5 Things That Matter to Google in 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:

  1. Brand awareness
  2. On-site engagement
  3. Content quality
  4. Link building
  5. Security

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:

  1. Time on site
  2. Pages per session
  3. 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

4. Links

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
  • Backlinks
  • Referring IPs
  • Follow-backlinks

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!

5. Security

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.

Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.

A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.

So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance. 

What is a Content Strategy?

It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.

But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business. 

Who are my Audience?

You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.

So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context. 

Do I need to tailor content?

As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.


Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:

  • What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?

  • Who are they most influenced by?

  • What voices influence their behaviour?

  • What type of content do they consume?

  • Where do they consume content and engage with brands?

Different Content, Different Objectives

 All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.

There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.

Hero Content

Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale. 

Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels. 

Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.

Hub Content

Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.

Hygiene Content

Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.

How do I manage all this?

Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.

Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.

Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.

If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.

want to speak to one of our experts?

Julia Charlton Thumbnail
Julia Charlton
Digital Marketing Account Manager
Julia has over 11 years’ experience in marketing strategy to Sagittarius, having built her career working with a broad range of brands across multiple sectors, including beauty, travel, home and garden, healthcare, public sector, FMCG, electronics and sports/entertainment.
Julia Charlton Thumbnail

Julia Charlton

08 Jan 2018 - 5 minute read
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