Your Guide to What’s Hot in SEO in 2018

If you are looking to dominate Google’s search results this year look no further, we’ve got you covered with up to date and practical SEO strategies to ‘start as you mean to continue’, and have a successful year with SEO.

What’s Covered in this Guide?

  1. Dig Deep: Thorough Content Comes Out on Top
  2. Optimising for RankBrain
  3. Becoming CTR Savvy
  4. Video: Film or Flop
  5. Mobile First is Coming Soon
  6. Keep Links and Content at the Forefront
  7. What About Voice Search?
  8. Extra Tricks to Top the Search Results in 2018

Dig Deep: Thorough Content Comes Out on Top

In the distant past, Google analysed pages simply by looking at how many times a specific keyword was used. Google would search for keywords within your title, description tag, H1 tag, URL and image ALT text. If your site included a good number of those words, they would assume your site had thorough content regarding that topic, which wasn’t always the case.

They do still consider keywords within the title etc, however Google has advanced their various algorithm’s and methods significantly compared to previous years. Now, rather than measuring just the keywords in your content, Google focuses more on whether those keywords are part of genuinely helpful and interesting content – and most importantly content that meets the visitors needs.

This is positive for searchers, but it does require more work by marketers and content creators to meet the high standard of content that Google (and users) are after.

The aim for Google is to provide users with the most relevant and useful results. Generally, the best results aren’t from keyword packed content. The top sites typically cover the subject extensively, and satisfy the searchers curiosities and questions.

The idea is that by providing in-depth content, the searcher will find all that they need conveniently in one place. Put very simply the more in-depth your content is, the more useful it is likely to be, and the higher it is likely to rank.

This graph based on a study completed by MarketMuse shows that in-depth long form content ranks better. There is a lot of debate as to why, but we will cover that in another article.

LSI Keywords, more hype than value?

LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing. Latent semantic indexing is a mathematical method developed in the late 1980s to improve the accuracy of information retrieval. It scans unstructured data within documents to identify relationships between the concepts.

In essence, it finds the hidden (latent) relationships between words (semantics) in order to improve information understanding (indexing).

Sounds complex, but paired back to its essence, the idea is that including synonyms for your target keywords within a piece of content will help SEO performance. These are sometimes even called “LSI keywords.”

The general consensus is that you should focus more on clarity within your copy, rather than muddying the waters trying to ‘crowbar in’ a series of synonyms. If you are after a more technical explanation, see Does Google Use Latent Semantic Indexing? (short answer is no).

If you do want to test this out here is a helpful tool LSI Graph. Simply key in the topic or word you are targeting, and you will be shown a list of possible LSI keywords.

You can also go straight to the source and use Google search to look up your topic and see what others have been searching for related to that topic. This is a good idea to do before writing an article regardless.  If you’re writing about ‘Interviews’, you want to know what people are searching for, and then how you can best meet that need.

You can find potential related keywords or similar searches near the bottom of the search results page by scrolling down to the ‘Searches related to…’ and also the ‘People also ask..’ section. These can become great targeted paragraphs within your content.

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2. Optimising for RankBrain

RankBrain is rapidly becoming more and more important as a ranking factor in Google. In 2017 Google said that it was the third most important signal.

You can see Google’s explanation of RankBrain here.

RankBrain is an Artificial Intelligence, self-learning system, which Google uses to assist in sorting people’s results in Google search. It effectively monitors the way in which people interact with the results from their searches, and then automatically tweaks rankings accordingly, on an ongoing basis.

As an overly simplified example; you type ‘How to make Kombucha’ into the search bar, you glance down the page of results and the third option catches your eye with a video, so you choose to open that one.

RankBrain takes note of that, and if the trend is widespread, Google will ‘boost’ the third video option for additional related searches. However, it also records how long a user spends on the page.

So if you click the third option, start watching the video, but it’s not very good so you quickly go back (or pogo stick) to the search results and click the number one result, that action will also have an impact. RankBrain records all of this data and effectively ‘learns’ what a user with a particular search phrase is likely to be looking for.

RankBrain Measures:

  1. Click Through Rate (The percentage of people that click on your page after seeing it in the list of search results)
  2. Dwell Time (Time spent on your page)

Click Through Rate

When a pages get a higher than average click through rate, Google sees that as first indication that those pages are popular. Which is logical, if a lot of searchers are clicking on your page from the search results, then clearly it should be more visible for others to find in future too. Just remember that CTR is only the first indicator, how long a visitor spends on the site is just as important.

Dwell Time

RankBrain gives a lot of focus to dwell time. A recent study done by Search Metrics, and also a statement from the head of Google Brain Canada have shown that RankBrain does in fact measure dwell time as a key factor.

FP SEO article 6On average the time spent on a page reached through a Google search takes three minutes and ten seconds, from the time the page is opened to the time it is closed. That is the dwell time you should be aiming to meet or beat.

Pages that have high dwell times do in fact tend to rank best. This makes sense, if a significant amount of time is spent browsing a page, it’s a strong indicator that the user has found the content interesting, enjoyable or useful.

When a number of people spend time on and therefore ‘like’ a page, Google will ‘reward’ it and help ensure that it’s visible and easier to find.

For more information and help with dwell time see ‘5 Easy Ways to Increase Dwell Time for Improved SEO Rankings’

3. Become CTR Savvy

CTR is crucially important if you are working to boost your page rankings this year. This is largely due to how RankBrain works as mentioned previously. But also due to the following factors:

Paid Ads Displayed First:

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Answer Boxes:

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And Carousels:

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A recent industry study has discovered organic click through rate has dropped 37% since 2015. This is because Google is overshadowing organic search results with paid ads, answer boxes, carousels, and things like the ‘people also ask..’ section.

In order to stay in the forefront your listing needs to shout ‘CLICK ME’ within the list of search results. One way to get more organic traffic fast is using the CTR Magnet Method, explained in an entrepreneur class here.

4.  Video: Film or Flop

Online videos are ‘taking over the internet’ at the moment. By the year 2021 80% of all online traffic will be videos. Hubspot has said 43% of internet users would like more videos available online.

However video is still underutilized in the world of SEO. Although a lot of brands are incorporating video content into their overall online marketing strategies, most SEOs don’t give it a high priority. Usually, they opt for creating various other types of content (e.g., infographics, images, written content, etc.).

If used correctly, video can be an extremely powerful form of content and make a significant contribution to your overall SEO strategy.

YouTube: The Tried and True

Behind Google, YouTube is the second biggest search engine worldwide and is constantly growing. In fact the average time spent on the site has increased by a staggering 60% in comparison to the previous year according to The Huffington Post.

We are actually now seeing more and more users skip Google search altogether and simply go straight to YouTube to find what they’re looking for.

At lot of SEO’s still lack the drive and skills to create videos for YouTube. This can mean that it’s not hugely difficult to cut through and get a large number of views for a good engaging video.

From a Google search perspective. YouTube is an excellent platform to take advantage of, 55% of all Google search results pages have one video or more, the majority of those being YouTube videos.

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As per the Coke vs Pepsi example above, there is a ‘Video’ section in a lot of Google search results pages now.

Google, being the owners of YouTube, understandably want to promote their own media channels, and it’s a fairly safe assumption that we are likely to see more YouTube videos in Google search moving forwards.

Another example of new ways Google is promoting YouTube within the SERP’s is the fact that they have begun incorporating YouTube videos into the ‘Images’ search results.

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Add Videos to your Blogs

When you place videos in blog posts, your posts become more dynamic and engaging. By writing a blog post and creating a complementary video, you can recycle content ideas in a way that feels new and exciting.

Blog posts with videos also generate more inbound links and increased viewership than those without.

As well as adding value to your user, including a video on your page is likely to increase dwell time. Remember the importance of dwell time with regards to RankBrain?

5. Mobile First is Coming Soon

Google has announced their plans to change to a Mobile First policy soon. This is due to 60% of current Google searches being initiated on a mobile device, and it’s predicted to continue growing.

Mobile-first indexing is exactly what it sounds like. It just means that the mobile version of your website becomes the starting point for what Google includes in their index, and the baseline for how they determine rankings.

The mobile first index has not yet gone live; however it is expected in 2018, any time now. Businesses should take the time to understand and prepare for the inevitable now.

Preparing for Mobile First

1. Create/Change your Content to be Consistent Across All Devices

Some companies choose to hide portions of their pages on their mobile site versions, giving the option of clicking a ‘more’ tab to see the rest. That is no longer going to be an effective way to run a mobile website, as Google will simply ignore any hidden content as if it were not there at all. 100% of your content needs to be displayed on all device versions to be seen and analysed by Google. You cannot afford to have any hidden content left behind menus or expanding sections. There must be the exact same site for mobile as you have for the desktop version.

2. Ensure Your Mobile Site is Top Notch

There are a lot of websites that are simply ‘painful’ to use on mobile. Think of ordering a pizza and trying to read topping choices; when you click on tomatoes you end up adding anchovies. Not ideal. Small screen versions shouldn’t mean that everything is too small.

You can test how mobile friendly your site is using this free testing tool  by Google. Who better to ask about improving your site for Google, than Google themselves.  The tool will assess your site and also offer suggestions.

3. Shift to Responsive

If your site is not already using a responsive design, and is currently only a ‘M.’ (mobile) version, now is the time to upgrade and shift to responsive.

6. Keep Links at the Forefront

Links still form the backbone of Google’s algorithm. Google has revealed that links are in the three ranking signals that have the most weight and impact.

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After 1 million search results were analysed, it was clear to see that the amount of sites that link back to any given page directly impact ranking.

When you build links to your site they will either be high quality and topically relevant, helping to improve the visibility or your site on the search engines, or, low quality and irrelevant, and potentially put you at risk of an algo or manual related penalty.

Avoid Black Hat Links and Penguins

Some may be tempted to turn to the dark side and create ‘black hat’ links. These are links that go against Google Webmaster Guidelines. But a wise Jedi would tell them ‘worth it, it is not’. We’d recommend steering clear of anyone offering cheap, bulk, low-quality links. Google has strong penalties when black hat links are identified and more often than not, they will be found.

Generating Links Through Content

The holy grail of high quality link acquisition. There are four kinds of content which work best for link building and typically deliver the highest volume of high quality back links.

  1. New and Original Data and Research. Studies and surveys that you complete yourself and share the results. Statistics are very ‘linkable’, and when your data is used they ‘should’ link back to you.
  2. Comprehensive Guides and ‘How To’ Articles. If you create a useful resource about topics that are popular and people want to know more about, you will get a lot of sites sharing and linking to your information because their followers want to see it too, so it benefits them to have it there as well as you for the link it provides.
  3. Valuable Visuals. Images, infographics, diagrams and charts. These things are extremely easy to link to and if you are producing useful, informative, good looking visual content, people will be happy to use it and link back to you for it.
  4. Lists. Top 10, checklists, reasons, tips etc. Lists show a lot of information in a small space, it’s easy and quick to read a list as well as interesting. BuzzSumo analysed 1 million articles to discover the types of content that produce the highest amount of backlinks, and list posts came out on top by quite a decent margin, averaging 6.1 links for each post. They are worth creating, and can be about a wide range of topics, and also don’t’ take too long to make as they are short and sweet content

See our more in depth article about link building in 2018 here.

7. What About Voice Search?

Voice search is not a fad. It has comfortably crossed the threshold of early adopters. It has gained mileage because it is more convenient for a user to speak with an assistant than to type. The results of voice queries are also faster.

With the increase in the use of digital assistants, optimizing for voice search is going to become more and more critical to your SEO success. Look out for a detailed article on this topic.

Some Things That Can Help:

1. Including Questions and Their Answers Within Your Content

The largest portion of voice searches are questions. How do I…? Where is the closest…? Who was the main actress in…? etc. When a question is asked, Google will generally choose to show you a page which includes both the question and the answer to it. Where possible and relevant, try to include questions and answers in your content, as that is what Google’s voice search algorithm is looking for, and what will increase your visibility and rank for it.

2. Your Website or Content Must appear on the First Page of Search Results

Without being there, your content will not even be considered for a voice search answer.

3. Forge Your Way Into a Featured Snippet

One of the interesting things about Google Home is that when it answers a question with information from the web, it will cite the source of the information by saying the website’s name, and it will often send a link to the searcher’s Google Home app.

Currently, Google Home and Google Assistant read snippets from sites that are ranked in “position zero” and have been granted a featured snippet. This is why more people than ever are talking about how to optimize for featured snippets.

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8. Extra Tricks to Top the Search Results in 2018

Unique is the New Black

Having new information or proprietary data is like gold; publishing statistics, studies, surveys etc that anyone from bloggers to news agencies can use and re share, can potentially drive a lot of links (as well a brand reach and engagement).

Let it Show

As with video, other formats for visual content are always popular and ‘link worthy’.  QuickSprout research reveals that articles with data-driven visuals rank fourth in shareable formats. More noteworthy, the same research shows that blog posts with graphs and charts receive more trackbacks – 258% more than blog posts with other types of images.

Try Podcasting

Podcasts are steadily becoming more and more popular and often show up in blogs and other sites nowadays. Even the Catholic Pope puts out regular podcasts for his followers.

67 million US citizens currently play one or more podcasts each month. Which has risen by 14% compared to the previous year. There will be more listeners and people searching for podcasts in 2018, jump on board.

Comments for the Win

Having comments on your blogs does help your search rankings. Have a read of ‘Why Blog Comments are Great for Google, SEO and Users’. In 2017 Google specified that it is better to have comments within your site for Google to analyse engagement signals, than for comments to be on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

What this means for marketing professionals is that Google is looking at the community inside your website, they want to see interactions, and comment sections are an easy yet effective way to achieve that.

For more information on how we can help with your SEO strategy please visit our SEO Section.

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About the author

Following a career in above-the-line TV and print advertising, Brendan has been in the world of digital and search marketing for more than 12 years. He was involved with two UK start-up agencies where he built a reputation as a world-class SEO and marketer. He is now Head of Marketing at Umbrellar Group as well as founding Synapse to help NZ business grow online.

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