SEO 'Crystal Ball Gazing - 2018' - Is it still all about the Technology?
In 2017 we speculated that the priority for SEO would be "all about the technology." Were we clairvoyant, or was our crystal ball opaque?
Best practice use of technology is one part of the solution, however this is not mutually exclusive with Google's amplifying search results, must satisfy the user expectation in delivering quality content answers. The sophistication of the search engine algorithms are continuously being improved. Conversational style searching will be an important priority with Google's RankBrain machine learning capability will improve with more personalised search results.
The answer is YES, it will continue to be important to elevate the importance of technical SEO elements, including; site security, mobile friendliness, navigation and page speed. We have discussed this here and have updated our 2017 predictions, as relevant for 2018. Our observations are based on Googles activities, as these represent some 92% plus of all global search engine queries, according to reliable sources, such as StatCounter.
(Please note we have provided external links to useful third party resources that provide further technical explanation of some terminology.)
1 - Accelerated Mobile Pages and Mobile First
StatCounter indicates 55% of Google searches come from mobile/smartphone/tablet devices. Google is promoting a Mobile First strategy which during 2018 will see Google will rank pages based on the mobile version of the page. The challenge is with a fully optimised and performing website for desktop, needs to be replicated to the same standard on mobile. There are inherent issues in replicating an aesthetically pleasing and performing desktop site to the smaller screen viewport size, with the myriad options of iPhone, Android, Windows smartphones and tablet devices.
Google has gone from quietly spruiking the advantages of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for sometime to now actively extolling its virtues. Whilst not overtly signalling this as an SEO ranking factor, it does trip a number of Google's ranking metrics, such as responsive speed and design. AMP is a stripped down version of HTML, (the language of website design) enabling quick loading performance. Platforms like Squarespace have been early adopters with AMP as a user activated available option with all blog content. Content that is AMP enabled on mobile is recognisable with the lightening bolt icon, as in the following screen shot.
Google will look to drive AMP to ensure the user experience is as fast as possible, as it is suggested anecdotally that if a site takes longer than 3 seconds to load, 40-50% of users will bounce! In a world of instant gratification this would be a fair assumption, that people do not linger.
Mobile is the future where hyperlocal marketing will come into play, with searches being localised to within a a radius of less than a block.
2 - HTTPS Secure Website Encryption
Confidence in feeling secure online and trusting the website being visited is crucial, given the prevalence of potential scams, privacy compromises and security breaches. The acronym of HTTPS 'Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure' is the protocol by which data is sent between the website being viewed and the web browser. Secure sites running the latest HTTP/2 iteration of HTTPS will be denoted by a green padlock in the browser URL address. The practical implication is, this level of security prevents the data traffic being intercepted maliciously, so with properly secured websites there is a high degree of confidence that sensitive information; credit cards, personal details and forms are properly encrypted and will not be compromised.
There are also technical performance benefits with the improved efficiency of the browsing connection. Google has been signalling that HTTPS is important and without explicitly stating it is a ranking factor, within the 'Google ecosystem' anything that provides a safer, more user-friendly experience is implicitly rewarded. As of April 2017 it is estimated that less than 15% of websites are using HTTP/2 and since January 2017 Google Chrome, the most popular web browser has begun labeling non HTTPS sites that transmit passwords and credit card details as 'Not Secure.'
From October 2017 with Chrome version 62 any data that a user enters in forms, where the site is not secure, will be revealed as 'Not Secure." when browsing in incognito/private mode. Within Googles blog it flags "Eventually, we plan to show the “Not secure” warning for all HTTP pages, even outside Incognito mode." There are various enhancements of HTTPS, such as HSTS (HTTP Strict Transport Security) a mechanism that prevents websites using the HTTPS protocol from being downgraded within the web browser, ensuring the site viewed is the true version.
From July 2018 with the pending introduction of Chrome version 68 websites not HTTPS secure will be "named and shamed" effectively and are likely to be penalised in terms of search ranking.
We believe at Move37 Consulting that the adoption of HTTPS is essential as best practice technology and also for favourable SEO. It is a further example of where technical best practice converges with providing a safer more secure experience, so to think that a failure to adopt is not likely to significantly impact SEO would be a poor bet.
3 - Artificial Intelligence and Awesome Content
Google 'RankBrain' is a euphemism for machine artificial intelligence (AI) an algorithm (one of Google's many) that assists in processing search results. Combined with the 'Hummingbird algorithm' that recognises long tail search queries, that is basically English natural phrases, the function is for the Google Search engine to constantly learn and provide visitors with the most useful, relevant, trustworthy and authoritative results. Another factor Google refers to is Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is a basis that Google uses to discover how a term, word and content interact together to mean the same thing. The evolving of this means the search engine is clever enough to identify your website content’s context and synonyms related to your keywords. Google draws on personalised browsing and search history to deliver the most relevant search query answer, as quick as possible.
As the reliability and quality of the search results are refined, Google in late 2017 started to experiment as to how it presented featured snippets with more answers appearing in Knowledge Graph boxes, showing on the side of the page. These prominent items displayed appear to be intended to give users, faster and better quality answers.
The practicality of this is awesome fresh quality content is rewarded; the days of gaming search ranking with keyword stuffing are history. The benefit of encouraging useful relevant content is having satisfied informed users and a lift in SEO performance. Please refer to our earlier blog Content is still King.
4 - The Rise of Conversational Search
As hardware capability increases voice assistants such as Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant have enabled conversational search engine queries to replace typed commands. Teens have enthusiastically embraced Voice search. This lends itself to Google's Mobile First adoption policy with mobile being the natural platform capable for voice search. This technology is closely correlated to Point 3 of this blog, where long query search phrases need to be deciphered to produce meaningful search response results. This natural language inspired conversational search is another compelling reason to encourage quality website content.
With a proliferation of hardware devices such as voice activated speakers, like Google Home and Amazon Echo will influence search strategy as an additional factor. Currently 1 out of 5 searches come from voice queries. Whilst Google dominates, the likes of Microsoft Bing, Amazon and Yelp have their own search engines need to be considered.
As part of a website redesign or improvement program in 2018 it is evident there are multiple moving parts to consider, the overriding mantra is to provide fresh, deep and meaningful content for users.
Please talk to us further to assist in ensuring every opportunity is explored in having your website seen.