January can be a blue month – especially when your social feeds are clogged up with every armchair Nostradamus making marketing predictions that never seem to happen.
Well, this one’s a little different. It’s our 2018 guide to SEO.
No VR, no flying cars – just actual, actionable things you need to think about if you want to rank well this year.
1. Mobile-first indexing
This is the biggest change in search for years.
Google will now look to your mobile website rather than your desktop one when determining how your website should rank and to understand its content.
Mobile-first search indexing reflects a change in browsing habits and the tipping of the scale towards mobile sessions.
It was announced last year, but we should expect to see it fully rolled out early this year.
If you have a separate mobile domain (like an m. domain), or your website is not responsive, you may lose rankings once this rolls out.
What to take away: If the mobile version of your company website is different from the desktop version it’s no longer just a user-experience issue but will soon be an SEO issue too!
2. Links and content
Backlinks aren’t new, but the new year is a good chance to update your strategy and make sure you’re getting the most from your links. Links are still an incredibly important factor in your organic rank.
There are plenty of easy wins to be had with backlinking – a simple audit might uncover a few, especially from competitors; if they have the link, it’s likely you can too. Look to your suppliers, press releases and any other external material or relationships to see if there are opportunities for you to gain a simple, clean backlink to your website.
This shouldn’t be mistaken as a quantity exercise, the quality of the websites and their pages that are linking to your website are very important. The backlinks should be directly relevant to the content they are linking to.
Remember: content has two core purposes; to gain links or to rank in its own right, gaining traffic. Of course, it could be both too!
When you’re producing content, think about its SEO purpose before you put it out. Is that to gain a link or is it to rank in organic search? If it’s neither, that’s fine too, but you might be missing an opportunity if the content isn’t optimised.
If it’s on your site, and it’s good, people will link to it. But don’t forget to think about it ranking in its own right.
Undertake keyphrase research for the piece, and don’t necessarily think about commercial product/service keyphrases – perhaps the content will support the earlier research phrase of a customer’s purchase journey.
And don’t forget, other sites need content too – most will be receptive to an offer of a guest post/column, and some will even throw in a link as part of the bargain. This shouldn’t however be an exercise in “gaining links” but instead finding a mutual arrangement to gain visibility in front of a relevant audience.
What to take away: In 2018, link building is still about quality, not quantity. As a rule of thumb, you should be looking to publications that will drive relevant visitors to your website and any backlinks are a bonus.
3. Think local
If you’re a local business, and you’re not optimised for local search, get off this blog and start optimising now. Appearing in pack results and maps searches is crucial for your search presence.
If it's on your site, and it's good, people will link to it. But don't forget to think about it ranking in its own right.
A good local listing is all about consistency. Take the time to make sure all your details match up across your listings. Phone numbers, addresses and opening hours should be uniform across every touchpoint.
It’s really important to have a good amount of reviews, too.
Be proactive about requesting feedback – and if you have loads of good reviews on your local Google listing, make sure you’re also displaying plenty of good reviews on your website too. A consistent experience as the user goes further down the funnel makes for a nice quick conversion.
What to take away: Consistency is key. And don’t forget about the reviews!
4. Voice search
Voice is a really exciting development and has the capacity to change search in a really big way.
We’ve seen a huge explosion in voice-led interfaces from all the big companies – think Google Home and Amazon Echo – and by all accounts we’re just getting started.
As these devices become more common in homes, the way we ask questions will change – so how do you get your website to be the answer?
The key is all in the language.
The way key phrases are structured for voice is different. Your website content needs to reflect that.
Text searches are generally more truncated. The searcher does their own editing and just searches for the key words – almost like we’re trying to make it easier for the search engine.
So, you might type:
‘Best smart light 2017’
That wouldn’t work with a voice search. For one, it would feel silly to say. It’s much more natural to phrase the question like, a, well – a question.
‘What are the best rated smart lights?’
There are a few ways to integrate this content into your website. Our favourite is a Q&A format.
It works well, as the search engines pull voice answers out in a similar way to Answer Box results.
You can host this in an FAQ section or something like that.
Optimising for voice is a good strategy for 2018, especially as consumer confidence and uptake grows – now’s the time to get set up and get ahead. You won’t find a huge sales shift this year, but starting to think voice will pay dividends in the future.
What’s the future of voice search? Well, Amazon has already hinted that there’ll be some sort of paid priority for brands to appear in voice search results.
What to take away: Get set up for voice search now and you’ll get ahead of the pack later down the line, whilst being seen as an early adopter now.
5. Competitor analysis
Tracking rank isn’t always a simple exercise – it’s hard to know the complete picture of keyphrases that are driving sales. However, you can get a really good idea of what’s making competitors SEO strategies tick by monitoring their rank alongside yours.
Start with a broad keyphrase list and look over their websites to see the types of phrases they are using in the title tag on key category and product pages or other content-based areas. This will give you a clue to their strategy – remember; for them to rank, the words must be on the pages in the first place!
By tracking rank you’ll be able to understand where they are making gains and compare this against your own performance.
Importantly, you’ll also be able to see where they have holes in their presence and this will give you opportunities for ranking yourself. It’ll also show what content of theirs is working well.
What to take away: Keep an eye on your competitors and understand what is working for them. But don’t just follow them, use this knowledge to better them!
6. User journeys
We can sometimes think about search in silos and treat those strategies separately.
Think about how you can own the search space for a few key phrases that are most valuable to you. A land-grab, if you will.
You could be discovered through a video, local search, Google shopping, a paid ad, answer box results – there are loads of different ways someone will come across your brand, and you should be thinking about all of them.
Think about shopping, image, video, news, rich snippets, appearing on review websites, getting on other websites that rank for the phrase and paid adverts. Then perhaps look to display marketing on publishing websites that rank for your target phrase.
Once you start to saturate those key phrases, you can grow from there. If your brand is there every step of the way, those touch points build trust and the consumer will associate you with that decision.
And it might sound boring, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to go through and revisit all your meta descriptions and really work on the messaging. Think about how they come across. Would you write them differently if they were a paid ad? Sometimes some snappy copy is what gets the click.
What to take away: Pick your keywords carefully, and hammer them across multiple areas. Then get in the user’s shoes and make sure the journey makes sense once they get to you.