A new SEO trend is more than a passing fad.
Way more serious than skinny jeans or man buns.
Often, these updates are related to new technology trends coming to market, like voice search.
That’s why you need to stay up to date on SEO trends.
Outdated thinking will kill you in SEO.
If you keep acting like it’s 2010, you’re going to be left behind by more agile competitors.
All the Rage: 15 SEO Trends You Can Leverage for Long-term Results
Before you get started reading through these trends and tips, get yourself a free 30-day subscription to Monitor Backlinks (if you’re not already a user). This will give you a way to assess your current level of SEO success with keyword rankings, backlink quality and quantity, and metrics like Alexa and Majestic.
The best part is that, once you’ve hopped on board some of these hot SEO bandwagons, you’ll be able to track your performance and see what has the greatest impact.
1. Site speed matters!
Slow websites aren’t popular with human users or Google’s search engine.
In July 2018, Search Engine Land reported that Google’s search algorithm is assigning additional weight to site speed. This change was in development for the first half of 2018, and now it’s fully in effect.
All the people who nagged you about optimizing site speed in the past were right.
Search Engine Land contributor Barry Schwartz summarized the difference in these terms:
“After six months of preparation, the Google Speed Update is now rolling out. It only impacts the mobile search rankings of the slowest of sites on the internet.”
Tips for this SEO trend:
- Test your site speed. I recommend using PageSpeed Insights since it closely reflects Google’s definition of speed.
- Eliminate speed bumps from your website. Optimize images for fast delivery. At a minimum, make sure you avoid using bandwidth-consuming formats like RAW or TIFF on your homepage.
- Reduce the number of plugins. Each plugin you use potentially slows the website down.
- Reduce your analytics. Do you have Google Analytics and five other analytics tools installed? If so, your website speed may suffer. Ask yourself if you need all of those tools.
- Consider using CDNs to increase performance. For large websites with thousands of images and videos, using a content delivery network service is a smart choice. These services dramatically speed up performance. Make sure to test a CDN’s impact on the mobile user experience as part of your CDN selection process.
2. Voice search is here to stay
Is voice search a vital SEO trend? Well…
“More than 43M people (18+) in the U.S. now own a smart speaker.” — The Smart Audio Report, Spring 2018
“By 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.” — Gartner Symposium/ITxpo
Voice search is a rapidly growing SEO trend.
So how do you best take advantage of this trend?
The answer might surprise you. Providing a Tweet-length answer isn’t the way to win.
When people search for answers by voice, length, quality and depth are critical factors. According to Backlinko research, the most successful search results in voice search tend to be 2,000 words or longer.
Length alone isn’t the only factor. You also need to provide quality and up-to-date information. That’s why review-style articles and ultimate guides are going to remain good ways to take advantage of the voice search opportunity.
Here are tips based on other factors that were associated with high-performing content in Google voice search results.
Tips for this SEO trend:
- Optimize the reading level. Content written at a 9th-grade reading level tended to perform well. For context, Shane Snow reports that only 50% of US adults can comfortably read at the 9th-grade level or higher. Use the Automatic Readability Checker tool to check the reading level of the content you create.
- Continue your social media promotion. The best-performing results in Google voice search had over 1,000 Facebook shares. The effort you put into social media promotion matters. For headline inspiration, I recommend using tools like BuzzSumo to see what headlines perform best in your category.
Speaking of device-related SEO trends, let’s turn to the increasing dominance of mobile devices in SEO.
3. Over 50% of searches come from mobile devices
This SEO trend has been gathering momentum for a few years and recently reached the tipping point.
The majority of searches and internet usage now come from mobile devices:
- US mobile search is roughly 58 percent of overall search query volume — April-May 2016 Hitwise data, reported by Search Engine Land
- 52.5% of global Internet use is mobile as of June 2018. For the US only, the share is 42% in June 2018 — Statcounter
Tips for this SEO trend:
Poor performance in mobile search and user experience will cost you conversions, purchases and beyond.
To respond to this trend, I recommend testing your website on multiple devices including iOS and Android devices. Further, adopting a “mobile first” design philosophy for your website. Use tools like a mobile browser emulator to test your website.
I agree with the recommendation to “optimize for questions, not keywords.”
4. Unlinked “mentions” are starting to count towards rankings
How does Google perceive branding and reputation in 2018?
For a long time we’ve focused on more official and intentional forms of branding.
Plastering your brand name in your own site text and meta data. Displaying the brand name in social media profiles and directories. Having other related websites mention your name with an embedded backlink.
Now, it comes down to the concept of “unlinked mentions.”
Online mentions of your brands—company name, product names and so forth—help as an SEO factor even if there’s no backlink.
We can find the answer by looking at its opposite—bad practices that Google considers to be low quality.
Take a look at the Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines (July 20, 2018 version). The document encourages evaluators: “You must also look for reputation information about the website. We need to find out what outside, independent sources.”
This quote reminds me of one of my preferred definition of reputation and branding: It’s how people describe you and your company when you’re not in the room.
How do you respond to this SEO trend effectively?
Tips for this SEO trend:
In addition to your backlink tracking tool, start using a tool focused on mentions, like BuzzSumo, Awario or Mention. Even Google Alerts can help you with this—just enter your brand name as the trend you want updates on.
5. Featured snippets are stealing the show
Standing out in the SERPs is nothing new. Why mention it here?
Well, there’s a new, increasingly important way to stand out in the SERPs that puts you head and shoulders above the competition: featured snippets.
The beauty of the features snippet is that you don’t need to outrank all the competition to earn it. You don’t even need to be in the top 10 pages of the SERPs.
You just need to speak Google’s language. If Google’s spiders crawl your site and find the perfectly-worded answer to a commonly-searched question, they’ll display your content right at the top of the SERPs—above the first result, in the coveted spot zero.
Want to raise your chances of getting a featured snippet?
Tips for this SEO trend:
Question-format and comparison-style keyword searches have the highest likelihood of generating a Google featured snippet. That discovery is based on an analysis of 6.9 million featured snippets conducted by SEMrush and Ghergich & Co.
Start by targeting those.
Apart from that, it’s tough to predict when Google will produce a featured snippet. The best we can do is set your website up for success by following best practices.
- Mark up your content items. While a schema does not guarantee featured snippets, it helps Google to crawl your content more easily. When possible, use structured data that corresponds to Google’s expectations. For example, did you know that Google has markup explicitly aimed at recipes? Learn more about Google’s markup for content on their website.
- Write for featured snippets. First and foremost, take a look at what’s out there for featured snippets. You’ll likely notice a few strong patterns: (1) the content is often highly structured with numerical lists, bullet points and headings, (2) the content pulled into the snippet is a succinct yet complete summary of the answer, using a rich variety of closely related keywords. You can plan to write content with both of these patterns in mind, and give yourself a great chance of ranking. You’ll also want a killer title that encourages clicks (that will be in the snippet, after all) and an eye-catching image that’s optimized for the keywords (file name, alt text).
6. Intent matching overtakes exact keyword matching
In the early days of SEO, an exact keyword match could deliver a home run.
For example, if you wanted to rank for “SEO trends,” owning the domain “SEOtrends.com” and using the phrase repeatedly would get you to the top of the SERPs. That “exact keyword” match approach has long since begun to fade in importance.
In fact, overuse of keywords can be read as keyword stuffing and keep you off the SERPs altogether.
In 2019 and beyond, you’ll see more and more emphasis on intent matching. With this SEO trend, top ranking pages are those that best match the intent—as determined by search engines—of the query even if they did not use the keywords as much or at all.
In fact, HubSpot—a popular marketing platform—has decided to sunset its keywords feature in 2018. That’s a significant change!
What does intent matching mean for your SEO approach?
Tips for this SEO trend:
- Return to the fundamentals of market research. Ask your sales staff, customer service reps and others about the questions that customers are asking. When you have a list of possibilities, keyword analysis can still have a role to play in prioritizing where you start.
- Focus on what the user wants more than anything else. For example, a review-style or comparison-style search wants a break down of features, prices and beyond. For consumer products, you’ll be competing directly against the likes of the Wirecutter which publishes in-depth reviews of products such as wireless routers.
Your approach to creating content will need to balance your need to market and sell with a desire to be of service in answering questions.
7. Google RankBrain: AI impact on SEO as a significant ranking signal
It may sound like science fiction, but artificial intelligence is becoming an important factor in SEO.
Case in point: RankBrain.
RankBrain is an artificial intelligence that uses machine learning to crawl and rank Google’s search results.
As AI gets more advanced, this SEO trend will grow in importance in 2019 and beyond.
At a strategic level, Google is focusing ever more resources on AI. At the Google I/O 2018 event, several Google products including Google Photos and Google News received AI updates. All of this suggests that we can expect more AI impact on SEO.
I view the rising impact of Google RankBrain and AI as having three possible effects, each yielding a unique tip for SEOs looking to the future:
- Always focus on quality SEO work, rich content and white hat techniques. There will be fewer rewards to be gained from attempting to exploit a temporary glitch or oversight in Google search in the future. That’s good news for those who play the long game in search.
- Focus on long-tail keyword searches. They’re more natural for searchers to type and speak, and they’re also much more targeted—improved AI only means better algorithms to more closely match search terms with the best content.
- Keep an eye on updates. Much like a real human being, AI needs to learn and adjust by trial and error. This will probably also mean that SEO will have some unstable periods as the AI models tinker with different ranking methods. Every new Google update is worth your attention to avoid surprises.
8. Local SEO is priority for brick and mortar businesses
Do you use SEO to market brick-and-mortar businesses?
Then this trend is all about you.
The most important SEO trend for brick and mortar is local search.
HubSpot has found that nearly half of all search engine queries (46%) are local searches.
Even better, local searchers are hot leads—50% of local searches on a smartphone result in a store visit within a day.
In the past, keyword strategy and SEO work focused on long tail searches like “cosmetic surgeon Miami Florida.” While that strategy still works to an extent, it’s no longer the whole game.
Instead, Google has become much better about guessing local intent. A search for “Indian restaurants” when I wrote this article in Toronto provided the following results:
Notice that the top results are all targeted for my region, even though my search query was more general.
The solution to gaining more of this local SEO traffic?
Tips for this SEO trend:
- Make it easy for Google to read your business information. Your complete and accurate business information should be prominently displayed on your homepage and other pages of your website. Structure it neatly, and add a schema markup so Google finds it right away. Add Google Maps to your About Us page, pinpointing your business’s location for customers and Google alike.
- Complete your website. I’m still surprised at how many restaurants still do not put their menus online! Make sure your website is fleshed out with all the content that’s relevant to your customers, and that they may be searching for online.
- Make several online business profiles. Create a profile for your business on Facebook, Twitter, local directories and Google-specific pages like Google My Business and Google Maps. Make sure every single one of these links back to your homepage, and make sure they all have the exact same business information (name, address, phone number, email, etc.).
- Reviews. Encourage happy customers to review your business on Google, Yelp, Facebook and anywhere else.
- Competitor analysis. Ask yourself how your brand stands out from other competitors. What do the current top results for local search have that you don’t have?
9. PWA & AMP are gaining steam
Designing an online experience for mobile device users is critical.
From a technical SEO trends perspective, PWA (“Progressive Web Apps”) is more valuable than ever because the iPhone now supports PWA under iOS 11.3. Specifically, Safari—Apple’s web browser that comes preinstalled on its devices—now provides support for this feature.
According to Maximiliano Firtman, a mobile developer, and trainer, Progressive Web Apps on iOS include support for a rich experience. Specific features of note include an audio output, the device camera, audio output and Apple Pay. That last feature is especially exciting for companies that want to make fast online sales.
Should you invest further in developing PWA and other mobile-first content? To answer that question, you can look at supply and demand. Regarding demand—recognize that there are 1.3 billion iOS devices on the market as of 2018—and many of them have new enhanced support for PWA. In essence, the demand for this type of web experience is increasing. On the supply side, you’re competing against a subset of your competitors with PWA.
Tips for this SEO trend:
To take advantage of this SEO trend, take the time to build a PWA experience that fits well with mobile apps. Not sure how to create iOS-friendly mobile apps? I’ve got you covered. Check out Maciej Caputa’s tips on “A Few Tips That Will Make Your PWA on iOS Feel Like Native.”
Providing a high-quality user experience does not stop with PWA and mobile devices, as you’ll see in the next SEO trend.
10. Strike a balance between user experience and aggressive, in-your-face ads
Most marketers would love the option to put direct response ads—buy now!—front and center on their websites.
While the in-your-face approach does generate results, you’ll need to adapt your approach to stay current with SEO trends.
The main problem with aggressive ads and popups? They’ll tend to encourage visitors to leave, and you’re less likely to gain backlinks.
How do you implement this SEO trend to stay on top of your competitors in the SERPs?
Tips for this SEO trend:
First, if you must add pop-up windows to your site, make sure there are some parameters in place that make them less immediate and annoying—like waiting until the visitor has been on the page for 30-60 seconds or has scrolled through 40% of the page before the pop-up is triggered.
Second, keep up with popular UX (user experience) practices that are based on research. Important UX trends to keep in mind this year include:
- Custom illustrations. Yes, stock images are everywhere. Limit your use of those resources. Instead, use tools like Canva and paid image services with higher-quality offerings like Shutterstock.
- Aim for calm. Did you know that Calm was the app of the year in 2017? That’s a sign that users are valuing calming user experiences rather than constant anxiety-inducing stimulation.
- Simplify the interface. Aim for a more straightforward user interface so that users are not overwhelmed with too many options.
What if your website relies on advertising revenue like display ads and Google AdSense? To keep up with this SEO trend, you need to rethink your approach.
Even though Google makes almost all its money from advertising, the company encourages restraint.
For example, Google’s guidelines recommend against “participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value.” Stuffing a website full of such links is a losing strategy.
11. Non-HTTPS websites are suffering
Security is an SEO trend!
Yes, it’s true. Let’s break down how this trend will impact your rankings and traffic in 2019 and beyond.
As of July 2018, Google Chrome is the world’s most popular web browser. According to Stat Counter:
That matters because Google Chrome displays a warning to users when they visit a website that lacks HTTPS security features.
This means that, if your website lacks HTTPS, you’re going to a higher bounce rate. Users will see a security warning from Google and simply decide to back out and go elsewhere.
In the long term, there’s a growing trend to protecting security and privacy on the web. Did you know that the DuckDuckGo search engine (“The search engine that doesn’t track you”) has already over 20 million daily searches?
It’s a testament to the fact that web users are placing a greater value on privacy and security. The average person is gradually becoming more security conscious as hacking incidents become more common.
Attacks against companies are rising and “state-backed hackers from around the world are getting bolder and more sophisticated” according to Wired in 2018.
To take advantage of this SEO trend, I recommend adding HTTPS to all of your websites. You should also check your site’s spam score and keep an eye out for any potential signs of negative SEO attacks that can hurt your site’s reputation for safety.
Also, check your analytics to see if the global trend favoring Google Chrome applies to your website. If so, you may want to take extra efforts to test your website’s performance in that browser.
12. GDPR has an impact on SEO
At first, you might not consider this European regulation to be significant. That’s a mistake.
Implemented in the May 2018, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) requires companies take additional efforts to protect privacy.
For instance, GDPR gives users the right “to be forgotten” (to have all data associated with them deleted). For marketers, black hat practices like sending endless marketing emails to every address in their database are no longer permitted.
Does GDPR matter if your business is based outside Europe?
The short answer is yes. European authorities have a track record of applying large fines to foreign companies such as Microsoft and Google. Further, European regulators have the authority to enforce significant penalties—millions of Euros or 4% of global revenue, whichever is higher, for GDPR violations. After all, if you do business through a website, you may have Europeans accessing your website.
Even if your business has no European customers, GDPR is still an important SEO trend. In the next few years, there will likely be added pressure on other governments to increase regulation to match or exceed European protections. Even if governments don’t follow Europe’s lead, it’s still a wise business practice to take GDPR into account.
All of your SEO efforts will be for nothing if you make sales and create leads and then anger customers by marketing too aggressively.
The best approach? Focus on content marketing assets that add value like guides and in-depth articles like this one. That way, your prospects will be open to hearing from you more. When you earn permission to stay in touch with customers, you can market under the “legitimate interest” provision of GDPR.
To learn more about GDPR’s legitimate interest provision, read “When can we rely on legitimate interests?” from the UK’s Information Commissioner Office.
13. Leverage Bing’s search volume
Bing? Are we seriously talking about Bing?
Yes, we are. While Google remains the number one search engine, it’s not the only game in town.
In SEO, it’s natural to focus on Google as the potential return for your marketing effort is higher.
Here’s the problem with that approach. Everybody else in SEO knows that Google is number one so you’re in a crowded space if you’re only focusing there.
Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- Google search market share. While Google is still #1, it appears to be gradually losing market share. This is mainly due to the rise of two other search engines Bing and Baidu.
- One third of search traffic goes through Bing. According to Search Engine Land, Bing remains a significant player in search.
Applying this SEO trend to your websites is simple. Start by dedicating some of your SEO professional development to studying Bing. For example, read “Bing SEO: 7 Practical Ways to Get More Traffic from Bing (and Yahoo!)” Second, start to use Bing more often personally. You could make a note to remind yourself that, two days per week you’ll use Bing, so you can contrast its performance with Google.
Tip: Bing appears to favor content with “social media signals.” That means keeping up with your efforts to promote your website on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn still matter for SEO. Keep up with those trends.
14. Answer real human questions to score “position zero.”
The Holy Grail in SEO has always been to “get to page 1” of the search results.
What’s better than page one?
Getting Google to feature you in position zero—a featured box set above all of the other search results.
In case you’re unclear what I mean, here’s an example of position zero for the search “What do Facebook Ads cost?”:
In 2019 and beyond, getting your website featured in “position zero” in Google will become more important.
This position gives your website prominence, and you’ll have a greater chance to earn a click and then a customer. So far, so good. But how exactly do you earn those clicks from position zero?
The answer is simple but not easy.
Tips for this SEO trend:
- Answer questions that your target market cares about. Start with market research. In SEO, you might start with keyword research. Now, take that long list of keyword possibilities and craft them into questions. Remember that most questions start with words like why, what, how, when and how. By answering questions with your website content, you have a better chance of becoming successful in a long-tail keyword search.
- Use Google search to come up with questions. How? Learn how to leverage the “People Also Ask” feature by reading: “People Also Ask: How to Use PAA Boxes to Create Linkworthy Content.”
15. Skepticism of AI content strategies
For our final SEO trend, I’m going to go against the prevailing wisdom in the tech industry.
Every month, we hear about new AI products and capabilities. Will those tools change SEO and marketing? Yes, no doubt they will.
But there are limits to what AI can do for your SEO. Specifically, I recommend against using AI tools to create content or repurpose content. Why? It’s unlikely that AI tools can do research, feel empathy for your customers and create comprehensive, natural-sounding content. Further, AI is just not there when it comes to strategic matters such as integrating SEO into your broader marketing strategy.
How should you think about content creation and promotion instead?
Tips for this SEO trend:
I recommend combining a few different disciplines to create high-performance SEO content.
- Content strategy. This is the foundation for your content approach. At a minimum, you need to find the overlap between the questions your market has and what your website/product can help with.
- SEO research. Find out which of your pages are connecting with your market by using Monitor Backlinks.
- Content research. Long-form content takes research. This might involve interviews. This might involve screenshots and online tests. The exact approach you take will vary depending on your market.
Now you know about some of the most important SEO trends today.
Don’t get overwhelmed thinking about the long game. Just think about the next thing you have to do to get started.
What’s your next step?
Choose one trend from this list that connects best with your skills and focuses on that area. Once you have mastered that SEO trend, come back and work on another SEO trend.
Before you know it, you’ll be the one setting the trends.
Bruce Harpham provides content marketing for software companies so they can get high quality leads. He is also the author of “Project Managers At Work.” His work has appeared on CIO.com, InfoWorld and Profit Guide. Read his B2B SaaS marketing case studies from ClickFunnels and Close.io.