With Google’s algorithm trending towards artificial intelligence, 2018 will surely be an interesting year for SEO. The following are trends to expect from Google in the coming year, so let’s dive in!

1. Increased Use of SERP Features

SERP features have been a continual evolution since the launch of Google. Gone are the days of ranking #1 and getting all that wonderful organic traffic. SERP features such as local packs, knowledge panels, and featured snippets are stealing more and more of the searchers attention…and their clicks!

For most users, small changes in a search engine results page tend to go unnoticed. However, Google has clearly come a long way from their original 10 blue links.Now-a-days, the Google SERP looks more like an information smorgasbord…and users love it! More than 90% of SERPs include some sort featured snippet.So what does this mean for you?

Keyword research is more important than ever. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. You need to make sure you’re targeting keywords that include features in the SERP, and you want to make sure your website is optimized to appear in these featured areas.

For local businesses, the Google map pack is crucial. Most users won’t scroll too far past this if they are happy with what they see (good reviews, nice images, a phone number that works). You can rank #1 organically but not be optimized to appear in maps and lose out on a ton of potential business.

This being said, a lot of the map pack algorithm is based around locality and reviews. This means that Google is almost always going to show businesses that are closest to the searcher and have the best reviews. Outside of that, here are some other key map pack ranking factors:

  • Physical address in city of search
  • Proper category association
  • Consistency of citations from 3rd party websites
  • Domain authority

2. Structured Data

Structured data is a way to format HTML in order to show Google and other search engines how to interpret your content. You have probably seen structured data for things like recipes and reviews.Google has never officially confirmed that structured data is a ranking signal. However, structured data useage is linked to increased click through rate, which is a ranking signal.

With competiton online continually ramping up, you can’t overlook an opportunity to stand out. If you don’t jump on this, your competitors will.

Adding schema is pretty simple. With a CMS like wordpress or Joomla, there are a handful of plugins that can help you get the job done. It may be extra work up front but it can make a huge difference in your SEO campaign in the long run.

3. Speed It Up!

Website speed is HUGE. Not only is website speed a confirmed ranking signal, but it also has an impact on user experience. User experience also impacts your rankings so having a slow site can get you double whacked.

Google and other search engines expect websites to load in about 3 seconds. Any longer than that and users tend to hit the back button. It is Google’s job to serve its users with the best results and if your website isn’t loading then sorry, you’re not the best result.What can you do about it?

Google has its own speed test so you can see how your site performs. The results of the test give you specific items to fix.

Google has also started giving preferential treatment to websites that utilize AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). The AMP project is an open-source initiative that aims to speed up the web. AMP pages utilize simplified HTML which allows for lightning fast website load times on mobile devices. Simply put, AMP cuts the crap that bogs down a website and delivers information much more quickly to mobile devices.

AMP pages tend to be listed at the top of the SERP and they even include a little lightning bolt to show users they can expect load times that would make The Flash proud.

4. Comprehensive Content

RankBrain is an artificial intelligence program that helps Google process queries. RankBrain will analyze the best performing search results (based on user metrics) for any given keyword and look for similarities. These shared features, such as specific word usage, may become a direct ranking signal for that search term.

It is getting harder and harder to convince Google that your content is the best of the best when it really isn’t. Google can determine the quality of your content in a number of ways, one of which being a fancy term called Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI).LSI WTF?

Latent Semantic Indexing is Google’s way of determining how much of a know-it-all you really are. Google looks at billions of pages and the terms that are used across them. From this, Google is able to learn which terms and phrases are related to certain topics and creates an expectation as to what terms are likely to appear in a piece of content. This helps Google decide if your page is a comprehensive resource on your topic.

What can you do about it?

So how exactly can you make your content comprehensive? The best way is to look at the pages that are ranking for your target keyword and see what topics those pages cover…just like RankBrain will do!

There are a variety of tools available that can help you find LSI keywords to include in your content. Just make sure to include these terms as naturally as possible.

5. Voice search is on the rise

Even though we are all guilty of using this feature, some SEOs are still skeptical about its importance. Well, considering Google reports that 55% of teens and 40% of adults use voice search daily, it’s time to start listening.

Voice search is growing in popularity. Its upward trend is similar to the shift we saw a few years ago with people suddenly doing more and more searches on mobile devices rather than desktop. It’s naive to think Google doesn’t take these trends into account. Let us not forget the SEO panic back in 2015 during mobilegeddon.

While voice search isn’t going to force website owners to make drastic changes to their website to compete, it will change which search terms are popular.

What can you do about it?

Keyword research and targeting is going to become even more important than it already is. If you are targeting local searchers and you haven’t launched a “near me” SEO strategy yet, I think we need to have a talk. Here are a few examples of just how crazy popular these types of keyword variations are becoming.Looking for restaurants near you? So are these people.How about a dentist?Sex therapist?Or maybe you want something a little less physical, how about some Jesus near you?I think you get the idea. Voice search is growing and we can’t ignore it any longer! Jump on the “near me” strategy bandwagon before you get left behind.

Closing Thoughts

SEO is always changing and nobody can predict the future. However, Google has been trending more and more towards artificial intelligence so I think we can all agree that SEO will only be getting harder.

The future of SEO will rely on quality content followed by strategic promotion. In 2018, you can expect an increase in SERP features that aim to make content more easily digestible for users. For local businesses, this means having a strong, consistent local presence online can make or break you. For online shopping websites, structured markup can help you appear more often in featured snippets and result in more sales.

Core components of SEO, such as link building and content architecture will remain at the top of the list of things Google will look at. However, comprehensive content may play a more important role than ever before.

To stay ahead of your competition you will need to step up your SEO game in 2018 or get left behind.