In a business, the end of a year is always a great time to reflect on what’s happened in the previous 12 months. What went well, what didn’t go too well, were all the goals achieved, etc. All these questions deserve an answer as it helps you to move forward and improve yourself.
I also use the end of a year, or the start of a new year, to plan ahead and define a strategy with concrete goals and milestones. Part of this exercise is to think really hard about how SEO is going to evolve and how I should adapt in order to stay ahead and improve my business.
As such, I’ve been able to identify 7 of the most important (for me at least) SEO predictions and trends for 2018. Some of these may not be all that surprising, others may well be. Either way, hopefully you can use this list of SEO predictions for the coming year to your advantage.
1. In-Depth Content Is
You have probably heard the phrase “content is king” a million times before. In 2018, you will hear it even more often.
I have always been a proponent of white-hat SEO and as part of that I try to publish in-depth, relevant content. And with in-depth content I don’t mean long content. I am refering to well-researched, well-structured, user-friendly content that dives deep into topics and answers questions people have. I don’t focus on creating backlinks as much as many others do.
With Rankbrain becoming more powerful, Google is now far less dependent on backlinks to understand the quality and relevance of an article and a website. Backlinks will still matter though, but far less than ever before.
In 2018, your focus should be on publishing authoritative content and mastering on-page SEO. Become an expert in the niche you’re in, apply perfect on-page SEO, implement a logical website architecture and you should be able to get good ranking results.
I need to emphasize here that you should always avoid over-optimization. This is important, because too many people try to over-optimize their content which leads to nothing. Strong on-page SEO is the opposite of over-optimization.
Keywords or Topics?
But rather than simply writing content around keywords, you should be writing content around topics. By doing this, your content will naturally be more in-depth and you will be able to rank for a whole bunch of similar (but much smaller) keywords in one article, often without even realizing.
I believe ranking in the search engines will get harder than ever before in 2018. Or perhaps not harder, but different. A few backlinks here and there will not cut it anymore.
We have to do what we are meant to be doing: publish relevant, compelling, truthful and shareable content for our audiences and let Google take care of the rest.
This can be written content, video content, whichever you prefer. As long as it’s relevant content, content that your audience will appreciate.
2. Rich Search Features Will Dominate SERPs
The first page of a Google search result has changed enormously over the past few years. The year 2018 will be a year where this will continue to evolve.
There will be more ads, featured snippets, carousels, and all types of fancy features that will further enhance the look of Google, (supposedly) in favor of the end-user.
For SEO’s and Internet marketers, this means that targeting the top 3 on the first page will become less relevant. Instead, we will need to focus on publishing content that directly answers user’s questions. We need to publish content that includes structured data and useful HTML snippets that will help Google to include our content in the search results. These can be simple things, such as breadcrumbs, recipes and star ratings.
It’s also important to publish powerful meta descriptions that will entice users to go to your website instead of other sites. As the Google search results page will get more competitive, a good description can help to make your website stand out from the crowd.
3. Unnatural Backlink Profiles Will Be Punished
Ever since Google’s Penguin update in 2012, Google has been trying hard to clean up the massive amount of backlink spam dirt. While they have been reasonably successful in this regard, bloggers and Internet marketers just keep finding new ways to get more backlinks.
The year 2018 will see Google getting smarter in detecting and punishing shady backlink practices.
Google will continue to crack down on private blog networks. Don’t build them, don’t use them, don’t pay for them.
The year 2017 saw an explosion of scholarship offerings in return for backlinks from authoritative .edu websites. Most of us will have heard of the 10Beasts success story and how they were able to boost their rankings with scholarship backlinks.
Literally everyone in the affiliate marketing community knows about this story and as a result, bucketloads of (often poor quality) affiliate websites popped up offering these types of scholarships. You just need to go to an external scholarship page of a reputable university, and you’ll see hundreds of links to shady websites.
If we all know about this backlink strategy, do you think Google knows about it too? I would say, yes. My advice is to stop offering scholarships for backlinks as they really won’t give you any boost in rankings anymore.
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Too many backlinks
I’ve noticed a lot of bigger and growing affiliate websites losing a lot of their organic traffic in the second half of 2017. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause(s), I can’t help to notice that these websites often have very unnatural backlink profiles. Not necessarily shady or dodgy links, but simply too many links.
Many affiliate marketers still believe that backlinks are the number one ranking factor. So instead of focusing on publishing quality content, they put a lot of effort into increasing the amount of backlinks pointing to their websites.
As a result, they often end up with far more backlinks than similar websites. Their backlink profile then ends up looking very unnatural and artificial.
If you’ve been blogging for a while, then you are probably familiar with the generic mass email outreach campaigns. You get an email from a fellow blogger, asking to replace a link on your website with a link to their website, claiming that the article on their website is much better. If you don’t reply, you typically get two follow-up emails. These emails are automated, and incredibly annoying.
Check out below email. I received hundreds of these types of emails in 2017, so it becomes very obvious that they’re all following a generic template they got from some sort of SEO backlink course. They even say it’s for free!
Sadly though, this strategy worked really well in 2016 and 2017. I’ve seen sites (that I received emails from) ending up with a huge amount of backlinks. Their organic traffic growing just as fast.
However, in 2018 I believe this strategy won’t work anymore, for two reasons. The first reason is that they lead to artificial backlink profiles that Google is able to detect. The second reason is that more and more people in the industry are slowly getting used to these crappy, automated emails. As a result, the ROI of these types of outreach campaigns will suffer.
Oh, and stop looking at your Moz DA score, as that’s mainly based on backlinks.
4. Affiliate-Only Websites Will Suffer
Who else is tired of these top-10 best blah blah websites? They have popped up everywhere and they all copy each other’s content and keywords. While there are definitely a lot of examples of successful websites in this niche, a vast majority of affiliate-only content websites have died a slow death.
The big problem with these sites is that they don’t offer anything new. They’re boring, unoriginal, loaded with fluff content and only exist for the sole purpose of making money. And of course, it’s very obvious that none of the products being reviewed have ever been used. No one really likes these sites, and Google doesn’t either.
Besides that, some of the biggest top-10 style review sites are owned (or have been purchased) by big media companies. Competing with these big guys will be more challenging than ever before. They crank out huge, in-depth review articles on a daily basis that Google seems to love.
So what do you need to do if you’re into product affiliate marketing?
Mix up your affiliate content with relevant, in-depth, informational content. I helps of you are in fact an expert in the niche your website is publishing content about.
5. Mobile-First Index
We all know how important mobile is. Nothing new.
But Google is taking mobile to the next level with the Mobile-First index, meaning that the mobile version of your website will become the default instead of the standard desktop version.
Google will index and rank websites based on the mobile version. In other words, in 2018 mobile search will officially be more important than desktop search.
What does that mean for us?
Of course, we all need to have mobile responsive versions of our sites. If you don’t have that, get that sorted now! But in 2018 we will need to take this further. Whenever you publish content, test it on mobile. Make sure your website renders perfectly on mobile devices, with no lay-out issues.
Also make sure your mobile page load is nothing less than excellent. And start looking into things like AMP, mobile markup, etc.
6. Video Content Will Grow
Gone are the days that YouTube was nothing more that just one huge collection of fun videos that we use to kill time. More and more people actually turn to YouTube to retrieve valuable information. In fact, YouTube is slowly becoming a reputable search engine in its own right.
Creating useful videos to complement your written content is a great way to increase brand awareness, credibility and also organic traffic. If creating your own videos is not on the cards for you in 2018, you may want to consider embedding third-party videos in your content.
A good video will not only make your content more valuable and relevant, it will also increase dwell time and session duration.
7. The Rise of Voice Search
Let’s address the big elephant in the room: Voice Search. Hate it or love it, Voice Search is growing, and it’s growing fast.
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t done much with Voice Search so far. But there is no doubt that it will get bigger in 2018, with virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Siri getting busier.
For your content to be considered in Voice Search, it would need to ranking high in the normal search engine results. It helps if your content is often featured in the top spot. Even better, if your content is very much focused on providing direct answers to user queries, you can expect this content to pop up in Voice Search.
Until now, Voice Search has mainly been used for quickly retrieving information. But Voice Search is slowly getting ready to evolve into something much bigger. In the future, we’ll be able to use Voice Search for more complex tasks, such as purchasing products and booking flights.
Exciting or scary?