Every year the SEO industry evolves, Google makes regular micro-edits to the algorithm alongside dropping a few bombshells along the way which send the SEO forums into panic and thousands of webmasters running to check rankings and visitor traffic data. This is nothing new though and anyone how has been working in SEO for a while will have learned to expect and adapt to the changes.
In 2018 Google has been further squeezing the space given to organic results. They have continued a pattern of giving extra SERP’s space to Adwords, featured snippets, instant answer boxes and knowledge panels on the right side. The changes have seen organic referrals drop around 5%.
This is Google’s third most important ranking signal after Penguin and Panda that contributes towards the result of a search query. The importance is being increased in 2018.
RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google sort their search results. It essentially measures how users interact with search results and use this data towards the ranking. So, this can be classed as a UX signal.
This means the importance of Page Titles and Descriptions increases as these appear in search results and entice the user to click your result. However, once a visitor reaches the site Google monitors how long the user is there and the time periods other users are there if users are generally staying for longer periods you may get a rank boost. If users tend to bounce off of that page then this page risks dropping its ranking, meaning less traffic.
- How long someone spends on your page (Dwell Time)
- The percentage of people that click on your result (Click Through Rate)
The average dwell time for a top 10 Google result is 3minutes and 10 seconds.
Google is switching to a mobile-first index in 2018 with a gradual rollout, in fact, Google was first talking about mobile-first indexing back in 2016. Google will eventually view the mobile version of your site as the primary version even if a visitor enters via a desktop search. This change is due to the increase in mobile searches which accounts for an estimated 60% of all Google searches. This figure can be higher for consumer websites and sites with a growing mobile/device audience. Google has been said to be carrying out a number of tests with different sites but no exact date for a complete rollout and it’s most likely to be staggered in some form.
It will be important to make content available the same across desktop and mobile. Consider any hidden content on mobile which will then need to be displayed particularly for any pages already ranking well as part of the current desktop focussed algorithm. Inevitably the sites that will be hardest hit are those with substantially different mobile experiences to their desktop sites and they may find issues with rankings.
Naturally, all pages on a site will need to be responsive but also all pass Google’s mobile-friendly testing. Going back to ‘Rankbrain’ Google will be monitoring how users interact with your site, it will be important that the mobile version of the site engages users in the same way the desktop version does. If users click the ‘back button’ soon after landing on a page this will act as a negative signal and is likely to impact page ranking.
Content & Links
The content that sits on your site and the backlinks that come to your site from external websites are still the two primary ranking factors. These ranking signals in the algorithm have been referred to as Penguin (links) and Panda (content).
The amount of referring domains is more important than the number of backlinks that come from each of those websites. These domains have a direct correlation with top 10 ranking.
With your content, the ‘user intent’ has become more important. The corresponding relationship between keywords and rankings is diminishing, so optimising for intent is even more crucial. So rather than writing articles and focussing them on specific keywords, you will need to be looking at the purpose and goals of those pages and content. The need to focus on what keywords may drive a user to that page and will that page prove the user with the content they want is more important than ever.
The need for speed
Google has talked about website speed for quite some time and it is obvious that better speed can help improve UX. Now with the mobile-first index coming this has even more importance. In fact, Google says ‘40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load’. See here. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to find out your website’s page speed on both mobile and desktop.
None of the above tactics is anything new, they are just tactics to implement within your own SEO strategies if you aren’t already doing so and they should have a positive impact on your visitors and ranking.