Jen McKinnon
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SEO Essentials for 2018

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In 2018, all of the traditional practices still apply – load speed is still a major contributor to your site’s rank; title tags, meta descriptions and body content still need to be optimised for your target keywords; and internal and backlinking is still a priority for SEO success. However, there is more you can do beyond the mainstay conventions to improve your position on Google search results in 2018.

We’ve put together a list of tactics for businesses at all levels of SEO implementation, to take your practices a step further in the year ahead. We will look at essentials for those at the basic level of SEO; we’ll explore the next steps available for intermediate SEO; and give a few hints to the SEO gurus out there who want to stay ahead of the curve in 2018.

FOR BEGINNERS

User Experience

Google is (and will always be) focused on the user, so, in 2018, user experience (UX) will become a primary factor when it comes to the rank of your website. Your UX should be smooth and seamless to visitors; the content on your site should not only be optimised and readable but valuable to your online traffic; and the navigation structure should be straight forward for everyone who passes through.

When you think about it logically, there is no point in Google giving your site a greater traffic flow if the users aren’t converting to sales or becoming regular, loyal visitors. A good UX will increase engagement across your site, which indicates to Google that your pages are more useful to searchers. Maintaining this search traffic, along with anything that contributes to a more relevant and personalised experience for the visitor, boosts your kudos with Google and automatically makes you a higher contender to rise through the Google ranks.

But how can you measure the effectiveness of your user experience? Google Analytics holds the key here. By taking a close look at your users’ browsing habits, you can gauge a lot about how well your site is reaching your audience. Bounce rate can tell you a lot about the design of your site, while the average session can guide you as to the relevance of the content on your site.

For example, if a visitor lasts just 10 seconds on their landing page before returning to the Google search results, it is a clear indication that your content or UX is having a negative impact on your viewers.

Not only is there an increasing need for a positive desktop UX, we are transitioning quite rapidly to a majority of smart device users. This means there is cause to optimise your user experience not just on desktop computers, but across all devices.

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Mobile Responsiveness

As browsing on smart devices continues to gain traction, mobile responsiveness has also become a strong ranking factor for websites on Google. Now organic traffic decreases for non-mobile sites and, as such, all websites should now be mobile friendly to attract the roaming user.

What do I mean by mobile friendly? It basically means that any user browsing your site from a smart device (phone, tablet, etc.) will have as smooth an experience as if they were visiting your site from a desktop computer. This isn’t as simple as dragging and dropping the same format across to mobile, it requires responsive design and often different code to ensure the reader can easily access the information.

In 2016, Google dissolved the label “mobile friendly,” no longer listing responsiveness on their search results. This was primarily due to the notion that all websites should, by now, be responsive to mobile devices. In the past, Google has exclusively based their user experience ranking score on the user’s desktop experience; however, as the majority has shifted to mobile, Google is shifting to a mobile-first search index. This means that desktop searches will start to mimic the results displayed on mobile devices, heavily prioritising mobile optimised sites in the ranking algorithm. According to their statistics, 85% of pages listed on Google meet the “mobile friendly” criteria, so, if your website isn’t responsive, you’re way behind the 8 ball.

Linking Building

Link building is another standard, long-term SEO practice, as referral traffic can contribute significantly to your site’s organic search rankings. Traditionally, link building was about creating “link juice,” backlinks to your website (i.e. other websites referencing your own), and all types of backlinks were considered a positive influence on SEO. However, link building has come a long way since the days of “any link’s a good link” and, in 2018 we’re expecting another shift.

What is “link juice”? It’s a cute and catchy name for the network of backlinks to your site from referral sources. The primary function of this link juice is to feed the Google algorithm and provide your site with the ranking power you need to boost your site’s position on Google search results. In the past, link juice was doled out largely in relation to the number of backlinks you had; however, now, the more valuable your backlinks, the more juice you get!

Google now values quality over quantity – there is no value in a link that doesn’t come from a reliable source as it adds no authority to your site. Quality links from reputable sites are what has been garnering effective SEO results of late and, in 2018, the shift towards relationship building is sure to see businesses developing powerful contacts within their industry. This, by no means, implies that the best backlinks come from the most popular sites – it is relevancy that is key here. For example, if you’re a carpet cleaning business, there will be no value in a backlink from the market leader in lingerie.

Another asset to link building strategy is guest blogging; however, early last year, Google cracked down on guest posting to reduce spam and dubious links. Now guest posts are monitored by Google for quality and value. In light of this, 2018 calls for a revision of your link building strategy to take these developments into consideration.

FOR INTERMEDIATE SEO

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HTTPS Encryption

For those implementing SEO at the intermediate level, the seemingly minor difference between HTTP and HTTPS could be a traffic boosting change in 2018. Google has been encouraging HTTPS encryption for over two years, so this year is the year to jump on the bandwagon.

What is HTTPS encryption? HTTPS is largely a security measure. It ensures the protection of sensitive information divulged by site visitors by encrypting data and communications, like browsing history, form details and credit card information. It also has benefits for the business as it will improve the quality of referral data collected on Google Analytics.

HTTPS is particularly important for eCommerce sites but really should be implemented universally as an SEO practice. HTTPS adds to the user experience providing better onsite impact, as the secure encryption provides the peace of mind for visitors that they have a secure connection. The recommendation to make the shift came from Google in 2014 and, if the past is any indication, Google’s recommendations tend to seep through to the algorithm over time, so an HTTPS encryption will likely improve your site’s rankings in 2018.

Video Content

Video is not just becoming popular with digital consumers on social media, it’s also searchable online. With YouTube now the second largest search engine behind Google, video content has become more important than ever before, often outranking blogs and images. While some users direct their search straight to YouTube, videos are also discoverable on the Google search engine, making it imperative to optimise your video for the Google platform.

Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords are more specific keyword clusters that can help your business dominate the rankings on less competitive search pages. While these keywords generate less traffic when paralleled with results for shorter keywords, they generally have a better conversion rate on the traffic they do generate. This is due to the specificity of the search.

According to WordStream in 2016, 50% of search queries are four words or longer, which means that many users are opting for longer search terms when navigating Google. If your current SEO strategy is on track, perhaps adding some long tail clusters into the mix may give your site the edge in 2018.

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FOR THE SEO GURU

Visual Search

Technological innovation and UX has led us to a new wave of online searching. In the past decade, the internet has definitely become more visual, with the focus shifting from just information to imagery and even video. Now, to keep up with trending content, Google (and other search platforms, such as Pinterest and Bing) have introduced a visual search tool to their search engine.

If your web content is already well optimised, 2018 might be the perfect opportunity to explore the power of visual search by optimising the images on your site. While it’s not standard practice yet, as we consume more and more visual content online, considering the way users consume images in your 2018 SEO strategy will ensure you stay ahead of the SEO game.

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Voice Search

With the introduction of Google Home and the emergence of voice activated technology and voice recognition into the mainstream, online search engines have adapted to provide a voice search platform. In 2016, 20% of all searches were made using voice search. That’s a pretty hefty portion considering the freshness of the feature. As with any new technology, the sooner you adjust and incorporate it into your digital strategy, the better.

Optimising your site for voice search requires a different set of keywords than the regular short phrases and related words used for online searches. Google voice searches generally come in the form of questions, which places a higher priority on long tail keywords phrased as full sentences.

Optimising for Google voice search could give your site the edge it needs to skip up the rankings in 2018.

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By Jen McKinnon


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