If there’s anything we’ve learned so far, it’s that SEO is by no means a static industry. It’s dynamic, ever-changing, ever-evolving.
Google rolls out big changes each year, and while some updates are more significant than others, each one makes a difference in how we approach SEO. Staying on top of key trends allows you to see how you stand as a business and future-proof your SEO for the year ahead.
In this blog, we’ll break down some important SEO topics creating a buzz in the SEO community, and how these will shape search engine optimization in 2018.
Let’s dive into it.
RankBrain and Machine-learning
Topic: RankBrain will play a bigger role in filtering search results.
In 2015, Google launched one of its most fascinating projects to date: RankBrain. You may have heard of RankBrain when it came out as Google’s third most important ranking factor, right behind links and content.
RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps Google sort and monitor some of its search results. The idea behind the AI system is to make the internet a better, easier place to search.
It does this by measuring how users interact with the search results and ranking the results accordingly.
For example, your search term is â€œbrownie recipeâ€. The first result on the page looks especially helpful, so you click on it. When you get to the article, it has the content you need and offers an easy, quick read. So you stay on the page.
Rankbrain will take note, and give that result a ranking boost.
In contrast, let’s say for the same search term (brownie recipe), you click on the second result instead. But this time, the article gives you poor-quality content off the bat, so you leave the page after a few seconds.
You’re chucked back to the results page, and you click on the first result to see if it has content that’s worth reading.
RankBrain will also process this information. If enough users instantly bounce from the second result, Google will downgrade it from the second spot, slowly yet surely.
Simply, RainBrain evaluates the time a user spends on the page (dwell time), and the number of users who click on the result (click-through rate).
With each passing year since its launch, RankBrain becomes more relevant. In 2018, Google will use RankBrain to filter results more effectively and offer users a better experience.
Google uses machine-learning technology, like the one in RankBrain, to find patterns and make sense of relevant data when it evaluates user engagement with web pages. It is from this data that Google can evaluate user intent and provide the best results to meet it.
Currently, the search engine giant is using conventional signals to determine ranking. In the next few months, we might see more of RankBrain in action â€“ albeit behind the scenes.
Topic: If you still aren’t mobile-first in your SEO approach, you need to be in 2018.
Over the last few years, marketers have emphasized the need to be mobile-friendly or mobile-responsive. But 2018 is the time to push harder.
In 2015, we learned that mobile searches had exceeded desktop searches on Google search â€“ and just last year, we found out that Google’s mobile-first index is finally being rolled out.
With mobile-first indexing, Google will rank its search results based on the mobile version of their content, even for results that appear on desktop searches.
This is Google’s response to the increasingly mobile behavior of users. Now more than ever, people are using their smartphones and tablets to access the web, so it stands to reason that search engines focus on providing mobile-friendly results.
For webmasters, this means a mobile-first approach must be implemented to capitalize on this shift in web behavior.
Businesses that grew up on desktops would naturally use a desktop frame of reference in terms of page performance, web design and analytics. Given the widening gap between mobile and desktop searchers, this mindset isn’t likely to survive in 2018.
With the rollout of mobile-indexing, it is the year where signals that used to affect only mobile searches will become signals that impact all searches. Following that trend, websites that are clunky and don’t respond well on mobile devices may soon become obsolete. On the other hand, sites that are designed simply, elegantly, and can run quickly on less powerful devices will dominate.
To keep up with demands, businesses must:
- Design and optimize sites for speed and mobile-friendliness.
- Identify the different user intent signals on both desktop and mobile devices.
- Optimize mobile pages and mobile content to increase conversions.
Brands don’t necessarily need to split their SEO efforts between desktop and mobile, but they must realize that many of these efforts have to be mobile-first in order to gain a competitive edge.
Voice Search and Digital Assistants
Topic: SEOs are starting to optimize some of their content for voice search.
With Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s own Home, voice search is bigger than ever.
About 40% of adults perform at least one voice search in a day, and 20% of all mobile searches are voice searches. Google says one out of five searches already comes from voice queries.
Much of this is owed to the fast-improving accuracy of digital assistants. As this continues, more people will use voice search to seek fast and relevant answers, while digital assistants will show accurate results.
As voice search technology changes the way we communicate and process information, it’s also changing the way search queries are performed around the world. This has led marketers to find ways to leverage voice search for their content efforts, however complicated the optimization may be.
To optimize for voice search, SEOs must:
- Focus on more long-tail keywords and a natural language that matches users’ conversational tone
- Have their content on the first page
- Have their content appear in a Featured Snippet
- Include a question in their content, as the vast majority of voice searches are question-based
Although voice search is relatively young as an SEO strategy, it helps to pay more attention to it in 2018.
Topic: Visualization is more important than ever.
For all the informative and entertaining materials on the web, videos seem to be the centerpiece of it all. The use of visually rich and interactive elements appears effective in drawing the attention of a generation with an eight-second attention span.
On Facebook, a total of 1.65 billion active users watch about 8 billion videos each day, while YouTube has more subscriptions during peak TV hours than any cable TV network. On top of that, YouTube has become the world’s second largest search engine, which means more and more users are looking for information on YouTube and bypassing Google altogether.
Meanwhile, Cisco predicts that online video will make up 80% of all online traffic by 2021. HubSpot supports this prediction; they say that 43% of people demand more video content.
Brands are catching up on the trend, seizing the power of online videos to convey their messaging. Hence the bombardment of video ads we see on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat every day.
If you’re not already creating video content, 2018 is the best time to start.
Focus on creating and optimizing content for YouTube. With SEO-optimized YouTube videos, you’ll own more real estate on Google results page. About 55% of all Google search results contain at least one video, and nearly all those videos are from YouTube. And given that YouTube is a property of Google, Google’s search results will have more YouTube videos than ever before.
Topic: Paying for links is no longer effective.
SEO still comes down to content and links. Without quality content, you don’t get links. And without links, your content won’t climb to the first page.
While link-building isn’t going away anytime soon, seeking out new links that don’t offer value is a waste of effort at best, and dangerous at worst. Paid or low-quality links hardly age well â€“ eventually, they will have an adverse impact your rankings.
The challenge for 2018 is ensuring your link-building strategy doesn’t hurt your brand’s reputation.
That means developing a more diverse link-building strategy and building a complete backlink profile, instead of relying on single links.
The best backlinks don’t always have to come from the most popular sites. The goal is to acquire coverage from sites that are relevant to your industry. At the very least, they must be real, with a goal to publish valuable, well-crafted content.
To rank with confidence in the long term, you must invest in quality, in-depth content and aim for quality links.
SEO In 2018
It appears that 2018 will be an interesting year for SEO. Some traditional techniques are still effective while shifting behaviors and emerging technologies are paving the way for new approaches that many didn’t think possible.
What we can be sure of so far is that search engines are pushing towards a meaningful search experience. The focus is on the user, the device they use and the way they consume content.
In effect, SEO as an industry will head in the same direction. From the rise of AI to the return of mobilegeddon, 2018 looks bright already.