As we enter 2018, what learnings and key insights can we take from 2017 and what we can we expect from SEO for the year ahead?
With Googles ultimate aim being that of providing the user with a relevant experience, In true Search Seven fashion, here are seven of our top tips that you need to keep an eye on to ensure your SEO strategy stays ahead of the curve.
1 – Voice search
Over the Christmas period, I was one of two people in my family to receive a digital assistant. This represents the recent surge of digital assistants in everyday life, and yet another sign of the ever changing face of technology that brings with it continued shifts in behaviours and marketing strategies that need to be re-aligned to meet these changes in behaviour.
As such, digital assistants represent a growing market that can change the way search queries are performed. According to Google, 1 out of 5 searches already come from voice queries. Voice search technology presents a huge opportunity for how we process information and the way we communicate.
The search market will change as a result, and we’re expecting to see an even bigger move towards voice search in 2018. In terms of your SEO strategy, Google have always said to keep things natural with the searcher at the heart of your strategy, and the rise of voice search requires more emphasis being placed on more long-tail search keywords and a natural language that is closely aligned to the user’s conversational tone. Phrases such as ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, when’ and ‘why’ (the 5 W’s) plus perhaps ‘how’ are all conversational queries which can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
Conversational queries often go hand in hand with mobile users who are on the move, seeking local results on ‘where’ to find something. In 2015, Google stated that 88% of all “near me” searches are done on mobile. Since then we have seen mobile users grow year on year with people seeking more quick and relevant answers in the “conversational” tone.
While users enjoy a seamless experience through everyday devices, voice search (and digital assistants) provides a great opportunity for SEO, to take advantage of a growing market that connects the brand with a user in a unique, relevant and useful way.
2 – Mobile-first
A recent study by BrightEdge found that, 57% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. Following on from this trend, “Mobile first” has become a coined phrase in the last few years, and in 2018 more brands (who are still playing catch-up) will start to realise the potential of putting mobile first, rather than seeing it as an afterthought.
Googles mobile-first index was rolled out and announced in late 2016, and although some brands adopted change in 2017, 2018 will see brands start to embrace the change at a quicker pace from catering for a desktop audience to providing a more engaging cross-device experience.
While local SEO is going to become even more popular due to the growth in mobile search, mobile users will demand more content while they are on the go, presenting a big opportunity for brands to market their business at a local context.
Mobile optimization for local users, along with the rise of voice search, could provide an excellent way to create a successful SEO strategy in 2018 by facilitating the search experience through personalized and relevant answers.
Site speed is also critical for search engines, not just ranking, but also user experience as it impacts bounce rate. Compression, time to first byte, image optimisation etc. are a few areas that will become a key focus in 2018, helping companies improve their site engagement and the overall user experience through fast and responsive mobile pages.
3 – Link building (& linkless mentions)
To start with, I am not a massive fan of the phrase “link building”, as times have been changing for several years now, from building links that are earnt not self-built, and focusing on quality content that is relevant to the user rather than creating links without human intervention.
For years, links have been the main trust signal for search engines — and one that SEOs have spent the most time on optimizing (and often manipulating). But as mentioned above, times are changing, and according to Search Engine Land “linkless mentions may soon be becoming an off-page signal of equal weight”.
Brand mentions in the form of citations form part of the linkless revolution, and back in May 2017, Google warned publishers who rely too much on guest posting for link building that there will be a closer look at guest blogs in an attempt to control spammy and questionable links.
This emphasises the need for a more diversified link, sorry “brand” building SEO strategy, aiming for a complete brand profile, combining backlinks with brand mentions and utilizing different forms of content and media to engage with key online audiences.
In 2018, we will move towards relationship building, helping a brand develop powerful contacts and links/mentions that will be beneficial in the longer term.
4 – HTTPS
Back in 2014, Google called for “HTTPS Everywhere” as part of their plan to convince to everyone that all communications should be secure by default. Following a few years of scepticism from the SEO industry, HTTPS is now a confirmed ranking signal by Google and reinforces Googles emphasis on trust.
To provide a quick comparison, HTTP is not encrypted and is vulnerable to attacks, whereas HTTPS is encrypted and offers greater security, ands was established to sanction secured transactions and authorization over the web.
In April 2017, Moz reported that 50% of Google first page results were HTTPS, from being 30% nine months beforehand. They also predicted that this adoption rate would rise to 65% by the end of 2017, showing the importance of moving across to HTTPS as soon as possible.
5 – Featured snippets
Featured Snippets can take up to 30% of real estate on a Googles first page, in the form of structured data such as lists, tables and graphs. Creation of content in a Q&A format is a good example of a featured snippet, making it easier for Google to extract the right content to show up as a relevant result to the users query.
There is plenty of content on a website that needs to be considered and utilized to adhere to the structured snippets that are available to help maximise the content and increase the chances of engaging with the search audience by ranking higher in the SERPs. This is often called “position 0” as these snippets do not form part of the usual first page results.
A similar way to arrive at the top of the SERPs is to create content that serves as a Quick Answer. Google’s Answer Box is an enhanced type of featured snippet that aims to answer a question in a more engaging way.
It usually follows a “how” or “what” structure and is Google’s effort to use search intent to categorise the search results in a more useful way. It has been observed that the results that show up in an Answer Box can see a CTR of 32.3%.
This will bring out the need for more companies to learn more about search intent and how they can optimize their content to show up in an Answer Box. With the introduction of voice search, it will be interesting to see how brands incorporate the different types of snippets as part of their SEO strategy as we enter 2018.
How do you improve likelihood of showing featured snippets? Google have provided a great introduction to Structured Data which will help you to enable special search result features.
6 – The rise of visual search
To compliment voice search in 2018, there is a great opportunity to explore the power of visual search as the internet and its users become more visually focussed.
Major tech companies including Bing, Pinterest and Google (Bing Visual Search, Google Lens and Pinterest Lens) have already invested in developing powerful visual search engines in a bid to capitalize on this new trend.
Last July, Search Engine Watch stressed that “The search industry has developed significantly over the past decade, through advances in personalization, natural language processing, and multimedia results. And yet, one could argue that the power of the image remains untapped”
As such, an SEO strategy in 2018 needs to think about the way we consume visual content and how search engines now go beyond text to explore the changing habits of search. Rich visuals are becoming more engaging and useful and create new avenues to consider in a competitive SEO market.
As the competition increases, more companies will need to acknowledge the potential of a successful visual search, whilst brands need to place even more emphasis on optimizing their visual content for SEO purposes.
7 – AI and machine learning
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already playing a key role in how search results are ranked. Machine learning can also facilitate the way searches take place, helping users find contextualized results.
The rise of voice search and digital assistants offer the platform to develop artificial intelligence and reward successful SEO strategies that keep up with the latest trends, creating a more personalised experience.
Google’s deep learning algorithm, they’ve called RankBrain, is expected to affect the search landscape, however the term “Artificial Intelligence Optimization” has been mentioned a fair bit recently and feels like a daunting prospect to many SEOs.
But as Dan Taylor explained in a comprehensive look at RankBrain and SEO, “there is no set way to optimize for RankBrain, although certain search practices are now more relevant than ever.”
Google has always looked at ways to push search results into the realm of natural conversation, and a huge component of its strategy has been categorized under the umbrella of semantic search and, subsequently, machine learning algorithms like RankBrain.
We can expect more changes to come in 2018 where AI and machine learning are concerned, and Google’s determination to develop in this area indicate that there are many more innovations on the horizon, leading to the urgent need for SEOs to embrace the change and develop ways to support their brands SEO strategies by utilizing and incorporating such changes.
2018 will be an interesting year for SEO. The rise of featured snippets, voice search, visual search and local SEO can often yield better results than a ‘standard’ organic listing in the SERPs.
That’s why it’s useful to keep up with the latest trends and discover how your brand can maintain a successful SEO strategy for the year ahead by blending established and growing trends in a more balanced approach.
Link building is now part of a “brand” relationship building strategy, whereby mentions and citations (linkless mentions) will become as important as links themselves (Search Engine Land). This places more emphasis on your PR and content strategy to understand these SEO changes, whilst continuing to engage with 3rd party sites and online publications to create great relationships and excellent content for their users.
An exciting year ahead for sure, and good luck to all SEOs, PRs or digital marketing managers alike, looking to adhere to these changes (and predicted changes) and stay ahead of the curve in 2018.
If you are interested in discussing your SEO strategy or would like a FREE initial review, then please feel free to get in touch with us!