Google’s search algorithms comprise over 200 different ranking factors, and as any experienced SEO will tell you, achieving sustained results is a long-term, uphill challenge. To add to this, these algorithms are constantly evolving, which means you’ll get left behind unless you keep up with the rules of the game.
So, to help your site succeed in 2018, let’s explore the upcoming trends that are going to take the SEO world by storm this year – and what you can do to prepare for them.
We couldn’t talk about 2018 trends without mentioning voice search. If you’re still skeptical about voice search, it’s time to get up to speed: today more than 20% of queries on Google are vocal, and this number is expected to rise to 50% by 2020. A study by Google also showed that 55% of teens and 41% of adults were already using voice search daily, and that was back in 2014!
Voice search apps like Siri aren’t just digital assistants that can be used to perform basic tasks; they’re also the future of SEO. Why? Because users are now searching for answers they can get without typing on – or even looking at – a screen. This will change the way we look at keyword rankings profoundly and increase the emphasis on delivering optimised content that answers user intent.
There’s a new term you’ll probably be hearing a lot about this year: “PASO”, or Personal Assistant Search Optimisation. Similar to traditional SEO, this new discipline is a set of techniques used to optimise the content on a website to make it findable and usable by a vocal assistant. Focusing on conversational content and making good use of structured data is a good starting point for making sure you’re ready for voice search.
For more specific information on how you can prepare your business for voice search, have a read of SEO guru Michael Reardon’s article, 5 Things You Can Do Now to Prepare for the Voice Search Revolution.
The Mobile First Index
The rise of voice search is a side-effect of a greater shift towards mobile search. With well over half of all Google searches now coming from mobile devices, Google announced in 2016 the creation of their Mobile First Index, which was slated for launch in 2018.
Under this new indexing system, Google will rank pages based on their mobile version. Mobile-first content is therefore essential to ensure your site remains visible, otherwise you can wave goodbye to anyone searching from a mobile device.
Don’t worry though, there’s still time to prepare. Concentrate on making your content consistent across desktop and mobile – don’t hide content or create different user experiences on the mobile versions of your pages. Secondly, if you’re still using a m.site.com subdomain to host your mobile site, Google recommends that you move over to responsive design before the mobile index launches.
Finally, your site needs to be technically prepared for mobile users – it needs to be snappy, intuitive, and fast to load. Google have helped us here by creating a tool which checks if your pages are mobile-friendly. How well does your site do in the Mobile-Friendly Test?
AI & machine learning
Artificial Intelligence is undoubtedly the new cool kid on the block. Having exploded in adoption over the past two years (not least with the introduction of RankBrain, Google’s machine-learning system), it’s likely to grow even bigger and become far more commonplace in 2018.
Created to deliver better search results, RankBrain enables the algorithms to correctly interpret queries, even if the exact keyword isn’t present. This has significantly impacted the way SEOs look at website optimisation; AI/RankBrain has quickly climbed up the ranking factor ladder and officially become one of the most important components of a future-focused search strategy.
Beyond RankBrain, AI will also power numerous other aspects of search. For example, Google’s Cloud Vision API is capable of analysing images and extracting not only their embedded metadata, but also the image information itself. Powered by machine learning, it can classify images into thousands of categories, detect faces, and also read printed words. This doesn’t mean that image optimisation will no longer be required (this technology is still not 100% accurate), but nonetheless it illustrates where Google’s future interests lie.
As Google continues to embrace AI and incorporate more of it into its search algorithms, we can expect search results to start behaving in less predictable (though perhaps more “human”) ways in the future.
The goal of a machine-learning algorithm is to make predictions similar to those of real people, which means the focus for SEOs will be in optimising for unpredictable humans, not the search engines. The focus will remain on providing high-quality content experiences across the fragmented user journey, and helping users solve problems in each unique moment they encounter.
Although Google holds the lion’s share of the search engine market at nearly 92%, people often overlook the fact that there are other platforms that are equally useful to brands looking to promote their products or services. YouTube, for example, is the second-most-used search engine (after its parent Google), but requires very different methods of optimisation.
To commence activity on YouTube your video content needs to be engaging; bad videos can’t be optimised to succeed, even if they’re unskippable. At the very least, your videos should have great sound and visual quality and an interesting message. Only after you’ve met these criteria can you start to implement your optimisations.
For web video, there are three main optimisation elements to prioritise. Firstly, you must identify your main keyword or query. Next, your title/headline should be crafted to include the keyword but also make it intriguing and compelling to encourage users to click on your video. Finally, your meta description should be populated to help viewers understand the content of your video.
YouTube is a great channel for sharing your video content, however to ensure your success in 2018 and to get the most out of this platform you need to not only optimise your videos for search but also for users.
Winning in the moments that matter
The final trend we’re going to explore is about winning in the moments that matter. The way that people search online is constantly changing; the consumer journey has become much more complex than the linear model of old, and there are almost infinite combinations of touchpoints that can influence consumers down their purchase journey.
Because of this, modern consumer journeys should be all about winning in the moments that matter, based on user intent, context and immediacy. In order to remain competitive, brands must make use of their data to help determine which moments are the most important at any given point. Once you understand what your audience wants or needs in each unique moment, you can serve them the right content at the right time – especially if you’re nurturing or retargeting them based on prior interactions.
Ultimately, successful SEO strategies in 2018 will have a user-centric approach, building experiences both on- and off-site to capture engagement and address the intent of users. This approach will set apart those brands that are truly able to reach their audience in a meaningful way and win in the moments that matter most.
Since the launch of Google in the 1990s, there have been countless updates and new releases. The trends we’ve highlighted here – voice search, the mobile-first index, AI and machine learning, platform SEO and focusing on winning in the moments that matter – are all natural evolutions of how Google is ensuring its own survival in the fast-moving digital market.
Changes to Google’s algorithm should not be a cause for concern. As long as you are focusing on long-term SEO strategies that put your audience at the centre of your approach, you’ll futureproof your website and remain competitive in the years ahead.
If you’d like to learn more about any of these upcoming trends, please feel free to contact an iProspect representative.