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The process of Search Engine Optimization is used to help customers find your website.  The process is not static, and it is constantly changing with new trends and ideas. Using SEO to attract web traffic has never been more popular, or more complex in its methods.  Each year, different tools and strategies change, but the goal remains the same– use the best options for a search query based on common phrases and keywords.

SEO Marketing encourages the development of a brand reputation and a user experience in an environment where competition is fierce.  When most people think of SEO, they think of Google, and with good reason:  Google literally controls the SEO business, with 80% of the market.  Google’s goal is to keep you on Google so they can gather personal data on your habits, likes and desires.  Despite Google’s obvious presence, you should still try and diversify your user experience as much as possible.  This provides the best user experience.

Each year, Google changes its search algorithm 500-600 times to maximize accuracy. Two examples of Google’s changes are the well-known and feared Panda/ Penguin updates.  These updates implement various changes.  Some of them are minor and won’t be noticed, but others are major and they can destroy website analytics overnight in terms of rankings.

Penguin focuses on elevating the good, and Panda is all about removing the bad. But this does not mean they are the same thing.  This makes it harder for low-quality websites to tweak a few elements to get back on top.  With Penguin updates, loopholes allow lousy websites to climb in Page Rankings through clever keyword optimization.  This makes it harder for low-quality sites to simply tweak a few elements here and there to get back on top. With the arrival of Penguin, the loopholes that allowed lousy websites to climb the PageRank ladder through clever keyword optimization are rapidly closing.

2018 was an eventful year in the world of search engine optimization.

We saw several algorithm updates, changes in the SERPs, advancements in AI, the implementation of GDPR, an increased focus on Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) for web content, and plenty of other big SEO developments.

This year, Google is affecting the SEO world with mobile and speed-related efforts, and as a reactionary response, everyone needs to consider a new action plan so they are prepared in advance.  Some non-google functionality may also influence SEO campaigns.  All of these changes, Google or not, are discussed in this article.

1.     AI and Searcher Intent

Matching search results with the intent of a searcher’s query will have a big impact on SEO this year. This will look beyond keywords and traditional ranking factors to understand the types of content that search engines identify as relevant.  Google is also looking beyond the first page to understand unique opportunities and threats by vertical.  Think of it as Artificial Intelligence.  Looking at intent as well as the traditional keyword search.

 

2.     Improved User Experience

Google SEO is constantly changing and updating its algorithms to ensure users are provided with the best possible results.  Every update from Google focuses on providing more user-friendly results. We have seen changes to SERPs, like knowledge panel and rich snippets, and algorithm updates that have shown just how critical UX has become for Google. You only need to look at Rank Brain to see this in action. UX naturally fits into SEO because they share common goals. If you follow SEO over the past few years, you know it has moved away from just ranking search terms. Now, it seeks to provide searchers with information that answers their queries. This is where UX and SEO start to interact. Both share the goal of helping searchers by providing them with relevant information. SEO leads a person to the content they need, and the UX answers their queries once a user ends up on the right page.

3.     SEO with Rich, Long-Form Content

Expect more long-form content optimization in 2019. Content pages of 1,500 words or more are performing better in search engine rankings and drawing more organic traffic than shorter pages.  Studies show that users stay on these pages longer and long-form content receives more backlinks and social shares. Focusing on lengthy treatises and high-quality writing is the key to success.

 

4.     Mobile-First indexing

This one is extremely important.  Mobile-first indexing means that Google now uses the mobile version of your page for indexing and ranking. Since March 2018, Google has experimented with the process of migrating mobile sites to what they call mobile-first indexing. In fact, Search Console has already notified you about it.

The mobile-first index does not mean “mobile-only.” There’s still a single index with both mobile and desktop versions. However, the whole “mobile-first” buzz means that Google will be using the mobile versions for ranking once the site has migrated.

This means the mobile version of your website is the primary one for SEO ranking, and there is no longer an excuse to procrastinate about mobile-friendliness.

 

 

5.     Page Speeds

Page speeds are suddenly an analysis factor like never before.  Google is determined to deliver the best UX and to deliver it quickly. Desktop page loading times have been ranking factors for the last two years.   In July 2018, Google added mobile loading times in documenting page speeds.

This crucial change clarifies which metrics are actually important for Google in terms of page speed evaluation.

Historically, when analysed in Page Speed Insights, a site was evaluated based on technical parameters. Now, mobile and desktop sites are evaluated based on two different metrics instead of one: optimization (which has always been the case) and, a new one, speed.

Special emphasis is placed on how the speed score is evaluated. The data for the metrics are taken from the Chrome User Experience report, the real users’ performance database. It reflects how your site loads for each visitor. As a result, it is impossible to analyse the metrics based on local tests.

As for the optimization score, you can manage this by understanding why your pages are not loading fast and why.  Fixing those issues is now a high priority since it plays a role with analytics.  You may not even be aware that your site is not loading at peak efficiency.

So, which metric has the strongest influence on rankings? According to the mobile page speed experiment by SEO PowerSuite, the correlation between the page’s optimization score and its position in SERPs is strong (0.97). But there is no correlation between the page’s position and its speed score. Google can now identify your site as slow, but your rankings stay the same.  This may not always be the case.  In the future, slow response times may equal lower rankings.  Think in terms of your own experience.  Most users are apt to abandon a website if it runs so slow that it takes a long time to access.  They may come back later, or not at all.

The speed metric is new, but it’s clear Google is still testing it. With time, those correlations may become more accurate.

6.    Build a Strong Brand

Gary Illyes, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, has stated at Pubcon that Google uses online brand mentions in its search algorithms. There are two ways it can use a brand as a ranking signal.

First, through unlinked brand mentions, the search engine learns that your brand is an entity. By further analysing all the properties mentioning it, Google gets a better picture of your authority in a particular field.

Second, each component’s sentiment and context matters through attributes such as reputation, trust, advertising, complaint solving, etc. Through content and context, Google learns to distinguish the good from the bad. For example, its Search Quality Guidelines defends the concept that reputation matters for rankings. Consequently, the sentiment around brand identity mentions can affect the site’s rankings.

 

7.    Voice Search

Voice search will transform how we create content. Valuable content will originate from a more conversational tone that answers questions directly. The idea of creating content around a specific keyword will no longer exist. Again, it is about creating content for searcher intent. Search engines that interpret context so that content answers questions and contains topic information will now score higher.

 

8.    Link-Worthy, Useful Content

In 2018, engagement will play an even larger role in achieving SEO success. Creating link-worthy, user-driven content that answers relevant questions and provides useful information to prospects is pivotal. Schema is another area that will continue to be a focal point in achieving measurable results within organic searches online.

9.    GDPR

You may notice your inbox filling up with GDPR and Privacy Policy emails this spring. So what’s going on and why is this important all of a sudden?

GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation, and it recently passed in the European Union. It regulates a nagging issue – who owns the data created by user interactions online? It is now a user’s game, and not the corporations that collect it. Consequently, users can now request to see what personal data the company has about them and ask for edits, corrections, or exports. If a company doesn’t comply with the regulations, it can be hit with severe fines (€20 mln or 4% of the company’s annual profit).

This regulation affects the EU companies and customers. However, international companies must also comply with GDPR. As a result, Google has decided to introduce changes into its analytics. Now all personal user data expires 26 months after it is collected. Such data includes demographic and affinity data (earlier kept perpetually) and doesn’t include sessions and goal completions. However, each site owner can change this data collection default period.  Plus, it’s now possible to delete the data of individual users upon their request.

 

Conclusion

We can draw several summaries from based on this review of upcoming trends:

  • Your mobile application is more important than ever. Google intends to index and analyse web apps based on a variety of factors, including speed and optimisation.  The desktop version of a website is no longer the only primary analysis method.
  • Intention is important. What a searcher intends to look for plays a role as much as keywords.
  • Voice search searching will play a role in how we create content, especially conversational tones.
  • Link-worthy, useful content that directly answers questions must be valued more than ever. Longer text is important for evaluation methods also.

In short, keyword analysis is no longer the only game in town.  Alternative methods of searches on alternative mediums (mobile) will drive visitors to your websites like never before.  It’s time to re-evaluate older ideas, reprioritize, and embrace new ones if you intend to stay ahead of your competitors.  SEO is changing, and staying on top of these changes will prepare you for 2019.

Fatmir Hyseni is an award-winning Chartered Marketer and CMO of Kosbit, a global IT vendor for AT&T and a Strategic Advisor for Critogo, your own extended digital team offering professional feedback.

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