SEO in 2018 – Powerful Insights from 10 Industry Experts

Last updated on Monday, January 15, 2018

The importance of advanced SERP features, machine learning and language assistants, Mobile First, Second and Third ….

We asked ten of the UK’s leading SEO and digital marketing experts for their reviews of 2017 – lessons learned and factors that have had the biggest impact for them and their clients.

After putting 2017 to bed we moved on to 2018 – what’s on their agenda, where they plan to invest their time and resources and what in their opinion will be the big issues for the SEO industry, to round it off we then threw in a wildcard question for each expert.

Read on to discover what they shared!

Andy Drinkwater – Freelance SEO Consultant and SEO Expert. IQSEO.

Marcus Miller – SEO, PPC & Digital Marketing Consultant and Strategist. Bowler Hat.

Craig Campbell – SEO Consultant and Trainer based in Glasgow, Scotland. Craig Campbell SEO.

Dawn Anderson – MD, Digital Marketing Lecturer, International SEO Consultant & Speaker. Move It Marketing.

Paddy Moogan – Co-Founder. Aira.

Omi Sido – Senior Technical SEO. Canon Europe.

Lukasz Zelezny – Keynote Speaker, Author, Head of Organic. uSwitchUK.

Alexandra Tachalova – Digital Marketing Consultant and Founder.

Ross Tavendale – Managing Director. Type A SEO Agency.

Gerry White – SEO & Analytics Consultant. Just Eat.

Andy Drinkwater

SEO Consultant iQSEO

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

For me, it has to be Internal Links. I have had some amazing success by creating a site hierarchy that carries sensible hub pages, great content/strong pages and a sensible internal link strategy.

The result of these are that Google has seen these hub pages as important on the sites and given them a big boost. In some cases, I have seen over a 1,400% increase in the Share of Voice in just a short space of time.

This has resulted in clients jumping from 3rd+ page to 1st, and even top 3 without any additional work.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

There are a few elements here…

  • Usability (UX) – ensuring visitors to my client’s sites are able to navigate without issue and find problem areas with live user recording.
  • Content – For every amazing piece of content, I get an opportunity to build even stronger hub pages. Quite often these attract external links to further boost their power.
  • Mobile – We know Mobile First is only round the metaphorical corner, so ensure that every client site is fully responsive and built correctly to enhance the mobile experience.

3. What is an obvious SEO basic that is often overlooked?

The importance of clicks and happy visitors… This is something that I personally have done lots of tests on, and see others who have also confirmed the same, and that is the impact of visitors finding your pages, clicking on them and staying there. There was for some time, speculation around whether Google counted things like bounce rate, dwell time, time on site, pages navigated, etc., as part of their ranking algorithm. The simple answer is yes. By testing these factors in isolation, I have seen pages jump up through the SERPs in a matter of days.

The importance of creating a site that answers questions thoroughly, that will help keep visitors on there rather than backing out and going somewhere else, is very important. Take the time to learn how you can achieve this through testing (see UX above) to make your site the very best it can possibly be.

Marcus Miller

SEO Consultant,

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

I have never really been one to follow SEO trends. I have been in and around SEO and digital marketing since around 1999 so I guess I have seen the often faddish way in which businesses approach SEO. “We must have a blog for our SEO”, “Social media is good for our SEO” or “We need videos on our site for our SEO”. This paint-by-numbers approach rarely works. And when it does, it is more luck than anything else.

What I always try and push is the strategic approach. Where are you currently? What are your SEO strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are the opportunities out there? What are the threats? Stepping back and using simple tools like a SWOT analysis of your SEO can really help you zero in on where you need to be focusing your efforts.

I don’t tend to recommend a given SEO tactic as the go-to approach. Rather I recommend a solid understanding of what is needed for any given objective and building an SEO strategy from there.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

When we have a good strategy and the foundational elements in place it nearly always boils down to content and authority. We see so many benefits from well-ranking content that it’s just hard to beat when it is a good fit. Content helps you broaden the scope of what you can rank for. Content drives brand awareness. Content illustrates your credibility with the target audience. Content allows you to get in front of folks in a way that is based around helping them rather than selling to them.

And content promotion is always the best way to build links, authority and referral traffic. Content really is the backbone of effective SEO in so many ways.

There are of course exceptions and some local businesses don’t need a strong content led approach and Local SEO may be a better fit. Or maybe Local SEO and some content to help with link building. There are no cookie cutter approaches. We have to look at what is specific to that client situation, objectives and marketplace.

Of course, we need a cohesive marketing approach to support strong SEO. If we have content generating exposure and traffic then we need to take those visitors to the next stage. Maybe that is a sale, a lead or a softer conversion like a social follow or email data capture. As ever, we have to consider the specific business and customer journey but in many cases, solid content based SEO is the spark that lights the digital marketing fire!

3. What key areas should businesses be looking out for in 2018?

There are two big areas to watch out for in 2018:

1. Mobile Index – the Mobile First index is coming. It’s hard to know what kind of impact this will have. It could be minimal. But we still see many businesses that have weak mobile sites that are a poor relative of the desktop experience and there are still many traditional businesses that have no mobile site. In fact, at least one big UK retailer has a site that is not all mobile friendly. There is so much more to having a truly user-friendly mobile optimised site than just responsive design so there are opportunities here for most businesses.

2. SERP Features – this year we have seen more prevalence of advanced SERP features. SERPs are Search Engine Result Pages and SERP features are new components beyond the standard ads and organic results. Common features include the featured snippet or answer box and the People-also-ask results.

These can sit above the organic results and when we take ads into consideration even a #1 organic listing can be the 10th result on the page (with many more than ten links when we consider site links and other features within individual listings). We have seen this have quite an impact for some of our clients and it certainly changes the landscape.

As ever, targeting SERP features can be viewed as an opportunity if you are monitoring what is out there and have a dynamic approach. Don’t rest on your laurels. Be aware what the search results look like for your keywords and ensure your SEO strategy looks to target these more advanced listings.

Craig Campbell

SEO Consultant & Trainer,

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

Well the core of SEO is Link Building & Content, but Technical SEO is very often ignored and if you are not building on good solid foundations then you are likely to have a problem. In addition to that UX and site speed are also essential and again not always taken that seriously.

SEO is now no longer a case of just links and content these other factors are vital and help you bring a whole campaign together. So using this approach has worked well and helped clients retain and improve rankings in 2017 and hopefully, that continues into 2018.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

Looking at ways to continue to improve websites, content and performance are at the top of the agenda, and going into the new year continuing to learn and develop clients websites and continue to grow will be key in doing that.

Although I don’t do a huge amount of client work, I will be doing more training and consultancy going forward and helping agencies and individuals improve their knowledge so that is where my focus will lie going into the new year.

3. So will link building still be important in 2018?

Yes, Link Building always has been important and will always remain important, its good quality relevant links you should be looking to get, others use the PR approach to get links on some big websites, this mixed with some outreach and using your contacts and resources and creative thinking to get links on as many good relevant websites as you possibly can.

It is tedious and can be difficult at times but you need to dig deep and get links, they do help.

Dawn Anderson

SEO Consultant & Speaker, Bertey

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

Ensuring that needs are interpreted and met cross device in organic search campaigns. Mobile is more lightweight but the needs are often the same so we need to find ways to provide the information which is much more succinct ahead of mobile first and the way users search on mobile.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

Mobile first, mobile second, mobile third, mobile fourth. Cross device optimisation will be top of the agenda for all clients.

3. What is Googles biggest challenge in 2018?

Semantics are still nowhere near where many SEOs believe. There are still a lot of issues with understanding nuances.

This is evident in the huge number of queries in voice search Google Home simply cannot handle. My Google Home certainly spends a huge amount of time telling me she doesn’t understand or can’t help with queries.

Of course, it will develop over time but we should not convince ourselves that search engines magically understand all linguistics. We still need to optimize for them and make things clear.

Paddy Moogan

Co-Founder at Aira

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

I don’t think they are new factors by any means, but recently we’ve seen a lot of success with content-driven link building and Digital PR. Links still appear to be a very strong signal and I think they will be for a while yet and clients who are consistently attracting links are performing very well in search.

One thing we’ve definitely noticed though is that clients who have fundamental issues with their websites (such as technical/on-page) do not seem to benefit as much as they should from links. This is difficult to measure of course because there are many factors at play, but from our experience, link building needs to be backed by a strong foundation in order to be as effective as possible.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

We’re taking a stronger focus than before on helping clients string together the entire customer journey from the awareness stage right through to conversion. For example, we have some clients where we focus on sending them traffic and they take over at the sales stage and we’re going to be working closer with them to help them with this stage and provide them with the platform/data to filter leads and convert them more.

We’re also going to be investing more in content that is designed to help answer customer questions at the top of the sales funnel which lives on a clients website. We do a good job so far of awareness driven content via digital PR, we’d like to expand this to on-site content a bit more.

3. What advice would you have for someone starting a career in digital marketing in 2018?

It’s an exciting time to be coming into the world of digital marketing because no one really knows what the future holds which makes it scary and exciting at the same time. For example, we see Google eating away at organic results more and more and no sign of it stopping, so what does that mean for organic search? Another example is paid search which is getting more competitive and expensive, so what does that mean for smaller businesses who are trying to compete?

No one really knows the answers, but one thing I’d say to anyone coming into the industry now is that they need a solid foundation of skills across all areas of digital, but in particular on the measurement/analytics side of things. I think anyone who has a strong understanding of measuring their work will be in a stronger position to spot opportunities and justify their work to clients or their bosses.

Omi Sido

Senior Technical SEO,

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

The short answer to this question is technical SEO.

But to be more precise 2017 for my clients and I was all about moving to HTTPS and AMP. HTTPS was a must but AMP is where we saw all the gains. A lot of my clients who moved to AMP saw an increase in unique monthly visitors and better click-through rates from SERPs.

If you ask me why there is a very simple explanation. Google loves AMP and although they say AMP is not a ranking factor somehow AMP pages are performing better in the SERPs than non-AMP pages. I saw it in 2016 with Daily Mail and I saw the same effect in 2017 with the rest of my clients.

Note: When implementing AMP be very careful not to remove elements of your page that exist for reasons not related to SEO. Yes, it’s all about faster loading pages but page speed alone does not mean better user experience.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018

2018 will be all about machine learning in SEO. You may call it RankBrain or just a machine learning algorithm but there is no doubt in my mind that machine learning is changing SEO faster than you think.

For a start, Google announced last year that RankBrain is their third most important ranking factor. SEOs around the world make it sound complicated, but in reality, it isn’t. When you look at the way RankBrain behaves it’s quite obvious that this algorithm is all about ‘RELEVANCE’.

This machine learning algorithm (RankBrain) evaluates how users interact with the search results in the SERPs and then it ranks them accordingly. So it all comes down to click-through rate (CTR) and time spent on page. Master those two and in my opinion 2018 will be good for your SEO (and Digital Marketing) efforts.

3. Are we going to see another ‘SEO is dead’ trend in 2018?

Definitely (smiling). The transition to the Google so-called mobile first index, the increased use of language assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home and the triumph of machine learning algorithms will bring about serious changes to the technological side of search marketing in 2018 and beyond.

The classic ‘keyword, backlinks driven SEO’ if not already dead will disappear very soon. We need to start optimising our websites slightly differently to rank (to be more relevant).

I see the future of SEO as a combination of user experience optimisation, rigorously tailoring the contents to user intentions and using more natural speech patterns for voice search. We may even see a new branch of SEO called VSO – voice search optimisation.

As long as people are trying to find products and services through search engines there will always be the need for SEO.

Saying that SEOs/Digital Marketers have to understand that SEO is rapidly changing and we must move with the times and develop our skills to keep one step ahead of the game at all time.

Lukasz Zelezny

Head of Organic,

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

Intrusive Interstitial Penalty and Fred (hehe, I’ve always found this name funny) have had a relatively massive shakeup across SERPs in Europe and the US. SEO Consultants and in-house SEO teams are looking at ways to deliver not only high quality content but also high quality UX.

The optimization of page speed and log analysis to understand what Googlebot likes and what it doesn’t has become not a choice but a must. Especially with crawlers like DeepCrawl and Botify becoming even more sophisticated these days.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

  • Keep calm and carry on
  • Focus on quality, added value, UX first
  • Then focus on the optimization of page speed and log analysis
  • Keywords and links are important, but without following the first few steps I mentioned above, the whole SEO game will not work.

3. What are you looking forward to learning more about in 2018?

I’d like to know more about why Danny Sullivan joined Google. Does it mean Google wants to have better communication with the SEO industry?

Alexandra Tachalova

Digital Marketing Consultant,

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

In general, I’ve noticed that businesses have started to realize that SEO is a very strategic process that requires a lot of analytical work. Beside using tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console, they’ve started to look at SEMrush, Ahrefs, and SimilarWeb.

Sometimes it’s better to deliver less content, but with a certainty that it is going to rank in Google. Also, more people want to take advantage of acquiring links through digital PR rather than investing in SEO link-building strategies.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

We’re all in search of new sources of traffic that can bring to clients results in a short-run while SEO hasn’t yet started to generate a stable flow of traffic. For instance, previously social media was a low-hanging fruit as an additional traffic source, but those days are coming to the end. Facebook has already declined organic reach of groups and pages posts, Google+ is simply dead, and Twitter and LinkedIn are trying to generate money, so it means they’re decreasing the possible reach and clicks that you can generate.

As a result, I see that small sites and communities are becoming more and more popular when you’re trying to bring new users on board since that’s where people are really engaging well with content.

3. What important lessons from 2017 will you carry over to this year?

There’s one topic that never becomes outdated—acquiring links.

Among ranking factors, links are close to the top, so SEO experts are constantly searching for new and relatively cheap ways of generating a sufficient number of linked domains.

I believe that content about link-building strategies will always been in demand, especially the ones that share something new.

Ross Tavendale

Managing Director, Type A Media

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

For me it remains links from quality sources.

As an agency we’ve totally stopped all blogger outreach and work on press links from higher end sites. We like to remind our clients that link metrics work on a logarithmic scale not a linear scale. Meaning, 10 links with a trust flow of 10 is not the same as 1 link with trust flow of 100.

We find the best way to build links is actually through brand development and a strong content strategy deployed over social. So we now focus our efforts on link worthy pieces that can be leveraged in multiple publications.

It’s a long-term investment but it’s worth it.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

4 things in particular:

  • Developing link worthy pillar content that can be cut up and pitched to multiple audiences. For example, for a recruitment client we produced the statistics on the number of foreign nationals leaving and joining the NHS per trust up and down the UK. This data gives us a big data piece to pitch to national papers, lots of regional headlines, a medical angle, a jobs and investment angle, etc. 1 piece of content that tells lots of stories- each one interesting to a specific group.
  • Getting faster at producing quality content resources and investing more into deep well produced pieces. For example, when budget airline Ryanair cancelled half a million flights – we reacted and took their data dump and turned it into a searchable tool so affected travellers could check with ease instead of scrolling through the 50 page data dump provided by the airline. That generated about 30 links from top-tier publications. The news cycle is speeding up and as an SEO Agency we need to help our clients put the infrastructure in place to capitalise our ever expanding hunger for content.
  • Branding – when you are a known brand in your industry, no matter how small, it’s much easier to develop link opportunities.
  • Speed and UX: Most of the sites we deal with are predominantly mobile traffic and as a result need to make sure we have a fast well-optimised experience. It’s incredibly difficult to make site speed fixes without digging up your sites infrastructure, but we are working on ways to help our clients make progressive updates over time.

3. What do you believe about SEO that would make other SEOs think you’re crazy?

I think “micro-branding” is the single most important indicator of organic growth for businesses that SEOs ignore. Being known in your space, regardless how small, is more important than ranking for generic keywords. Don’t get me wrong, generics are obviously very important – that’s the whole point of SEO – but you will find if your strategy is towards brand growth, you’ll be able to win and maintain top rankings much easier.

Gerry White

SEO Consultant, Take It Offline

1. As you look back at 2017 what were the most important SEO factors that had a real impact for you and your clients?

This year has been quite slow in terms of change, nothing recommended in 2017 was very much different to 2016, it was about user experience and proving relevance to Google, predominantly getting technical SEO perfect, or as close to as possible.

Mobile was critical three years ago, and hasn’t changed, the rules have a little but not by a long shot, I have been resisting the pull of AMP but I suspect that will change soon.

One thing I have found invaluable has been DataStudio, this tool has improved the data that I pull into comprehensive dashboards and gives quick and easy ways through to many of Googles APIs, plus some extra resources we have pulled into Google Sheets.

2. What is on top of your agenda for both you and your clients in 2018?

In 2018 I think is time to work harder at being lazier – we have incredible volumes of data that monitoring and working with all of it is impossible but if we can spot and react to issues and changes faster, we can stop problems creeping in – so using the APIs and data layer to create dashboarding solutions that alert and spot critical issues will become more of a priority. Our key to an efficient 2018 will be to take the data through Google Big Query, and back out.

Increasingly being everywhere, will help us achieve the dominance we need, voice search isn’t about optimisation to answers but providing the technical structure to be the answer of command, contextual search is what it is all about – its no longer keywords but a requirement.

The basics of mobile should have been sorted in 2015 but in 2017 Progressive Web Apps became tech that has far reaching potential, app like functionality within a browser? The only limitation is that Apple hasn’t adopted it as fully as Android, but the boosts and the potential it offers are undeniable for speed, experience and engagement.

Whilst ‘chatbots’ for sales appear to be very much the QR code of 2017 (a lot of talk, but ultimately not a great service), support chatbots in Facebook, a hybrid of humans and machine learning will quickly become the norm, which will be better for users and better for companies.

3. What is Googles biggest challenge in 2018?

Increasingly people are starting and finishing their search on more dedicated (vertical) search engines, Amazon – is no longer the bookshop, its now the most comprehensive shop ever which has a service level, it isn’t a surprise the reports of high conversion rate (even if I haven’t been able to verify any of the stats myself). Netflix is of course where you start your movie & TV search and of course Spotify for music, Google can’t compete, even as it brings out competitive products (it did buy YouTube of course) but it is trying hard to integrate (they seem to have stopped buying competitors in 2017).

2018 is already shaping up to be an exciting year in SEO and thanks to our experts you can now focus your attention and resources on the areas that will really matter.

What have our experts missed …. ?

Drop us a line in the comments if we have missed anything, thoughts on what you’ve read or anything that you think the SEO industry should prepare itself for this coming year.

If you want to give your Digital Marketing Strategy a kickstart for 2018 sign up for a free 14 day trial with AccuRanker and discover exactly how we can maximise the impact and ROI of your SEM and SEO.

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