Happy new year, dear readers! Although I’m a little later than I have been in the past couple of years with this post, the time has come to share my SEO 2018 predictions and trends to watch.
It would be easy to dismiss the notion of a predictions post altogether, given the massive changes we used to see in the industry. These have been replaced by much more comprehensive, long-term changes to how websites are crawled and ranked.
I won’t waste your time rehashing huge trends such as Rankbrain and Mobile-first indexing, both of which were included in my SEO 2017 Predictions post.
This year, I will pivot and focus on some smaller trends that are mostly caused by these bigger changes at Google, Bing, and the other search engines. After all, it does you no good to know Google employs artificial intelligence and machine learning if you don’t know what you can do to benefit from it, right?
So, without further ado, let’s get right to it.
Tommy Landry’s SEO 2018 Predictions and Trends
In preparing for this post, I tried very hard to group the trends into subtopics of SEO that we all know. My first cut was technical, on page, and off page. In years past, that would have worked.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t cut it for 2018. While some of the predictions are clearly focused on technical or another area, some cross multiple.
So let’s just do this stream of consciousness style, starting with…
Content Quality and Relevance Grows in Importance
Is anyone else sick of the old catch phrase “Content is king”? I sure am.
Yes, content matters. You can’t even build a website or rank it without any content. But we shouldn’t reduce it to a silly attention-span defying soundbyte.
That’s what led us to the overwhelming amount of terrible content we’ve seen flood the web, from shallow “me too” posts to straight up fake news. Meh.
No, you have to stand out. We’ve done a good amount of testing on our own blog. Both quality and relevance are not to be underestimated.
And when I say quality, I mean exceptional quality. Solid, in depth analysis. Relatable voice. A unique angle on a topic. You get the picture.
It also matters that you set expectations for what is and is not within your “sweet spot” topically. Then stick to it. If you want to go on a tangent, take the time to explain why it fits. Otherwise, why waste your time at all?
Contextual Links Are the Holy Grail of SEO
Google finally took what they learned in the Google Penguin update stream and started weaving it into the algorithm itself. And thankfully so!
Heck, there was talk of a small update on Christmas 2017 that specifically focused on low quality links. Merry Christmas black hats!
You can’t game the system nearly as much as you once could. Want links? Hire a PR firm. Place guest posts on other high authority sites. Get bloggers and journalists to talk about your brand.
But just don’t link spam at all. You need those contextual links we’ve coveted for years more than ever.
If you can’t take this kind of work on for yourself, bring in experts. You can find plenty of options who offer guest posting. Heck we offer our own version, branded as Content Marketing Boosters, which pretty much any company in any industry could take advantage of.
No excuses and no cheating. There are white hat options abounding. Stick to contextual links. You’ll be glad you did.
Meta Descriptions Matter More than Ever
Did you see the update about the expanded meta descriptions showing on Google SERPs? That’s right, you now have up to 320 characters visible on the SERP snippet.
I can already sense some skeptics out there with the “but, meta descriptions don’t factor into ranking at all.”
Yes, that’s true. But meta descriptions are one of the most important factors for earning that ever-so-elusive click on increasingly cluttered search results pages.
You now have about twice as many characters to pimp your brand and woo the searcher to click on your result. Marketers have wanted this for years, and now they have it.
So meta descriptions pose a significant advantage to early movers on expanding those custom descriptions. Take advantage of it while others are still asleep at the wheel.
Since click thru rate also factors into how Google and Bing serve up personalized results, it matters for the first and other searches by the same user.
Track Special Real Estate on the SERPs
Oh right, about those cluttered SERPs. Surely you’ve noticed that we have somehow evolved from the old, simple 10-entry version to…whatever this is that we see today.
We have the local pack, the knowledge graph, video snippets, nav across the top for maps/videos/images/whatever, shopping, and a slew of other things on the page to draw clicks away from your shiny organic listing.
Are you paying attention, or simply using the tired old approach of “we rank #3 for [whatever] keyword”?
I really hope not.
Rankings simply ain’t what they used to be. Heck, I discourage clients from obsessing over ranking across the board.
With personalized results, all of the distractions, PPC ads, and semantic match (more on some of these later), average rankings are almost worthless for all but the super short-tail keywords. You know, the ones that huge brands dominate anyway.
If you really want to get a picture of your visibility, it’s time to step up the game. Either find an SEO dashboard that can track all of these various placements as well, or change your focus. Organic traffic volume and conversions anyone?
Seriously. As a business, what else really matters? Don’t waste your time on analysis paralysis. Shift the focus to what really matters.
Increased Importance of Semantic Markup
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to avoid targeting placements in those various snippets and other special features like position zero. Quite the opposite.
Get value anywhere you can do it. Every single one of those special features is worth pursuing, within reason. And how does one go about such a thing?
Many of them depend on intent based matching, relevance, and quality (sounds familiar, right?). We already covered the latter two – that’s based on the content.
But the intent part is more. It does rely on the content for part of it, as well as the verbiage and overall focus on related keywords and topics (that could be a whole post of its own, so let’s cover at a later date).
Semantic markup plays heavily into many of these features. Especially in the case of the knowledge graph.
If you’re unfamiliar with what it is or why to do it, think of it as code to spoon feed the search engines information about content entities, which helps them understand how the content aligns with the intent of the searches.
Click the hyperlink earlier in this paragraph to learn more.
Increase Focus on Visit Quality Analytics
How deeply do you analyze the data on visits to your website? If you are offering a quality user experience and great content, you’d expect people to stick around.
Google has repeatedly denied using these metrics for ranking purposes. But I don’t buy it.
If they take user experience into account, there’s no way to avoid considering these important. After all, how else do you know if people are finding what they need and sticking around to enjoy it?
So definitely analyze those quality metrics by domain and even by section of the site. Things like bounce rate, time on site, and pages per visit.
If you find parts working and others not working, consider why not. Is some content better? Do the pages look different?
Or the most important question – where do we have rich media present on the site? Things like video and podcasts are known to increase dwell time, so they can really help here.
Have you ever analyzed how they impact these metrics? Perhaps it’s time you should.
High Performing Websites Rule the Pack, With a Caveat
As an SEO or marketer, you should already be aware of how critical website speed and page load time is for ranking and driving traffic. In fact, performance analysis is a key deliverable for website SEO audits.
When it comes to technical SEO, performance rivals only crawler management (for inciting indexing) in importance to your overall organic results.
I fully anticipate that site speed will only grow in importance as search engine spiders become more sophisticated in indexing data semantically.
However, this all comes with a caveat – not all well performing websites may deliver the goods if the ISPs decide to start toying around with content delivery.
Surely you’ve seen the repeal of net neutrality (and if you didn’t, how in the world did you miss it?). Are you aware of the implications of its elimination?
Now, ISPs could very well opt to charge fees to businesses to ensure they are able to load on full bandwidth connections. While none of them have announced plans to do so, they now have the legal right to do it if they choose.
One way or another, if you decide to publish rich media as suggested earlier, put a lot of thought into where you host it. If you self-host, you could be subject to gated delivery should the ISPs opt to introduce menu-based pricing on audio and/or video content.
Leave that battle to YouTube (i.e. Google) and other large players just to be safe. Your SEO may very well depend on it.
Mobile Will Continue to Grow Its Lead Over Desktop Search
We all know about Google’s mobile-first indexing by this point. And that was truly the right move with over half of searches occurring on mobile devices in 2017.
As users become more accustomed to searching and buying on mobile devices, especially in consumer-focused transactions, this will explode even further. Heck, there are companies considering a switch to making tablets the primary computing devices for some activities.
So there’s no plateau coming. Mobile is here to stay, and here to grow. In fact, the time has finally come where a mobile-first approach to website user experience is reasonable and worthy of consideration, so long as you don’t ignore desktop altogether. Master responsive web design and never look back.
HTTPS Will Become Crucial to SEO Success
It has been a few years since Google announced that sites with active security certificates and HTTPS are better poised to rank on their index. They followed that up confirming how HTTPS is a factor in the search algorithm.
Studies have shown, however, that it levies a small impact in the grand scheme of ranking factors. Up until now, it hasn’t offered enough upside to prioritize above other SEO needs.
Then in September of 2017, Google advised webmasters to get over to HTTPS as soon as possible. Why? Because Chrome now shows warnings in the address bar for websites that are not secure (look for a circle with an exclamation point inside of it vs. a padlock symbol to know whether or not the site is secure).
What’s next? My gut says they’re about to elevate the importance of secure sites aggressively in the next two years. If you’ve been putting off the move to HTTPS, stop waiting.
You don’t want to be caught unexpectedly like those website owners who ignored Google’s repeated requests to make their websites mobile friendly leading up to Mobilegeddon.
They’ve shown us that, no matter what their warnings are in advance, they really mean to take action sooner or later.
So there you have it, my predictions and trends to watch for 2018 and beyond. I hope this post provided you some food for thought.
If any of these items caught your interest and you need help addressing them, please drop us a line and we’ll discuss your options. After all, this is why we are here at Return On Now.
All Images Credit: CC 0; Public Domain.
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