The average businessperson does not realise, but Google's algorithm utilises over 200 factors to determine a webpage's rank on results pages. However, this is not the real challenge for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The real challenge is the everchanging game rules.
Nevertheless, as search engine companies strive to bring quality results to users, there are certain ranking trends becoming prominent, while others are fading away. In order to help you stay ahead of the competition, below you will find the latest SEO trends and ranking factors in 2018.
Features on Search Results Pages
In the past, the best way to gain visibility was getting to the top of organic search results. Yet, search engine results pages had added features like Google Local, Google Jobs, and others that are grabbing the attention of search users. It is important to track your ranking in these newer features.
A Mobile-First Search Index
In recent years, more and greater emphasis is being placed on mobile optimised pages over desktop. Moreover, a BrightEdge report shows that desktop and mobile users are seeing different results for the same query. Many experts predict that indexing mobile pages will eventually take precedence, in addition to being weighted differently.
Natural Language / Contextual Search
While keyword research and optimisation still dominates SEO, experts are seeing a shift to natural language and contextual search over the last several years. Likely a consequence of mobile devices and voice search, search engines are working to understand and interpret natural language and user intent, rather than providing relevant results for a keyword. Marketers should switch their focus toward longer long-tail keywords with a stronger understanding of user intent and use of language.
The Need for Speed
Having a fast loading website is paramount. Search engine not only use it as a ranking factor, but it also impacts user experience. In fact, Google will expect a website to fully load in less than 3 seconds. If your website is not meeting this threshold, consider making changes to your website design and upgrading your hosting. A simple design will sometimes produce better results.
Traditionally, technical Search Engine Optimization is important. But, it is now sharing weight with other factors such as click-through rates, engagement, and other user behaviors. Essentially, machine learning works to understand which content is actually relevant and popular versus content that simply meets a technical standard.
Branding versus Backlinks
Since almost the beginning of search engines, incoming links have been a major factor for determining trust and ranking. Regardless, the linkless mention is now gaining equal weight. Not long ago, Duane Forrester, former Senior Product Manager at Bing, stated that "unlinked mentions can be just as strong a signal as regular links." Moreover, he confirmed that search engines can identify mentions, associating them with specific brands or products. They then use the linkless mention as a signal in deciding quality and authority.
Personalised Search Results
Search results personalisation is based on a number of factors like the user's location, interests, demographics, and search history. Marketers and SEO experts need to understand their target audience and ideal customer. Essentially, this will mean the end of generic content. Your customer's needs, goals, interests, and lifestyle will impact and shape contact creation.
Ultimately, search engines are working hard to serve the needs of their customers, search users. Therefore, the goal is to provide the most relevant, authoritative and popular web pages at the top of search results pages. So, businesses can expect SEO trends and ranking factors will continue in this direction throughout 2018 and beyond.