As we reach the fourth quarter of 2017, it’s time to start thinking about the year ahead and what to expect from SEO in 2018.
There are number of search industry trends that we’ve seen the very beginnings of this year and last, which will come into greater prominence in 2018.
Here are seven you should be keeping an eye on in order to stay ahead of the curve.
Voice search and digital assistants
Voice search technology presents a big opportunity for changing the way we communicate and process information. The rise of digital assistants has presented 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.
This changes the search market and we’re expecting to see an even bigger shift towards voice search in 2018. When it comes to setting up an SEO strategy, the rise of voice search brings out the need to focus on more long-tail search keywords and a natural language that matches the user’s conversational tone.
As accuracy improves in digital assistants, there will be more people using voice search from their mobile devices, seeking for quick and relevant answers. It becomes important to research the voice user intent will provide more accurate results, helping the algorithms provide the best answer.
Moreover, voice search is expected to grow even more with its integration in smart home hubs, helping companies access new data, while users enjoy a seamless experience through everyday devices. As digital assistants go beyond smartphone devices, there is a great opportunity both for SEO and content, taking advantage of a growing market that connects the brand with a user in a unique but still relevant and useful way.
Link building is not expected to disappear in 2018, but it will be more important than ever to create a strategy that seeks out quality links. There’s no need to aim for new links if they don’t add value and help you build an authority in your target niche.
This doesn’t always mean that the best back links come from the most popular sites, but it’s still crucial to seek coverage from sites that are relevant to your industry. Referral traffic can still contribute to your site’s organic search rankings, while it is also useful to start thinking of link building as a long-term process.
A successful SEO strategy in 2018 will move towards relationship building, helping a brand develop powerful contacts and links that will be beneficial in a longer term.
A challenge for 2018 will be dealing with guest blogs and how to involve them as an integral part of a link building strategy without hurting a brand’s reputation. Back in May 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 brings out the need for a more diversified link building strategy, aiming for a complete back link profile, rather than single links that can bring successful results.
User experience for SEO will become even more important in 2018. Google has made it clear that the focus is on the user and this should make more sites deliver a smooth UX for their visitors.
A good user experience increases the chances of people engaging with the pages that they visit. This helps search engines discover which pages are more useful for people, favoring them over others.
The first step is to monitor a site’s speed, its readability and its navigation structure to examine how these can be improved through the right changes. A closer look at your visitors’ browsing habits can offer helpful insights. For example, if the visits coming directly from search last just 30 seconds, then this probably means that the content or the user experience is hurting your site’s conversions.
Moreover, as more people consume content from their mobile devices, there is a growing need to provide an excellent user experience across all devices.
As SEO heads towards more relevant and personalized experiences, UX will be key to maintaining search traffic by creating an engaged audience. It’s not enough anymore to see a rise in search traffic if it’s not converting or bringing the desired engagement to create a loyal audience.
Featured snippets and Quick Answers
The popularity of featured snippets has increased the competition among companies trying to appear in “position 0” in the SERP. Gaining a featured snippet in search requires catering to a specific combination of factors, which has opened up SEO beyond the traditional race to the top of Google.
According to Stone Temple Consulting, almost 30% of the test Google search queries show Featured Snippets. This brings out the need for a strategy on how to optimize a site’s content to meet Google’s standards for Featured Snippets.
Lists, tables and graphs tend to be popular, while it’s also useful to create content in a Q&A format, making it easier for Google to extract the right content to show up as a featured snippet.
An interesting angle to focus on during the next year is the optimization of featured snippets for voice search. The combination of two growing trends in the search market can create a great opportunity for more companies to show up at the top of the SERPs. This will involve considering the changes in the search queries, focusing more on longer keywords and natural language.
A similar way to reach 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 appealing way.
It usually follows a “how” or “what” structure and is Google’s attempt to use search intent to organize 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. Thus, a carefully crafted Answer Box strategy can increase both a site’s authority, but also a brand’s conversion.
2018 is more than likely to be the year that brands realize the potential of putting mobile first, rather than catering to mobile as an afterthought. This is particularly true if Google decides to make 2018 the year it finally deploys its mobile-first index.
But even if it doesn’t, brands and businesses need to put mobile first anyway: a recent study by BrightEdge found that, 57% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. More than this, there is a significant difference between the way that keywords rank on mobile and the way they rank on desktop – so mobile-first content is needed in order to have the best chance of being visible in mobile search.
As mobile searches are all about context, brands should provide the best possible results for every question, while local SEO is going to become even more popular. Mobile users will seek for more content while they are on the go, which means that brands will face a big opportunity of marketing their business at a local context.
Mobile optimization for local users, along with the rise of voice search, can 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 critical for search engines and your page’s performance at the SERPs and Accelerated Mobile Pages can make a page load up to four times faster than a standard mobile page. According to Chart-beat, AMP load in a second and they also see a 35% improvement in engagement time.
Google’s focus on AMP has made more publishers consider their use, currently counting more than 2 billion Accelerated Mobile Pages.
The demand is expected to grow in 2018, helping companies improve their engagement and the overall user experience through fast and responsive mobile pages. Brands that want to keep up with the changes in mobile search has to keep up with the trend and experiment whether they need AMP or any other fixes to improve their site speed.
The rise of visual search
Visual search is an exciting area and the combination of technological innovation and user experience can take searching to the next level.
As the internet becomes more visually-focused, there is a great opportunity to explore the power of visual search. Major tech companies including Bing, Pinterest and Google have already invested in developing powerful visual search engines in a bid to capitalize on this new trend.
An SEO strategy in 2018 needs to consider the way we consume visual content and how search engines now go beyond text to explore the changing habits of search. Rich visuals now become more engaging and the use of neuroscience and innovation bring out an interesting and competitive market.
As the competition increases, more companies seem to acknowledge the potential of a successful visual search, while brands need to focus even more on optimizing their visual content for SEO purposes.
AI and machine learning
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already changing the way that search results are ranked. Machine learning can also facilitate the way searches take place, helping users find contextualized results.
This will lead to a more personalized experience, while the rise of voice search and digital assistants can offer the ideal ground to develop artificial intelligence and reward successful SEO strategies that keep up with the trends.
Google’s Rank Brain, or else Google’s deep learning algorithm, is also expected to affect the search landscape. Catering to Rank Brain often seems like an intimidating prospect to SEOs, and the term “Artificial Intelligence Optimization” has been bandied about a fair amount.
But as Dan Taylor explained in a comprehensive look at Rank Brain and SEO, there is no set way to optimize for Rank Brain, although certain search practices are now more relevant than ever.
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.
Improving SEO in 2018
As it seems, 2018 will be an interesting year for SEO. Traditional SEO techniques are still effective, but a number of trends are in the works that could significantly alter the practice of optimizing for search.
What is useful to understand while we proceed towards is 2018 is that SEO is already changing, and the ranking in the first organic spot is not the ultimate goal anymore. As search engines evolve, there are multiple opportunities to increase your search traffic without necessarily focusing on organic SERPs.
The rise of featured snippets, PPC, voice search and local SEO can often yield better results than an organic ranking. 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.