In 2018, New Challenges for SEO Await

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

voice search
“Sorry, didn’t catch that,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ruth Hartnup

Moving into the digital age has left me regretting my tradition of breaking out the new desk calendar during the last weeks of the year. I have kept both daily and weekly calendars for many years; and each year, I would spend an hour or two moving birthdays and significant dates to the new calendar. I also used the time to pause and reflect on what the new year would bring. The blank pages in the calendar were always an invitation to set lofty goals and make large plans.

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

At the start of 2017, three strong trends/challenges stood out:

  • The imperative for faster site speed
  • The need to put mobile first in all SEO plans
  • The push for secure sites

How have these played out? Did site owners move on these imperatives? What new imperatives await in 2018?

Site Owners Are Still Working on Making Their Sites Faster

Site speed is now a confirmed ranking factor particularly for mobile sites — which is where most of the traffic growth is. If your site does not load in less than three seconds, you still have work to do.

The SEO literature is filled with information on how to speed up the venerable desktop search, but the frontier is mobile. It is a frontier that is increasingly settled by those who have understood the linkage of speed to success in search, usability and conversion.

Achievements are being made. But just as world records will fall in the 2018 Olympics, so, too, will site owners achieve even greater speed in 2018.

To stay in the game in 2018, don’t let up; continue to seek improvements on site speed.

Mobile Is First, It Hears a Voice

The continued growth of mobile is now being fueled by voice searches. Faster than fingers and perfectly adapted for multi-tasking searchers, voice-driven mobile searches will be a major trend in 2018.

Voice search is showing strong adoption by younger searchers, the digital natives, who think off of the box on the desktop.

Highlighted in my 2017 analysis, the need to go fast and mobile is still an imperative in 2108. This has not changed. Mobile is still a fast-hot trend.

The use of accelerated mobile pages (AMP) has been growing, but there are still significant challenges for creating these thin, fast pages for feature-rich commerce sites. The use and applications for AMP will continue to grow and improve over the next year.

Google has recently announced that starting in February 2018, it will be enforcing content parity for AMP users. Some site owners looking for the proverbial easy way out have been creating teaser pages that are AMP that require that user to click again to get all of the page content.

An example might be a news site that gives just a single paragraph on the AMPed page, but forces the user, who wants to see the entire story, to click again.

AMP was developed as a means of creating fast, lean pages — not teaser pages. In 2018, expect to see Google continue to protect the integrity of the AMP initiative by insisting that AMP users play by the rules.

As an SEO Trend, Secure Sites Have Jumped the Shark

A quick breeze through search results will show you that most top-ranked sites are now secure. If your site is still not secure, a pity to you and your impaired search results.

Today, having a secure site is a must if you want to enjoy the fruits of holding top spots in the search results. It is no longer trending. It has gone mainstream.

What New Challenges Lie Ahead for 2018?

For 2018, the question is the answer. As voice search grows, the language and syntax of search is changing. Search queries are no longer just short syntactically challenged typed Boolean strings.

Increasingly, queries are conversational questions: “Where is the nearest supermarket?” This query might be spoken into a handheld device or even a nearby digital assistant.

In response to this new line of questioning, Google now features question-and-answer snippets in the search engine results page. These featured snippets include links to the source of the answer. This is highly prized real estate, and search marketers will be well-served in 2018 to focus on having quality content that answers questions.

In 2018, the changing SERP page cannot be overlooked. Google recently expanded the length of the descriptions that appear in the results to provide more descriptive and useful information for users. This is a key must-do assignment for 2018. Review what Google is presenting in the results page for your key performing pages. Look at the snippet. If it generated by Google, consider if it is what you really want to see. For key pages, give them a rub and scrub, buff them up a bit so that they perform better and watch the results.

From this view, 2018 will be more challenges, but the results will be incremental. It is time to review your individual responses to this changing industry and turn the page to the new year with new, big plans in mind.

2017 Search Trends — No. 1, Faster Sites

Before turning the last page on the 2016 calendar and welcoming in 2017, I’d like to pause for a moment and look briefly at some important trends in organic search that will strongly impact search performance in 2017. These should not be mysterious hints of things to come, but rather strong signals — claxons, if you will.

faster seoBefore turning the last page on the 2016 calendar and welcoming in 2017, I’d like to pause for a moment and look briefly at some important trends in organic search that will strongly impact search performance in 2017. These should not be mysterious hints of things to come, but rather strong signals — claxons, if you will.

Faster Site Speed Is Now an Imperative

If you have not been working on improving your site speed, by 2017 you will be left in the slow lane and passed by sites that have taken on the challenges of improving end-to-end speed.

You might ask: Why is it so important now? Google has been nudging site owners to improve their sites for several years. They have offered tools for site speed measurement and guidelines for improvement. The search giant even announced that its algorithm would give a boost to faster pages. The boost proved to be minimal; so many site owners did not see it as an imperative. Besides, in many organizations site performance improvements are seen as the province of the technical team, not marketing. Now, a slow site will inhibit your ability to successfully execute other trendy initiatives.

Mobile Is First

In 2015, more searches were done on mobile devices than on desktops.

The trend to more mobile usage has not abated. Google noted the growing use of mobile and is now working on a mobile-first approach. Because more people see pages on a mobile device, Google will be indexing and ranking based on the content of the mobile pages.

Guess what? Slow sites deliver slow mobile pages, which users rapidly abandon. Some site owners chose to address the need for a mobile site by offering stripped-down versions of their sites. With the mobile-first imperative, these sites will be judged based on the content given on the mobile version, not their “full” sites.

Several years ago, Google began advocating for using responsive design for mobile sites. As we move into the future, responsive design will simply be table stakes for mobile search performance. With mobile-first, it is more than likely that even mobile-friendly, slower performing sites will be left in the search rankings dust.

Now, with accelerated mobile pages (AMP) expanding beyond news content, fast, lean pages are leaping to the forefront. Google is even identifying them in the search results so that users can choose these fast, lean pages for themselves. The number of AMP pages is expected to continue to grow in the future.

In 2017, not having a fast, mobile site will put you behind the curve.

Secure Is Better

Google continues to push for more secure sites. It has already been announced that in 2017, users of Google Chrome will see clear designations on the browser bar whenever they are visiting insecure pages.

Google intends to essentially shame sites into moving to secure environments. Because of the encryption, secure sites tend to be slower than insecure sites.

Once again, this cries out for a need to improve site speed.

If there is a single unifying theme that should drive organic search efforts in 2017, it can be summed up in this slogan: Get fast or get left behind.