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If you were one of the rare companies who had an online presence in the late 90s or early 2000s, you’ll have found it extraordinarily easy to nab yourself a spot on the first page of Google and other search engines. Back then, ranking for keywords was a fairly straightforward matter - all you had to do was to stuff your pages full of keywords; the more keyword-dense your website was, the higher your chances of ranking on the first page.

Fast forward to today, though, and the SEO landscape is drastically different. Keyword stuffing doesn’t help you leapfrog over your competitors anymore; in fact, it’ll probably get you slapped with a Google Penalty, resulting in your website traffic dropping drastically.

So, how do you rank on the first page of Google in 2018? By keeping abreast of Google’s algorithm updates, and making sure you’re one step ahead of your competitors!

Google’s most recent SEO update

Google confirmed over social media that it released a broad core algorithm update on March 9th  2018. While they were fairly tight-lipped about what this algorithm was about, they did state that as with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. Here’s how Google puts it: “There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded.”

John Mueller, Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, later clarified that the update had to do with relevance, and that they were trying to figure out “which sites are relevant for certain queries, and not so much quality overall.”

According to SEO specialists, an interesting pattern has emerged: websites which were the hardest hit were those that published content which were near duplicates of what you could find on other websites. Here’s the bottom line: companies might have been able to get away with article spinning in the past, but with Google’s March 9 update, they’ll definitely have to step up their game and produce original, high-value content.

How have Google’s updates impacted your organic traffic?

Here’s a nifty tool which will help you figure out how Google’s updates have impacted your organic traffic: Rank Tracker. Go ahead and download the tool, create a project for your website, and click on the “Update Traffic” button in the top menu. Then enter your Google Analytics credentials so that the tool can sync with your account, and switch to the “Organic Traffic” view in the dashboard.

Tadah! You now have a bird’s eye view of your website’s performance (in terms of SEO!) over the past few years. If you noticed a dip after March 9, when Google released their broad core algorithm update, don’t sweat it. Read on to find out how you can adjust and optimize your SEO strategy based on current trends!

SEO 2018 Trends

#1: Writing to solve a problem or question

Search engines are hyper-focused on becoming more effective at helping searchers accomplish whatever task they’re setting out to do. If you want to rank on these engines, then make sure you produce content that can solve the searcher’s problem or question!

A quick disclaimer: there are exceptions to the rule, and websites can sometimes rank even though they don’t do a good job at solving the searcher’s query. But consider this: Google is constantly evaluating your content based on engagement metrics (whether someone whom clicks through stays on your site to browse, OR whether they bounce quickly and return to Google). Once Google realises that people aren’t interacting with a certain site’s content, they’ll adjust their rankings accordingly, and this site will get bumped down. At the end of the day, you’ll only have staying power if you focus on producing amazing content.

So stop spinning content from other sites, and start creating content that’s drastically better than anything that’s currently out there. Before you sit down and start writing, do some research, and check out the articles which are currently ranking for the search terms you’re targeting. Your job is to come up with content that’s even more comprehensive, and provides a different perspective.

Pro-tip: To check which pages on your website require a complete overhaul, use Siteliner, which sifts out duplicate and common content on websites.

Image from Medium.com.

Image from Medium.com.

#2: Less focus on exact match keywords

If you’re constantly fussing over your Yoast SEO plugin, and trying to incorporate more exact match keywords into your article so that you can get that green bulb to light up, you’re doing it wrong. Here’s what you need to know: as search engines become more sophisticated, exact match keywords are no longer a must-have.

Here’s an example: after typing in “seo keyword optimization” into my search bar on Google, the first organic hit I get is…

SEO4

Look at this carefully – the keyword “seo keyword optimization” doesn’t appear in the title. Nor does it appear in the meta text. In fact, after clicking through to the article and using that handy Ctrl+F function, you’ll see that the keyword only appears once in the entire page. Despite this, the article is ranked first on Google!

If you’re new to SEO, you might make the mistake of treating your Yoast plugin as the holy grail of SEO. As the above example proves, however, you don’t need to obsess too much about fitting exact match keywords into your article. If it’s too clunky or doesn’t make sense, then just ditch it! As long as you produce a high-quality, substantial article that contributes a ton of value to your readers, the search engine gods will take note, and rank you accordingly.

#3: Optimizing for voice search

Here’s a nice infographic which shows how rapidly voice search is taking off…

Image from Medium.com.

Image from Medium.com.

Today, 20% of all searches on mobile are voice searches, and 40% of adults perform at least one voice search every day. Is the FOMO setting in yet? It’s time to start optimizing your content for voice search!

When people conduct voice searches, they tend to use more natural language patterns that what you’ll find on search engine queries. Most of these searches are question-based, so go ahead and optimize your content based on who, what, when, where and how questions. The end goal is to get yourself a featured snippet, which means that Siri or Google can read out your content as the best answer to the user’s question.

When you’re creating your content, make sure to state the question early on in the page, before you provide your in-depth, informative answer. Use full sentences and a conversational tone – your content shouldn’t sound strange or awkward when it’s read out verbally.

#5: Mobile-first indexing

The SEO community has been talking about mobile-first indexing for ages now, but Google webmaster trends analyst, Gary Illyes, recently revealed that this would roll out sometime in 2018. If you’re not 100% sure what this term means, we’ll break it down for you: basically, Google will use the mobile version of your website as the baseline for how they’ll rank your site. In other words, your mobile site will now be considered the primary version of the website.

Now, don’t freak out – mobile-first does not mean mobile-only, and if you don’t have a mobile-friendly version of your website, Google’s bots will still refer to your desktop version, and include this in their index. That having been said, it’s 2018, and regardless of this whole kerfuffle with mobile-first indexing, you simply can’t afford to be that brand who still doesn’t have a mobile-friendly site.

For companies which already have a mobile-friendly website where the primary content and markup is similar across mobile and desktop, you’re all set. To err on the side of caution, you might want to do a final check with Google’s Mobile Friendly, but that’s about it.

For companies who have configured their website such that the primary content and markup is different across mobile and desktop, you’ll need to make some changes. First, get your developer to serve structured markup for both the desktop and mobile version (you can verify the equivalence of said markup by inputting URLs of your desktop and mobile sites into Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool,  and comparing the output that it retrieves). If you’re adding structured data to your mobile site, steer clear from adding markup that isn’t relevant to the site’s content. Last but not least, use the robots.txt testing tool to ensure that Googlebot can access your mobile site.

And, finally: for companies who don’t have a mobile-friendly website, time to get cracking! While you’re building a mobile version of your site, bear in mind that a functional desktop site can give you better results than an incomplete mobile site. Aim for quality over speed, and only launch your mobile site when it’s robust and polished.

Want to get your hands on a complimentary SEO audit by the Online Marketing Gurus? We’ll audit your website, tell you how you’re performing in comparison with your competitors, and come up with a 12-month SEO success plan for you. Click here to secure your free audit!

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