December 18th, 2018

Reviewing our SEO predictions of 2018

At the end of each year, it’s become somewhat of a tradition for agencies to compile their SEO predictions for the following year. Back in January, we thought we’d look ahead as well! However, not many of these websites actually look into how accurate their predictions turned out to be. Considering the year is now coming to end, we thought it would be a good idea to see how well our SEO predictions played out throughout 2018.

Continued rise of AI

2018 saw Google make some serious advancements in artificial intelligence. Their previously named ‘Google Research’ initiative took on the new name of ‘Google AI’ to reflect the fact that the tech giants are now focusing on AI as their primary area of research. Shortly after this, Google announced the Google Duplex: an AI system capable of performing real-life tasks over the phone. Google showcased the system, which is able to book hair appointments and make dinner reservations over the phone; all while sounding like a natural, human voice.

Considering the emphasis Google placed on AI throughout 2018, they would have certainly incorporated their AI research to further develop their main product: Google Search. We already know of the existence of RankBrain – the AI algorithm that Google uses to understand the more obscure search queries. With the continued developments Google are making in AI, it goes without saying that RankBrain would have continued to improve and become more complex throughout 2018.

Let’s be honest though, this was an easy one to predict. The world has gone A.I crazy and not just because of Ex Machina, although that film did mean that a lot more people were aware of the Turing test! Whether you consider advancements being made to fall under the category of machine learning, deep learning or true A.I, we can definitely expect this trend to continue its upward trajectory.

Increase of voice search

“Alexa, how important has voice search been for SEO in 2018?” Very.

At the end of 2017, we predicted that voice search would be on the rise throughout 2018 – and we weren’t wrong. According to Canalys, it is expected that around 56.3m smart speakers will be sold throughout 2018, up from around 35m in 2017. Evidently, Amazon Echos and Google Homes continue to dominate as the hottest voice assistant accessory on the market, and will no doubt be wrapped under the trees of many homes this Christmas.

The abundance of these AI assistants throughout our households is having a huge impact on the way people search. We are now experiencing a shift towards more conversational and question-based queries rather than more formal searches. So rather than type in “scrambled egg recipe”, people are more likely to ask their Alexa, “how do I make scrambled egg”. If you’re still not convinced, consider this astonishing statistic. It is now estimated that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. Therefore, if you haven’t already incorporated voice search into your SEO strategy, now is the time to do so.

Mobile, mobile, mobile

While we have known about the prospect of the mobile first index for a while now, it had not been fully rolled out when we made our SEO predictions for 2018 about a year ago. However, on 26th March 2018 Google finally announced that mobile first indexing would be included in its search ranking algorithm after a year and half of testing.

As a result, websites who follow ‘the best practices for mobile-first indexing’ started to receive notifications via Google Search Console, alerting site owners that they were now included in Google’s mobile-first index. This index has experienced significant growth throughout the year as more and more sites have conformed to Google’s mobile-first requirements. In September, the SEO community noticed that a multitude of sites had now been added to the index. Evidently, the mobile first index is officially in full swing – so it is more important than ever to have your site optimised for the smaller screen.

More featured snippets

Last year, we noted the rise in featured snippets across the SERPs, and predicted that this would continue throughout 2018. This suspicion was confirmed in February, when Google announced the introduction of what they call ‘multifaceted featured snippets’. These are simply extended versions of the featured snippets we are already used to, and look something like this:

Google multifaceted snippet

 

Google are now looking to not only answer the intended query, but also similar queries of the same topic that the user may want to know. As a result, featured snippets have the potential to be more distracting from ordinary search results than ever. Therefore, the position zero spot has become as sought after as ever for SEOs, and we can expect this trend to certainly continue into the new year.

Greater emphasis on structured markup

Structured markup, or schema, has always been important for SEO; and this is not going to change anytime soon. As we mentioned earlier, AI home assistants are slowly gaining their status as a household essential, and this is going to have a great knock on effect on how people use Google search. In July, Google released a new type of schema property called speakable to cater to this sudden influx of home devices.

The ‘speakable’ property allows web pages to signpost specific chunks of text for Google Assistant devices to read aloud. This new schema feature is mostly aimed at websites that cover topical news queries. For example, if someone were to ask their Google assistant, ‘What time is the Queen’s speech this year?’, a site using the ‘speakable’ markup would be used as the answer. While this new addition is merely in the beta stage at the moment, and only applies to Google devices, it is certainly an important development to note; as well as a sign of further developments in schema markup to come.

Looking beyond vanity metrics

Metrics are important for any SEO campaign, however it is important to focus on factors other than those ever deceptive ‘vanity metrics’. While these metrics are still key considerations, they don’t really give you much specific information about how your site is performing and what changes you should be making to your strategy.

Traffic volume, for example, is a very general metric. While you may have a high amount of search traffic coming to your site, this means nothing if your site visitors aren’t converting. By looking at more actionable metrics such as conversion rate, you have a better idea of what exactly needs to be changed on your site. Whilst we represent but a fraction of the industry, we have seen a growth in adoption of Tag Manager and a greater desire for clients to track genuine conversions, often utilising unique IDs that can then be synced with a CRM for more accurate channel attribution.

User Experience

Last year, we warned readers not to underestimate the power of user experience – again, arguably one of the more ‘predictable’ predictions to make. UX is always going to be important. It’s what keeps users coming back to a particular site: if it looks professional, has optimal user flow and is fast, then your visitors are more likely to continue to return to your site in the future. Site speed has become increasingly important over the past year; particularly on mobile. Load time is a huge component of user experience. In fact, Google found that 53% of mobile users will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.

In July, Google announced that page speed would now be a ranking factor for mobile searches. While page speed had been a ranking factor prior to this update, this solely focused on desktop searches. Considering that more people are surfing the web using their phones rather than desktop computers, this shift makes complete sense. This ‘speed update’ comes hand in hand with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) – which we predicted would develop further throughout 2018. While Google stated that this update would only affect a small percentage of search queries, the speed update is certainly indicative of the fact that the top ranking pages for mobile search will be the sites with the quickest loading times.

Continued production of video

More and more websites have started to incorporate video as part of their onsite content throughout 2018, and it’s not hard to see why. YouTube currently has over a billion users, so there’s no denying that people enjoy online video content. For many internet users, a short two minute video explaining what a company does is much more enticing than a large paragraph of text. This is especially the case with mobile users, who would much rather see a landing page with an enticing video rather than heaps of text.

Video content also plays an important role in SEO. The medium of video allows much more scope to engage users and keep them on your site. These are known as ‘long clicks’, and Google loves them. If users are spending more time on your website, Google will see that your site is offering value to your users and will rank it highly. Therefore, there was really no doubt that onsite video content was going to be big throughout 2018 – in fact we can expect to see its relevance increase further in the future.

What did we miss?

It seems that all of our SEO predictions for 2018 played out in some way throughout the year. Although, we can’t take too much credit – many of these predictions have appeared as ‘the writing on the wall’ for the SEO community for some time now. There were, of course, some developments in SEO this year that we didn’t predict;

Medic Update

Anyone could have predicted that Google would continue to update its search ranking algorithm throughout 2018. They have done so for over a decade and as a major money maker for Alphabet, Google’s organic search places high on the priority list. However, whilst Your Money or Your Life Update may have hinted at a future update, this was a while ago now and we didn’t predict that an update of this particular nature would be released this year. On 1st August 2018, Google released a broad core algorithm update that eventually became known by the SEO community as the Medic Update.

The update was named as such due to the fact that the update appeared to affect websites involved in the healthcare/medical sector. Any sites in this sector that didn’t appropriately satisfy Google’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) guidelines were deemed as sites that may be offering potentially harmful medical information to their users. As a result, these sites suffered a drop in search rankings. The Medic Update was a significant development for SEO, and forced site owners to think more carefully about the quality of content featured on their sites, especially for these types of websites.

Video Carousels

Although we predicted that the importance of video in SEO would continue throughout 2018, we did not predict the specific change that Google made to how videos appear on the SERP back in June. While videos would usually appear in a similar manner to organic results, accompanied by thumbnails, this is no longer the case. Videos now appear as part of a carousel, similar to that of shopping results. This caused a shake-up in video results, as only three video results are shown on the carousel at a time. As a result, online video marketing has become much more competitive, as only the top three results will be immediately displayed to the user.

Marking HTTP as “not secure”

User security has always been an important factor for Google, and this was reiterated in July, when Google made an update to how non-https sites would appear on their web browser, Google Chrome. The update meant that sites without an https certificate will now appear alongside a ‘not secure’ notification.

http not secure update

 

As a result, it is now easier for users to see if a website should be trusted. This is especially important for websites that require users to share personal information or bank details. With HTTP websites, the user has no guarantee that the information they are sharing with the website is in safe hands – unlike https sites. Considering Google Chrome is now the most used web browser worldwide, this update is not one to take lightly. If your site doesn’t currently have an HTTPS certificate, this could seriously harm the reputation of your site and will most likely send your bounce rate through the roof. To read more about the importance of HTTPS in SEO, see our glossary post.

Evidently, 2018 was a busy year for SEO. However, this is merely the nature of SEO; it is an ever-changing industry that us search marketers have to work hard to keep up with. Developments in SEO are not likely to slow down as we move into the new year, so keep a look-out for our SEO predictions for 2019!

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