As with any new year, 2018 will bring plenty of change to the world of search engine optimisation. Rather than centring around any single SEO revolution, SEO trends though 2018 look to be a year where a number of fairly well-established practices will become even more entrenched.
Those who have been keeping up with the state of the art will be familiar with the four areas of SEO trends for 2018 that follow. Others who need to come up to speed a bit will be pleased with the results that ensue when they do.
Grappling with Even More SERP Features
When Google launched in 1998, its minimalistic blue, black, and white search engine results page (SERP) was a breath of fresh air to many. It was the effectiveness of Google’s then-innovative PageRank algorithm that earned it a loyal following early on, but the clean feel of its SERPs attracted plenty of attention, too.
Google has stuck with that basic look through the nearly twenty years since, but things have become more complicated. A search for “search engine results page” just now placed the first conventional result nearly below the fold. With a “Featured Snippet” taking the top spot and consuming twice the vertical space of a standard result, a “People Also Ask” box stood just below it, proposing answers to several related questions.
Search engine marketing specialists have long been aware of the way that well-designed AdWords placements can make the SEO equation more complex. With a modern Google page often featuring several additional embellishments beyond standard search results, showing up in “Local Teaser Packs,” “Shopping Results,” “Image Packs,” and other SERP features has to be a primary focus.
One effective way to make progress is to start incorporating Schema.org-standardised structured data into web pages wherever possible. While it can take some time to become comfortable with one of the JSON-LD, Microdata, or RDFa structured data vocabularies, adding this machine-readable information to web pages makes inclusion in a wide variety of SERP features a lot more likely.
Increased Emphasis on Click-Through Rate
A partially related development of similar significance is that click-through rates for search results are more important than ever, too. Every experienced SEO specialist will have seen how certain search results can defy the apparent law that higher ranking means more traffic. When a number-one result loses out to a lower-placing page Google users prefer to click, figuring out a fix can be just as important as the SEO work that ranked it.
That is even more the case with so many additional SERP features now competing for the attention and clicks of users. A study by the advertising software maker WordStream found that median click-through rates for top results had declined by nearly 40 percent over less than two years preceding March of 2017.
High-ranking results not only have to stand out above poorer performers that feel more “clickworthy,” they also have to attract attention in the face of a growing assortment of Google-generated SERP features. That alone would be an important reason to focus on improving click-through rates for results, but this is only part of the story.
The other important development is the increasing emphasis that Google places on the verdicts of its RankBrain machine learning (ML) system. While links and content quality still supposedly receive more attention, many observers maintain that RankBrain’s always-evolving standards consider click-through rate an important indicator of SERP worthiness. Focusing on improving this metric, along with destination page dwell time, should therefore also be a top priority in 2018.
The Continuing SEO trends Toward Mobile-First Indexing
It has been nearly two years since the day known as “Mobilegeddon,” and the situation that motivated that Google algorithm update has only become more pronounced. Toward the end of 2016, an official Google blog noted that the company had “begun experiments to make [its] index mobile-first.”
Every site that can claim to be optimised for search engines needs, by now, to work well on mobile devices. While passing Google’s official (and free) “Mobile Friendly Test” is a good start, many websites still come up short in important respects.
The many sites that lock content away behind UI elements with their mobile layouts, for example, risk losing out when Google weights such results even more highly. A web page whose content merits a top-five results placement when assessed by a crawler pretending to be a desktop browser might score a lot lower when parsed by one that sees what mobile users do.
Mobile sites and pages not only have to look good, they need to have just as much to offer, too. That also means keeping an even closer eye on loading speed, as with Google’s official “PageSpeed Insights” test, since mobile users are even more prone than desktop-based ones to turn elsewhere when a website makes them wait.
Accommodating Rapid Growth in Voice Search
Finally, the increasing share of search engine users who prefer mobile and other non-desktop devices are not just typing their queries out by hand. The most recent official numbers from Google have voice-initiated searches accounting for 20 percent of all activity, and that number has undoubtedly grown a good deal since it was made public in 2016.
Naturally enough, voice search queries tend to be more conversational than typed ones, so pages that reflect this will probably receive ranking boosts as Google increasingly accommodates this type of activity. Incorporating question-and-answer-style content into pages, where natural, could improve SERP placement, while also making inclusion in relevant features more likely… especially if the right structured data is available.
As Analyst John Mueller of Google Webmaster Trends noted in a December 7, 2017 tweet, the company does not yet distinguish between voice searches and conventional ones in its Search Console and other tools it offers to the public. That could always change, of course, with the data that follows opening up entirely new ways to optimise for search engines in 2018 and beyond.
References and Further Reading
- Welcome to Schema.org: http://schema.org/
- Here’s What Google Looked Like The First Day It Launched In 1998: http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-google-looked-like-the-first-day-it-launched-in-1998-2013-9
- Value of a #1 Google Ranking Down 37% in Two Years?: https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/04/26/google-ranking-click-through-rate
- Google Webmaster Central Blog – Mobile-first Indexing: https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2016/11/mobile-first-indexing.html
- Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test: https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly
- Google PageSpeed Insights Test: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
- Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JohnMu/status/938724474521833472