I try do to these predictions every year, but some years get missed.  I have the ideas but with the holidays, they don’t get published.  So I thought I’d publish this one early this year.  Here are my top 5 SEO predictions for 2018.

No doubt you will see a trend here.  Actually, a couple trends that are used by more and more people daily.  So, if you aren’t prepared for them you will be left behind in 2018.  Voice search is still relatively new, while mobile is more established.  If you don’t have a mobile strategy you need to get on it now.  At the same time, you should be thinking about voice search and how to take advantage of it.

Prediction #1 – Many site owners will be blindsided by Mobile First index

We’ve been hearing about Google’s new emphasis on Mobile search for over a year now, and yet I’m positive a great number of businesses haven’t prepared for it.

In brief – Google will be switching both mobile AND desktop search rankings to emphasize sites which have a mobile version of their website.  Since more and more searches happen on mobile devices (half to more than ½ of searched depending on which stats you believe) it makes sense that Google would move this way.

What this means for site owners is that they will need to make sure that they a) have a mobile friendly website and b) that it is fast and easy to use.  If they don’t have a mobile website there’s a good chance they will see their traffic begin to drop.

So my recommendation to site owners is to make sure you have a fast and easy to use mobile site by the end of this year, or by the end of January 2018 at the latest, because we don’t know when mobile first will be fully implemented, but it is definitely coming..

Prediction #2 – Increased growth in hyperlocal searches will result in businesses losing customers

We’ve been hearing about hyperlocal search for some time, and have seen an increase in the frequency of local results in Google search results.  This is due to the growth in the usage of mobile devices, and those users relying more and more on sites like Google to explore their local area.  So it should come as no surprise to anyone that hyperlocal searches, which have been growing for a couple years, will continue to grow in 2018.

The nice thing is that you can optimize for hyperlocal searches fairly easy.  The bulk of hyperlocal searches that I’ve found are simply the most important phrases with some variation of “near me” appended to them.  Phrases such as “internet marketing near me” or “lawyer near me”.  Generally, these searches result in map results at the top, followed by local organic results below them.

Many people won’t attempt hyperlocal optimization because they aren’t sure how to do it, but it is relatively easy.  Even If you aren’t sure what phrases people will use, start with your main phrases and add “near me” to them.  Then add those phrases to your regular SEO.  Over time your site and map result will begin showing up for those searches.  You can then monitor your Google Search Console account to see what other gems people are searching for that you may not have considered.

Prediction #3 – Growth in voice search leaves some retailers and business owners behind

As with the previous 2 predictions, this one is not much of a stretch.  Most people’s phones have some sort of voice enabled assistant.  Plus there’s a growing number of voice enabled devices out there, with more and more coming online every day.  Whether you have an Android phone, or a Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or use Cortana on your Windows based computer, you may already be familiar with using your voice to check your calendar, provide interesting facts and even tell you jokes.

But these AI backed smart assistants can do so much more for you.

On mobile phones, Android and iPhones are making it much easier to get answers to your questions when you use your voice.  In fact, the latest Google branded phones – the Pixel 2 – allow you to squeeze your phone to launch the assistant.  It then lets you speak directly to it.

And the Google Home device is just as simple.  It’s always listening, so all you have to say is “OK Google” followed by your query.  Other voice enabled smart devices work similarly.   The big advantage Google has over the other devices is that the Google search engine provides results.

You may see where I’m going here – using your voice to search Google will be a powerful thing.

So how do you prepare for this?

I will write a longer article on this topic soon, but the gist of it is that you need to identify phrases that more closely match natural speech patterns and optimize for them.

Google and other search engines taught us early on that natural human speech patterns, such as asking questions, were too complex for them to process.  You couldn’t type a full question into a search box because the search engine couldn’t understand what you wanted.

That was then, this is now.  Now you can ask a question of your assistant just like you’d ask a person, and in many cases the assistant (using a powerful web based Artificial Intelligence) can provide an accurate response.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you want to know what time it is.  Before you couldn’t got into Google and type “what time is it?” because Google didn’t understand that.  So we learned to simplify our queries.  Instead, we’d type simply “time” or “current time” and Google could figure that out and give us the time.

But now, we can type in “what time is it?” into the Google search box, or even easier, we can say “OK Google, what time is it?” to our phone or Google home device.

This ability will change the future of online marketing as we know it.  This also leads into my next prediction:

Prediction #4 – Integrate your business with Google and Alexa actions now or watch as your competitors steal your customers

As you have seen, voice search will be powerful.  And optimizing a static viewable website for a device that doesn’t necessarily have a screen can pose some challenges.

That is why these, and other, voice platforms have devised a way to develop apps that you may be able to use to promote and increase your business.

Much like apps that you can download on your phone, these “actions” allow people to talk to their voice enabled device and prompt it to “ask” your app questions.

For example, you can use your Alexa device to “talk” to BestBuy and find information.  The current app is quite simple in its abilities, but have no doubt, within a few months I expect you will be able to completely “browse” the complete BestBuy inventory, compare products, place orders and even pay for them without once looking at a screen.

So my prediction here is that we will see many more businesses taking advantage of voice enabled devices and creating their own actions to build into them.  If you aren’t one of those businesses you could lose out.

Prediction #5 – Increased use of Chatbots by your competitors results in your customers leaving you.

Along the lines of predictions 3 and 4, we will see an increased reliance on chatbots for routine interactions with customers.

For those who are unfamiliar – a chatbot is just as it sounds – it is a way for a potential customer to chat with your business via a chat window.  Facebook Messenger is currently one of the main ways of doing this, but there are other options coming online.

The chatbot has many pre-defined responses and is smart enough to understand different forms of the same question and responds based on those questions.  They use AI much like I discussed above, with the voice enabled devices, and can distill the meaning of the question and then provide a pre-defined response.

Chatbots can also be made to guide a potential customer through a series of steps as well.  For example, If you have a newsletter that you’d like people to subscribe to, the chatbot could ask the visitor if they’d like to subscribe.  If they answer yes, the chatbot would then move into a routine where it asks for their name, email address, delivery preferences and so on.

The chatbot is smart enough to ask specific questions based on responses giving to earlier questions, to guide the visitor to the end goal.

Summary – act now or get left behind

As you may already see, some of these are relatively new and therefore easy to get into now.  Sure there is a bit of a learning curve to developing Alexa skills for example, but the payoff is that you would be in the space, and have your apps getting noticed sooner than your competition.

The first goal for 2018 is to ensure that your website is ready for the mobile first index.  That means ensuring first of all that you have a mobile website.

Take a step back and look at it critically.  Treat it as if you had never used your site before and browse around. Is it easy to use? Can you quickly find what you want?

Does it load quickly, or do you need to wait more than a few seconds?  Remember, many of the same criteria we use for critiquing a desktop site apply here, but we must be more critical because you have a smaller device that is also usually generally slower to render a website.  So consider removing images from the mobile version (for example) if they aren’t needed to get your point across.

Once your site is mobile ready and easy to use, focus on hyperlocal and voice search optimization.  Figure out what people are using to find businesses like yours and target those phrases in your SEO.

Once you’ve got a handle on your increased SEO, look at developing apps for voice search and also a chatbot.  Chatbots are for those already on your site, but voice apps help you attract new customers.

Also, don’t forget about your desktop clients.  While most of what we’ve touched on here is mobile, there are still many people who sit down in front of their “old fashioned” computers to do everything.  So while you do want to be at the forefront when it comes to new search techniques, don’t do them at the expense of already performing options.

Of course if you are unsure how to proceed with any of these, contact us and we’ll show you how.