Published: 08 January 2018
As 2017 drew to a close, our friend’s at SEMRush conducted an in-depth study into the ranking factors that matter most to Google as we move into 2018. The results (shown in the below ‘importance chart’) are a mix of the expected and unexpected, so, combined with our own knowledge on the subject, we’ve brought you the top 5 things you need to focus on in 2018 to have success in the SERPs. In a nutshell, these are:
- Brand awareness
- On-site engagement
- Content quality
- Link building
1. Brand Awareness
In 2018, direct website traffic is deemed as an exceptionally important ranking factor. This is for the simple reason that it is a strong signal to search engines that your domain is authoritative and useful. We’ve written before about the correlation between brand awareness and SEO which is further enforced by this study, as the single best way to improve volume of direct traffic is through heightened brand awareness. It’s simple really; if no one knows about your brand, how are they going to search for your domain?
It’s official, as we enter 2018 marketers can no longer silo SEO if they truly want to excel in the SERPs. Integrating search with wider marketing activity and investing in raising brand awareness are musts this year.
TIP: If your competitors are investing heavily in awareness raising campaigns this year, beware. This could have a direct impact on your position in the SERPs if your brand is doing nothing to compete.
2. On-site Engagement
On-site engagement, in the eyes of Google, refers to three key things:
- Time on site
- Pages per session
- Bounce rate
These metrics are used by search engines to determine the relative value of a page or site to its users. It, therefore, stands to reason that a high time on site, good volume of pages visited per session and a low bounce rate would signify to Google that the website in question is valuable. This, in turn, is rewarded through improved ranking.
There are several ways to improve your on-site engagement, but the best starting point is to spend some time hunting through your site’s analytics. In order to make improvements, you first need to identify the pages that are most valuable and, importantly, those that are not performing. A good place to start is by looking at the behaviour report; this will give you valuable information such as:
- Which pages are receiving the least/most views
- Which pages attract the longest/shortest time on page
- Which pages have the highest/lowest bounce rate
At a basic level, this data will help you to prioritise the pages that are most in need of re-working.
3. Content Quality
Connected with the above, another trend we are seeing as we move into 2018 is a continued focus on quality content that engages the user. In the past, many brands have been so focused on the aim of keeping their website up to date with fresh content and blogs, they have created a couple of issues:
- We see a lot of instances where very thin content has been written for content’s sake - just to get something up on the website about a topic that’s deemed important to the business. The problem with this is that the information on the topic is so thin that it doesn’t necessarily provide value to the user. This, in turn, will be reflected in those all-important engagement metrics and, as we’ve already established, a high bounce rate and low time on site will impact your site’s ability to rank well
- Brands have thrown up multiple pages/blogs about the same topic, creating several (only slightly different) pages. Whilst not technically duplicate content, these pages can be very similar and, therefore, suffer from many of the same issues as duplicate content. Essentially, Google doesn’t know which version to rank and, therefore, might opt to rank a competitor’s page that is clearer and more robust instead.
As we move into 2018, there is an opportunity to shift the focus of content writers to creating ‘mega pages’. Before you invest a lot of time researching new topics and writing brand new content, why not revisit the existing content of your site? If the above issues with thin content and multiple similar pages applies to you, why not start by rectifying this first?
TIP: Review all content on your site relating to the same subject and consolidate these pages to make one ‘mega page’ that becomes the single resource on the topic. Not only will this provide a clearer signal to Google that this is the preferred page, but a positive impact should also be observed to your on-site engagement metrics.
Overall, a solid link strategy remains extremely important in the eyes of search engines in 2018 and attention should be given, equally, to each of the above aspects in order to see any kind of significant gain:
- Referring domains
- Referring IPs
Consider that Google looks at your links as a combined total, rather than at each element in isolation – if you’ve nurtured one to the detriment of all others, you are likely to have wasted your time.
It is also hugely important to put some real thought behind the list of sites you want to target for links. The rule is quality over quantity here but, in reality, you want to be aiming for a good mix of authority, diversity and (only after you’ve ticked those first two boxes) volume. If you’ve got a high volume of links from spammy or unauthoritative sources, you will struggle to rank. If you’re unsure, run the domain through a tool like Checkmoz who will provide you with an indication of whether you’re targeting the right domains.
TIP: Pick your strategy wisely based on your industry and competition. If you are competing with the giant brands of this world who are already strides ahead in building their backlink portfolios, a better strategy may be to focus your SEO efforts on ranking for lower volume keywords where the competition is less, meaning your hard-earned backlinks will have more clout in the SERPs!
If your website is still on HTTP, you’ll definitely want to ensure a migration to HTTPS is on your SEO roadmap in early 2018. HTTPS encrypts and decrypts user page requests as well as the pages that are returned by the web server – essentially, it tells users that your website is secure, which is particularly important if you collect customer data or manage transactions on your website.
When a website is HTTPS, browsers highlight this to the consumer - this looks a little like the below example. Your domain will be highlighted as ‘Secure’.
Conversely, if you have not yet moved from HTTP to HTTPS, some browsers will now start to change this message to ‘Not secure’. Not only is this a big red flag to your customers that any personal data they provide on your site is not being securely treated, it will also now impact the organic ranking of your site as Google favours websites that have made a conscious effort to make the transition.
Altogether, this is not good news for any business and could have a direct impact on visibility and, ultimately, conversions. If you have not yet made the transition to HTTPS and want to find out more, feel free to get in touch with our team of digital experts.
TIP: In the short term, moving onto HTTPS could give you an advantage in the SERPs if your competitors are slow adopters!
Remember, our team of digital experts are on hand to consult, guide or even design and implement your full SEO strategy. Why not start with a free SEO audit on us? Simply enter your domain into our online tool and receive the results direct to your inbox.