As we close the curtain on 2017, we can look forward to the following SEO trends becoming more popular in 2018.
Let’s commence with the most obvious trend that will dominate 2018: voice search. An estimated 55% of teenagers and 40% of adults are using voice search on a daily basis and usage will only continue increasing as digital assistants become more sophisticated. The simplicity of voice search gives users the ability to find content and receive answers to questions without having to unlock their phones. Not only is voice search much easier than typing out queries, but the error rate continues to diminish as usage increases.
What does this mean for search strategists? I bet you’re saying “Isn’t voice search the same as seeking out information by typing it out?” I hate to burst your bubble, but voice search isn’t the same as manually typing out text. Users don’t use voice search the same way they use text search. Regular searching habits, especially from mobile devices, often require cat-like agility, which means truncating phrases to the bare minimum. For example, if you’re interested in finding out what the weather is in Montreal, you might write out “weather Montreal” to save time. However, with voice search, the average user will use a conversational tone and likely ask a digital assistant “What is the weather like in Montreal today?” Semantic search is now more important than ever with the evolution of voice search, which means you need to continue to work on implementing highly informative and keyword-rich content that search engines can process easily.
For those of you that subscribe to this blog, you’ll know that I’ve preached about mobile for years now, eventually reciting the same spiel over and over. However, with the mobile-first index likely coming in 2018, it’s time for your business to pay more attention to global mobile usage trends and make sure that any forthcoming updates don’t send your organic rankings down the gutter.
Still reticent to accept that fact that mobile is important from an SEO perspective? How about this: over 50% of all searches made on Google come from mobile devices. That’s right. More than half of the people searching on Google (which is the largest search engine in the world, by the way) are using mobile devices to discover content.
While the mobile-first index will only affect websites that have different content displayed for mobile and desktop devices respectively, it’s essential to make sure that your user experience is optimized for all types of smartphone and tablet devices. Forget about mobile usability issues that negatively affect your rankings for a moment and consider the impact of having a website that doesn’t render properly on smartphones and tablets.
Regardless of how you’re receiving inbound traffic, odds are that conversion rates will plummet on non-optimized websites compared to those that are working perfectly for users on mobile devices. Internet users are seeking out convenience and simplicity these days. If they have to squint to read content, you’ve already lost them. If they have to navigate between multiple apps to send an email or call your businesses, you’re missing out on potential leads. If they have to deal with a myriad of annoying mobile popups and interstitials, you may as well forget about generating any business online. Enhance the overall mobile experience before it’s too late.
It was relatively easy to capture organic traffic years ago if you were ranking in the first position for your most coveted keywords. Other than the *clearly* marked ads at the top, which are now more ambiguous than ever, there was nothing else to capture people’s attention away from your listing.
1st position = most organic traffic, right?
Well…..that was how SEO worked years ago. We have now entered the age of SERP features dominating organic results. This includes local packs pulled from Google Maps, Knowledge Graph panels, featured snippets, news carousels, and more. As a result, this has made it an agonizing process for websites that rely on first position rankings to capture traffic. Take a look at the search below for the query “Boston Bruins” – everything within the highlighted boxes was not showing up on Google several years ago. A user looking for information is spoon-fed content directly from Google SERPs without having to click one single link.
When Google first came about and introduced an algorithm to rank websites according to a number of factors, the entire environment was prone to manipulation via blackhat tactics. However, after years of algorithm updates and refinement, Google and other search engines have kept webmasters and marketing professionals on their toes, forcing them to carry out tactics that comply with global guidelines.
How can your website take advantage of the rise of SERP features?
Once again, it all comes back to producing relevant content based on what people are either searching for OR what you can expect them to search for in the future. While the latter is much more difficult to achieve, it is possible to prepare a strategy based on upcoming trends, events, and more. In other cases, creating content that seeks to answer popular questions will help you capture inbound traffic.
Take the “who shot first?” question from Star Wars Episode IV, for example. Google understood the query “who shot first?” is related to a popular question regarding the movie and produced the answer, along with similar questions, above the main organic listings.
From a technical standpoint, not much has changed with regards to how search engines crawl websites. All of the following still holds true:
Something that has become increasingly important over the past couple of years, and will only become more important in 2018, is structured data. Structured data is represented by the shiny results you see on search engines (I have included an example below – which gave me the appetite for strawberry shortcake). While implementing structured data doesn’t affect your rankings directly, it could help your business move up search engines indirectly, especially if the rich data embedded in search results lead to more clicks compared to your competitors.
I know what you’re saying: “how do fancy star ratings and information about how long it takes to bake a cake help me?” Well, data can be structured for most types of content: local businesses, articles, events, products, etc. Enhancing your listings with rich information will only increase your website’s visibility in SERPs, which can translate into more clicks. If more users begin clicking on your listings after the adoption of structured data, search engines will take notice and assume your website is more relevant for the search queries that generated the clicks. At the end of the rainbow, you’ll be rewarded with a pot of gold (well, not really, but you’ll likely see an increase in rankings, which can suffice as a replacement for actual gold). Don’t underestimate the power of enhanced search engine listings.
Google’s Penguin algorithm update was rolled out years ago due to SEO professionals building low-quality links and engaging in link schemes to manipulate search engine rankings. Over the past couple of years, search engines have been adamant about punishing websites that continue to violate universal website guidelines to deter other webmasters from engaging in blackhat tactics. As search engine optimization evolves, so will link building tactics over the next couple of years. One of these tactics is to develop brand citations around the web, otherwise known as linkless backlinks.
Citations can originate for a number of reasons. For example, if an infographic goes viral on Pinterest and other social media platforms, it’ll likely be used in blog content around the web. Unfortunately, not all content publishers attribute links to the source material, which can lead to missed link building opportunities. However, Bing has already confirmed that it “figured out the contest and sentiment of a tone,” meaning that it can associate brand mentions back to the original website without a link embedded in the content. If Bing is already moving forward in this direction, Google will likely catch up and associate ranking factors to linkless backlinks as well.
Although prominent figures within digital marketing communities decry that “SEO is dead!” every year, it seems like search engine optimization is becoming more important as each year passes by. Of course, the tactics employed years ago are no longer going to lead webmasters to the promised land. Link schemes, thin content, and manipulative doorway pages have thankfully been discarded as viable tactics to increase search rankings. While it’s virtually impossible to see how the digital marketing environment will evolve over the next five years, the main trends listed in this article can be used as a guideline of what to expect over the next 12 months when it comes to search engine optimization. Whether you have a team in-house or require the assistance of an online marketing agency (I think I know a company that can help…), it’s time to get serious about SEO in 2018.