As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time for us to start making predictions that we have absolutely no idea how we can prove.
It’s time to answer what the most important SEO trends for 2018 will be.
Part of being a good SEO practitioner is not only following tried and true best practices, but theorizing and testing new strategies that are consistent with the direction that newer technologies are headed in.
This past year there have been some major updates like the hilariously named Fred (coined by Google’s own Gary Illyes, and which all future updates will also be named) and other minor updates along the way but thanks to the ever increasing integration of Google’s machine learning component of it’s algorithm, there is an ever decreasing amount of influence that search marketers have.
In 2018, old SEO practices and mentalities are going to continue to not only fall by the wayside and/or get you penalized, but RankBrain won’t even pay any attention to you.
Now is the time to focus on user experience and engagement with your website and web page content. Google is looking at these metrics more than ever to figure out what you’re about and if they should serve your content or not.
Mobile First Index Is Coming
Perhaps the biggest shift to come is the continued roll out of mobile experience as a ranking signal. Last year, Google first stated that they will be switching over to a completely mobile first index. This hasn’t fully happened yet, but it’s only going to become more important as the months go on.
As it stands currently, Google mostly judges your site based on the factors of the desktop version. They do take into account a few mobile factors, but not entirely.
Within the next 1-2 years Google is going to completely base how your site is ranked, based on the mobile view of your site. That means that it’s more important than ever to ensure that your mobile website is extremely useful and easy to use for your users.
Here are some mobile friendly factors to keep in mind:
- Don’t skip out on content. Google values quality and relevant content. So your mobile site should have just as much, if not more content than the desktop site.
- Make sure that the styles and UX are ideal for users using a small device. These include things like big enough tap targets, text and sections headings responding properly to the new browser size, and not hiding or interrupting any content.
- The site needs to load super fast. With mobile devices becoming more popular and attention spans shrinking, you can’t afford to have a slow loading site. Users will leave after about 4 seconds. No debate about it.
Voice Search Is More Popular Than You Think
Voice search has already changed the ways search engines process content as well as how users search for and find businesses.
Because people are speaking and not typing in their queries, their searches are extremely close to natural speech and the keywords around their searches become more long tail. That means that these searches are highly targeted and specific.
For SEOs and content marketers, this might seem like less opportunity because searches are more scattered and specified. But in reality, it creates more opportunity for competition, which is good if you’re willing to put in the work.
Voice search allows companies to make content that satisfies very specific needs of their users and get a much clearer picture of their target audience and their needs. Once they understand these needs they can better promote their products and services based on those findings.
Voice search is also incredibly important to Local SEO because the phrases are much more action oriented and locally specific than desktop searches (obviously).
2018 will bring more and more users that are comfortable speaking into their phone in public because it’s becoming more and more common. It has been estimated, by the year 2020, around 50% of all searches will be done by voice.
Search marketers need to stop focusing on optimizing sites and pages for a single keyword and consider adding in more long tail queries, use natural, human focused language, and incorporate LSI keywords to paint a more broad and context rich content, that better serves the potential searches of clients that aren’t going to be neatly formed into a concise keyword anymore.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Google rankbrain has already shook up the SEO world. The inclusion of artificial intelligence and machine learning into the rankings process has completely redefined the industry.
Rankbrain is able to make connections beyond the easy to manipulate factors that search marketers have been used to changing for the last two decades. Even it’s own creators say that they don’t completely understand what it does, and it has been called the third most important factor.
Prior to 2018, the machine learning portion of the algorithm only affected certain parts of searches. But as it becomes more integrated into the core algo, there is going to be a higher number of queries affected and it is going to be much more difficult for SEOs to influence rankings.
In this upcoming year, it’s going to be more important than ever to understand the contextual relevance of, strategize for, and build content that is actually useful to people in the real world. This will be a huge shift from the old model of implementing the right components to satisfy google’s major ranking factors.
This content and the related web pages will need to be built upon strong semantic foundations and will need to incorporate a more broad sense of keywords that are strongly and loosely related to one another to paint a more human friendly picture. They will need to include research about the intent of target users and not only satisfy their needs, but delight them with the word choice and tone. The required depth of content usefulness is going to skyrocket.
Content marketing will continue to make it’s way to the forefront of SEO and marketers will be not be rewarded in the SERPS if they provide lackluster and non useful content.
Answer Boxes and Rich Snippets
On average, rich snippets and non standard SERP features have been on the rise in the past few years. Rarely will you see 10 blue links for any keyword query these days.
Google’s knowledge graph has been rapidly accruing and making sense of new data and they are able to return it to users in a surprising quick and accurate fashion.
User’s are seemingly happy with this due to the fact that they don’t have to dig around through a website to find relevant information anymore and are able to get their queries satisfied directly in the SERPS. This makes Google extremely happy because users are directly interfacing with their product more than ever.
SEOs in 2018 will likely see their overall click through rates and organic traffic drop for some keywords due to the fact that less users overall will even click through to a website to satisfy their need. It will be a huge loss for many sites across the board.
However, this also presents opportunity to create incredibly compelling, useful, and well formatted content that can take these top spots with rich snippets, answer boxes, and other knowledge graph related features. Companies who develop the right kind of content will see huge traffic wins if they are able to rank for these “0 position” keywords.
Users aren’t spending less time on the internet, they’re simply spending less time on traditional web pages. So it’s up to search marketers to shift their strategies to these upgraded forms of content promotion and fully embrace the potential SERP features for their site.
Schema markup and structured data
If you’re unfamiliar with schema markup and structured data, you’re definitely behind. It’s been around for awhile. But you’re not alone, only about 30% of websites are currently implementing schema.
Let’s catch you up.
Structured data is information you add via code to your website that describes your business, products, and company offerings. It helps search engines make sense of your text better. As it stands, search engines have a complex algorithm that make very intelligent guesses as to what your content is about, and how it’s all related. Structured data just tells them exactly what it’s about.
Schema.org markup is a specific type of structured data created by Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex (Russian search engine) in order to create a markup standard that provides a more fluid experience for web users between search engines.
Google has already publicly stated that they value structured data. It helps them more explicitly understand the web’s content and allows them to more accurately return results for your business in search results.
Moving forward in 2018 and beyond, structured data is becoming more and more important. As user engagement metrics become a bigger part of Google’s ranking system, then websites with structured data and their related rich snippets will matter more as well.
Users are going to expect a richer experience when viewing the SERPS and if your web presence doesn’t deliver then they aren’t going to click through as often, which will push you further down in terms of results.
Google’s goal has always been to provide the most relevant and quality content possible. There have been many different ways that they’ve judged this in the past, but the future is all about high quality and super engaging content.
Not only does the content quality matter in terms of what you publish and your site’s authority, but now more than ever, ensuring that you have only high value links pointing to your site is imperative .
If you do outreach with poor content or think that simply posting content on social media that doesn’t add any value will attract links, you are sadly mistaken.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Today’s internet users are getting much savvier with how they navigate the web, and they aren’t going to stick around to consume poor content. That means that in order to compete in terms of authority and likability, your content has to be much more targeted, useful, and well written.
That also means pruning your old content and ensuring that you don’t have dead weight content bringing down your overall website’s content profile. Content marketing in 2018 will need a “less is more” mentality. One long form and well thought out blog post written every week that users love is much better than an article written everyday that has no thought put into it no one reading it.
Moving forward, you are going to have to put in the time to research your topics, understand your audience’s specific needs, cite your sources, include multiple forms of media, and target your audience with the right channels.
UX and Engagement Metrics Help You Rank Better
As we mentioned above, user engagement the related user experience are going to be the dominate metrics for ranking in 2018.
If Google determines that users are going to your site and quickly returning to the SERPs, aren’t staying on your service pages very long, or that you don’t have high engagement rates on social profiles, you’re not going to do well.
Your business needs to have a specific idea of who you are targeting and your whole web presence needs to be focused on providing them with an incredible experience on your website and related channels. If they have an incredibly experience they will stay engaged with your content, which will also result in a higher customer lifetime value and more business.
Here are some important aspects of your site that you need to consider optimizing:
- Optimizing meta information. Your seo title and meta description are still important and relevant in the sense that getting users to click through to your site is ridiculously important. That level of engagement is valuable to search engines in trying to gauge how much users enjoy your content.
- Site speed. If your site doesn’t load in under 4 seconds, you’re going to lose visitors.
- Mobile experience. You should already know this by now, but most users are going to access your site with their mobile devices. So if you’re still using a silly m dot site or you’ve stripped your mobile site of all engaging and useful content, you need to rethink your strategy immediately.
- Content architecture. Do you have a ton of relevant and informative content about your business, services, and products that is easily accessible on your site? If not, you need to go add some. Users are going to want that information to make an informed decision about your brand way before they buy anything.
Not Switching To Https Will Hurt Your Search Visibility
In 2018, the penalty for not having https is only going to get more severe.
Not only are search engines going to devalue your site, but users are likely not going to trust what you offer due to the warning about your site not being secure. Especially if your site is asking for any kind of sensitive information like emails, passwords, credit card info, etc.
Installing a security certificate can be quite a long and even potentially harmful process (for your rankings.) So you’re going to want to hire an expert or plan accordingly for the entire migration. But not doing so is not going to be an option anymore.