SEO can be a bit of a minefield for small business owners; with regular Google algorithm updates and speculation over what is changing, it’s hard to keep up with the latest news, including SEO trends for 2018. We’ve taken the hard work out of it for you and put together some of the key trends impacting search for 2018 to get you started – all in one easy guide.
Most of the SEO trends for 2018 are exactly as you would expect, and show us where marketing is going – mobilisation, artificial intelligence, localisation and enhanced security.
It would seem that Google is happy enough with its approach to recognizing keywords, and is now focusing on encouraging site owners to up the ante on their page speed times and technical usability, with Google algorithms going to be increasingly related to the way Google delivers results rather than the way it ranks properties. The pace of algorithm updates is also touted to be slowing down….though we’ll still be keeping a close eye to see if this is really the case!
“Contrary to popular belief, we actually are trying to reduce the amount of time that users spend on our search results page. We want them to find the information they are looking for quickly; which means less time on the search results page.” – Illya Grigorik, Google Webmaster Team
Google is continuing to push improvement of search experience for mobile users, as the market continues to show a preference for browsing this way, so why wouldn’t Google reward sites that focus on this? Unless your market segment is dominated by desktop usage, we would suggest now taking a mobile-first approach to your web and search projects. You can use your Google Analytics account to understand on which devices most visitors come to your site, and you can split search volume trends by mobile and desktop in some search keyword research software. SEMRush is our preferred provider.
Google currently has two search indexes (mobile and desktop), but plan to combine them into one index soon, which will be responsible for crawling mobile versions of pages first, before the desktop version, so if your site doesn’t perform well on mobile devices, now’s the time to put the work in and change that, or you could find your search rankings are affected. You can use software such as Browserstack to see how mobile-friendly your site is, and Google also offers its own optimisation testing that splits desktop and mobile on PageSpeed Insights, though this has recently changed to incorporate the Chrome user experience report, and speed is no longer detectable for a lot of smaller sites.)
Make sure all elements of your site are crawlable on mobile devices – you can use Google Search Console “fetch as” tool and check that the bots can find you. Make sure you’re your structured data, meta descriptions, tags, etc. are all set up the same on mobile as they are on desktop. If you still have a different version of your site for desktop than you do for mobile then you will need to seriously think about using canonical tags to ensure Google knows your two sites are related.
Google is really focusing on a faster experience for its users; not just in search but across all of its online Google products. As such, it is creating tools, software and opportunities for businesses to use to make their online experience faster, and it will always reward a site in search for a faster page download time – both in rankings and in which section it delivers the results. There are three key areas of open source development that you can exploit for faster experiences in your digital provision.
Accelerated Mobile Pages – AMPs, for short, is a project from Google and Twitter that aims to make really fast mobile pages by forcing their design to a very streamlined version of hmtl. For those websites using AMPs, Google will reward these superfast pages by serving higher up the rankings or in the carousel at the top of the search results. If you’re using a CMS and don’t know html, then you can add plugins on the more popular platforms such as WordPress that will help you do it.
Android Instant Apps – Google was a bit frustrated with how long it would take apps to load, particularly as the majority of apps are actually unnecessary and a website will suffice. So, it developed Google Android Instant Apps, which launched in the Playstore in October 2017. Instant Apps download small, runnable sections of the app that start much faster than the full thing, meaning that the app opens and is usable in seconds, while the rest of it downloads in the background. If you’re thinking of developing or enhancing your app this year, consider building in this functionality.
Progressive Web Apps – Progressive web apps are, again, faster than traditional apps to load and, importantly, work for every user, regardless of browser or device choice.
This is a major factor for us, and we can see why this is a big one of the SEO trends in 2018. The main aim for businesses is to offer an experience that their visitors want to use, so why shouldn’t sites that benefit their users be rewarded? 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. So, sites that are relevant, rich and fast will do well in search. Rich snippets and Knowledge Graph have been taking over content for the past year, with some sites skeptical to use this.
Although this sounds like a lot of work for the less tech-savvy sites around, it’s actually one of the easiest things you can do for your site, to make sure you perform well in search. So make sure your site provides rich results, and you will see higher search rankings because of this.
Digital Assistants are finally penetrating UK households, whether that be in the form of Google, Amazon or Apple, they’re appearing all over (in fact, we can’t remember the time Alexa wasn’t part of our family!) It seems that the penny has finally dropped on how to make AI user-relevant and acceptable (we’ll call it the post-Siri age). As a consequence, more people are searching for things through voice recognition, rather than the traditional search route.
So, how can you prepare your site to make sure it is one of the first sites that these digital assistants crawl?
Unless your site is speedy, your website won’t appear as well as it could in search results. This is even more crucial on mobile, as mobile users have been shown to be considerably less patient when waiting for sites to load, and Google recognises this and rewards accordingly (see above notes about tools to increase speed and optimizing mobile experience). So, speed is certainly of the essence in this instance and you should regularly check your site pages for page speed times (you can use software or even check directly in your Google analytics) to see where optimisations could be made.
Google has been threatening this for a while, that they will be “marking” sites with warning errors in the Chrome browser who don’t have an SSL certificate. Regardless of whether a site carries sensitive visitor data or not, Google, along with others, is encouraging best practice that all sites should incorporate an SSL certificate. There are definitely benefits to having enhanced security on your site and, if you are building a site from a new domain name then, absolutely, you should add an SSL certificate. But, if you are migrating an existing site from http to https then this is a more complex process than you would initially think, as it has the potential to severely impact your search performance if not managed properly. We would advise that, yes, at some point in 2018, you should be moving your site over to https but, make sure you take the time to plan this migration properly. Check out our forthcoming piece on the steps involved in an http>https migration for best practice approach. Regardless of the Chrome warning signs, it would certainly seem that Google is going to start rewarding sites with added security in its search results.
So in conclusion, it would seem that to stay ahead of the game in 2018 for search, it is time to start thinking much more about your technical strategy rather than just your keyword strategy. Speed, speed and more speed will see improved results, as will enhanced usability and security. If you are not particularly technical then you will either need to hire in some professional help to get your site performing or take some time to build your knowledge of relevant software, tools and plugins to enable you to make the necessary changes. If you would like some further help tackling SEO trends for 2018 then you can always knock on the CX Marketing door.