Buckle up because your about to be hit with the Blogger’s Guide to SEO in 2018. For a lot of you SEO has been something that makes you sick to your stomach to think about. I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid of it any longer.
Google Is Smart
SEO is no longer about temporary tactics and strategies to “game” the system and manipulate search results in order to rank on the first page. Google has gotten really smart and they continue to get even smarter. Because of that you can press forward trusting that if you do everything you possibly can to provide a great user experience to your readers and creating the best content out there then you will find success with SEO. There’s some other things in there of course, but you get the idea. Stop being intimidated by SEO, HashtagJeff was started to help you fill in the blanks.
We are seeing fewer official “updates” and algorithm changes from Google because they are now being done regularly through machine learning and AI. On average, Google is updating its ranking algorithm two or three per day. Stick to the fundamental SEO best practices and you’ll be fine. We won’t be seeing sites getting huge penalties and hearing all the nightmare stories about Google algorithm changes anymore.
Here’s what you need to know about SEO going into 2018…
1 – Create Exceptional Content
In order to get shared and promoted by others you need to have amazing content. Content is, and will be, the #1 ranking factor. Great content is no longer good enough, you need to have the BEST content if you want to rank consistently. Google doesn’t want to just answer readers search queries, they want to give them the best answer and then some. Thorough content that gives the reader everything they need in one place is going to win.
What do you need to do?
▶︎ Create content that solves the searcher’s problem better than anyone else on page one. Knowing what those problems are is the first step towards solving them for your readers… *cough* keyword research *cough*
▶︎ ‘Long-form’ content isn’t always the answer, but it helps in a LOT of situations. The great thing about long-form content is that you become a thorough resource on the topic. The downside is the user experience can suffer if it’s too long. This is where UX and design can play an important role (especially on mobile).
▶︎ Keyword Research, Keyword Research, Keyword Research!! I cannot stress this enough, keyword research is one of the most valuable skills you can have as a content creator. This isn’t just about SEO, knowing what your readers are looking for is extremely valuable everywhere. Keyword research is about uncovering words and phrases searchers are using to find solutions to their problems. You must do more than simply add a “focus keyword” in Yoast. You should have a focus keyword and then a list of related, shared-intent, secondary keywords.
The harsh truth – Stop assuming that you have the best content. Just because you feel like it’s the “best” doesn’t mean everyone else does. Also, just because you did it first doesn’t mean somebody else can’t come in and do it better in the eyes of readers.
2 – Backlinks Are Still Important
To reach the first page of search you must have backlinks to your content. This has been the second most important ranking factor for Google, and still is going into 2018. “Link building” is a topic that I’ve avoided teaching in my course for some time now because I don’t want anyone to take the path of manipulation when it comes to getting backlinks. A close relative to backlinks are social signals — something bloggers happen to be pretty good at. Google is looking at social media more and more to determine what brands and content to give authority to. This will continue to be important throughout 2018.
What do you need to do?
▶︎ Figure out how to EARN more links and mentions from other brands.
▶︎ Increasing your reach on social media and other platforms is just as important to your SEO as SEO is to your SEO. ⟵You’d think that I was “keyword stuffing” for the word SEO right now.
▶︎ Linkless Link-Building — Search engines are getting better at associating brand mentions with their website and using this as a trust signal. We’re pretty sure Google is starting to do this, and Bing has already confirmed this as one of their ranking factors. Brand mentions will start to have more weight towards your brand authority.
▶︎ Contribute outside of your site — Ok, this is likely going to need some more explanation. This could be many things, but it’s essentially getting your name and your brand out there increasing the opportunities that may come about. Real businesses get talked about by others. Real businesses get involved with other events and businesses. Speak at conferences, go on podcasts, guest post on other sites, do interviews, and whatever else you can to contribute to your industry and community (big and small).
3 – Mobile-First Index
Mobile has been extremely important for a few years now. Depending on which study you look at you’ll see that well over half of all web traffic is done from a mobile device. What does that statistic look like for bloggers? Well, I crunched some numbers and found that the average for July 2017 through December 2017 from more than 40 sites (mom/food blogs) was 65.97% mobile traffic. Some of those were well into the 70% ranges, which I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing yet (all of those 70%’ers are really successful sites though).
What you may or may not know yet is that Google is rolling out their “mobile-first” index. What does that mean? Google will consider the mobile version of your site the “real” version and rank you accordingly. If you’ve been listening to Google this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. User experience has always been the goal and this change makes sense because mobile traffic heavily outweighs desktop. Even if you find something on a desktop it’s likely that you will share it to someone who is more likely to view from mobile. Google has already started testing this and will be rolling it out throughout 2018. There’s speculation that this started late in 2017 already, but expect a long rollout and little to no confirmation from Google along the way.
What do you need to do?
▶︎ Consistency between desktop and mobile, user experience, responsive web design, and site speed are all critical elements of the mobile-first index. You need to make your site fast, responsive, and have content specific to the needs/wants of the reader.
▶︎ Pay attention to your mobile experience. I expect to see blogs being negatively affected “unexpectedly” because they didn’t pay enough attention to their mobile experience.
What about AMP? – This is a very debated topic with many opinions and experiences. Google still stands behind AMP, but AMP is not getting a ranking boost directly. There are benefits to AMP, but only in site speed, I don’t believe this is that important yet. Some may disagree with this sentiment, and that’s ok, there’s just not sufficient evidence that tells me you must have AMP in order to be competitive.
4 – User Experience (RankBrain)
I know we talk about “user experience” all the time, but I don’t know if the importance of this topic is truly resonating with everyone yet. No, I’m not saying you don’t value user experience. What I am noticing though is that most of you only focus on this user experience when you’re site is being designed (or redesigned), and not a continual effort to figure out how to improve this. This is going to be extremely important going into 2018.
Ok, you’re probably wondering what “RankBrain” is? Moz defines RankBrain as “a component of Google’s core algorithm which uses machine learning (the ability of machines to teach themselves from data inputs) to determine the most relevant results to search engine queries.” Google wants to better understand the intent of searchers and serve the best possible results. RankBrain is their way of determining that intent through machine learning.
Put yourself in Google’s shoes for a second and think about this scenario. Imagine yourself observing a single search word/phrase. You start to notice that a site in position 6 on the first page is consistently getting clicks and you see that significantly less users come back to your search results to click on another result than users who have clicked on the first 5 results. You see that users are spending far more time on position 6 than they are on positions 1 through 5. Wouldn’t you give position 6 a boost because they appear to be providing a better experience to your users? What if you see that position 1 is starting to have higher bounce rates than everyone else on page 1? This is exactly what Google is trying to accomplish with RankBrain. They are learning the behaviors of searchers to determine the intent of their search and what sites are providing the best experience.
What do you need to do?
▶︎ Every topic will have different factors that determine what a good user experience is. But there are 2 things that will be consistent across the board: the time spent on your content (aka dwell time) and click through rates. Strive to improve those and you’re moving in the right direction.
▶︎ It’s in your best interest to learn how to measure and test user experience on your site. Studying heat maps and analytics and measuring user metrics will help you understand how to maximize the quality your site. The customer journey is more important than EVER!
▶︎ Site Speed has been a tough topic for me to put anything together in a way that actually helps you without the risk of doing more harm than good to your site. For this reason I have delayed publishing anything. I am currently working with some experts to help provide a thorough guide to site speed on your blog. In the meantime, learn as much as you can. You don’t have to be an expert on this topic, that’s why you have a developer, a web host, and even your ad network that can help you with these things. Reach out and ask them what they suggest to improve how quickly your site loads.
Site speed pro tip: Learn as much as you can about image optimization. That’s something you personally have control over when it comes to PageSpeed. Do some research on how you can get high quality images at the smallest file sizes (even before you take the picture).
Another harsh truth – You must put your reader’s needs over your own! Obviously you need to make money, but it pays long term to make your readers experience the highest priority.
5 – Rich Search Results
Rich snippets, structured data, Schema, SERP features; it doesn’t really matter what you call it, the search results are no longer just text and links like they used to be. The landscape of what search engine result pages (SERP) look like will continue to change and take shape, it’s in your best interest to pay close attention to these. Google is always trying to improve user experience and getting someone the answer they’re looking for quicker is what they are trying to accomplish with SERP features.
What do you need to do?
▶︎ Investigate search results and figure out what Google believes to be relevant to the searcher’s intent behind your keywords.
▶︎ Take notice of the types of content being displayed and figure out what you may be missing.
▶︎ Google is always looking for ways to expand their features within SERPs. It’s in your best interest to track your rankings and monitor what features are showing up that may be stealing your traffic.
▶︎ You need to optimize everything that appears, or could appear, in search results (compelling titles, well-written descriptions, simple URLs, etc). All of this can help with click through rates. You must learn how to optimize for clicks in order to combat the noise in search results such as paid search results, answer boxes, carousels, and anything else Google starts to throw in there.
▶︎ Use Structured data where it’s relevant.
6 – Video Will Become Even More Important
Video is a beast, and it’s not always convenient when looking at everything else you have to do for your content. It’s predicted that 80% of all web traffic will be done with video by 2021. As with everything, this could vary for everyone depending on your topics and the intent of the searches you’re after. Keep in mind that video is not a form of content that all readers will want to use all of the time, but it helps “complete” the user experience in providing the best possible answer to their query.
As mentioned in the previous “Rich Search Results” section, you should be investigating SERPs to see what is showing up. Video is showing up more and more in search results and you need to be aware so you’re able to keep up. YouTube has its own set of rules and strategies, but I wouldn’t look past the fact that Google owns YouTube and could make video an even bigger part of search results in years to come. Google has already started including YouTube videos into Google image searches at times.
I’m not saying you need to change course and pursue a strong YouTube strategy. What I am saying is that you need to consider the fact that video is becoming hugely important and you need to figure out if video will improve user experience.
Remember how I mentioned “dwell time” earlier in this article? Well, video has been known to boost dwell time significantly. Just saying…
What do you need to do?
▶︎ Figure out how video should be worked into your strategies or how you need to do video even better if you already have video incorporated. Don’t just assume you’re doing it right, question your methods and strive to improve.
▶︎ Understand the value of video! YouTube could be a method of getting more traffic and brand visibility. Embedding video within your content could improve your dwell time. Research and test this.
SEO Video Tip: Video transcriptions give your overall SEO a significant boost with search engines. Search engine bots aren’t able to see videos like you and I do, a transcription will give your page even more content and can help with rankings.
7 – Voice Search Is BOOMING
No, voice search isn’t taking over, but it is growing incredibly fast. I’m not even recommending that you put a lot of focus into voice search right now. What I am saying is to be aware and investigate so you don’t get left behind. Voice search is trending quickly and is expected to continue building momentum through 2018. The studies have shown that 20% of mobile searches are done through voice search, and this number is only expected to grow as more devices get voice search capabilities.
This will affect every industry very differently, so you will want to do your research. We have a lot of food bloggers in the course. Do you know where most Google Home and Amazon Alexa devices are located? Kitchens and living rooms (frequented living spaces for families). Where are your readers looking at your recipes? The kitchen seems likely to me. See where I’m going with this…
How long before they make it easier to use these devices for recipes, diy projects, and other uses that are important to bloggers? They’ve already started adding “send to Google Home” buttons in search results for recipes.
Side note – A lot of you might be associating Apple’s ‘Siri’ with voice search. Yes, Siri is part of this but not the reason for the boom. Amazon and Google are the major players currently. Apple is really pushing to stay competitive here and are expected to launch some major updates and devices in 2018. This will likely make voice search and these personal “assistants” even more mainstream. Samsung is also working on something for 2018.
What do you need to do?
▶︎ Being on the first page of search results is no longer enough. Even position #1 isn’t always enough to get into voice search answers.
▶︎ Ranking in voice search is still new. There are theories that seem to be working, but that doesn’t mean things won’t change. You should be looking at this yourself and being aware of where your site fits in. Currently, getting into the featured snippet or answer box seems to help get into voice search results. Learn how to optimize for voice search.
Something To Think About – Google and Alexa “actions” and “skills” will continue to grow, which will make these devices more important. You may want to look into what you are able to do to expand your business and be available to your readers here? It’s unclear what that looks like currently, but you could find yourself ahead of the game by educating yourself now.
8 – Community (and Personalization)
Ok, you heard me talk about social mentions being a ranking factor similar to backlinks (but not quite as strong). Now I want to highlight a topic that’s a little harder to quantify in a lot of ways, community. This applies to anything where people are actively participating with your brand outside of simply reading some of your content.
Community isn’t just about social media, it’s also about the “community” within your website, your email communication, and anything else that allows your readers to participate with you and your brand.
I can guarantee Google is looking beyond the metrics we hear about tracking, they are looking at the full user experience. Think about some of the things you use on a regular basis online; who built them? The most popular web browser used is Chrome. The most popular email provider (by a long shot might I add) is Gmail. If I were Google, brands that show up in people’s inboxes and get read often would be a strong user experience signal to me. Brands with content that regularly gets bookmarked in browsers would also be a sign of a great user experience.
Did you know that Google even shows personalized search results at times? This doesn’t apply to those browsing incognito or private, but it can change the SERP for some depending on the user. A searcher’s location, previous search/browsing history, interests, and even their connections to you can affect their search results for some searches.
Think about that “machine learning” feature we talked about earlier, it’s there to help give you the best possible user experience. It could be seen as creepy, but really it’s just Google doing what they can to help you find what you’re looking for. Even to the point of providing answers and content before you’ve ever done a search. Download the Google Search app on your phone and use it for a while, their suggested content is now some of my favorite things to read.
What do you need to do?
▶︎ Build out a full experience for your readers. Most of you are really good at creating content and building your social media regularly. But what about email marketing? What are you left with if Facebook or Pinterest become the next MySpace? Nothing. You don’t truly own your social media accounts or following. You own your site and you can own an email list, invest in both of those.
▶︎ Expand your “community” in order to increase your chances of more personalized search results. I expect this to grow with voice search and Google Assistant becoming part of more devices.
▶︎ Comments on your blog are a form of community on your site. According to Google a “healthy, thriving community on a site” could be an additional signal that helps you with authority and rankings. *DO NOT try to manipulate this. It will be very easy for Google to spot unnatural patterns. They are smarter than you are with this, I promise.
Pro Tip on Blog Comments: Answer blog comments with full sentences, being more descriptive than simple one- to three-word answers. This will help with your SEO.
9 – The SEO Basics
I know this is at #9 on my list, but know that this is one of the most important sections here. I love this quote from Kevin Indig:
“Bottom line: SEO is ever evolving and new trends are on the horizon but most companies [bloggers] still need to focus on the absolute basics, which haven’t changed in over a decade.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. If you still don’t have the basics in place, don’t stress over things like voice search and RankBrain, start getting those things in place so you can see that traffic grow in 2018.
What are some of these “basics” I refer to? Besides what has already been covered in this article…
▶︎ Your site must have crawlable, accessible URLs with content that is easily found, indexed, and understood by search engines.
▶︎ Get your site secure with full HTTPS (SSL). This is no longer an option.
▶︎ Optimize your content as best as possible. My SEO Checklist should help if you’re unsure what you need to be doing.
Dedicated To The Basics – The #Jeff SEO Mastermind Course is dedicated to giving you all the basics, and then some. The basics lead to other, more advanced aspects of SEO, but you MUST have the basics.
10 – Stop Doing This In 2018
I know this isn’t really a ranking factor like the rest of this list, but doing the wrong things can hurt you more than not doing anything at all. Here are some of the things you need to stop doing in 2018, if you haven’t already…
▶︎ Keyword Stuffing – If you think about words like density or ratio when you’re writing your content and talking about keywords then you need to stop! There’s not a magic number for any of it.
▶︎ Blog Commenting For Links – Let me clarify this for you, if you’re commenting on someone else’s blog and being part of the conversation, I’m not referring to you here. If you are still spamming other sites with BS comments in order to get a link from them you have to end it already.
▶︎ Link Sharing/Trading Groups – This might be a hot button for some of you and you’ll have to determine whether you’re doing this or are genuinely just part of a community where you all socially share each other’s content. If there’s a purpose to your “sharing” that’s good for user experience then keep on doing it. If not, you may want to rethink why you’re doing it. You don’t need to come to me and justify what you’re doing and why, I’m not the one who matters here. YOU have to decide whether what you’re doing is trying to manipulate search results or if it has real benefits. *Queue the firestorm of comments and messages I will likely get from this one.
This is a LOT of information here to think about. Just remember that SEO is not something you just check off your to-do list, it’s a journey. SEO is a process that you will continue to improve and build month in and month out every year. These are just some of the most important factors to consider as we enter the new year and start thinking about what needs to be done to find success. We can never be too sure what Google’s next update will be, but their end goal has always been the same…to satisfy the user.
Have questions? Sign up for my membership “course” for bloggers to learn more about SEO.
Here’s to a successful 2018!