It’s both the exasperation and the thrill of working in SEO: the rules of the game are constantly in a state of flux. New advancements in technology, major updates from Google and changes in the habits and trends of consumers are all factors which contribute to the work of SEOs. It’s a perpetually evolving industry and part of an SEO’s job is to remain firmly afloat of any new updates and changes which could affect a digital marketing strategy. With this in mind, we thought it would be helpful to compile our top predictions for SEO in 2018.
Before you fret that the entire face of SEO could be flipped on its head, it’s worth mentioning that there are not likely to be any groundbreaking updates that take everybody by surprise (and not the nice kind of surprise). Unless you’re doing something naughty with your SEO strategy, realistically there aren’t going to be any major changes that cause your website to drop off the face of the SERPs altogether. And if you’re a Yellowball client then you can be completely safe in the knowledge that we’re not doing anything we shouldn’t be doing. We’re good, honest SEOs, through and through.
We predict that next year will see a continuation of what we know already. Ultimately, onsite optimisation, killer content and valuable backlinks will continue to be the key pillars of SEO that should form the core of your strategy. The development of machine learning and more complex ranking factors should not mean that these three factors become irrelevant.
But the SEO landscape is competitive and that’s only going to continue. So SEOs will need to go beyond the core principles to work on the finer details, such as surpassing position one in the SERPs and onto position zero. Haven’t a clue what we’re talking about? Read on to learn about our predictions for SEO in 2018.
1. Continued rise of AI
Last year saw the introduction of RankBrain, a machine-learning artificial intelligence system. By deploying AI in search engines, results will get increasingly accurate and we are also likely to see the total elimination of black-hat SEO once and for all. Which can only be good news!
How can we ensure that our SEO strategies are factoring in the machine? It’s really very simple: continue focussing on providing high quality content. Just because the theories behind AI and machine-learning are too complex for most normal people to comprehend, doesn’t mean that we can’t make the most of it. Focus on quality content and let Google do the complicated stuff.
2. Increase of voice search
Is it just me or did everyone and their dog get a smart speaker for Christmas? As the technology continues to improve and these clever little devices continue to rocket in popularity, we are becoming increasingly conditioned to deploy our voices rather than our fingers to find what we need. This is also compounded by RankBrain, which has brought about the necessity to concentrate more on long-tail keywords and user intent.
When it comes to voice search, only one result wins. SEO strategies will therefore need to factor in voice search optimisation and this will primarily take the form of more conversational, long-tail keywords. When using our fingers, we tend to be as brief and concise as possible for the simple reason that we are inherently lazy. When using our voices, searchers tend to deploy more natural, conversational language and this needs to be factored into the keywords your content is targeting.
3. Mobile, mobile, mobile
I know, we sound like a broken record. The last year has been all mobile-this and mobile-that; you’ve probably had enough. But unfortunately we’re not going to stop talking about because it’s really very important.
With the introduction of a mobile-first index, this goes beyond having a website that functions on mobile. Rather, it needs to provide the best possible mobile experience for users and in the cold light of day, you should be prioritising mobile experience over desktop experience. Obviously try to do both well for optimum results but we cannot stress the importance of mobile enough. I mean we probably have, but just in case you weren’t listening.
4. More featured snippets
Recent years have seen a rise in the number of featured snippets appearing in the SERPs. The prevalence of these handy little boxes is only set to increase and marketers need to be aware of the implications on organic search.
Featured snippets mean that searches can get the answers they need without ever having to leave the SERPs. This is bad news for SEOs, as the presence of a featured snippet dramatically decreases the click-through rate on the SERPs for that particular search. Even more so for ‘People Also Ask’ boxes, which not only push the organic results further down the page when the searcher expands these dropdowns, but also serve as a further distraction from the websites which appear. Even if your website occupies the top spot in the organic listings, if a snippet appears above then you can wave adios to stellar click-through rates.
That all sounds pretty bleak but don’t get too upset over it. Rather than viewing this shift as a threat, we can see some opportunities arising here. It simply takes a bit of savvy SEO work and occupying the featured snippet position (or position zero) could provide some tempting returns. Just make sure that you are tracking how your website ranks for these features.
5. Greater emphasis on structured markup
It’s no secret that implementing structured data markup, or Schema markup, on your website can provide serious advantages in terms of ranking highly. Why? Because structured markup helps Google to better understand a webpage and frankly anything that helps Google do its job is an almighty win.
We therefore predict that structured data will become even more important throughout 2018, as Google aims to incentivise more websites to utilise it. There are still only a surprisingly small number of sites actually making full use of structured markup and Google will want to change this.
6. Looking beyond vanity metrics
We are always stressing the importance of tracking and reporting in any marketing campaign. However, this needs to go beyond those satisfying vanity metrics, such as rankings, traffic volume and bounce rates. Sure, these are important, but they don’t give much indication as to what’s working and what isn’t.
SEOs need to be understanding the entire customer journey, not just ferrying people from the SERPs to your website. Metrics like user flow are essential in understanding how people are using a website and heat maps are an excellent way of getting a visual representation of this data. Increased click-throughs from the SERPs is ultimately of little value if people aren’t converting. Consider the bigger picture and you’ll see far more value from your SEO campaign.
7. Don’t underestimate UX
User experience has always been important in terms of the wider digital marketing strategy, but we predict it will become even more essential to the success of SEO. Dwell time has been a ranking factor for a long time and we suspect that Google will put even more emphasis on this. The user is always at the heart of any SEO campaign and it therefore follows that UX is a major factor in the pursuit of value and relevance. It’s not just about the quality of the content but also about the quality of the website itself.
Within UX, one factor that we particularly want to mention is page speed. Faster load speeds equal happier users, it’s a no-brainer. Further to this, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) were introduced to help increase the load time of webpages and we reckon this will be developed more in 2018. Currently there are mixed responses, with some claiming serious benefits of implementing AMP, whilst others have actually reported a drop in mobile leads following implementation. It’s a case of watch this space and we’ll be keeping a close eye on AMP.
8. Continued production of video
Finally, we had to mention the continued rise of video as a factor to look out for in 2018. We’ve all seen the increased prevalence of video across the web over the past few years, particularly on social media. However, video should not just be reserved for your Facebook feed, and SEOs need to start integrating it into their strategies.
Not only is it fast becoming the most popular method of consuming content, it also helps to increase the time spent on a given webpage. And we all know how important dwell time is (if you’ve been paying attention to this article of course). SEOs will need to be aware of how to optimise videos for search engines, ensuring they are properly embedded. This also extends to the use of virtual reality, another form of media which is gaining traction online.
If you’d like to know more about the SEO services we offer at Yellowball, or if you just want a nice chat about all things search, then get in touch with our friendly team.