It can be difficult to keep up with the large budgets of your counterparts vying for your audience’s attention. How can your business attract visitors if a national movie theater chain pushes millions in ads? How can a library compete with the book-selling power of Amazon?
Fortunately, the rise of digital marketing has counteracted much of that imbalance. With the right strategy, you can still reach your audience effectively and convincingly. Unpaid opportunities like search engine optimization (SEO) can be immensely powerful, getting your brand in front of millions of Google and Bing users every day.
To build brand awareness, showcase your company’s story, and to drive engagement you need get to the strategy right. That’s especially important with a topic like SEO, which is not just complex but also changes on an ongoing basis. A strategy that was implemented five years ago simply won’t be effective anymore. To get you prepared for the next year of competitive marketing success, here are 7 ways SEO has changed in 2018, along with tips on how to adjust to these changes.
1) The Increasing Importance of Credibility
The complexity of SEO makes it difficult to pinpoint a single, driving factor behind all of its algorithm changes and priorities. That said, if I had to choose, I’d pick this one: credibility.
Simply put, Google now has a wide range of safeguards in place to make sure that the only pages it features prominently are actually credible. There was a time when any links to your site could lead to increased rankings. Now, those links have to be credible to count favorably toward your optimization.
Changes in 2018 will only emphasize that credibility mission. Recently Google has been in the headlines for promoting fake news, and has promised a solution by devaluing what it calls “non-authoritative websites.” Future changes will likely further that mission. To succeed, you have to make sure that all of your SEO tactics are ethical and link to credible sources.
2) The Power of Good Content
Have you heard about Google RankBrain? It might be worth your time to read up on it. The machine learning tool now factors prominently in how the world’s largest search engine ranks website results. Put simply, it factors in not just the credibility and relevance of your website, but also your users’ experience on it.
In other words, write content that matters and make it sound natural. Content that your audience spends time and clicks on will receive a future rankings boost. Simply building a website to be found is no longer enough for SEO; in addition, you also need to make sure that your web visitors actually enjoy what they find. Periodically poll your constituents and find out what they want to learn or hear about. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn from them.
3) The Rise of Voice-Based Search
Search engines are no longer restricted to keyboards. In January 2018, an estimated one billion searches actually occurred via voice command. In all, 40 percent of American adults now search using their voice through a smartphone or smart home device at least once per day.
That means your SEO strategy needs to adjust. For starters, voice searches tend to be longer than text-based searches. They use questions more frequently and exist in full sentences. Focusing on conversational keywords will be key to success in 2018 and beyond.
4) The Dominance of Featured Snippets
As Moz points out, featured snippets have begun to dominate the top of search engine results pages. They pull out a single result that either answers a question or is determined by Google to be most relevant to the search term. These types of featured snippets significantly increase click-through rate and traffic for a website lucky enough to land one.
But luck might not be the right word. Getting featured in a results page snippet requires careful strategy. Start with keyword research and find the snippets most relevant to your company. Then, aim to answer the question precisely, in a well-organized fashion. Making sure that an article answers multiple questions can also help, as can eye-catching images. It takes time and strategy but getting featured in a snippet can set your company apart from even your most high-spend players.
5) The Need for Comprehensive Content
Content length is not necessarily synonymous with SEO success. But to succeed in 2018, website content needs to be comprehensive, as in providing a broad, in-depth story. Part of the reason as RankBrain mentioned above: the more comprehensive your content, the longer your audience will stay on your site. But it doesn’t end there.
As Backlinko points out, “the best pages cover an entire topic in-depth.” They’re a one-stop shop where your user can get all the information they need about a given topic. That means publishing content that is at least 1,000 and ideally 2,000 words long, and focusing on keywords related to but beyond your main topic.
6) The Coming Mobile-First Index
You might already know about the increasing importance of mobile digital marketing. But you probably don’t know that starting later this year, a mobile-focused orientation will become essential for your search engine optimization. That’s when Google is expected to switch to its Mobile-First Index, which will rank all websites (even for desktop searches) as if they came from mobile devices.
From Google’s perspective, the reason is simple: in some industries and keyword categories, more than 70 percent of searches now come from mobile devices. For your organization, it means taking the necessary preparatory steps. Make sure your website is responsive, and build the content to be easily read on even small screen sizes. Potential visits to your website will happen while on the go, and your audience needs to be able to find relevant information quickly.
7) The Potential of Linkless Mentions
Increasingly the smart search algorithm has largely done away with what used to be a major factor in SEO: backlinks. It used to be standard to link to high-profile industry sources to build credibility in the eyes of Google and Bing. We scrambled to get those backlinks. But things have changed. Soon, simply including unlinked mentions has become just as strong for SEO as a regular link. This means search engines can identify mentions and link them to you, which in turn determines the authority and quality of your site.
Bing is already using linkless mentions to determine its rankings, and most experts believe that Google will follow suit soon. That doesn’t mean you need to completely overhaul your SEO strategy and eliminate your links, but you should be able to account for it by noting your sources throughout any articles and content you write.
Building Your SEO Strategy With the Future in Mind
The only constant in SEO is change. Experienced marketers know that tactics that were sure to lead success just a few years ago are largely irrelevant now. That’s why it should come as no surprise that in 2018, the way you get your organization’s to rank highly in search engines will undergo some major shifts.
Is your company ready for that reality? Especially if you build your digital strategy based on attracting organic search visits, you need to be prepared. Build your SEO strategy with the future in mind, and you will continue to attract visitors, advocates, and sales even in the face of high-budget competition.
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