The only guide to search you’ll need in 2018

2017 has been a turbulent year for webmasters and search specialists.
We’ve seen multiple updates and changes to the way in which search results are presented, as well as the usual tests that have popped up for many users.
We’ve also witnessed frenzies break out over the introduction of the mobile-first index, which has been tipped to launch at the beginning of next year.
Off the back of all of the changes in the last 12 months, our Natural and Paid Search teams have put together their predictions for the trends that we’re going to see in the search industry in the next 12 months.

Jake, Natural Search Executive

In 2018, Google will continue to implement SERP features more and more. As Google is committed to providing information as quickly as possible to the user, they will continue to rely on things like featured snippets, Q+A boxes and more to do this. As SERPs are improving, users are now able to retrieve the information they need without ever clicking on a website. The select few websites which have featured snippets may see substantial increases in organic traffic, and everyone else will continue to see a negative impact on their traffic because of this, which has the potential to cause massive shifts in the industry.
With the mobile-first index coming soon, we will also continue to see the prioritisation of mobile optimisation by Google and other search engines as one of the biggest factors in determining organic visibility. This will make the majority of the headlines in 2018 when Google begins to slowly roll it out, as large websites with separate mobile websites will begin to see the adverse effects of the change. Many website owners will no doubt be asleep to the switch next year, so there should be huge changes to the SERPs when it happens.

Finally, UX will continue to be a bigger and bigger aspect of website optimisation next year and beyond.

Although links are still very important for search engines to gauge the popularity and relevance of a website, Google and others are getting better at understanding these things through user engagement data. It is now more important than ever, for organic visibility, to have a website which offers a great user experience.

'Many website owners will likely miss the switch to mobile-first in 2018, leading to massive changes in the SERPs'

Jake

Alex, SEO and Content Specialist

For me, it’s all about user metrics. It’s about how your site is presented to users in the search results, all the way through to how they interact with the design and functionality of your site (yes, that includes the checkout process for e-commerce sites).
SEMRush’s 2017 ranking factors study showed us one thing – that user experience has taken the lead in placing sites higher in search.
Let’s take schema markup for example. It’s been available to people for years, but we’re still not seeing it implemented on many sites.
This is despite the fact that it’s been shown to have a considerable impact on click-through rates (just one of the user metrics I referred to).

It’s not just about metadata optimisation anymore, it’s about creating the most attractive, attention-grabbing search listing that you can to increase CTR.

Once you’ve encouraged those extra clicks using a schema-laden search listing, it’s then about making sure that you keep users engaged.
Design and layout are important, but it has to be backed up by content. I’m not talking about search engine optimised content, or click-baity blog posts. They’ve been done, and sites are saturated with them.
Switch the focus to user-centric, well researched copywriting. Keep a customer persona to hand every time you sit down to write a piece, aim to provoke a response that makes them resonate with your brand. There’s nothing more powerful than playing on someone’s needs, pains and what they stand to gain from reading your content.
Focus on your user first and foremost. Create world-class content by knowing your user inside and out, and then house it on an aesthetically pleasing, fast, technically sound website.
And please, stop neglecting schema.

Bethany, Natural Search Executive

I feel that in 2018 there will become a large importance on the use of Local SEO and the features that will appear to help improve this. People expect to search for local amenities online and find high-quality local services and all the information needed straight away, and a focus on this area will help businesses to become visible when users need them most. With Google live posting, launched in 2017, showing a significant impact on rankings for businesses, I predict that more features relating to local SEO and map listings will start to emerge.
Local listings and the importance of having the correct address and visibility online is also becoming more and more important due to the use of the internet and other intelligence in Vehicle systems. More and more potential users are now able to access emails, maps and internet searches via their vehicle with the help of integrated wifi hotspots and voice-activated technology. These users need to access the correct information for businesses immediately to ensure safe journeys and to reduce complications when arriving at destinations including shops and other services. SEO will need to work accordingly to ensure that business results are as clear and as helpful as possible.

'Local listings and the importance of having the correct address and visibility online is also becoming more and more important due to the use of the internet and other intelligence in Vehicle systems.'

Bethany

Mark, PPC Specialist

For the past few years the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project has been gathering steam around the world. The Google-led project aims to improve the mobile browsing experience, delivering content faster on mobile devices.
Because the project is Google-led, serving up AMP pages can give your content a serious boost in the SERPs, displaying it in a swipeable carousel above the rest of the search results.

According to Adobe, AMP grew 405% between April and December 2016, spiking at 896% in November 2016.

At the end of 2016, only 4% of AMP traffic came from non-Google sources. By June 2017, this was 20%. In July, Twitter started links to AMPs from both its Android and iOS apps. As AMP is a universal distribution format, compatible across platforms and environments, it continues to gain ground among content publishers. Despite facing opposition and criticism from some developers, I expect to see the AMP project continue its growth throughout 2018.
If you’re a regular user of AdWords, you’ll likely have noticed that Google launched a new interface back in 2016 and they’ve been gradually building and expanding on it throughout 2017. The new interface is designed to make it easier to manage campaigns, but it’s safe to say that reviews have been mixed.
Reactions to the new layout among PPC professionals have been largely negative, as the clean, simple layout of the old interface is being replaced with a much busier dashboard. Whilst some of the objections will likely come from a general dislike of change, reports of poor navigation and reduced usability abound and many are avoiding using the new interface entirely.
At the moment, users are still able to switch between the old and new interfaces to get the AdWords experience they prefer. This won’t last long, with Google expected to make the switch permanent in 2018. When that happens, I expect that a portion of Google’s SME userbase will start to drop off. Some will turn over the management of their AdWords accounts to agencies like us, but some will be unwilling to spend the extra money and will look to put their advertising budget elsewhere.

Rich, PPC Manager

The first thing I think we’ll notice in 2018 is increasing automation across advertising platforms. Most of the main platforms, AdWords in particular, have been adding more and more automated options recently, from automated bidding methods, to changing daily budgets, to even now automatically generating new ads. All of these are designed to make ads easier to manage, which encourages greater use of ad platforms and therefore greater ad spend, so I would be very surprised if this trend didn’t continue.
Following the transition over to the new AdWords interface, I also expect that Google will continue its efforts to re-invigorate the Google Display Network (GDN). Display advertising through AdWords seems to have fallen out of favour recently, with many advertisers moving over to fully programmatic solutions rather than running display through the AdWords platform. Tying in with the trend for increasing automation, I think Google will try to tempt existing advertising back and encourage new advertisers to run display ads with platform improvements over the next 12 months.
Looking a little longer term than just 2018, I’d also expect to see the continued evolution of search beyond the standard search results. Chatbots, voice search and image recognition will all continue to grow and we may start to see the first steps away from standard, text-based searching and results in favour of these new growing technologies.

'Chatbots, Voice search, Image recognition. All of these will continue to grow and we may start to see the first steps away from standard, text-based searching and search results in favour of these new growing technologies.'

Rich

Declan, PPC Assistant

Following the launch of Google’s free Attribution tool this year, I think we’ll see a greater shift away from last-click attribution in 2018. By combining analytics from a variety of different channels into one platform, marketers will be able to take a more holistic view of their activities and more precisely measure the impact of each touchpoint on the customer journey.
This is a hugely important step forward for digital marketing, as over-reliance on the last click model means that many people undervalue the impact that early stage marketing activities have on conversions. We won’t see a complete shift across in 2018, but we expect to see usage of different attribution models increasing as the year continues.
I’m also expecting to see the level of personalisation in search results increase. Google already uses your search history and online behaviour to show you the most relevant results, but with the upsurge in machine learning, this could become even more sophisticated. Rather than just personalising organic search results, we could start having advertising personalised by user intent using past data. That one might take a bit longer than just 2018 though…

'2018 could be the year last-click attribution really loses popularity'

Declan


What do you think of our predictions? Let us know what you’re expecting to see happen in search – tweet us @clickymedia.

Written by Hollie Hines

Content & Social Media Specialist

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