Bruce Clay’s Predictions for Digital Marketing in 2018 was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.
Do you remember the buzz and flurry of activity around Y2K? Possibly not, but it was a fire drill of activity to avoid disaster. This year may seem similar as things evolve rapidly in the realm of search.
For example, sites that have put off mobile readiness — thinking that most of their traffic comes from desktop, so why bother with mobile? — will find themselves in crisis this year.
Marketing teams across the board will face receding budgets as the C-suite becomes increasingly unwilling to dole out money without solid proof that it delivers results (per Gartner’s Oct. 2017 CMO survey).
As a result, I expect to see a focus on attribution tools and better data reporting as the industry scrambles to connect the dots of customer journeys and justify marketing spend.
Predictions for digital marketing in 2018 are fairly easy to make — at least compared to the last 13 years of annual prediction posts I’ve written. I am sure that most in the SEO industry who follow Google see these trends already progressing.
In a nutshell, the hot buttons SEOs know now will stay hot.
My Digital Marketing Predictions for 2018
Mobile First: Google’s mobile-first index will become a bigger player starting around February. I expect that there will be a significant “disturbance in the force” when companies that have rested on their brand realize that the indexed content has changed enough to disturb their rankings.
For sites that are not mobile friendly, Google may continue to index the desktop version and hold off moving it to the mobile-first index. However, I don’t expect their rankings to hold since mobile user experience is the search engine’s top priority.
I anticipate Google will roll out mobile-first faster than expected. But even the preparation for it is changing the search engine’s index — which impacts rankings.
For instance, businesses trying to speed up their sites may remove large images, eliminate non-essential content, and modify other elements including links. Just altering the navigation menu to simplify it for mobile users changes a lot. All of this fluctuating content will affect the index and (combined with other changes) potentially create a flurry of lost-traffic panic.
Sites that have put off mobile readiness — thinking that most of their traffic comes from desktop, so why bother with mobile? — will find themselves in crisis this year.
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Video: Why voice search will be big in 2018
Users will ask questions, and many sites are not well optimized to provide answers to questions. The traditional phrase-centric search will become archaic, and optimization will need to be about spoken Q&A instead of who used the keyword best.
Virtual assistants (such as Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant) and smart devices (such as Amazon Echo, Google Home) will continue improving their ability to interpret spoken language through machine learning. That’s a given.
But voice searches are still imprecise in many cases, and users often have to restate questions in different ways to get useful information. For example, try this:
Can you find your product with a voice search if you don’t mention your brand name?
When you do a voice search for your business or products by name, are they correctly understood or mistaken for something else?
Businesses should test voice searches and make sure their online information is sufficient to give people multiple ways to find them (by name, by type of business, by location, by specialty, etc.). In addition to all the local SEO factors, local businesses in particular need to consider how to be found for various descriptive terms through voice search while the technology is maturing. (See more on how to optimize for voice search.)
Businesses should test voice searches and make sure their online info is sufficient to give people multiple ways to find them.
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Content Focus: Content is next in line for a major 2018 emphasis, but now more of the same. The creation of intelligent content that answers people’s needs is the role of the content writer (more so than the SEO), so empowered content teams with SEO tools will dominate this area.
This will be a period of significant growth in the development of content teams with tools and training, enabling an army of writers many times larger than the SEO team to start doing SEO themselves as the content is created.
As a sidebar, I expect the usage of WordPress, which currently runs 29.3% of all websites, to multiply this year, with a massive number of sites redesigned using WordPress. There will soon be a new era of Active WordPress Plugins (AWPPs, to coin a term), which actively give guidance while you’re working in WordPress (like a digital assistant for WP). They will empower content writers to do more SEO themselves, leading to better-optimized content on WordPress sites.
This improvement will be countered by the possible late-2018 release of WP Gutenberg, a new editor interface for WordPress that’s currently in the testing phase. In my opinion, it will be difficult for Gutenberg to gain favorable recommendations for use if it takes away plugin-derived revenue from the web design and hosting companies.
As good as the Penguin filter is, which has been running within Google’s core algorithm for over a year now, we see that unnatural links still work way too often in the search results. There’s room for improvement.
Unnatural links still work way too often in the search results. There’s room for improvement.
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I predict Google will issue a major update to the algorithm sections that deal with links to better filter spammy, off-topic links.
Search engines will also be adjusting to a diminished number of links from and within mobile sites (due to sites becoming more efficient for mobile, as discussed under Mobile-First, above) as well as other undisclosed mobile-first algorithmic factors. I predict Google will examine the speed and popularity of the linking page to determine the probability of the link’s being seen and clicked. Eliminating any link unlikely to be clicked because of poor performance will become critical as the link patterns are reviewed. All of this certainly should change how we acquire links in 2018.
Speed: Another factor for digital marketing in 2018 will be the increased adoption of Progressive Web App (PWA) technology to achieve faster site speed. Both app and website developers will embrace this hybrid approach that is easier to maintain and promote while delivering impressive speed for users. There’s a lot of resources out there for details on PWAs; this recent post by Cindy Krum is one of my favorites.
Coupled with a rise in PWA usage will be a diminishing regard for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), certainly wherever bandwidth is acceptable. If pages are fast enough and fully responsive, then AMP is not needed (a point Google’s Gary Illyes made during a keynote in June).
By the holiday season a year from now, I predict AMP will be a non-issue for most websites. The AMP project was all about speed anyhow, and as internet speed in general increases, the need for AMP will diminish — even if, as Google has promised, the odious problem of masking the publisher’s URL in search results gets fixed in the second half of the year.
Coupled with a rise in PWA usage will be a diminishing regard for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).
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I expect speed to be seen as a cloud issue this year, as well.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) and similar cloud-based platforms will expand. Meanwhile, Content Delivery Network (CDN) usage will decrease. Serving up a website’s static resources from the cloud provides greater speed and efficiency than doing it from nodes, as CDNs do, except for sites with a significant quantity of large files (such as high resolution images). CDNs are certainly becoming less important, and by year end, CDNs will be seldom used. While CDNs solved a significant conversion issue in the past, with higher speed networks and server technology changes, they will be unnecessary by the end of the year.
It continues and actually becomes more important. As easy links stop working, companies will increasingly turn to other parts of the algorithms — specifically content as well as on-page structure, navigation, internal linking and better compliance with SEO practices.
Building a site’s expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T) will dominate this focus and become more critical across the board. The winning companies will be the ones with the best trained staff already working on an SEO-aligned content-based strategy aggressively. Between equally helpful content, the tie-breaker will be E-A-T, and we’ll see fewer sites ranking without it. This is likely to benefit established brands in the rankings.
As cited above, there will be considerable activity impacting the content in the Google index. A great amount of the algorithm is based upon the index’s having a reasonably large and steady population of content pages. The advent of the mobile-first index, query changes towards questions, a massive SEO content change (in kinds, volume and number of competitors), the diminishing access to links both internally and inbound (backlinks), and other easily identified factors all add up to a massive index change this year — and that will destabilize rankings.
Factors all add up to a massive index change this year — and that will destabilize rankings.
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Ecommerce: Google will step up as a major competitor in ecommerce this year. Google’s ecommerce site Express.Google.com has a network of manufacturers and resellers already in place. I believe it is poised to rival Amazon.
I order a lot of products online, and I think there is room for a second major service. Consider that as Amazon gains usage, people are going straight to Amazon.com. That threatens Google’s search business.
As Google’s algorithm learns to map user intent to each search query more and more accurately, sites must match that intent in order to rank.
Consider this – as Google figures out that a query requires purely information, your ecommerce site will lose rankings for that keyword. Sites that used to perform well for head terms need to pay attention to what is being ranked and forget what used to rank, including themselves. Getting an ecommerce site to rank for an information keyword is much harder now.
As a result of Google’s machine learning, rankings lost may be next to impossible to regain. In a competitive keyword field, the profile of the website silo (associated themed pages), and not just the ranking page, must match user intent.
As a result of Google's machine learning, rankings lost may be next to impossible to regain.
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I’ll give a personal illustration. Google recently upended its search rankings for the query [search engine optimization]. This query is popular with do it yourself (DIY)-minded searchers, rather than people looking to consume SEO services. The algorithm detected this in 2017 and rapidly shifted rankings to favor news and information sites, not just the most in-depth answer to the query. As a result, our SEO Tutorial hub page fell from the middle of Page 1 to #15 in just a few months for this specific query.
Marketers will need to take user-intent cues from Google by watching what results are shown as the SERPs fluctuate this year. Doing so will help you avoid futile keyword targets and find new search queries to optimize for in order to match your site content to the right user intent.
Beyond chat rooms (e.g., Facebook’s experimenting with a VR hangout app), imagine business meetings leveraging VR to pull remote workers together in one place. Conversations and examples would jump to life better; collaboration could be virtually face-to-face, all without travel expenses. It will be the business applications that monetize VR and propel it forward, so watch for opportunities there. We are considering it for our classroom SEO Training course.
I expect to see many more video results co-mingled with organic listings this year.
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Video production for marketing purposes will grow exponentially. Video has been expanding as a marketing tool for years now, ever since Google first started blending results in Universal Search.
But companies in every niche are now investing in video production at record levels. A mid-2017 HubSpot survey found that the top two content distribution channels that respondents planned to add during the next year were both for video: YouTube and Facebook Video. We’re considering this as an option for our training materials, too.
Last thoughts as we launch into 2018
Google is in the business of making money, and they are banking on/assuming that search advertising is primarily how that happens. On a mobile device, that could mean less exposure for organic results. I expect PPC to be taking budget from SEO when this occurs.
As for how marketing is going to do in a year of shrinking budgets, that is a tough situation. Digital marketing is getting more complex, and ROI is still difficult to measure. Social media is a big cause of the current wariness, since companies have tired of throwing money across various social sites without seeing tangible results. The attribution problem is still not solved, and companies will require more proof that marketing is working.
If results can be measured, then digital marketing will get more buy-in and more investment.
That is enough new for now. If you would like a hand with your digital marketing strategy for 2018, let’s talk.
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