SEO is undeniably a highly competitive and ever-changing landscape that requires marketers to adapt fast. Google changes its own algorithm up to 600 times every single year. Keeping up with changes is extremely hard. But it’s also necessary if you want your organic traffic to be consistent and continue to improve.
You simply can’t be doing what worked five years ago today and expect the results to last forever. Long gone are the days of keyword stuffing every single page and header on your website and shooting to page 1; Google is smarter now and knows exactly what you are doing and in fact will most likely penalise you for this approach as it doesn’t make for a user friendly experience. Google’s search engine is designed for the people, not for the marketers. Creating content that solves user problems faster and more efficiently is the way forward. Recently, Google has created a few major changes to the way we conduct SEO practices in 2018 and beyond, which we will go through in this blog post.
Just five years ago, mobile optimization was an afterthought. You would optimize your website with keyword-rich content, schema markup, and metadata. Then, you would dynamically update your mobile site to capture that bit of mobile traffic that needed it. And, you would simply repeat the process and watch the traffic flood in, mainly focusing analysis on desktop reports and rarely reviewing your mobile reports.
In 2016, mobile traffic started to become a more substantial portion of the overall internet usage worldwide in comparison to desktop. With mobile traffic continuing to rise, it’s time to shift our perspectives from desktop first to mobile first and that is exactly what Google is doing with the mobile-first index.
Initially announcing the mobile-first index in November 2016, Google made it clear that mobile was dominating the search engine. Today, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. However, our ranking systems still typically look at the desktop version of a page’s content to evaluate its relevance to the user. This can cause issues when the mobile page has less content than the desktop page because our algorithms are not evaluating the actual page that is seen by a mobile searcher.
Just recently in March 2018, Google announced that it was “rolling out mobile-first indexing,” giving users messages in their search console to inform them. This means that you need to have a functioning mobile site with content that matches your desktop site. This can be achieved with a responsive mobile site that dynamically updates content from desktop to mobile. After you’ve got a responsive site setup, turn your focus to improving page speed and designing a better user experience for mobile users. If people are bouncing from your site within seconds, Google knows that and isn’t going to keep your page ranking first if the average time on site is five seconds.
Poorly designed UX isn’t the only cause of that bad experience. Mobile data collections show that mobile landing pages are dreadfully slow and in fact they take on average 3x the best practice to load. You can’t risk a slow mobile site. Not when page speed is a mobile ranking factor now. To keep up, eliminate heavy page elements and keep a simple design. Try using plain white backgrounds with black text that is big enough for mobile. Simplicity is key. Don’t use heavy CTAs and big images that slow your site down. Mobile UX and speed are crucial to success in SEO right now and their importance will continue to grow over time.
Last month, Google made an update to its PageRank patent. This update to its patent describes how Google’s algorithm will affect the way websites are ranked. The patent goes on to explain how Google will calculate link distances between authoritative websites and spam sites using a web-link graph. This update gives smaller niche websites a chance to outrank more prominent websites; just because you have more links, doesn’t mean you have the high-quality links. This is only the starting point for ranking. Google uses over 200 different factors to rank your website. The key to ranking with Google’s PageRank is to provide relevance in links and content.
With changes to Google’s algorithm, we’ve seen massive changes to the search results page over the last decade. These simple results are vastly different than a given search engine results page in 2018. Now our SERPs contain tons of new elements, like answer boxes and frequently asked questions regarding the topic you search for. With voice search and AI, searchers can order goods, make suggestions, and talk about current events. Searchers are now presented with one answer. More recently, in March 2018, Google tested zero-result SERPs, where only a single piece of information was displayed in the form of definitive answers or knowledge cards. To see any link-based results, you’d have to click “Show all results.” If not, the entire Google SERP is taken up by this simple answer. While only limited to a select grouping of searches, it’s a telling sign that Google is consistently refining the search engine results to be less link-based and more results based. It allows users to get answers faster than ever before without the need to read a 5,000-word article. If you notice standard results, this is a good sign that you can expect a ton of organic click traffic and these terms are likely great to target while you can. SERPs will no doubt change over the next few years.
On March 7th, 2018, rankings were shifting for tons of people in the SEO community. Just a few days later, Google confirmed the updates as a “core update” to the algorithm. Websites with little content relevance were primarily affected, sending rankings for companies to either jump high or fall heavily. Many SEO marketers suspected this update was targeted at low-quality websites. Meaning your website is attempting to rank for specific queries that might not be relevant to the user clicking through to read them. Your content has to connect the dots to search queries. Bounce rates must be reduced. Anything and everything you write and publish should be relevant to the reader. Content is still king. But content for the sake of creating more isn’t. Improving content relevance bridges the gap to user intent. With this new update, it’s time to focus on creating more content that is useful to your readers and improving your design. Don’t be afraid to ask for input from your visitors. Get feedback from your visitors to gauge how they feel about your website and content then expand and improve your current content.
As for website design, you should always be assessing your landing page metrics in Google Analytics. Work to improve your time on site and reduce bounce rates by creating engaging content pieces. Simplify your blog structure and website design to focus on content and usability. Conduct a quick SEO audit to make sure Google can crawl your content and that your content is being indexed correctly. With this latest update, one thing is guaranteed; quality is more important than quantity.
The speed update isn’t the only update coming in July this year. Google announced that also in July all sites still using HTTP would be marked non-secure. Now Google issues its final warning stating that by October 2018, all sites using HTTP will be marked with a strong red warning. It’s important to note that this will affect all websites that are opened using Chrome. While this does not affect your rankings, this will eventually affect your bounce rate and the user experience, which affects your rankings.
SEMrush also recently discovered that the higher position in the SERPs, the more HTTPS sites existed. Luckily, there’s still time for you to migrate from HTTP to HTTPS before the launch in July and more obvious security warnings come October. To prevent a drop in traffic when switching from HTTP to HTTPS make sure that all versions of your site redirect to the correct HTTPS version, including canonical tags. Also, get all hands on deck for any potential issues that may arise when you’re ready to go live.
SEO is a rewarding and frustrating marketing tactic. When your efforts pay off, they can result in big wins for your traffic, sales and ultimately, your bottom line. With 600 algorithm changes every year, staying on top of the best practices is not fun. What worked last year might be out of style the next and those tactics you just spent money investing in could be outdated by next quarter. It’s a constant uphill battle, but staying on top of changes can produce a significant profit. The latest updates and reports point toward a mobile shift. The mobile-first index is rolling out, and while Google says it doesn’t directly impact rankings, we can assume that it’s highly likely to in the near future. With zero result SERPs and voice search, we can gather that SERPs are changing fast and moving toward instant answers. Social media is still a big player in SEO, but it’s becoming harder than ever before to stand out. Lastly, with the latest core update, content relevance is becoming harder to make. Seek to improve your content every single day to benefit from better rankings and avoid potential drops. SEO is changing. Keep up to date with these latest algorithm updates and reports and you will be on the right track for continued success.
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