When it comes to SEO, change is the only constant. No wonder it's tough to stand firm on its ever-changing ground, when the rules and trends are shifting if not at the speed of sound, then at least way faster than you get a chance to adopt them. In the blink of an eye, tactics that were working just fine may not only become obsolete, but even harm you. Meanwhile, some new trends may leave you too far behind to catch up, if you don't foresee it or neglect it for some reason.
Last year, we've discussed the SEO trends for 2017: waving goodbye to keyword density, confident steps into the age of semantic search, and moves towards safer and mobile-friendly web. This year, let's catch up with the shifts in older tendencies, and uncover some new opportunities along the way.
1. Link-building Is Very Much Alive (But Challenging)
A never-ending story - there will always be SEOs that claim link-building dead, and SEOs that desperately brainstorm on new ways to gain links, and turn 'building' into 'earning'. You'd better be on the second team, as there's also a never-ending flow of studies and surveys, proving backlinks to invariably remain one of the major rankings factors, and uncovering the direct correlation of sites' rankings with their backlink profiles.
Google isn't getting less strict about unnatural backlink profiles and manipulative link-building methods, so stick a fork in it. While the low-quality and spammy links are more likely to just get discounted and devalued by Google, there's still a chance of getting a manual penalty if you go for illegitimate methods.
To be on a safe side with Penguin (which is real-time since 2016), make the regular backlink profile cleanup a part of your routine. 'Could it get more boring?' - you may wonder, but that's not much of a burden, while a good chance to be one step ahead by not being one step behind (as those who don't bother).
The recent link-building survey conducted by SEO PowerSuite shows that most of SEOs are now struggling the same way with the lack of opportunities, ideas or experience, but there are still some old and new tactics worth trying, with an emphasis on common sense. The advice for 2018 would be like:
- Not wasting time for grey-hat and spammy tactics,
- Growing your link profile at a natural pace,
- Creating useful and cornerstone content worth linking to,
- Establishing relationships within the niche instead of just rushing to get as many links as hands can hold,
- Turning to legitimate paid methods, but reasonably.
Nowadays, mobile search has become ever more integral to people's lives, and Google is known for its aspiration to be reflective of users' needs. In the end of 2016, the so-called Mobilegeddon (expanding the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal) was followed by the announcement that Google starts testing the mobile-first indexing. While 2017 has been a year full of controversy around the topic and delay notes from Google, 2018 seems to be the year when it may finally take effect, and the rankings may be determined based on the mobile version of a site.
Load time remains the factor that drastically affects user experience, and has at least some effect on the performance of a page in the SERPs and further interactions and conversions. To prevent a huge shift from mobile browsing towards apps, Google has introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), which may load 4x faster than the regular pages and improve the user experience with little hints (like displaying ads in a mobile-friendly way). Case studies show that AMP implementation improves user-behavior factors like CTR and bounce rates as well. So, AMP is not a ranking factor now, but it well may become one.
With mobile-first indexing, Google incessantly calls not to panic. However, in case your site is not fully responsive, and primary content and markup vary across mobile and desktop, it's high time to consider some changes, and make sure your mobile pages are not clumsy, void or less informative in comparison to desktop ones.
If you haven't considered implementing AMP yet, it's also a great time to get on board. According to Google, more than 900,000 domains have adopted the AMP framework by now, but that's a really small fraction of the 1.2 billion websites on the internet. So that's a one more benefit you can get with basically no risk, while your competitors may regret missing out on it one year from now.
3. Voice Search Is On The Rise
The number of tools based on voice recognition continues to grow - we have Siri and Cortana to give us a hint on 'where to go for best pizza near me' and to tell us a joke, Google Home and Amazon Echo to let us shop almost hands free.
The accuracy of the voice recognition continues to improve as well - Microsoft reported reaching a 5.1% word error rate, Apple SVP Phil Schiller in his interview with John Gruber made a joke that he's not afraid of saying 'Hey Siri' on stage anymore.
As it becomes more convenient and less frustrating, we observe the amount of voice searches growing real fast. Over 70 percent of respondents to recent HigherVisibility survey admitted using voice search at least once per month, and nearly half is using it weekly or daily. According to Google, 20% of mobile queries are made via voice now, and ComScore even predicts that it will make up 50 percent of all searches by 2020.
Unlike text-based queries, the voice search queries tend to be longer and more specific in intent, and the searchers await clear immediate solutions. To adapt to the shift and optimize for voice search, there are several changes you may consider applying to your content:
- Incorporate long-tail keywords to address the more precise queries
- Use more natural language and conversational tone, answer the What, Where, When and How questions,
- Add a FAQ page, phrase the questions the way real people would ask them, and provide comprehensive clear answers,
- The four most common intents behind the voice searches are 'I want to know', 'to go', 'to do' and 'to buy'. Understand (research) your users' needs and offer solutions,
- Take good care of your local SEO, as most voice searches are local in intent.
4. Progressive Web Apps Are Gaining Popularity
Progressive Web Apps is another Google's initiative to make mobile web better and faster. PWAs' essence is combining of all the best features of mobile web and native apps, leaving the flaws behind. It's faster, it's x times lighter than an app, and adjusts its performance to the ability of the device and connection, making the experience seamless.
While launching such an app may significantly cut the expenses and maintenance for businesses, PWAs also prove to have a fantastic impact on engagement and conversion rates. Having the app-like functionalities (push notifications, offline accessibility, payment apps integration, the ability to download the app to home screen) and being superfast in the meantime, PWAs are also showing amazing re-engagement stats - in cases when users get rid of heavy native apps, it's more likely to win them back with such an alternative.
The number of retailers, publishers and other world-known businesses that adopt PWAs is growing, and most of them report on endless advantages. If you're not sure whether it’s the right solution for your business, you may consider a tandem of a native app for loyal customers along with the PWA for engaging with the new or lost ones.
As with any Google's initiative, it encourages the website owners to adopt by providing easy-to-follow instructions on how to get started. As PWAs may well become a new standard for mobile web, it's definitely worth consideration. As a bonus, earlier adoption would equal lower competition.
5. Structured Data Deserves More Attention
In the era of the 'meaningful web', most of the SEOs agree on the fact that Structured Data Markup is underrated, while it's a great way to make your site crawler-friendly, and help the search engines understand your content (concepts and logical relationships between them).
Over the past few years, Google has also introduced lots of new ways of displaying the data in the SERPs: featuring an immediate relevant answer, adding context, useful nuances and a visual layer to the search results. All these aspects rely on the data organized in a clear and logical way.
With the evolution of the SERPs layout, and with the focus shifting towards user-experience, Structured Data is becoming fundamental, so you literally have no excuse not to make use of it.
New search experiences like Google's SERP Features are based on the structured data, so the proper markup may help you rank 'number zero', and get featured above the boring horizontal listings, to gain more visibility, trust and traffic.
To get most of it, study the available schemas at Schema.org and create a 'map': list the pages of your site and consider all the relevant schemas for each. A beginner's guide will help you to create, implement and test the Structured Data Markup properly.
The markers like operating hours, contact details and ratings may also have a significant impact on your success with local and voice searches, so make sure to implement those and keep them up-to-date.
6. Crawl Budget Can Be Spent Wiser
Crawl Budget has been a concept shrouded in mystery for quite a while, until early 2016 when Google has shed some light on the topic. While SEO mostly focuses around user-experience, crawl budget optimization is primarily about making your site appealing to the search engine bots. This still overlaps with SEO a lot, as you are naturally concerned about all the important pages being crawled, indexed and updated in time. Keeping your website 'healthy' on the inside, and making sure you don't waste any of the crawl budget - are your best shots at making Google want to crawl your site more frequently. And what's good for your crawlability - benefits your searchability as well.
As the factors that make up your crawl budget are rather clear now (as well as the ones that make your site unsavory for Google), there's no good reason for putting its optimization on the back burner. Apart from building reputable links to your site (still the main 'popularity' indicator for Google), there are several totally fixable things that bots may stumble upon, leaving out a huge part of your pages:
- Make sure that important pages are crawlable for search engine spiders, while the pages you don't want to show up in SERPs (duplicates, dynamic pages, etc.) are blocked with your robots.txt or .htaccess,
- Ensure that there are no unnecessary redirect chains, as the spiders may give up before reaching the final destination page,
- Get rid of any broken links not to waste the budget on 4xx pages,
- If there are dynamic parameters added to your URLs that do not affect the content of the pages - submit the list to your Google Search Console to avoid both duplication issues and budget waste,
- Don't waste spiders' time! Optimize the heavy and slow pages and benefit on all levels,
- Keep your sitemap tidy. An up-to-date, garbage-free sitemap is a great helper for the search engines to get your site's structure and discover new content faster,
- Try not to bury any crucial or frequently-updated pages deeper than 3 clicks away from homepage. In general, neat and clear site structure is beneficial in terms of both crawling and user experience.
7. New Approach To Good Old Content
Content is here to stay - that's just the fact that doesn't require proof. However, Google is constantly evolving and learning to be better at understanding search intent, and now relies on topical relevance, context and other factors to return the results a user expects. The content optimization now goes far beyond keywords, and requires much more complex approach. The quality will also continue to beat quantity - most SEOs agree on the fact that producing short pieces of content frequently now tends to be less efficient than creating comprehensive 'longreads' and keeping them updated.
Instead of generating thin pages, each optimized for a super-specific query, you may need to reconsider your keyword research routine and stop focusing around several keywords. Instead, you should detect and analyze the user’s intent behind each query you target, group them logically and create content that would satisfy the intent comprehensively.
The keywords still matter, but instead of stuffing, go for using them in a natural manner and supporting them with topically-relevant context. Unique, helpful content tailored to your audience needs will never go out of fashion, but it cannot be faked either.
The future is almost now, and the line between optimizing for search engines and real users is becoming increasingly less vivid. When you can't easily fool Google and have to compete for the choosy audience attention, new trends, initiatives and standards-to-be (that are flattering both sides) are absolutely worth consideration, or at least being aware of.
Jump to the comments and share your findings from 2017 and predictions for 2018!