It’s that time of year again. That special season when Oprah quotes are particularly inspiring. The time to reflect on the past year and look eagerly to the next. The time to hope against hope that the weight you gained from subsisting on cookies alone for five straight weeks will melt off in a singular hour at the gym. Yep, it’s New-Year-New-You time!
But, worry not, this post isn’t about resolutions (which, let’s face it, some of us have already broken). It’s about New-Year-New-You’s sidekick, Predictions for the Coming Year. It is this time when we marketers are oft inspired to gaze into our crystal balls and pull out prophecies for the coming year. We all get real fired up on the promise of qualified growth that we’ve included in each of the strategy presentations we developed over the past few months, and we get inspired to spread the word.
Basically, we are all a little high on our own supply.
It’s only natural. Ours is an industry that is constantly changing, and we all rely on each other to share findings in order to stay ahead of the curve. But there are three problems with all of us rushing to churn out predictions:
- We hedge. We toss out blanket statements and the old tropes that no one can deny. Predicting that content will be important in the coming year isn’t exactly a prediction. Oh is content going to be king in 2018? Tell us more, Bill!
- SEOs, as a group, cannot have nice things. There’s a reason Google rarely pulls back the curtain on ranking factors for organic search. As soon as we know what moves the needle, people go out there and manipulate the shit out of it. People are out there telling everyone to optimize for voice search, and all I can think is that the entire effing internet will be a cluster of Q&A pages by year end.
- We shoot for the moon. Even if we miss we will land among the stars, right? Wrong. Barf. The problem with making grand predictions is that they often aren’t actionable, or they are financially laughable.
Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be
These prediction posts often mention how SEO has come a long way, as a way of implying the obvious need to focus on the new and shiny. They talk about the many major changes in our industry this year, how can’t do SEO like we did before, etc. And that’s true.
Looking back 10 years, SEO tips looked like this guest blog post on how to do SEO, which somehow forgot to recommend guest blogging even though that was totally legit back then. The post lays out that the secrets to improving your SEO are (and I am paraphrasing here) to have a website, pick some keywords, and use Google Analytics. I guess that’s technically an improvement over doing nothing at all. Way to go 2008.
Five years ago, Dr. Pete posted this article for how to do SEO in 2013. His big tip for that year was to diversify. “Any single-tactic approach is short-term at best,” the article reads. Basically, don’t get all your links from the same place, don’t use the same spammy anchor text on all of your links, don’t follow Google like mindless zombies, etc. This is still solid advice because Dr. Pete is an OG SEO slayer and he doesn’t lead us astray. However, this article is categorized as Advanced SEO and Dr. Pete is coming out of the gate with “plz don’t spam.”
That’s the advanced bar five years ago – try not to be a one-trick-spam-pony.
And then there’s this gem from 2013, a contributor post (guest blog post link-building effort, complete with a branded infographic) on Forbes. Tip #6: Text Styling. “Use bullet points and italicize or bold your keywords.” and Tip #9: Hyperlinks. “Hyperlink phrases that contain your keywords.” …Case in point for Dr. Pete, I suppose.
The Future Is Nigh
So yes, SEO has come a long way. Google is smarter, we all have to be better at writing content than Russian Facebook trolls and websites should work on the mobile devices we are all physically addicted to. So with that in mind, let’s unpack some of the top trends everyone in SEO in obsessing over for 2018.
(And featured snippets, because the two are very closely linked at this point). Yes, voice search is getting huge, and everyone is quick to throw out statistics about just how much it has exploded and how it accounts for 20 percent of searches and so on. But what they forget to tell you is this:
So yes, voice search is growing, and you definitely shouldn’t ignore it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is growing for high-intent queries in your industry just yet. Instead of thinking about every question out there that you could answer, this is what you should be focused on for voice search:
- You should definitely optimize your site for top-of-funnel featured snippets/answer boxes. Think about what someone might ask before they know they need your product or service and get in front of it (remembering that personalized results will play to your benefit if that user starts executing more qualified searches). Preferably you will do this in a way that isn’t exclusively Q&A.
- Acknowledge that many voice-search and top-of-funnel queries are going to return things such as lists, and those lists are probably going to be from third-party publishers, not a brand hawking their wares. Look for these aggregated results and then get your barnacle SEO on.
- Pay attention to your brand name. This is obvious to most, but you should be on the lookout for any question-format branded search terms and make sure you clearly answer that question on your site. Yes, the negative ones, too! So that when someone searches “Is [your brand name] legit?” you are the one answering them with “Totes.”
- This isn’t actionable yet, but I am just putting it out there that I am keeping my eye on speakable schema markup.
AI/RankBrain/Forthcoming Robot Revolution
Let’s just stop obsessing about RankBrain for a second. The closest thing I have seen to a recommendation for how to address this is to basically “make excellent content.” If that isn’t already on your radar, you have some explaining to do. Google’s investment in AI does not mean that SEO is going away anytime soon.
The announcement of the mobile-first index coming in 2017 was a Jordan-level pump fake. Part of it is maybe already here? Just the tip? Who knows. Either way, you should be ready for it by now. If you aren’t ready for mobile-first, or you aren’t sure if you are, you should probably read this.
If your site is responsive and you think you’re all set on mobile, think again. There is no denying the growth of mobile, so we should all be looking for ways to help the user make the most out of those mobile visits in 2018. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Make sure your converting actions are simple on mobile. Are you a service area business? Make your phone number sticky on the top or side of the screen so it’s easy to call for more information.
- Look for opportunities to create new converting actions within your mobile experience. Do you have a podcast? Add its landing page to your mobile navigation so users can quickly discover it and include a link to iTunes for easy listening. Are downloads a priority for your brand? Encourage users to email themselves the link so they can download the case study when they get into the office.
- Test AMP. It’s time. At first we all thought AMP meant nothing but static text with maybe an image and your brand colors if you were lucky. That’s not the case anymore, and Google is even moving away from the Google cache URLs. It should be in your tool kit.
- Get faster. This can be a big undertaking for some sites (and an expensive one at that), but it should still be on your radar. Google updated its PageSpeed Insights tool recently, which means it should be more–well–insightful, but it also means that it is something they are focused on (hint hint). Take a look and take advantage of any realistic modifications that you uncover.
A classic tale of Google claiming that something isn’t a ranking factor and us all being pretty damn sure it is. You can correlation-vs-causation me until the cows come home, but either way if you focus on improving your engagement metrics now and forever you are investing in making your site more satisfying for your audience. That’s huge.
The blanket recommendation to “improve your engagement metrics” is definitely a cop-out. But it is one that can’t be avoided because it is so case specific. However, when you embark on that mission, these are a couple of simple things to look out for:
- Look for pages with low CTR in search console. Does your metadata suck? Look at the SERPs for the ranking queries and see what you can do to stand out from the herd.
Remember, these are just trends for the year. You cannot ignore creating quality content, preserving and improving the technical site experience and earning quality off-page links (no, linkless mentions aren’t killing link building just yet).
Focus on creating a holistic strategy that is future-ready but true to the foundations. Google’s updates penalize (albeit with some collateral damage) crappy content and manipulative tactics; avoid those things and you don’t need to fear the updates.
I wish you all a healthy and successful 2018. May your content go viral, your backlinks be bountiful, and may your trend lines all be up and to the right. In this moment, I am reminded of a quote that I’d like to share with all of you:
“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” – Oprah Winfrey