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Every year we see major publishers to smaller ones publishing SEO trends predicted by the industry veterans and thought leaders in the industry. We read those articles that predict the future course of SEO with all seriousness because expert opinions matter, we take inputs from them and put them to use while developing or adapting our SEO strategy for the future.
We, at The iMarketing Café, have done SEO surveys successively for the past 4 years starting from 2014 to 2017 focusing on predicting SEO trends – you can read them here – SEO Survey 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. This year, though we had planned out do an article featuring expert opinions on SEO in 2018, it also stuck us after observing the predicted trends for the past few years that they have almost been the same things repeated every year as most of these trends are developments in process and have been gaining momentum. Except a couple of newly emerging trends, this year too, many of the predictions are with respect to developments in the SEO landscape that have been gaining momentum since a few years. Many a times, we take some of these trends too seriously and think they are going to create a big impact in a particular year but they fail to, because they are gradually gaining momentum whose impact may be felt later, maybe after a year or two.
Probably, in the past few years, many of us might have taken atleast one trend very seriously and started gearing up for the upcoming change just to know that it didn’t gain that much momentum that it was expected to in a given year as predicted by experts.
For example – PWA as a concept has been in discussions for the past few years and there has been more noise since the end of last year. Many predict that it’s going to be the future web technology, but PWAs do come with some disadvantages too.
Do you have to quickly invest in building PWA or should you wait and watch? Is it going to take the web by storm this year as some predict so? If you don’t switch to PWA now, will you lag behind your competitors? Well, if you have to believe and go by the general trend prediction with respect to PWA, you will have to switch to PWA this year, that’s the level of hype that is being created but the reality is that it’s gradually gaining momentum and may take more than a year or two to gain popularity among the internet users even if it may, and also take into the account that fact that it may also fail to make an impact or be overtaken by another new technology.
So, the point made here is that trend predictions are important and they make us aware of the developments happening in our industry and help us to gear up for the upcoming major changes but at the same time we should be able to figure out which ones are going to make an impact in the short-term and which ones may make an impact in the long-term and if we do it right, we may plan out the strategy for the future economically and can avoid wrong budget allocations and prevent setting up of misplaced priorities.
This year, as usual, many industry blogs including all the major publishers in the industry such as Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, Moz, Forbes etc. to name a few have published expert opinions on SEO trends. With due respect to all the SEO experts who are very experienced and knowledgeable, let’s analyze their trend predictions for this year and discuss the following: which are the trends that are going to have an impact in the near future, which ones need our immediate attention and which ones are going to have an impact only in the long-term and don’t need our immediate focus. Here we go.
1. Rise in SERP Features
This is an important trend but it is not new, it started a couple of years back when Google started intensifying its experiments showing different SERP features with an objective to enhance user experience.
It is an important trend. If SERP results related to your industry are filled with new SERP features, you should have been creating targeted content as required to be part of the SERP features. If you haven’t been analyzing related SERPs and not taking action accordingly then you are already lagging behind.
As rightly predicted, Google will continue and may even intensify its SERP experiments this year and in the subsequent years.
2. Structured Data
We have been witnessing the emergence of structured data and discussions about schema for the past few years. Again this not a new trend but yes its significance and application from Google’s perspective has increased manifold in the recent times. Many expert opinions suggest that Google seems to be inclining towards website with schema implementation.
If you haven’t implemented schema, it’s already late. Go for it now!
This is a no-brainer and it was announced in 2010 that speed was a ranking factor but it was focused on desktop searches only. Last year Google announced that starting July 2018 it would also use ‘mobile page speed’ as a ranking factor in mobile search results which means Google is going to give more weight to ‘speed as a ranking factor’ in 2018. Gear up to increase the speed of your website now if it is not fast enough. Ideally, a website should load in 3 seconds as per Google’s standards. The rise of AMP and its wider adoption now is also to be noted.
4. Voice Search
Voice Search is an on-going SEO trend which has already gained momentum and as per Alpine.AI estimates there are over billion voice searches per month (January 2018).
As rightly predicted, 2018 will see further rise in voice search volume and it will continue to rise further year by year.
Voice searches are mostly queries and they happen in conversational format. Contents of voice search are usually from authoritative sites and considerable share of them come from featured snippets.
If you want to establish your presence in voice search, you need to invest heavily in content and create an expert content hub mostly in conversational, Q & A format backed by solid research on voice queries relevant to your niche/industry. Building authority is the clear-cut way to prepare for voice search.
Also, platform-wise technical aspects need to be taken care of. Examples – If your business wants to be part of Amazon’s Alexa that powers devices like Amazon Echo, Echo Dot etc, you need to leverage Alexa Skill and optimization for Apple Search requires a different technical implementation process.
Voice search is not a 2018’s SEO trend, it started long back but 2018 will witness significant surge in voice search volume and if you haven’t started your preparation for voice search optimization yet, 2018 is the year. Beyond 2018, it would be too late and catching up with your competitors may become difficult later.
5. Mobile-first Index
One of the most awaited Google update since the last year, Mobile-first Index – the roll out has already begun. This is probably the biggest SEO trend of the year. ‘Mobile-first’ approach becomes the industry-wide norm now with the rollout of this update.
6. ‘Linkless Backlinks’, Relevance and Personalization
One of the articles published on Search Engine Land on SEO Trends discusses about ‘linkless backlinks’ i.e. treating brand mentions and occurrence of keywords along with brand names as a ranking factor. This is nothing but very the old concepts of co-occurrence and co-citations which has been discussed for a long time. There are strong reasons to believe that Google considers this as an important factor and weight given to it may be continue to increase and similarly ‘relevance’ and ‘personalization’ are factors which have been gaining importance year by year and importance of these factors have been mentioned year after year in SEO trends/survey posts (you may even refer our past SEO surveys where experts have mentioned these factors).
It is a known fact that these factors are gaining importance over the period of time but mentioning of these as SEO trends for a given year, year after year makes some of the SEO trend predictions redundant – this is what we discussed in the beginning of this article.
If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the progress of SEO and where it is heading towards, read these two insightful posts – SEO: Redefining Theory, Policy and Practice and 9 Futuristic SEO Questions Answered by SEO Experts.
7. Artificial Intelligence
Use of Artificial Intelligence has been growing across all platforms in search and Google along with other tech giants is at the forefront of AI-backed Search. This is an on-going SEO trend and Google and other search engines will be powered by Advanced AI in the future. Google is currently using a machine-learning artificial intelligence system called ‘Rank Brain’ and I would like to believe that Google’s search results are near-perfect now but unfortunately, Google’s AI/Machine Learning technology is yet to reach that level.
So, much hype has been created around Google’s machine learning/AI capability but as SEO practitioners we see many imperfections in Google results across board day in and day out.
Is AI powered search going to get at its best this year as some of these SEO-trends articles suggest, nope! But yes, Google’s machine learning/AI capabilities are getting better and will get to an advanced stage in the near future. What would an advanced AI backed Search mean for SEOs? Well, lesser scope for manipulation and more push towards doing things right. Also more of targeted content development based on user intent, research and experiments. Continual efforts to improve user experience. Importance of authority and trust will remain intact.
8. Interstitial crackdown and manipulative guest posts
Guys! Is the sub-heading confusing? What does interstitial crackdown have to do with manipulative guest posts? Why have I mentioned them together? Well, this is how I felt when I saw mention of these two as ‘SEO trends’ in 2018. These two are so last season. We know interstitial crackdown was rolled out in 2017(though it has been less effective now, the crackdown may be deadly anytime) and manipulative guest posting can be fatal. The SEO people who read these articles looking for new information are already aware of the fact that they need to be careful not to take chances and ensure that ‘interstitial banner’ is not shown and that ‘manipulative guest posting’ is not a sustainable tactic. You may surely write about these and their potential impact as separate articles so that newbies may benefit, but mentioning them in ‘SEO trends’ articles sounds like resorting to fillers.
9. Rise of Video and Image Search
This is an important trend that is likely to take off in 2018. Image search gained more attention than ever before when Pinterest launched Pinterest Lens last year , followed by the launch of Google Lens in the same year and 2017 also witnessed the rise in video consumption and search across platforms. With the rise in volume of image and video search and consumption, focus on image and video optimization is likely to increase in 2018 obviously – here is a good article on Visual Search and SEO
10. More Old Wine in New Bottle.
Here are a few more on-going trends which have already been discussed exhaustively and we already know that these are important factors and need to be taken into account for SEO success but they have been mentioned repeatedly in articles on SEO trends and predictions year after year – UX, Semantic Search, Optimize for Intent, Localization, Trust, User Engagement and guys, give us a break!
11. SEO Beyond Google and Bing
Though it is not a new thought or trend, it important to discuss about it in 2018 as it’s going to go on to become a huge trend starting from this point (2018) – though many experts ignored it this year, Jayson DeMeyers rightly discussed about it in his recent article on SEO trends.
It has been discussed since a long time, I too discussed about it in-depth in one of my articles on SEO last year.
It’s time for SEOs to look beyond Google and Bing and start optimizing their website, app, or content for all platforms/devices where search happens – so, restricting your search presence only to Google and Bing will prove costly later.
Search happens across platforms and devices apart from search engines – Virtual Assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google now etc.), Smart Speakers (Amazon Echo, Google Home etc.), Social Media, ecommerce platforms like Amazon and more. Want proof? More than 50% of Online Shoppers in US, Turn First to Amazon in Product Search. Figures indicate that you can’t ignore other platforms anymore, they are gaining momentum and 2018 is the year to kick-start cross-platform and cross-device SEO if you want to stay ahead.
Surprisingly only a couple of SEO trends article mentioned it this year, though it is another old trend gaining momentum, it’s almost reaching its potential in 2018, so it’s important to discuss about it as an important SEO trend this year. In 2014, Google announced that they were starting to use ‘HTTPs’ as a ranking signal and since then the migration to ‘https’ has been steady but slow. According to a report, by mid 2017, 31.5% of the websites had switched to ‘https’ and as some of the experts have predicted, Google may give more ranking boost to ‘https’ websites, starting this year. What started as a campaign for a secure web has now turned into an aggressive attempt to make more websites switching to ‘https with Google’s announcement that it will be marking all ’non-https’ websites as not secure starting July 2018. This move may potentially harm ‘http’ websites.
This can be termed as the next big development in the SEO landscape this year after the much expected ‘Mobile-first Index’. Go, switch to ‘https’ now!
Finally, I would like to conclude by discussing the most interesting SEO prediction by Rand Fishkin that “except the top mobile apps, rest of the long tail of apps which never succeeded well may fade away”. He predicts that businesses will rather invest in mobile-first websites and PWAs. This is quite a possibility and 2018 may possibly be the beginning of the end of mobile apps (Note: referring to the standalone mobile apps here; on another note mobile apps may evolve and take different forms, one fine example is PWA). With this change, demand for ‘Mobile App SEO’ may start to decline as well. I believe that this wouldn’t happen immediately within this year or even next year for that matter but may happen gradually. I also believe that PWA may not take off and reach its potential this year. There are concerns related to PWAs as well. So, if you are looking forward invest in PWA now, I would say wait and watch for a year. Mobile-first website is a safe bet.
Adapting your SEO strategy based on the above discussed trends is surely going to help you to move your SEO process in the right direction. As add-on information, if you would like to know what else you need to do to carry out a successful SEO campaign in 2018, read this post by Rand Fishkin where he superbly puts together an SEO Checklist for 2018.