It’s no secret that SEO is an ever-evolving industry and will continue to be for years to come. Believe it or not, 2018 happened to be one of the most active years for SEO changes. I simply cannot remember a more active year and I’ve been working with SEO for over fifteen years. We’ve had major changes to search in the past, but the search landscape has never evolved so drastically or quickly as it did in 2018.

2018’s Biggest Takeaway

The greatest takeaway from this year is that what worked before in SEO may still work and you may still rank on page one of Google, but your actual website traffic and conversions may have completely different results.

For example, you may have always ranked number five for your most desired search term and you may have had a good amount of visitors coming from that term to your website for years. Today, however, you probably have less search traffic arriving to your website for that same exact search term even though it is sitting at the same exact position in search results.

This is simply because the world of SEO and the way Google is presenting data has changed. In 2018 we don’t just compete with traditional competitors. Today we are forced to compete with Google and it’s constantly changing Knowledge Graph.

Even as I prepare this article for publishing, Google has once again updated the SERPs (search engine results page) for medical-related searches. In the below example, Google is extending the usage of the Knowledge Graph for the search phrase “pituitary disorder”.

Search Results for Pituitary Disorders

With these search results, Google does it’s best to keep the user in the search results. When you click on Cushing Syndrome, you’ll be prompted to request information on the medical condition, which then pulls data from the Knowledge Graph and gives you detailed information. Notice you never have to actually visit a website to obtain your answer.

Search Results for Cushing Syndrome

It shows we live in a new world of search, and as marketers, we need to work much smarter and harder to obtain website traffic.

Google truly gave and took away in 2018. While Google gave us wonderfully deep information and results with the Knowledge Graph, Google also took away some of our search traffic in the process. This helped the users of Google, but produced some painful results for marketers.

Fortunately, Google did provide us with more tools and greater transparency. This has helped marketers better understand what is important to them and how we can better rank. And this is needed because ranking on organic SEO is becoming a bit more challenging.

Let’s dive deeper into just how much SEO evolved and how these SEO changes arrived throughout the months of 2018.

January 2018 Updates

The New Google Search Console Arrives

The new Google search console made its debut. It is now available to all users and features search performance, index coverage, AMP status, and job posting reports. The data it offers now includes 16 months of valuable information.

March 2018 Updates

Zero Search Results Appear in SERPS

Google launched a large-scale experiment where they removed organic search results from a small set of searches with definitive answers driven by Knowledge Cards. When this happened, the SEO community expressed their frustration in blog posts and social media posts.

Unfortunately, Google continued to display fewer and fewer organic results as well as links to websites. Across the 10,000 SERPs in Moz’s data set, 51% had less than 10 traditional organic results.

Mobile-First Indexing Makes Its Debut

Mobile-first indexing made its first appearance and relates to Google’s use of the mobile version of a page for indexing and ranking in search. It is a particularly big deal for websites that offer two versions of their content or have poor mobile implementations. However, for well-coded mobile responsive websites, mobile-first indexing doesn’t mean much.

Thanks to mobile-first indexing, site owners will see a drastically increased crawl rate from the Smartphone Googlebot. Also, Google will now display the mobile versions of pages in search results and Google cached pages, making speed and performance critical to webmasters and marketers.

Long-Tail Keywords Continue to Grow

According to SMX East, 50% of search queries are 4 words or longer. To respond to the growth in long-tail keywords, Google had advanced its technology and can easily provide quality answers to these longer searches. Therefore, marketers need to look past traditional search phrases and consider long-tail keywords as well as questions as these now dominate Google searches.

Cushing Disease - People Also Ask in Google Search

May 2018 Updates

New Image Guidelines Arrive

Google released new image guidelines, forcing webmasters and marketers to put more time and energy into the images they post. It’s important for images to be high in quality and optimized for speed. Descriptive titles, captions, filenames, text, and descriptive alt text are essential for Google and accessibility.

Changes to Meta Description Occur

Back in November 2017, Google increased the meta description count from 155 characters to 300 characters. This didn’t last very long as Google rolled back most meta descriptions to the former limit of about 150 to 160 characters. Of course, this led webmasters and marketers to scramble once again. This year, Google revealed that while any amount of character text can be used, they will display whatever they wish. We see this in live usage with the below example.

Cushing Disease Meta Descriptions

June 2018 Updates

URL Inspection Tool Comes to Life

Google’s URL inspection tool came to life. It provides detailed crawl, index, and serving information about specific website URLs. A user has the freedom to add any URL to view the last crawl date and status as well as any crawling or indexing errors. It can allow them to learn about any page enhancements and understand why a page isn’t indexed.

Google Reveals Its Marketing Platform

Google revealed its marketing platform, which focuses on both small business and enterprise level organizations. It includes commonly used tools such as Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and Google Data Studio. In addition, Google’s marketing platform builds on existing integrations between the Google Analytics 360 Suite and DoubleClick advertiser products. Lastly, it supports over 100 integrations.

July 2018 Updates

Speed Update Rolls Out

Google’s speed update came to fruition, affecting pages that deliver the slowest experience to users and a small percentage of queries. Unfortunately, there is no tool available that indicates whether a URL is affected by this new ranking factor. However, Google suggests looking at PageSpeed Insights, Chrome User Experience Report, and Lighthouse to evaluate the overall performance of a page.

Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines Updates

While quality raters do not have a direct impact on search ranking, they help us understand what is important to Google. Google made updates to their quality raters and revealed that quality content as well as authors are important. The search engine also emphasized that Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness or EAT in now a vital consideration for website owners.

“Not Secure” Warning Hits Chrome

Google announced HTTPS as a ranking factor in 2014. In 2016, the search engine stated that it would eventually use Chrome to mark all sites that are not encrypted with HTTPS as “not secure.” This change was finally rolled out to all Chrome browser users.

Treatment HTTP Website Page in Google Chrome

Speakable Structured Data Arrives

Speakable structured data made its arrival. It allows eligible publishers to mark up sections of a news article that are most relevant to be read aloud by Google Assistant. Currently, this feature is available for English users in the United States. Google suggests 20-30 seconds or 2 to 3 sentences of content per section of speakable structured data.

FAQ, Q&A, and How To Verticals Debut

Gary Illyes of Google announced a new feature that would locate FAQ, Q&A, and How To verticals on a webpage and highlight them in search results. These rich results are expected to take up nearly the entire screen on mobile.

August 2018 Updates

A Broad Core Algorithm Update is Made

Google confirmed a broad core algorithm update, which rolled out for about a week. Although this update seemed to mainly affect websites in the health and wellness vertical, a large-impact was seen across all verticals. Your Money or Your Life websites were affected the most while websites with strong authority were barely impacted.

September 2018 Updates

New Google Search Leaves Beta

Index coverage, data for external and internal links, and URL inspection were added to the Google Search Console. Webmasters began to receive a large number of alerts with listings of pages affected by crawling, indexing, AMP, mobile usability, recipes, or job posting issues.

Voice Search Figures Reveal Non-Stop Growth

WordStream released an update that revealed 2 in 5 adults use voice search once daily. They also discovered that one in five consumers have made a voice search purchase through digital home assistants and another third plan to do so in the next year. Additionally, WordStream found that 13% of all U.S. households owned a smart speaker in 2017 and that number is predicted to rise to 55% by 2022.

Google Data Studio Comes Out of Beta

Google Data is now available and provides flexibility for reporting options and views. It also allows users to easily access data from Google Analytics, Google Ads, YouTube Analytics, Google BigQuery, and other core Google tools. To date, there are 120 connectors and 500 more data sources available for integration.

Google Releases Search Facts and Figures

Google announced the high value they place on the user and the user journey, relevant, high-quality content, ongoing testing, a visual search experience, and useful as well as accessible information. In addition, the search engine stated that there are hundreds of billions of pages within the index and billions of queries each day. Google also stated that they performed 200,000 search experiments with 2,400 changes to search in 2017. That equates to six changes per day to the search algorithm.

October 2018 Updates

Google+ Closes to Individuals

After discovering a data breach, Google closed Google+ to individuals. Since very minimal traffic came from Google+, it’s unlikely that marketers will notice an impact. Reports show that 90% of Google+ user sessions are less than 5 seconds. This change alters accounts for individuals only. Brand pages are still intact and not being modified.

No Click Search Results Become the New Reality

The Knowledge Graph is taking up the search engine results pages and no click search results are becoming the new reality. In the last two and a half years, desktop no click search results have grown 9.5% while mobile no click search results have increased by 11%. Google’s increased ad space is also eating away at organic SEO traffic. Here are some more interesting statistics from a recent Sparktoro survey.

For every 100 searches on Google mobile in September of 2018, there were:

  • 38.5 clicks on an organic result
  • 3.4 clicks on a paid result
  • 61.5 no-click searches

For every 100 searches on Google desktop in September of 2018, there were:

  • 65.6 clicks on an organic result
  • 3.7 clicks on a paid result
  • 34.3 no-click searches

Google Assistant Options Arrives

With Google Assistant’s duplex technology, Google customers can book appointments or make reservations on their behalf. Although it’s unclear how much this feature will be used, it will certainly add make things interesting in 2019.

What to Expect in 2019’s World of Search

We have no doubts that 2019 will be just as active for the SEO industry as 2018. As marketers, it’s important for us to prepare for the change and constant innovation from Google. We have to think out-of-the-box rather than solely focusing on keywords and links.

Let’s review several ways you can stay competitive in SEO in 2019.

Own Your E-A-T

One of your main goals in 2019 should be to demonstrate Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness as best as you can. Help Google connect the dots of who, what, and why of you and your website. We recommend creating expert profiles with easy to locate website URLs for each individual who publishes content, using structured data to convey who you are in Google’s own language, and leveraging the audiences of others to help build your offsite profiles.

Map Keywords to the Customer Journey

Customer journey mapping is becoming more important in SEO. It’s becoming more and more cortical for marketers to map keywords to the three main phases of the customer journey. Take the time to think about keywords a customer may search for during each phase. For instance, a customer (or patient) who may be searching for a breast cancer treatment center may type in the following keywords:

  • Awareness: Breast cancer symptoms or breast exams
  • Consideration: Abnormal mammogram or MRI on breast
  • Decision: Breast cancer surgeon or best breast cancer doctors

To compete in today’s search you have to look at keywords throughout the entire customer or patient journey.

Watch Search Intent

Since Google pays close attention to the user’s search intent, you should too. Prior to planning your sitemap, think about the user’s search intent and how it relates to your planned content. Be sure to use keywords that closely relate to who you are, what you do, and what you offer. Avoid stretching for a keyword that doesn’t match your content or the nature of your website.

Rethink On-Page Optimization Efforts

Old school on-page optimization efforts are not all relevant today. Forget about keyword density and place your efforts on Semantic search, Semantic HTML5 headers, featured snippet optimization, and longer content.

Renew, Refresh, and Revisit

If your content is dated, it’s essential to renew, refresh, and revisit. Remove old content that is no longer relevant, make minor updates to content that is still relevant, and make major overhauls to outdated content that is still relevant. If you make drastic changes to content, update the publish date to show human visitors and Google.

Consider Structured Data

Structured data refers to implementing a markup on a webpage to provide additional detail around the content of the page. It can help Google determine the basics of your company such as its name and phone number as well as more complex information like event, products, recipes, and articles. Since the days where certain keyword counts and links guarantee search engine success are gone, it’s wise to incorporate structured data into your strategy.

Take Advantage of Schema

Schema markup is code that can be placed on your website to assist Google in returning more informative results for its users. You may be surprised to learn that an entire set of schema now exists for healthcare websites.

With schema, healthcare websites can improve the patient experience by making it easier for patients to find the information they need. If you’re not currently taking advantage of schema, you should make this a priority within your 2019 SEO strategy.

Focus on Accessibility

By focusing on accessibility, you can ensure your website is welcoming to those with special needs. Color contrast, image alt text, link anchor text, HTML5 header usage, a logical tabbing order, and Accessible Rich Internet Applications or ARIA roles can all help you make your website more accessible.

Perform Technical SEO and Ongoing Audits

The process of optimizing your website for the crawling and indexing phase is known as technical SEO. Technical SEO allows search engines to crawl, interpret, and index your website without any issues. It’s crucial to get into the habit of performing technical SEO and ongoing audits. By doing so, you can identify issues and fix them promptly.

Never Stop Learning SEO

We need to understand that the day we stop learning SEO is the day we should stop practicing it. If you want to use SEO to help your company succeed, you need to continue to learn it. It is one of the most rewarding online marketing strategies because it provides wonderful results that may last for 10 years.

Watch Our Recent Webinar

I recently held an educational webinar to review these 2018 SEO changes and to discuss search opportunities in 2019. Below is the webinar replay that is available within emagine’s YouTube channel.

If you’d like a copy of the presentation slides, you can review or download them via my account.

How Can We Help Support Your SEO Efforts?

The ever-evolving world of SEO can be painfully difficult to keep up with. Fortunately, you don’t have to navigate the changing SEO landscape alone because we’re here to help. emagine can provide your business with a holistic blend of SEO and PPC so you can meet and exceed your business goals.

We understand just how challenging it is for in-house SEO teams to keep up with Google’s constant changes and our digital marketing team is dedicated to supporting and augmenting your existing SEO efforts. Contact us today for more information.