As we hurtle towards the end of yet another year, in the tradition of festive reflection (or because we’re bored in a quiet workplace and counting down until the holidays start…), we thought we’d look back at some of the events that have helped to shape SEO strategies in 2018, the year that mobile and voice searching became predominant.
Mobile First Indexing
We started 2018 already knowing that the number of internet searches carried out on mobile devices had overtaken desktop computer searches two years ago, helped by the popularity of the ubiquitous smartphone and advances in mobile internet connection services. Throughout 2018, according to Statista, 52.2% of all global website pages were delivered to mobile devices. We also knew that Google had announced back in 2016 that they would be developing mobile first algorithms in response to the changing way people access the internet.
In March 2018, Google announced that they would start rolling out the indexing of mobile versions of content to give the majority of searchers (the mobile users) what they are looking for. Some people got confused over whether Google had two indexes, one for mobile and one for desktop but they only have one, which is why it is called mobile-first, not mobile-only indexing.
Google themselves do not have a time limit for the switchover and will take it slowly (probably over a few years) to allow websites to be ready for mobiles. Sites will be transitioned when they meet certain criteria. While this will cause little change for those websites with content already working well on mobiles, it continues to reinforce the absolute importance of optimising for mobile searching and viewing. No matter how good your desktop site, if you don’t get mobile versions right, your sites will fall into ranking obscurity.
Mobile Page Speed
2018 was the year it became essential to base all content around mobile. Following on from mobile first indexing, in July Google rolled out the Mobile Page Speed Update. This ranks the loading speed of a page when delivered to a mobile device. While Google themselves said it would only affect the very slowest sites, it was still a wake-up call for many people to update how effectively their websites work on mobile devices.
Page speed for desktops has been used as a ranking factor since 2010, so we’re all familiar with the concept that faster pages equate to better results. However, with this mobile speed update also came changes to the way Google collates and provides the metrics, leaving plenty of people with SEO headaches because although a website may be perfectly optimised for all factors and the speed is within the recommended <200ms, you may still get a slow page speed score.
The reason is because Real User Measurements (RUMs) are now used to score page speed and this is dependent on the end user experience of your website. If they have slow connections or older handsets, of course they will receive a slower experience. The ongoing SEO conundrum is how do you optimise for circumstances beyond your control?
HTTPS & Not Secure
In July 2018, Google’s Chrome browser was updated to version 68. Chrome continues to be the most popular browser by far with 63.5% market share according to data published by W3Counter in November. One of the most noticeable changes of the update was that many websites now regularly pop up with ‘Not Secure’ written in red upon the URL line, because the website has not enabled secure protocol, or HTTPS.
The historical protocol has always been HTTP but this is an insecure connection which does not provide privacy or protect visitor information, leaving personal information vulnerable to hacking or misappropriation. HTTPS does offer a secure connection between the user and website and many businesses have been transferring over the past few years. Indeed, Google originally announced these changes 2 years ago, but now they are effectively publicly shaming websites if they have not switched. They are not the only ones – all the major browsers will either already be or moving towards issuing similar warnings.
The significance of this in SEO is that internet users want to know their details are safe and they need to be able to trust the sites that they are visiting. While the majority of website users do not know or likely care what HTTP/HTTPS stands for, they do understand that red letters spelling out Not Secure is a bad thing. If you don’t want to be scaring off traffic and potentially falling foul of data laws, familiarise yourself with the process, purchase your security (SSL) certificate and ensure your entire site is enabled to HTTPS protocol.
To set up an SSL on your website, call one of the team on 0161 468 2612 or contact us here!
The march of the robots continues with the rocketing popularity of both virtual assistants and smart speakers. While many of us are familiar with using voice search on our mobiles, until recently smart speakers have been somewhat dismissed by many as a bit gimmicky. Data from a YouGov poll released in April suggests that the number of UK households which own a smart speaker doubled within 6 months from 5% to 10%. Although the UK still has some catching up to do with the Americans, where a Nielsen MediaTech Trender survey published in September found that 24% of US households owned a smart speaker.
2018 became the year that we were ‘woke’ to the fact that this technology is sticking around.
In SEO, we now need to seriously consider the differences between voice searches and typed searches to give our content the edge in both spheres.
With voice searches, people don’t get offered a choice of links as happens when typing a query, they are given one answer. You want that answer to be sourced from your content, not someone else’s. So firstly, speed is essential as most people voice search when on the move and expect an instant response. Secondly, you need to be aware that while typed searches focus on particular short-tail keywords, most current voice searches are framed as a question spoken in full sentences. For SEO that means focussing on long-tailed keywords and the natural conversational flow of questions. It also means that clear answers to your questions have to be present within your content too, so updating and polishing your FAQs is a must.
You really should be making use of featured snippets too but more about that below. The technology is changing and improving all the time so both the focus and the analytical data available for voice SEO in another year’s time may well be very different.
These have been around for a few years but the importance of featured snippets in SEO is become a whole lot clearer as it has evolved. The little box of information that appears at the top of a search results page can contain either a paragraph, a table, a list or more recently, video clips. It appears above the traditional ten blue links format and is what Google has determined is the best summary of the answer to the question being asked.
Google themselves admit their algorithms have got it wrong on more than a few occasions by providing featured snippets taken from sources that were not fact-checked or verified, leading to some well-publicised howlers. When reliant on algorithms and bots to find the answer, there are always going to be problematic answers. Overall, featured snippets work very well for what they are intended, which is to provide short simple answers to popular or common questions without people having to click on any further. It is especially important in voice searching where presenting the ten blue links to click on doesn’t exactly work well.
Featured snippets also provide a new height to strive for in SEO. Everyone wants their information and link to be included within that special box that sits in the No 1 position above the organic results. Not just because it puts your website first, above the competition, and makes your information appear as the most authoritative but also because it is proven that it improves click-through rates. You can also attain the featured snippet even if your links are not on the top of the results page.