SEO is always evolving. Algorithm updates, new technologies and changes in user behaviour all contribute to a shifting SEO landscape. So what should you be doing now and how can you prepare for the future?
We take a look at seven key considerations for SEO in 2018, from the current best practices and recent changes to the future developments you should be thinking about.
1. Quality content
The goal of any decent search engine is to answer its users’ queries with relevant, quality content, so if you want your pages to appear in the results then that’s what you need to provide. Churning out thin or poor-quality posts just to bring in traffic is a waste of time (and money): not only will it fail to spike your sessions, but your content won’t actually achieve anything and it could damage your brand.
So, how do you go about creating quality content? Beyond making sure it’s well written, factually accurate and free of errors, you need to provide the reader with value. Your posts should be interesting, in depth and detailed. Take the time to research your topic, whether you’re writing about the best places to eat in Penzance or the impact of Brexit on the price of eggs, and distil it into a piece that’s concise yet comprehensive.
Despite your concision, in-depth content often means longer content, so it’s a good idea to break up your pages with subheadings and bullet points. This helps both the reader and the search engine to sort through the information on the page. You’ll also want to interlink to relevant pages on your site and link out to external sources, signalling your reliability to Google and providing your users with further reading. Remember not to over-interlink, as this looks suspiciously spammy to Google. And links to other sites should always open in new windows.
By creating a page that’s well written, rich, easy to read and reliable, people are more likely to use it, share it and link to it, which will all improve SEO. It’ll also engage your audience and work towards your business goals, which should be the reasons you’re writing content in the first place.
2. Contextual keywords
As part of Google’s quest to provide quality content, they’re shifting their focus from keywords to context. So, rather than writing for the search engine, i.e. cramming the same keyword into every other sentence, you can write for the reader and trust Google to understand how it relates to their query.
One thing you can do to help Google along is to add some contextual keywords and synonyms. That way, it’ll know you’re really writing about what you claim to be. Think up contextual keywords by yourself, or plug your main keyword into Google’s Keyword Planner and see what similar search terms come up. Remember that quality is the most important thing, so don’t go sprinkling spam everywhere. These contextual words and phrases should appear naturally in the writing – and they will, if your content is tightly on topic.
3. Longer meta descriptions
After a few years of experimenting with longer meta descriptions, Google seems to have increased the character limit from 155 to around 320, giving you much more room to wiggle. That said, you shouldn’t hit the character count just because you can. The meta description is there to convince users to click through to your website, and this is often done best with crisp copy.
Next time you do an SEO audit, take a look at your meta descriptions. Which ones would benefit from a rewrite? If they’re good then there’s no need to tinker with them, but a few extra words might really get them singing. Not only is clicking through the SEO endgame – you’re doing all this to drive traffic to your website – it also helps your ranking. Google’s mysterious machine-learning algorithm RankBrain uses engagement metrics, such as click-through rates, to determine a page’s search ranking.
4. Mobile-first indexing
The rise and rise of mobile internet is well known, and it only makes sense that Google plans to use mobile websites as the starting point for indexing pages, i.e. adding them to their search results. They started rolling it out slowly in autumn 2017, so we should start to see it playing a bigger role in the years to come.
What does this mean for you? Well, you should be optimised for mobile anyway. If your site isn’t responsive, you’re probably seeing the negative effects on engagement and SEO already, and this will only get worse. If you do have a responsive website, you’ll still want to check the design, page-load speeds and other elements to make sure they’re as mobile friendly as possible. If you have a separate mobile site, it might be time to invest as much on mobile SEO as you do for desktop. It’s worth noting that Google really wants your desktop and mobile sites to be the same – having one URL that’s optimised for all experiences is the best way to go.
5. Voice search
Along with the increase in mobile traffic, and smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa, voice search is also on the rise. And this provides another opportunity for SEO. When we type in search queries we tend to use clipped, grammatically incorrect phrases, e.g. ‘best restaurants cornwall’. With voice search, people usually ask fully formed questions: ‘What are the best restaurants in Cornwall?’
To optimise for voice search, consider the questions your audience might be asking. Try using answerthepublic.com to find real search queries based around your keywords. Just type in your topic and tap enter: it’ll give you a list of the questions associated with that keyword or phrase. Once you’ve got your question, include it on your page or post as the header and write an introduction that directly answers it. You can explain the answer in more depth and detail in the body copy.
Video is a formidable marketing tool, great for everything from conversions to click-through rates and social shares. It also has a powerful impact on SEO, increasing organic traffic from search engines by 157%.
This is because those other benefits of video, namely the conversions and click-through rates, boost your search rankings. Pages with video often have much lower bounce rates and higher dwell times, too, which signifies to Google that your page is useful and interesting. And as online video traffic continues to grow, search engines are featuring more and more videos in their results pages.
7. Keep evolving
Monitoring and adjusting course should be a big part of your SEO strategy. The internet is changing all the time. Around 300 to 500 new websites are created every minute, Google continues to improve its algorithms (or, in the case of RankBrain, they improve themselves), and the way we use the internet changes with new apps, technologies and trends.
If you want to keep on top of the rankings, you need to review your SEO at regular intervals, seeing which pages are pulling in the traffic and which are underperforming, how you rank for your key search terms, and how people are interacting with your site. Harness all this information to make the experience better for the user, whether that means tweaking content, changing imagery or even adjusting design.
It’s also worth keeping your ear to the Google grapevine to listen out for incoming updates, and checking SEO blogs or subscribing to newsletters for tips and trends. With quality content, vigilance and the agility to adapt, you can keep your SEO up to date no matter what the future throws at you.