Further’s 2018 SEO Round-up
2018 SEO round-up
Anyone with experience in SEO will know just how different the industry – and therefore, our day jobs – can be by the end of a year. Things have a tendency to move fast in SEO, and 2018 has been no different.
This year has seen some big challenges, with a handful of game-changing events dominating the headlines. Of course, there have been the usual search trends and core algorithm updates to contend with too, but many of these pale in comparison to the year’s big stories.
With that in mind, we’re taking a look back at a year in SEO and making some predictions for the months ahead.
Like most SEOs, we’ve been planning for mobile-first indexing for a few years now. If however, you missed the bombshell that finally happened this year, you may be interested to hear that Google has finally switched to indexing the mobile versions of our website.
This isn’t just another algorithm update, but a fundamental shift in how Google views the web. Sites that have moved to mobile-first indexing will continue to be crawled regularly by Google’s bots – but now it will be the mobile version of your site that’s viewed and indexed. If your site hasn’t yet migrated to the world of mobile-first, you can bet that it will soon.
It’s imperative to adopt a mobile-first mindset if you’re to safeguard your SERP positions in the long term
Mobile now accounts for the majority of internet usage worldwide, so the switch was inevitable. The real question is what this means for businesses and webmasters.
Until the switch, a crawl from a Googlebot comprised of 80% from a desktop crawler and 20% from a mobile crawler. In recent months we’ve seen this flipped on its head, with around 80% of the work now being performed by mobile crawlers. Once the crawl has been performed, Google will now store or ‘index’ the mobile version of a site on its database, as opposed to the desktop version.
The biggest thing to consider here is how important the content on a site’s mobile version becomes. For the first time, it’s this content that’s being stored by Google and, perhaps more importantly, being used when analysing a website’s ranking signals.
If the content differs between the mobile and desktop versions of your site, you may have already seen that the update have an impact on organic traffic performance. For example, with less screen space, it goes without saying that tightly-packed buttons and clickable elements are a big no-no.
The mobile usability report and mobile-friendly test will provide insight into any specific issues you have with the mobile version of your site, but it’s imperative to adopt a mobile-first mindset if you’re to safeguard your SERP positions in the long term.
A mobile mindset
Most importantly, we would encourage you to browse your site in mobile view as much as possible from now on. Seeing the mobile version of your site as the primary version may feel unnatural at first, but it’s the only way to ensure your content satisfies Google’s ranking signals.
You can easily switch to mobile view in Google Chrome by hitting the F12 button on your keyboard. Not only will the mobile version of your site be directly viewable in your browser, but you can even select which specific device you want to emulate. As mobile now accounts for the majority of internet usage, it’s vital that we take every opportunity to see our sites in the same way as users do.
Mobile page speed
In line with the move to mobile-first indexing, came the news that Google had undertaken a mobile speed update.
Since the announcement in July, page speed has been considered a significant ranking factor for mobile searches. Google was quick to point out that the update would not only impact sites that deliver the slowest user experience, but would also affect only a small selection of search queries.
Despite this, the advice from Google (and ourselves) is to take mobile page speed into greater consideration in 2019. Despite slow pages still having the potential to rank if they offer high-quality, relevant content, user experience should continue to be at the heart of your SEO efforts.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool gives a good indication of how well a page is performing and makes speed optimisation suggestions, so it’s a great place to begin your analysis.
Google becomes more transparent with the SEO community
Google has long been criticised for its reluctance to share details on updates and communicate with the wider SEO community. In October. Danny Sullivan lifted the lid on why the search engine has chosen to remain quiet in the face of some seemingly significant updates. Writing on the Google @SearchLiaison Twitter account, Sullivan explained that algorithm updates occur daily, yet confirmations only ever occur when these updates mean actionable information for site owners.
Broad changes to Google’s core algorithm are also confirmed, even if there is no actionable advice from the search engine. This is to prevent users from making unnecessary changes to their site that will ultimately have no effect on rankings moving forward.
Google’s advice? Continue to prioritise producing high-quality, relevant content that serves user intent. Unless Google explicitly provides actionable information alongside an update, that really is all there is to it. Check out the search quality rater guidelines for an insight into the kind of things Google is looking for, but do remember that raters do not directly influence how well a site ranks.
HARO becomes standard practice for link builders
Whatever your thoughts are on link building, it’s a practice that continues to influence organic performance in a big way.
Perhaps one of the biggest stories for link builders this year has been the increasing prevalence of HARO – otherwise known as Help a Reporter Out – for building high-authority links.
HARO is an online service that connects journalists and reporters with industry experts, securing comments for articles and think-pieces across online and print media. In recent years however, the platform has evolved to include more bloggers and influencers keen to source material for their content. For brands and businesses, this brings huge potential to secure coverage across the web, alongside those ever-valuable backlinks.
At a time when organic backlinks can feel harder than ever to come by, the opportunities brought about by HARO have led the tool to become standard practice for many link builders in 2018. We’ve seen some great results for our clients using HARO this year, although it’s important to also consider the limitations of the service.
While responding to queries on HARO is likely to be much faster than generating a piece of on-site content, it still takes time to wade through the mass of requests and find those relevant to your business. It’s also likely that any backlinks will be targeted to your site’s homepage, so you’ll still need to revert to other tactics if you want to build links to a specific page or piece of content.
Despite this, HARO has continued to be a trusted tool for building quality backlinks in 2018. It’ll certainly be interesting to see whether the platform continues to go from strength to strength over the next 12 months.
SEO Minion revolutionises the search landscape
Each year brings the launch of new SEO tools and plugins, many of which join the legions of middle-of-the-road launches before them. For the wider Further team, the exception to the rule this year has been SEO Minion.
The plugin is exclusive to Chrome and houses a range of features that promise to simplify day-to-day SEO tasks. Using the add-on, it’s possible to do everything from checking broken links and redirects to simulating multi-location SERPs.
SEO Minion’s crowning glory, however, is its On-Page SEO Analyzer. Simply launch the tool directly from your browser to view a page’s meta data, headings and Open Graph information. This is great for troubleshooting on-page SEO issues without the need to perform lengthy crawls or manually pull data from the page source.
SEO predictions for 2019
The rise and rise of on-SERP SEO
The term ‘on-SERP SEO’ was born from Google’s shift towards hosting answers and solutions to searcher’s queries within its own platform. It’s a topic that we saw Rand Fishkin discuss in the closing talk of this year’s Brighton SEO event, and we predict it will continue to be covered in depth in 2019.
Interestingly, Fishkin attributes the rise of on-SERP SEO to Google’s prominence within the search engine market. Google currently holds over 90% of the market share, with recent studies showing just how loyal users are to Google’s brand. With such market dominance, Fishkin suggests that Google are simply less concerned about making decisions that may prove unpopular with content creators.
Driving organic traffic to a website will become an increasingly difficult task
In the final quarter of 2017, Google made significant changes to its mobile results that put knowledge graphs, featured snippets and instant answers front and center. With more users able to access the answers they need directly from SERPs, this meant a decrease in the amount of organic clicks available to content creators – potentially for the first time ever.
In fact, the average organic CTR saw a 20% drop on mobile between February 2016 and February 2018. Conversely, the amount of ‘no-click’ searches – literally meaning instances where searchers don’t click on a search result – rose by 20%.
So what do these changes mean for webmasters and the wider SEO industry? Well, it’s reasonable to assume this is a trend that won’t be going away any time soon. Regardless of any backlash, Google seems intent on continuing its SERPs monopoly in a way that discourages users from clicking off-site. The same is true for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Almost every major player in search appears to be moving down the same path and prioritising content that keeps users on-site for longer.
We predict that driving organic traffic to a website will become an increasingly difficult task moving forward. As such, the need for good SEO has never been greater.
We’d recommend giving more attention on long-tail keywords in 2019. The reason? The decline in organic CTR has hit popular queries the hardest, and long-tail queries are much less likely to be cannibalised by Google – for the time being, at least.
The same can be said for branded search results. Expect there to be an increased focus on claiming branded SERP panels and creating content that fits Google’s bias – whether that be through YouTube, Google Maps or Google Images.
On-page SEO for NLP
Despite the rise of on-SERP SEO, there will, of course, be changes to the way on-page SEO is managed, too. 2018 saw Natural Language Processing (NLP) become an increasingly important factor for understanding search intent and the relationship between questions and their answers.
Google uses NLP to determine the meaning behind search queries. Based on the language used, the tool analyses everything from content type and subject categorization through to sentiment and salience. It’s a way of looking at search queries that truly puts user intent first.
To optimise content for NLP, it needs to be well-structured and precise, with the ability to answer user’s questions clearly and directly. This will involve taking a slightly different approach to SEO, as we continue to move away from the keyword placement practices that have reigned supreme for over a decade.
We predict that there will be greater emphasis on using subtopics and topic indicators rather than just related keywords. This method can do more to boost the salience of any given article – a key consideration of search engines moving forward.
Every year brings about significant changes to the SEO industry and 2018 has been no different. A greater focus on mobile and increased transparency from Google has altered much about the way we work over the last 12 months, while it’s clear that off-page SEO and link building practices still play a key part in determining organic search performance. We predict that an ever-greater focus on user intent from search engines will largely mould the way we work – as will the growing prevalence of on-SERP SEO.
Post your comments and predictions for the year ahead below.