Another year on and marketing trends are moving faster than ever. Planning for 2018, it’s important to look at some of the new technology which has come onto the scene (or increased vastly in popularity), and some of the wider tendencies to get an idea of what our SEO strategy for the new year should take into account.
Wherever possible I’ve tried to make the insight actionable, therefore after many of the sections you’ll find some resources which should get you started on putting each point into practice. If it’s not your job but you’re pretty sure it’s worthwhile, then share the article or its resources with your tech guys & gals so they can get a head start.
The Basics in 2018: yes…back to basics
Let’s start somewhere easy and critical. There are people that still skip the basics and consequently their strategy will struggle. If this is you, then go back to square one and get it right.
Buyer Personas Adoption
Buyer Personas are really old hat by now for marketing agencies and companies that are ahead of the curve.
To tie in with some of the points above, and make the most of these tips and tricks, everybody really must know who their buyer personas are. I’m not just talking about their demographic data, but everything about their buyers’ lives. How many children have they got? Is it them or their partner that takes them to school? What music are they listening to on the way? Do they go to work afterwards or for a jog? Where do they jog? How do they feel? If they felt great then who will they tell? Where?
Ok, so you get the idea…Really knowing your buyer means you’ll know where to find them, get in front of them and solve their problem as soon as possible.
Completely beside the point, I recently fell in love with the social marketing tool Fomo.
To come back to the point, it turns out they did some quality buyer persona research and realised that the majority of their customers were also users of Shopify, so they created an app for their product in the Shopify marketplace which sent their sales through the roof.
What’s more a buyer’s journey will typical span a series of stages and emotional reactions which you can (hopefully) influence via interaction with your brand at just the right times, building trust and confidence.
This journey is unique to each solution, and you should really understand each of your potential client’s steps toward making a purchase of your product or service, and even what they do once they’ve made the purchase. This also feeds into quality control- is the solution really fulfilling the person’s need? And my favourite part- if the client is happy with your solution, who will they tell? Where will they tell them? And importantly, how can we increase the spread of this positive review?
How to & Resources
If you’ve not done your buyer persona and user experience research, I suggest the following resource:
- Personas: The Art and Science of Understanding the Person Behind the Visit – Moz
- An introduction to job-based value propositions (a guide to basing your value proposition on the needs of your user)
- An introduction to user journeys
Niche-focused-offline-based link building
Link Building will continue to be principal in your Inbound strategy moving into 2018.
What people often forget is the objective of link building. We’re not only trying to increase our site traffic but we also want that traffic to be appropriate for our services and offering. Earning links from industry specific sources is hugely important not only for search engine ranking, but for driving high quality traffic back to our websites.
Interestingly, back on 25 May 2017, Google hit back at low quality guest posting, indicating that they would be coming down hard on people using guest posts simply as a spammy tactic to increase domain level links to their website.
The key takeaway is that your portfolio of backlinks should come from a variety of sources and tactics. Also for 2018, depending on your products and services, start basing your link-building on your offline relationships to ensure high quality and relevancy for your target market.
Tackle it with the following steps:
- Who is my buyer persona?
- What other local businesses, events, activities, people and places would be of interest to my buyer persona?
- What can I offer the customers of those other local businesses and events, that would be of interest to the company?
- Reach out to said company and offer collaboration.
- You and other (local) company promote the collaboration, resulting in happier existing customers, excited new customers, endless possibilities for continued collaboration and high quality local links.
How to & Resources
- Stay ahead of the curve by subscribing to Google’s webmaster emails.
- Learn about link-building based on offline opportunities with this actionable case study.
User Experience in 2018
To kickoff, before talking about things you can actively do to improve your Inbound Marketing, it’s worth taking note of the current state of affairs:
In Matthew Barby’s recent post ‘the Future of Marketing’ he talked about the trade off between instant access and unrivalled convenience, and giving up your personal data. The following is a screenshot from his post highlighting the quality of the data that the most popular services have on us:
The big companies already know what you want, where you’ll want it, and exactly when you’ll want it, even before you will.
Different content types for every occasion
The internet is hectic, stuffy, and full of randomness where we all vye for the attention of our users.
Ubiquitous access trends continue- we have access to all of the data on the web at any time, anywhere we wish to and on a range of devices. What’s more, it’s more and more common to have almost unlimited data plans meaning that the media that we consume can now branch out into different, richer formats.
People want data consumption types for every occasion and for different lengths of time too. Take the example of the Headspace app now offering meditation sessions for 3,5 or 10 minute lengths according to your availability (source: download their app!)
If you’re a regular follower of Hubspot’s blog, you’ll have noticed a number of recent changes, but notably they’ve branched out into regular podcast and online video media forms, which is expected to be followed into 2018.
Although this hasn’t quite happened, there is an increasing tendency for video and as websites are getting faster and users have more mobile bandwidth, there’s more freedom for alternative content types.
Users don’t want to read text, they want to be wooed by appropriate, moving, user-targeted content. So, if your home page is a static stock image, it’s high time you addressed this.
You can get an idea for website design and the impact of videos watching one of my favourite resources, the Impact Website Throwdown where they regularly address website design and use of videos for impact.
How to & Resources
- Shutterstock article on how to make a professional corporate video
- Hubspot Article on producing a podcast
Google is going nuts for user experience, as shown by some of the aforementioned changes going into 2018. Another of the ways to dramatically improve user experience is by focusing on site speed.
Before going any further, if you’re still thinking about your bottom line instead of your users (naughty…), then take a look at the following table showing the effect of site speed on the revenue of some of the top brands.
Clearly it makes a big difference to your business. In fact, it also makes a big difference to Google too, as they don’t want to show users websites in the search results that take ages to load- you’d end up losing confidence in Google!
For this reason Google has made available a page speed test which analyses your website and tells you all of the necessary changes your developer should make in order to make your page zip.
How to & Resources
- Google Page Speed Insights Test
- An alternative page speed test which I like mainly for its pretty colours
- An excellent guide to stripping away the code in your website that you never actually use.
Back towards the end of 2016, around the time that mobile browsing had just usurped desktop browsing as the principal way to get your fill, Google talked about a ‘mobile-first indexing’ system which would essentially look at the mobile version of a site before the desktop version in order to rank it in the search engines.
Although they still haven’t officially put this into practice, it’s seemingly a question of time, and therefore your mobile experience should be top of your agenda.
EDIT: Since I originally put together this post in late November/early December, Google threw out another blog, with some excellent tips on preparation for mobile-first indexing.
Search in 2018
Adaptation for Voice Search
Digital Assistants and voice search is becoming commonplace, where long-tailed search queries and natural language patterns gain importance.
Structured Data Markup
As we’ll discuss further on in the article, those companies closest to the changing search landscape are making radical changes to their website structures to adapt to a growing number of voice searches.
In a review by Global Web Index, some 20% of searchers say they’ve made a voice search in the past 24 hours. Taking into account that this was back at the beginning of 2016, this figure will have continued to rocket ever since.
To adapt to this, Google, over the past 12-18 months, has been making several changes to its SERPs, amongst those the increased use of the question box (this standout answer is typically what your Google Home or Google Assistant might immediately reel off to you) and Featured Snippets.
To see just how the different SERP types have been changing over time check out the Mozcast page.
You can read about each of the different result types that Google uses in Dr. Peter J. Myers’ guide to SERPs (search engine results pages) and result types.
The reality of these changes means that companies will need to market themselves to algorithms and AI first, in order to then appear in front of their target audience.
Forget ‘trust’, and think quality scores and user ratings. Think quantitative and qualitative output! Then think, how can I show Google this?
EDIT: Since I wrote this blog post, there has been an extremely interesting change to all search snippets which is still being analysed by industry experts, but essentially the traditional meta-description max length of 165 characters appears to have been amplified to a variable meta-description length, depending on where your sentence finishes, somewhere between 275 and 325 characters:
The trick to this is that if you don’t update your meta-description it will remain at the same length, so an early 2018 tactic to get ahead of the competition, is to get re-writing these meta-descriptions (at least for your important pages) so that you can really make yourself stand out on the search page and take away that extra traffic.
Check out all of our suggested resources to put your structured data into practice on your website:
How to & Resources
- How to Implement Structured Data (Guide)
- Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper
- Google’s Structured Data Tester Tool
- Detailed post on the new search snippets
To account for this fundamental difference in search the first websites are starting to use a ‘cluster’ methodology for their structure. This means that Google can interpret whole clusters of related information, which both reinforces your status as an expert in certain key ‘themes’ (not just keywords), and at the same time shows Google which of your pages you believe are the most important ones (normally conversion related pages).
Traditionally we would base a blog post around a specific keyword, and for every keyword which was of interest to our business, we would create a specific post related to that word. At its worst many years back, people would have individual posts focusing on a range of very similar keywords, for example ‘ball’, ‘balls’, ‘football’, ‘footballs’, etc- a strange but sometimes necessary practice to best position yourself for each word.
Over time Google has become excellent at recognising synonyms and other similarities in search queries and relating them to a wider range of articles.
These days I no longer focus a post on a keyword and instead look to cover a wide range of key ‘phrases’, all related to a similar theme, so as to maximise my posts potential of appearing in as many search results as possible.
So what are clusters and how do I create them?
Given the old way of writing blog posts, it was very common to find a lot of posts related to similar themes all bunched together in the same directory of your website, whereas now it’s really clear for a Google crawler bot where your priorities lie.
How to & Resources
- Hubspot blog post on their adjustment to the clusters model, and the near instant improvement it made to search engine ranking across the board.
If the internet is becoming more visually focused, you also need to take this into account in your 2018 strategy- how can you get your visually appealing products to appear where your buyer persona will be looking for it?
Google is aware of the need to both appeal and function visually and, although their 2010 launch of Google Goggles ultimately failed, they’re willing to give it another shot with the newly announced Google Lens, at the recent Google I/O. Lens will attempt to identify visual objects and offer relevant search information to the user.
The reality of modern search is that we don’t solely use Google for our purchases, but in fact we use what are known as vertical searches. Looking for a new car? You might head to autotrader or cars.com and search from there. Looking for a new garden gnome? You might pop your search into Amazon. Vintage furniture or handmade jewellery? Etsy.com.
If you’re a fan of Amazon, you may have already tried out their new augmented reality application which allows you to visualise your potential purchases in your own home in.
If you’re a regular on Pinterest, you may want to try the new Pinterest Lens, on which it seems possible that Google has based its own efforts.
Therefore, depending on what your product is, think about where your user will try to find you, and make sure your visuals are 100% so that you stand out.
Channels in 2018: same channels, new take
Social networks invest in “stickiness”
Over the past few months we have seen all of the big players invest money in tactics designed to make you stay on their platforms for even longer. Consider the following:
Google’s AMP (Accelerated mobile pages)
A technique to improve page-render time on mobile devices. The trick here is that to appear in Google’s news carousel, you need to use this format.
Facebook’s Instant Articles
This is the same idea as Google’s AMPs – use Facebook’s approved format for your post to appear on their platform (which they argue delivers a superior user experience).
Twitter extends character limit
Twitter character limits have doubled from 140 to 280 characters, allowing users to better express their initial thoughts and hopefully providing for an improved user experience, on their platform (of course).
Google Snippets (edit: late addition to post)
As mentioned above, Google have increased their max snippet length to somewhere between 275-325 characters, with the intention of responding to users queries from the search results page.
We’ve already touched on this, the fact that user attention spans are already rubbish, and with increased use across many devices and big companies investment in keeping you on their platforms, it’s imperative you solve your user’s problem as soon as they find you, in record time, on the device they arrive on and preferably on the same platform.
Basically I’m suggesting you head back to your social media channels and give them a fresh makeover. Whereas before you were trying to funnel them towards your web and super-optimised landing pages, try giving them what they need first time around.
How to & Resources
- Adapt your site for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
- Adapt your blog posts for Facebook Instant Articles
Chatbot landing pages increase conversions
If we take into account my previous point then your social networks really are your landing pages too.
Initial reports of usage of Facebook chatbots to convert have been really impressive. I’ve seen a few case studies out there, but a quick Google search brings up this one by Neil Patel, where his team achieved an open rate of 88% and a CTR of 56%.
The advantages are that you can preprogramme these bots to make specific responses according to user behaviour, and whereas in the past it wasn’t very accomplished, the bots intuition has greatly improved and more often than not they are capable of saying the right thing, and directly converting.
On another note, take a look at Landbot.io’s interactive landing page experience. Don’t be fooled by it’s somewhat guerrish appearance, the reality is this is the next step in landing page technology. It’s completely customisable and will help you to maintain your potential client’s attention span long enough to sap him of all his relevant and irrelevant information (side note: nothing’s irrelevant anymore).
Chatbots are new-age keyword research, and the ultimate A/B testing tool- start investigating now!
How to & Resources
- How to create a Facebook messenger bot (technical)
- Facebook developers messenger platform
- Youtube series on how to create bots
2018 is looking ridiculously exciting already for Inbound Marketing. We will all find that there are certain changes we make in relation to optimising for new search techniques, and this will depend largely upon changes made by the search giants.
The key here is to not get ahead of ourselves. Getting the basics right first will allow you to better understand and therefore focus your buyer, undoubtedly resulting in high returns at low cost.
Otherwise, with the right technical team in place, start digging into some of these changes! The key here is to being an early adopter of these techniques, so as to be amongst those to reap the most rewards. Statistically as the peloton catches up, conversion rates start to plane.
What are your feelings and expectations looking on to 2018? Are these points meaningful to your business, or do you have other priorities? Let me know what you think :).