounds like a long-tail approach to winning over a customer, it is but there's another reason quality content will help your brand rise above the rest. Google is constantly working to improve the search experience, and this is why they've started featuring rich-text snippets on their search engine results pages (SERPs) --delivering the answers right there rather than having to click deeper.

This is great for searchers because it enables a quick glance at all of the relevant information, but presents a challenge for marketers as it has repercussions on click-through rates. Still, the overall effect of a better experience and the positive brand association that comes with it are worth making the effort to create good, bite-sized content.

And this is why SEO marketers must begin to join forces with their content marketing counterparts.  

3. Inter-departmental collaboration

SEO has evolved into something much more strategic, and it's no longer going to come from siloed departments. SEO teams should be working side by side with branding, sales, content and customer experience teams to evolve into experts on problem-solving and engagement.

When these teams work in unison, they're better equipped to build a cohesive marketing strategy that takes into into account data from the sales team (those on the frontlines who are talking to customers every day), as well as data from content and analytics teams to better understand what's bringing prospective customers to the site in the first place. This will pave the way for more informed marketing decisions across the board, everyone driving in the same direction, and the ability to deliver a more personalized experience from the onset.

4. Personalization and relevancy

Personalization is only going to continue to gain steam, particularly as more systems begin to talk to one another. Data culled from Google, Facebook and third-party research is already being used to piece together a complete picture of every consumer, which means the future of search marketing will be all about who can deliver the most personalized experiences.

Before, geo-targeting was the most effective way of using consumer data to create contextually-relevant content and take advantage of spur-of-the-moment customer decisions. But connected systems sharing data from multiple platforms goes steps beyond simply knowing where someone is -- they can now know what someone wants.

Predictive analytics shines a bright data light on the nuances of consumer behavior and the numbers will soon be able to spell out things like brand preference based on current events and past trends.

This will be a potentially tricky new component of search for marketers to navigate because results will be much more individually tailored than they ever have been. Measuring the effect of individual keywords likely won't be as simple as it is today, but the tradeoff of a better customer experience means marketers will have to adjust and learn.

SEO is no longer about a quick fix to lead generation. In today's ultra-connected world, search is transitioning to more of a brand-building and credibility-boosting tool. But a more dialed-in approach to search marketing will likely yield better returns for brands as they'll turn up more relevant searchers with a very specific need.