Here’s the thing about predictions: you’re only a sage if they come true. That doesn’t stop us from betting on who will win the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Oscars or Super Bowl. And it certainly doesn’t stop us from making educated guesses about what awaits us in the coming year in the world of search. We asked a few SEO and online marketing experts what topics they see dominating the digital agenda, and how they see Google’s search results pages changing. Read on to rate their predictions.
We asked a number of digital experts for their answers to the following questions:
- What are the three digital marketing trends that will have the biggest impact in 2018?
- What advice would you give someone in 2018 who wants to launch a new website or re-assess their online priorities? Which measures deserve the most attention and what can people now afford to scale back?
- How are the SERPs going to change over the next year? Which elements of the search results are going to become more visible and which are going to lose prominence?
Here’s what they had to say:
Search and Social director, Partner, AMBITION
My advice: If you want to launch a new website, you need to do your homework, conduct a keyword analysis, make a quality website with quality content and – best of all – take advantage of the opportunities making a new website offers. Focus on load time and user experience, on all devices.
The changing SERPs: The trend is continuing towards Google wanting to answer the user’s question on the search results page already. Longer descriptions is just one of the changes it’s making to do this – showing more text on the SERP. This means that space is becoming more and more limited. Four ads at the top, other kinds of results, and now larger snippets per website. This all means ranking at position 6 is already where the users fingers are hurting by scrolling.
1. Integrated content marketing approach – in 2018, I would expect to see brands continue to evolve and centralize content with other marketing channels. By making content a key part of the customer journey at each buyer phase, it will be much easier to prove the full value of content across all channels to measure and prove the real business value.
2. Mobile first – when planning any annual SEO roadmap, you have to look where Google is going, and for the last few years you simply can’t ignore mobile. Mobile-first is the latest iteration, which means that responsive websites are now the minimum barrier to entry. Brands need to think about how consumers interact with mobile devices differently and adapt to behaviors, not just via websites, but also apps – to ensure they capture the full mobile experience.
3. Voice search – 2017 has been a big learning curve for voice search, and seen a land-grab for the devices, of which Amazon’s Alexa is significantly winning to-date. In 2018, a continued growth in popularity of voice searches is likely, and brands need to be thinking about how people could be using voice queries within their niche, and how they can offer value to become the best result.
My advice: Think about your users first and foremost. Who are you targeting? What do you want them to achieve? To win at SEO in 2018, you need to be the best result. This means providing great content for your users, across all devices – rather than simply having well optimized content for search engines. Most importantly, you’ll be engaging in the best way possible with your visitors. And as a by-product of this, you’ll likely be rewarded by Google for providing the best experience.
The changing SERPs: Looking at where Google has been focusing over the last year gives a lot of clues on where they are heading. Mobile-centric results across all devices, including desktop, has been an important theme – and I would expect to see the range of featured snippets to continue rising in popularity, where users don’t have to click on a listing because Google shows them the answer they need within the results page. For brands, that means they need to think about how they can be that featured snippet listing – optimizing more heavily for answer boxes, schema, local and more.
Teamlead SEO, United Digital Group
1. Marketing automation in combination with big data using AI (including on-page automation in altering texts on the website due to user behavior and onsite automation to automatically optimize internal linking structure). Maybe this more of a 2025 vision, but 2018 may see first steps in this direction.
2. Marketers and developers learning how to use digital voice assistants and natural voice search, helping Amazon, Google etc. to bring their toys to new evolutionary heights.
3. Holistic Landing Pages (HLP) getting shorter and only becoming some kind of “new age” doorway pages for keywords with uncertain user intention. Users to then be forwarded (by user actions like clicks on call-to-actions) to pages more tailored to specific intents.
My advice: Know your target group. Know their user intent. Speak their language. Structure your website well. Make use of the technologies your users expect – still keep fall-back technologies if your target search engine (mostly Google) is not capable of properly interpreting your state of the art choice. Concentrate on good content that focuses on your user (and still bears the signals a bot can interpret well). Prepare good seeding strategies so people (and search engines) get to know your content.
The changing SERPs: I think individualized search results will get stronger in 2018. Google will improve its understanding of your search sessions, so you might get (slightly) different search results than a colleague when you say, “Hey Fred, go to Google and look for XYZ”. Google’s focus on page speed tools, information and support might also have an influence on the individualization of the search results. If you are using a slower internet connection, Google might focus on displaying faster (or even AMP) websites in their search results. For non-individualized search results, I expect to see more answer boxes during the first half of the year and fewer in the second half (as Google learns which answers users don’t accept). More and more, users’ local intention searches are switching to mobile and generic searches are made on desktop. Google will recognize this by decreasing the amount of local one-boxes on desktop search and shifting them to mobile results.
Head of Quisma
My advice: If launching a new site in 2018, make sure your hygiene and governance are in order, making sure redirects are done properly and the new website is fully optimized for technical SEO. Apart from that, try to take a data-driven approach to your information architecture by looking at search behavior. Also look at which content assets and tools your new website should have by looking at link and social data from similar websites and niches. In general, always be looking at the ROI of your activities by measuring traffic, leads, rankings and overall performance of your website and its content.
The changing SERPs: We will see Google experiment even more with its knowledge graph and featured snippets. Apart from that, I expect Google to experiment and go even more into specific intent areas like travel, flights etc.
Head of SEO, IIH Nordic
Top trends in 2018: Every digital marketing tool will try to integrate some form of AI into their products. We won’t see the full value of artificial intelligence in any tool in 2018, however. The same way we saw mobile overtake desktop last year, we will see a shift from text search to voice search. Hopefully not in an open office environment – that would be awkward – but from people speaking to their mobile phones, home speakers and other devices. The use of data in marketing will explode. Companies that can use data to understand consumer behavior and intent better than their competitors will have a big advantage.
My advice: Search engine optimization is not an isolated game anymore. Content marketing, social media, paid advertising, email marketing and SEO should all be part of your digital strategy. Understand where the different channels overlap and how they can leverage each other’s strengths. Collect data from all your efforts and use it strategically to fine-tune your strategy.
The changing SERPs: The increase in voice and image searches will be a driver to a more diversified search result. I expect Google will use microdata and schema markup to create richer snippets, which will, even more than they do already, let the users find their answers directly in the SERP without having to click through to the websites. Understanding your users and the intent of their searches will be more important than ever before.
SEO, Content & Communications Director, twentysix
Top trends in 2018: I see a tech renaissance coming with SPAs, PWAs and headless CMSs. SPAs (Single Page Applications) are web apps that load a single HTML page and dynamically update as the user interacts with it. SPAs are fast and easy to navigate for users, while developers benefit from templates that allow them to customize, test and optimize pages efficiently.
Google is also really pushing Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) – and for good reason. You can have your website work like a native mobile app – accessible from the home screen. Say ‘hello’ to full screen browsing and push notifications, and say ‘goodbye’ to maintaining web, iOS and Android codebases.
I expect more businesses to adopt headless Content Management Systems (CMS), from which they can publish content to a host of digital platforms: web, mobile apps, in-store displays, VR, wearables and IoT devices. Ultimately, these technologies enable us to create better user experiences and will keep technical SEOs in a job for years to come. Win – Win.
Studies show we’re obsessed with research and look up every little thing. SEOs and Google have long talked ‘Content is King’ but the research obsession will make it “Emperor.” Expect mass digital storytelling and heaps of video in various formats.
Voice search isn’t going away. We’re at peak mobile penetration and the next frontier is “the battle of the living room.” Next year, Apple plans on entering the fray, but I don’t see actual voice search mechanics changing too much.
The changing SERPs: Google recently lost six advertising slots so they need to keep the SERPs appealing for advertisers. One way is to ensure people spend more time on page. Therefore, expect to see Google continue its move towards becoming an answer engine, with deeper, more visible integrations across a wider keyword set – not just core commercial terms but more long-tail conversational terms.
Shopping should become more prevalent. The Knowledge Graph and the PAA will continue to evolve and aggregate and embed more content from multiple sources, including YouTube. Local business listings will be huge in a mobile-first SERP and go back to acting as a two-way social channel for brands. I predict PPC to move to five slots, as data will show we are getting more comfortable scrolling on larger-screened devices. Hopefully, the longer organic snippets will stay if Google’s test data holds up. Expect all sorts of UI tests.
Finally, here’s my sketch of what the SERP might look like.
So that’s what our experts think? What delights (and horrors) do you think 2018 will bring?