The only constant in search engine optimization is change. Seemingly every month, search engines like Google update their algorithm, accounting for changing user behaviors and sometimes requiring massive updates to branded websites.
The best strategy for change, of course, is preparation. If you know what’s coming, you can take the necessary steps ahead of time in order to remain successful. That is especially true for SEO, which should remain one of your core digital strategies to attract and retain your audience while growing your business.
We’re now almost three months into 2018, making this a perfect time to parse just where we stand on this topic. What recent changes have we seen, and what changes will occur in the near future, that your online presence needs to account for? Consider these 5 website SEO optimization trends your road map to 2018 and beyond.
1) Focus on mobile
Anyone even slightly invested in digital marketing knows about the importance of catering to the mobile market. Mobile devices have long surpassed their desktop counterpart as your audience’s internet vehicle of choice. In 2018, it looks like search engines – and Google specifically – are finally and comprehensively adjusting.
In late 2017, we saw the first signs of Google’s Mobile First Index, which ranks every website as if it is viewed on a mobile device. In other words, your site’s mobile friendliness will no longer matter only to mobile searches, but will impact all searches across devices. Some steps you can take to account for this trend include:
- • Responsive web design, which dynamically adjusts your site according to screen sizes.
- • Short, bullet point content with plenty of visuals that avoids the dreaded ‘walls of text’ on smaller screens.
- • Calls to action near the top of the page, avoiding endless scrolling for mobile users.
- • Intuitive menus that allow for quick navigation on both mobile and desktop.
2) Voice-Based Search Begins to Dominate
The rise of mobile, alongside the increasingly common digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, have also led to another SEO trend: voice search. By the middle of 2016, Google already saw 20% of its searches come via voice rather than keyboard commands. By 2020, ComScore predicts that number to surpass 50 percent.
Naturally, users searching for content and website like yours on their voice have a profoundly different experience than those typing words on a keyboard. Your website SEO optimization has to adjust accordingly. Here’s how you can prepare your strategy for the already-coming voice search revolution:
- • Focus on more natural, full-sentence and question-based keywords.
- • Claim your Google My Business listing, even if your business is based online.
- • Make your website mobile friendly, which is where most voice queries are coming from.
- • Structure your data to optimize for featured snippets (more on that below).
3) Link Building Shifts to Quality
The days of simply accumulating a database of links to improve your website SEO optimization are long gone. Starting in 2011, Google began to rank the quality of inbound links alongside the quantity, eventually punishing websites that engaged in unethical or ‘black hat’ link building techniques. In 2018, the quality of your link is becoming more important than ever before.
Rather than simply building a link database, focus on building relationships with other pages. Seek out natural partners, and encourage multidirectional backlinks. At the same time, you might have to adjust your guest post strategy, which Google has taken a closer look at. Some other tips to account for the emphasis on quality links include:
- • Focus only on relevant links that can actually enhance your audience’s user experience.
- • Try out ‘linkless backlinks,’ which Bing and Google are already using as a ranking factor.
- • Regularly disavow your links of shady quality to avoid a rankings penalty.
4) Content Matters More Than Ever
The content you actually post on your website has long been a core part of successful SEO strategy. It should not be optimized just for increased rankings, but with your user experience in mind. In 2018, that tip rings more true than ever before. That content matters is in large part due to RankBrain, Google’s internal AI powerhouse.
RankBrain evaluates not just how many searchers click on your website after seeing it in their results page, but also what happens after they do. It’s a deep learning algorithm that seeks to evaluate relevance and user experience in more depth. A blog post with fewer clicks but greater post-click engagement on your website can significantly outperform one that only sees minimal engagement and high bounce rates after large volumes of initial traffic. That means optimizing your content in a number of ways:
- • Increase the length of your content to maximize relevance for your audience.
- • Combine visuals and text for ideal audience engagement.
- • Ensure consistency between page title, meta description, and actual content to avoid cognitive dissonance.
5) Featured Snippets are Taking Over
Finally, don’t underestimate the potential power of featured snippets in search engine results pages (SERPs). We’ve come a long way since Google’s SERP was just a collection of blue links. Now, users can see answers to a commonly asked question featured at the top, tweets related to the topic, and in-depth business-related content on the side.
Featured snippets become especially important for voice search, where a digital assistant tends to only read the first answer to a commonly ask question. Feature your content in one of these boxes, and your SEO results have the potential to take off. To get to that point, consider:
- • Structuring your data in a way specifically designed to appear in an answer box.
- • Claiming your Google My Business listing.
- • Aligning your social media and SEO strategies.
- • Performing strategic keyword research to find and optimize for the most popular featured snippets around your industry.
Building Your SEO Strategy With the Future in Mind
Imagine reading about voice search, mobile dominance, and featured snippets in 2011. We’ve come a long way from traditional SEO tactics since then. So naturally, your SEO strategy needs to adjust as well.
All of the above trends require their own steps and tactics to account for current trends. But ultimately, successful website SEO optimization does and will come down to a few basic tenets: effective keyword research, quality content, and some technical on- and off-site optimizations. With these four core principles in hand, you can significantly enhance your search optimization efforts.
When that happens, the result tend to be significant. Better SEO means more web visitors, who stay on your website longer and become more involved. That, in turn, increases the credibility of your brand and builds conversions. Ultimately, these conversions lead to more sales, more customers, and business growth. In fact, SEO might just be the single most sustainable digital marketing tactic available today.
To get to that point, you have to keep the future in mind. As you optimize your SEO, make sure you account for the above 5 trends. But when you do, the possibilities for marketing success and business growth are almost infinite.