2018 SEO Forecast: Think Like a Human
Do you remember Ask Jeeves? Basically, it was built around that idea that “Jeeves” was your personal butler who would fetch answers to your most pressing questions. While many sites focused on Boolean logic, the idea behind Ask Jeeves was to allow users to pose questions in everyday language that the engine would answer with its search results. It was flawed as hell and ultimately lost any foothold it had to Google, but the concept was still intriguing: What if search engines thought like us?
More than a decade later, this is exactly what we’re seeing in Search Engine Optimization.
SEO is one of those terms that you hear thrown around a lot, but may not have a full grasp of what it means. Even if you get the basics (organic search engine results to increase the quantity and quality of traffic to your website) the specific tactics employed are always changing.
With that in mind, here are some tactics that you should consider in your 2018 SEO strategy.
Carry It Into 2018 – Voice Search
Over the past couple of years, voice search has really come into its own – a trend that’s sure to carry into 2018 and beyond. In fact, some industry experts estimate that by the year 2020, there will be 21.4 million smart speakers in the U.S. and 50% of all searches will be voice searches.
What’s driving this shift? Beside the usability factors like speed and convenience, digital home assistant devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo really came into their own in 2017. In addition, last year also saw the release of Google Assistant for all Android devices, signaling the oncoming large-scale adoption of voice search on mobile devices.
As search continues its mobile-first mentality, it is only logical to think that a larger percentage of search queries will be conducted by voice as well. This means that long-tail keywords, intent and language semantics will take on greater importance to all SEO strategies moving forward.
Picking Up Steam – Featured Snippets
More often than not you might find yourself hitting Google to get your questions answered. When you search Google with a question, you might also find that you are served a featured snippet of information that answers that question! You’re not alone. Featured Snippets are all the rage. But what are they? They are special blocks of text that appear at the top of Google search results when a user asks a question (Think: “Is a Hot Pocket a sandwich?”). These snippets are short, to the point, and get you your answer at a quick glance. If you really want to dive into whether or not a Hot Pocket is a sandwich, these snippets include a link to a page that has more information.
Before you get excited, here’s the hard part: you can’t explicitly mark a page for a Featured Snippet. They only happen organically, but you can do a few things to give yourself a better chance. If your site focuses on a specific topic, try answering common questions about that topic within your site’s copy. As Pete Meyers, Moz, puts it: “Be a better answer to the question.” Research suggests Google is more likely to extract these snippets from organized information like lists, bullet points, charts, etc. As always, it also helps to follow general SEO practices that enhance the user experience of your site.
On the Cusp – AI and Linkless Attribution
It’s no secret that Google and Microsoft (Bing) have invested heavily in the recent past on machine-learning and artificial intelligence systems. Since optimizing for AI should be looked at the same as optimizing for people, your long-term SEO strategies shouldn’t change all that much.
That said, recent observations in the industry indicate that unlinked brand mentions will gain higher levels of influence as ranking signals. As AI gains more momentum in the search space, it should almost be expected that these linkless mentions play a bigger role in the final SERPS. Links should still be a top priority in any SEO strategy, but if you can get credit for being mentioned (much easier) instead of having to acquire a hard link to your brand or content… that’s Valhalla for a lot of SEOs.
Leave It In 2017 – Traditional Thinking
Gone are the days of meta descriptions and keyword stuffing influencing search results – and good riddance, too. If your SEO strategy for the upcoming year is still based on single or double exact keywords and submitting unique metas for indexing, you are going to be disappointed in the results. Search is less about matching a query word-for-word and more about answering the query itself.
Because SEO really is a complex science that’s always changing, you’ll always be aiming at a moving target. However, there is a clear trajectory present: as technology evolves to be more intelligent, personalized and intuitive, so does the way in which we interact with that technology. So, whether you’re typing your query into Google or asking Alexa, this year will bring us another step closer to search engines learning to speak the human language.