As we move into a new year, we’re reflecting on a number of developments in the world of search in 2018, and what we can expect to see moving into 2019. So what did last year bring for us SEOs?
A big year for security
Google used 2018 as another landmark year to enforce its move towards a more secure web. Last year, we saw the implementation of a “not secure” message in Chrome for websites that don’t currently have an SSL certificate.
Security is a crucial pillar for Google when it comes to judging websites – best represented by “trust” in their Quality Rater Guidelines – so this latest move surprised no one. If you’re handling any kind of input from site visitors and you don’t have an SSL certificate, you should get one.
Mobile as standard
We’re now past each year being the “year of mobile”; instead, mobile has finally come to take its place as the default platform for many websites, including Google itself.
After announcing that experiments to start to switch to mobile-first indexing would take place in late 2016, it took a year and a half for messages to start going out, and even longer for many Epiphany clients, with the majority of ours coming in September 2018.
Because we’ve had so long to prepare, we’ve noticed very little in the way of fluctuation specifically around the mobile experience, but if you aren’t already thinking of your mobile version as the canonical, indexed version of your site, you need to start.
This is even more so if your site experience is slow; Google also introduced a ranking factor around the slowest of mobile sites last year.
The joining of CRO & SEO
Speed isn’t the only usability consideration that really started to gain prominence last year, though; lots of SEOs have finally come around to the idea that CRO / UX and SEO need to go hand-in-hand. You can drive as much traffic as you like to your website, but if it’s a poor user experience, those users aren’t sticking.
That has a broader impact on your business than just for SEO, but it’s certainly a negative signal for users and for Google.
Though recommendations may not always be exactly the same – you can’t do one or the other and expect the same impact – working together with our own CRO & UX teams has been hugely valuable for our clients and it’s fantastic to see more of our clients allowing us to move more fluidly between these two closely-related channels.
2018 was also the year that Google started to inform us again about algorithm updates. “Inform” is perhaps a generous term, seeing as this mostly consisted of tweets from the new Search Liaison informing us that something had happened, but very little more aside from “follow the guidelines and you will succeed”.
That said, we had several shake-ups throughout the year, starting in March with the above announcements and, in the second half of the year, a number of what we speculate are quality-related updates.
The big shift came at the very start of August, directly after an update to the Quality Rater Guidelines, focusing on expertise, authority, and trust. It’s no coincidence that many SEOs, ourselves included, started to draw connections between those guidelines and the impact on the search results.
Quality over quantity
And finally, it seems we reached the year where the quality of your content – not just the words on the page, but the overall user experience across all devices – was finally recognised as one of the most important factors in SEO.
Churning out two or three blog posts a week simply isn’t the answer to increase your search performance. Instead, think about what your users want from you, how you can best provide it to them, and make sure you always take organic search into consideration as you’re building and writing that fantastic web presence.
And into 2019…
The search landscape comes with surprises every year, but one trend did become more prevalent in 2018: the advent of the searchless result and the drop in organic click-throughs from popular search result pages.
With the test of single answer searches for time queries in the United States earlier last year and Google’s outright announcement of the rebranded Discover product in September, the increase of this is a very real possibility.
Not only is this the stated intention, but it’s a trend that has been reflected in organic traffic too, as click-through rates drop, especially on mobile, and has been much-discussed in the industry.
Is this the end of search as we know it? Of course not - if anything, search becomes even more important, as organic search still drives the vast majority of traffic for many brands and the competition for any clicks becomes more intense.
But alternative tactics, not least the importance of your brand and the value in people searching for you, have certainly taken on a new dimension and will continue to do so into 2019 and beyond.