In many ways, ensuring that your brand ranks highly on search engines is the single most important thing you can do to get your future customers to discover your site.
This is why the art and science of search engine optimization (or SEO, for short) is so vital for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
SEO, in a nutshell, is about doing what it takes to get your brand’s content recognized and respected by major search engines, so that it appears high up on search engine results pages (also known as SERPs). The higher your site appears on these lists, the more organic traffic you’ll likely get. The more traffic you accrue, the more people you get to launch into your conversion funnel and turn into hot leads. It’s a powerful, productive cycle – if you play the game the right way.
As we mentioned, SEO success is tied inextricably to search engines, specifically Google, the major player in the field. The more understanding you have about how Google operates, the better equipped you’ll be to run an effective SEO strategy.
The thing is, Google didn’t get to be the leading player in search by sitting back and resting on its laurels. Instead, this tech giant has consistently updated the features and capabilities of its core product. In many ways, the biggest constant for Google is change – and these changes, large and small, can have a major impact on your SEO success.
So, whether you’re just getting started with SEO or you already have a campaign in place, it’s important to keep an eye on the innovations that Google has in store for search in the year ahead. Getting ahead of the curve now could mean all the difference for search engine success down the line.
What plans might Google have in place? What do brands need to know to keep up? Based on our own insights and industry chatter online – particularly this great piece from Search Engine Land – here are a few educated guesses about the future of Google search for 2018 and beyond:
Core Algorithms May Change to Combat “Fake News”
For better and for worse, “Fake News” has been one of the biggest buzzwords of the past few years. And while in politics it has come to more or less mean “a view that disagrees with my own,” in tech, the phrase still has some weight.
Specifically, “fake news” is a handy catch-all for the fraudulent sites (and social media accounts) that have sprung up in the digital ecosystem over the years. There are all sorts of sites that apply; some spread bad faith political messages, while others are designed to funnel users towards specific ads. Still other “fake” sites exist as a blackhat SEO tactic, created to bolster backlinks to a real site through countless shoddy dummy pages offering up worthless content.
Regardless of their origin, these sites have constituted a minor crisis for Google, prompting users to question the quality and authority of their search results.
Google has taken numerous steps to help combat this scourge of spammy, low-value content and reestablish its search rankings as trustworthy, including:
- barring certain publishers from buying ads on the platform
- adding fact-check data to certain search results
- adjusting its ranking algorithm to devalue questionable or “non-authoritative” information
We’re likely to see these adjustments, both large and small, continue to drop into place and send ripples through the digital marketing industry in the year ahead.
Scammers and blackhat SEO practitioners will continue to get savvier and find new ways to cut corners, and Google will have to readjust and reevaluate to counter whatever new techniques crop up. Keep an eye out for news stories about updates to Penguin or Panda, and be sure to consistently measure your own search results for sudden spikes or dips – these could be the result of changes to the Google search product, and might offer some valuable insights into how you can adjust your SEO strategy for optimum success moving forward.
Featured Snippets and Voice Search Will Grow In Importance
This year, as smartphones continue to dominate and voice assistant programs like Google Voice and Amazon’s Alexa continue to expand their reach into new corners of the tech market, look for Google to follow suit, emphasizing voice features as a key component of the search product.
One of the ways Google will do this is to increase the prevalence and importance of Featured Snippets. These are excerpted results to frequently asked questions, culled from high-credibility sites, which tend to appear on the top of the SERP, just below paid ads.
Google tends to source voice results from Featured Snippets; because of this, we’ve seen Featured Snippets get rolled out for more and more search queries in recent months (in fact, one study, extrapolated out, suggests that more than a third of all Google SERPs now have an associated Featured Snippet).
For some brands, getting associated with the Featured Snippet has been a boon, and is a traffic driver akin to nailing the top organic spot on the SERP. For others, having key information excerpted and made public has reduced clickthrough, negatively impacting organic traffic rates.
Looking forward, it’ll be important to think about your approach to beating (or joining) Featured Snippets, and reaching voice searchers, as part of your SEO strategy.
Linkless Mentions Are In, Guest Posting Is Out
Traditionally, the main component of “off-page” SEO has been about backlinking. In essence, Google’s crawlers discovered and indexed new sites by climbing from link to link. As a result, the search algorithm tended to favor sites with the most links directing users back to their content.
There are a few obvious problems with assigning credibility based purely on link quantity. For one thing, it’s easy to see how blackhat digital marketers could game this system, creating phony sites solely for the purpose of generating backlinks to their real content. For another, it’s easy to see how a questionable site could rise in the rankings, based purely on link quantity. Indeed, there have been multiple articles published about this phenomenon, highlighting how shadow networks of misinformation are able to rise on Google SERPs, largely thanks to insular links shared among a fanatical community.
All signs suggest that Google (and its competitors, including Bing) are getting serious about rethinking how they evaluate links in the near future – and, given the fact that AI is becoming a more important part of search systems, it’s easy to see how the current status quo could undergo some fundamental changes.
One area to watch in the near future – at least if patent law is any indication – is “linkless mentions.” Brand mentions, citations, and quotes sourced from your content, with or without links, could soon become a more important credibility-builder for brands than backlinks.
This shift will be driven by a smarter, AI-based system that can tell positive mentions from negative, and really tap into the modern nature of the web, which is more about conversation and interaction than pure clickthrough; it could also mean that brands will need to get more proactive about online reputation management, which includes monitoring and responding to any reviews, references, or conversations about their brand going on online.
Brands who rely on guest posting should also think about cutting back on this strategy – particularly if it’s intended solely for the purposes of backlinking. Offering to publish guest posts on blogs or other online platforms is a long-established SEO tactic for expanding your audience and creating backlinks from other sources – but it’s one that Google is cracking down on, recognizing that this is a hollow practice, which has become more about gamesmanship than creating value for actual users.
Mobile Will Matter More Than Ever
Mobile matters. If you’re not operating your digital marketing strategy with smartphones, tablets, and wearables at the forefront of your thinking, then you’re missing out on plenty of potential business. Consider, for instance, that smartphone use far outstrips both TV time and laptop use, that mobile users are one of the biggest drivers of e-commerce, and that Google actually factors mobile-friendliness into its search rankings.
You read that right: If you want your content to rank on SERPs, you need to design with a mobile audience in mind.
It’s easy to see why Google is prioritizing this audience; mobile searches surpassed desktop searches some time ago, after all, and this share of users is still growing exponentially every day.
To better serve searchers on the go, Google has suggested that it will switch to mobile-first indexing – meaning that your site’s functionality on mobile devices could well end up affecting your search ranking across all devices, including laptops and desktops.
This means that many brands will need to totally refocus on making their content responsive, visually appealing, and quick to load on mobile devices if they want to remain competitive in search. It will also mean tackling other impediments to mobile success, including getting rid of interstitials.
Google has long targeted interstitial screens, which are intrusive mobile ads which pop up on landing pages and prevent users from taking action on the site itself. Google took strides to increase user-friendliness and penalize sites that employed these annoying ads in 2017, and we could see this crackdown continue in 2018 and beyond.
Curious About Your Next Steps?
Looking to learn more about how you can put SEO to work helping new clients find your brand? Curious about what changes may be in store for not only Google, but social media, email, or other digital marketing channels? Ready to invest in inbound but quite sure where to start? That’s where Geek Chicago comes in!
Our team of SEO strategists has worked with brands of all sizes, helping them grow their audience and convert more customers. We’d love to set you down the path to search engine success! Drop us a line today to get the conversation started!