What You Need To Know About SEO In 2018
It’s the time of year when most of us set fresh goals for our websites, whether we’re blogging, promoting our professional services, selling goods, or some combination of those activities. It’s also a good time to make sure the foundations of your search-results presence are still solid so prospective readers, clients, and customers can find you.
Without an SEO update, you’ll be missing out on prospects in 2018. If you set up your SEO a couple of years ago and think you’re still good, you may be surprised by how quickly the best SEO practices have evolved since then.
To help you get the most from your online efforts in the year ahead, here’s what you need to know about SEO in 2018.
What exactly is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” A few years ago, SEO was shorthand for a few key activities: posting useful content, including relevant keywords, and linking to high-quality sites, all of which had a big impact on where a site ranked in search results compiled by Google, Bing, and other search engines. These things still matter, but SEO is an umbrella term that covers a lot of ground, and that ground is always shifting to deliver better results.
Right now, Google Search uses some 200 algorithms (including keywords and links) to rank search results. Not all of the factors are things that you can control. For example, the location and search history of the person searching will influence the results Google delivers. So a search for “affordable braces” may display a Denver orthodontist’s website for a searcher in Colorado who has a history of looking for school supplies and teen clothing, while the same search in the UK by a man who shops for clothes online will almost certainly turn up what we in the US call suspenders.
But there are a few new-ish SEO factors that you can control, and they matter as much or more than link-building and keywords, thanks to the changing ways people use the internet.
Why does “mobile first” matter for SEO?
If you’ve been seeing the phrase “mobile first” lately, here’s why: Google is in the process of slowly rolling out a mobile-first index, adding sites a few at a time. This change has been in the works since at least 2016 and will take a while to fully implement. When it’s done, Google will prioritize mobile-friendly sites in search results.
Why? More than half the world’s online searches are done on mobile devices, which means most users need mobile-optimized sites to find what they’re looking for.
How do you know if your site meets Google’s mobile-friendly standard? Just ask. Enter your URL on Google’s mobile-friendly test page.
If your site is mobile-friendly, you’ll have the option to submit it to Google for inclusion in the new mobile-first index, although that may take some time. Your test results will also include a site-wide mobile usability report with suggestions on improving your mobile friendliness. There’s also a guide for getting started with mobile optimization.
Does page speed affect SEO?
Yes, now more than ever. Page load times have been a factor in search rankings for several years, and there was a lot of talk in 2017 about how important it is for sites to load quickly. Google is giving page speed a higher priority in part because mobile users don’t like to wait and in part because no one else likes to wait, either.
The bottom line is that if your site doesn’t load on desktops and mobile devices within 2 or 3 seconds, it’s going to be harder to find than it needs to be—and people who do find it are more likely to bail after waiting a few seconds for it to load.
How do you know if your site’s page speed is OK? Use Google’s PageSpeed test.Here’s where things can get interesting. Even if your site passes Google’s mobile-friendly test, your page speed may still need work. For example, my professional site aced the mobile-friendly test, and I gave myself a hearty pat on the back for using a mobile-optimized WordPress template. But Google’s PageSpeed tools are not happy with my mobile page load times. While my desktop page speed rated 86 out of a possible 100, my mobile page speed earned a failing grade of 55. Fortunately, when you run your test, you’ll get a list of possible ways to optimize your page speed and improve your score. If, like me, you need to raise your site’s score, consider these suggestions your homework for better SEO in 2018.
How can you optimize your site for voice search?
Have you ever wondered why so many headlines, subheads, and article topics are written as questions?
It used to be that savvy marketers and writers included questions because they make readers more likely to click on headlines and read articles. That’s still true, but now there’s another good reason – because voice search is getting more popular by the day.
Remember all those people searching in mobile devices? A lot of them would rather ask Siri, “Where can I pick up grain-free dog food?” instead of trying to key in “grain free dog food near me” on their phones. And Amazon Echo users can ask Alexa to look things up for them all day long without ever coming near a keyboard, which is part of the reason industry watchers expect 30% of online searches to be screenless within the next two years. How can your site deliver what voice searchers are looking for?
First, look at your site traffic from searches and review your customer service inquiries to see which questions lead people to your site and what questions they ask once they’re there. You can develop those questions into an FAQ section or work them into your site as headlines, subheads or copy. Then be sure to provide the answers to those questions. This sounds obvious, but you’ll want to write those answers in a way that delivers the information quickly and clearly for people who are on the go. Short snippets work best for voice-search results.
If you’re looking for local customers, make sure to set up your My Business listing with Google. Fill it out as completely as possible and keep it up to date. That way, when people ask Siri or Alexa for your product or service “near me,” you’ll rank higher in their results (regardless of whether it’s a voice or text search).
Want more information about local SEO? Check out this post on finding high-quality local SEO services.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.