SEO Trends

SEO Trends for 2018 will no doubt include far more intelligent technology than previous years. Everyone is looking for the next best thing when it comes to pulling in as many eyes as they can over to their websites as possible – typically with the common intention of driving up conversions in the form of leads or actual sales. In consideration of that elusive solution in “search engine optimization” or SEO as it’s more commonly known, we will be performing a bit of a deep dive into the top SEO trends for 2018.

According to Search Engine Watch, the top SEO trends to look out for include the following:

  • SEO Trends #1 – Voice Search and Digital Assistants
  • SEO Trends #2 – Link Building
  • SEO Trends #3 – User Experience
  • SEO Trends #4 – Featured Snippets and Quick Answers
  • SEO Trends #5 – Mobile-first Index
  • SEO Trends #6 – Visual Search
  • SEO Trends #7 Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning

Voice Search and Digital Assistants

According to search giant Google, “1 out of 5 searches already come from voice queries” (Litsa, 2017). The most obvious medium for these types of searches that are performed via the digital assistants on our smartphones such as Apple (Siri), Microsoft (Cortana) and Amazon (Alexa).

SEO TrendsGoogle Official Blog, 2014

Earlier this year, it was reported that “over half of U.S. teens and 41% of U.S. adults use voice search on a daily basis” (Bentahar, 2017). One of the key differences in how voice search will morph is the fact that up to now, search results have been based primarily on keywords. The next phase will be much more specific and cater towards longer queries that are more attuned to voice search terms (Bentahar, 2017).Therefore, the more intelligent these digital assistants are means the more responsive they can be with the search results provided to their customers. As a result, this will help companies acquire even more market share which is exactly what you want as well! The image above from Google shows us when a voice search is most in use. As we’ll soon understand, however, voice search won’t exactly cut it with keywords alone as consumers will be looking for greater contextualization and personalization in their search results. This will include the capabilities of AI and machine learning, which we will discuss later in this blog.

Link Building

Link building is the practice of “acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own” (Moogan, 2014). This is essentially all about gaining referral traffic to redirect back to your site, thus resulting in increased search rankings. Although the practice has been around for some time, there is a renewed emphasis on utilizing this practice to generate even more local traffic.Local links are based on the idea of “real-world” relationships within the local community. Therefore, the quality of the link doesn’t matter as much and often times can be entirely unrelated to your business’s core goals.Because they are locally based, there are several ways to garner such relationships including acquiring local sponsorships, donating your time, getting involved within your local community, sharing useful information, or even engaging in a bit of ingenuity with the hope of random mention (Sentance, 2017). Because SEO can be intimidating to those who are new to operating their own websites, it’s recommended to “focus on the value that will be added for their customers” and “building up long-term, valuable relationships which provide benefit to you and to the local community” (Sentance, 2017).

User Experience

It should go without saying that a good user experience will typically create a stickier experience when it comes to acquiring new customers. How many websites did you leave just because it wasn’t engaging or perhaps it simply felt clunky? Amazon is a great example of how to develop an engaging customer experience. More specifically, staying power can be attributed to such factors as the “site’s speed, its readability, and its navigation structure to examine how these can be improved through the right changes” (Litsa, 2017). This SEO trend will continue to be a big factor moving forward!Therefore, the better the user experience, the longer people will spend on the site, and there will be a more likely higher conversion rate and audience loyalty. Ensuring a good user experience, however, must utilize a multi-screen strategy since more people are performing much of their personal computing on mobile and tablet devices. This approach will be important to keep your audience engaged.

Featured Snippets and Quick Answers

As the following snippets image depicts, snippets and quick answers are key to ensuring that companies appear in the first position or “position 0” in the search engine results page (SERP) (Litsa, 2017). Like voice search, snippets and quick answers go to provide context-specific responses to the user within the search results, rather than just being based on simple keywords. Moving forward, the focus will be on “supporting longer keywords and natural language” (Litsa, 2017) such as a more conversational type of search query. Because “more than half of queries will be voice search by 2020” (Moore, 2017), this will require a new look and experience into how voice search applies to snippets. This updated approach will be expected to not only result in greater context but also greater depth, followed up by related content and drilling down and lateral to the original search query.
SEO Trends 2018

Litsa, 2017

Mobile–First Index

Mobile is where the eyes are at and this will be one big SEO trend all SEO experts should build on. In fact, a recent study by BrightEdge found that “57% of web traffic comes from mobile and tablet devices” (Sentance, Why SEOs can’t afford to wait around for a mobile–first index, 2017) Even Erik Newton, VP of Customer Marketing and Head of SEO at BrightEdge has noted that legacy thinking persists even today as evidenced in the fact that many companies are “using desktop as a frame of reference” as their default, and doing so “is increasingly short– sighted given the widening gap between desktop and mobile rankings” (Sentance, 2017). Search results rankings are also very different between desktop and mobile 79% of the time.While more new companies are embracing a mobile-first strategy, results based on web page design and performance, analytics and keyword tracking emphasize a missed opportunity. Newton offers the following recommendations to combat inefficiencies in the legacy thinking that currently plagues those companies seeking to improve their SEO strategy should consider these key factors and consider such developing SEO trends with a high significance:
  • SEO Trends #1 -“Identify and differentiate mobile versus desktop demand.”
  • SEO Trends #2 -“Design and optimize websites for speed and mobile-friendliness.”
  • SEO Trends #3 -“Use a responsive site unless your business is app-based and large enough to build traffic through app distribution.”
  • SEO Trends #4 -“Understand different online consumer intent signals across desktop and mobile devices.”
  • SEO Trends #5 -“Produce separate mobile and desktop content that resonates on multiple device types.”
  • SEO Trends #6 -“Focus on optimizing mobile content and mobile pages to improve conversions.”
  • SEO Trends #7 -“Track, compare, and report mobile and desktop share of traffic continuously.”
  • SEO Trends #8 -“Measure and optimize the page load speed of the mobile and desktop sites separately.
  • SEO Trends #9 -“rack your organic search rank for mobile and desktop separately.”
“The first challenge is to be even equally attentive to both mobile and desktop. We find that many brands are not acutely aware of the basic stat of a mobile share of traffic. Additionally, brands can analyze the mobile share among new visitors, or non-customers, to see what kind of a different role it can play for people at different stages of the customer journey. Brands do not need to split their SEO efforts, but they do need to decide that some content efforts be mobile-first to be competitive.” (Sentance, Why SEOs can’t afford to wait around for a mobile-first index, 2017) In other words, it pays to be strategic about what content is accessible on a mobile device and what is not.Similar to voice search, snippets and quick answers go to provide context-specific responses to the user, rather than being based on simple keywords. Moving forward, the focus will be on “supporting longer keywords and natural language” (Litsa, 2017) such as a more conversational type of search query. Because “more than half of queries will be voice search by 2020” (Moore, 2017), this will require a new look into how voice search applies to snippets. This updated approach will be expected to not only result in greater context but also greater depth, followed up by content related to the original search query.

Visual Search

Gone are the days of just textual content, SEO trends have further expanded into visual content. Visual search presents an intriguing approach based on innovation and user experience. Pinterest, with its 200 million users (Boyd, 28) is a great example of this method based on the capabilities of users to catalog their interests based on images when they don’t know how to textually describe what they are looking for. Through the use of “mood boards” (Boyd, 28) users can collect ideas based on categories to drive their inspiration. Pinterest is far and away the best tool representing visual search.Another player in visual search includes Google when in 2010 introduced “Google Goggles”. This was an Android-based app which as of late has resembled Pinterest’s format. Microsoft’s Bing as well had its own visual search product but that was retired in 2012. Microsoft now has a new visual search platform relegated to desktop only but soon to be supported on mobile devices.As the visual search continues to mature, load time becomes an enormous factor for user experience. This will require greater image optimization by compressing their file sizes, and/or optimizing the delivery method by using content-delivery networks or CDN for short like Cloudflare or Amazon CloudFront (Taylor, 2017).Another situation is with those sites that utilize JavaScript libraries that, although may not be used on every page, they still must be loaded on every page (Taylor, 2017). Excessive loads of Javascript and CSS can significantly impact performance. Provided that the code was moved towards the end, however, it would then be called last, resulting in slightly more efficient loading (Taylor, 2017).

AI and Machine learning

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are about personalization of the user experience through the use of deep learning algorithms. AI works different from just the typical keywords and instead relies on the culmination of user experience (content, links behavior), big data (trust, citations) and machine learning (patterns) to arrive at results that are more specific to the user’s needs. The information gleaned from a given search feeds into the algorithm’s learning capability (Knauff, 2017), and it is that learning that will drive search in the future. In short, it is AI that will make traditional SEO methods obsolete because it leverages natural language processing (NLP). 

In 2015, Google started to introduce “RankBrain”, which is a machine-learning system that helps to create Google’s search results by playing a key part in the company’s ranking algorithm. The typical scenario is where a query is entered, then Google returns a set of relevant organic search results that are mostly based on predictable SEO ranking factors such as keywords. Then machine learning becomes a “layer” on top, where it becomes the final arbiter of rank. The page exists on a domain with a high level of expertise, authoritativeness, and trust – also known as a “strong domain”. The content is optimized, easy to comprehend, applicable and matches the user’s intent. Whether or not the user advances and clicks through, the success of RankBrain would have yet to be realized (Kim, 2017).Google’s NLP engine is so powerful that it can analyze a given page and separate out the various components, even determining sentiment. In fact, AI is now evolving at a rate of 10 times a year over year in terms of “capabilities to read and understand natural language written for humans” (Penn, 2017).Until we get to the point where AI is more capable, the current game plan should be to rely on a user’s intent when performing a search. Intent includes four types of queries including navigational (where one is searching for specific content), informational (focused primarily on a specific goal), commercial (with the intent to purchase) and transactional queries (paying a utility bill, car note, etc) (Knauff, 2017). Together, these queries work to anticipate what the user’s next move may be and subsequent results are catered to that input.Other players include Google, who in 2010 introduced “Google Goggles”. This was an Android-based app which as of late has resembled Pinterest’s format. Microsoft’s Bing as well had its own visual search product but that was retired in 2012. Microsoft now has a new visual search platform relegated to desktop only but soon to be supported on mobile devices.As the visual search continues to mature, load time becomes an enormous factor for user experience. This will require greater image optimization by compressing their file sizes, and/or optimizing the delivery method by using a CDN such as Cloudflare or Amazon’s CloudFront (Taylor, 2017).Another situation with sites that utilize JavaScript libraries is that, although they may not be used on every page, the libraries still must be loaded on every page (Taylor, 2017). Excessive loads of JavaScript and CSS can significantly impact performance. Provided that the code was moved towards the end, however, it would be called last, resulting in slightly more efficient loading (Taylor, 2017).
It looks like a very exciting 2018 for SEO as many of the aforementioned features mature and as newer ones, especially AI, really start to grow out of their infancy. Voice search and the use of such assistants as Siri and Alexa, with a reliance on keyword matching. This was followed by link building and user experience – both going hand–in–hand to develop a stickier presence and with an emphasis on driving loyalty. Next was mobile– first indexing which is focused on developing SEO strategies around mobile devices initially before desktops. This is the result of the surge of users relying on their mobile devices for the majority of their searching needs. With the ongoing popularity of Pinterest, the visual search continues to grow and mature but not without the necessity of addressing image optimization and speed. AI and machine learning feature is just starting to grow, but it is fair to expect dramatic growth as we witness a shift from static keywords to algorithmic learning structures and pattern utilization. AI stands to become the overwhelming standard for the future of SEO due to its capabilities to learn, identify trends in user behavior, and act autonomously. 

Citations:

Bentahar, A. (2017, January 3). 2017 Will Be The Year Of Voice Search. Retrieved from Forbes:
Boyd, C. (28, September 2017). Pinterest, Google or Bing: Who has the best visual search engine? Retrieved from Search Engine Watch:
Google. (2014, October 14). OMG! Mobile voice survey reveals teens love to talk. Retrieved from Google Official Blog:
Kim, L. (2017, February 22). Has machine learning created a new model for SEO ranking? Retrieved from Search Engine Land:
Knauff, J. (2017, February 16). I, Search: How AI Will Transform the Landscape of SEO. Retrieved from Search Engine Journal:
Litsa, T. (2017, October 13). Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018. Retrieved from Search Engine Watch:
Moogan, P. (2014). The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building. Retrieved from Moz:
Moore, J. (2017, September 4). How to optimize featured snippets for voice search. Retrieved from Search Engine Watch:
Penn, C. (2017, January 27). 7 Marketing Trends in 2017, Part 7: The Death of Old SEO. Retrieved from Awaken Your Superhero:
Sentance, R. (2017, September 20). How to create a kickass link-building strategy for local SEO. Retrieved from Search Engine Watch:
Sentance, R. (2017, August 23). Why SEOs can’t afford to wait around for a mobile-first index. Retrieved from Search Engine Watch:
Taylor, D. (2017, August 16). Why site speed is as important as ever on the visual web. Retrieved from Search Engine Watch
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