Google now releases algorithm updates on a near-daily basis, constantly tweaking and improving the way their crawlers absorb and index content on a website, and how this information is used to place websites in a ranking order. It’s more important than ever to adapt a dynamic SEO strategy, and don’t ever put all your eggs in one basket. When algorithms change there can be instant results in the form of big drops, jumps or even Google penalties – although you do still usually get a warning allowing you time to rectify this through your webmaster tools search console. As such, you need to be aware of any impending updates and have an idea of how to react to it, as quickly and smoothly as possible.

The return of “Mobilegeddon” with Googles Mobile-First indexing system

Google has been pushing responsive, mobile-friendly websites since Mobilegeddon in April 2015, but it’s never been more important than it is now. Mobilegeddon set out to devalue any websites who weren’t offering a mobile friendly version to their users, having separate ranking systems for desktop and mobile searches. This way websites that had other best practices implemented could still get good rankings on desktop searches, however their rankings would drop when the same searches were made from a mobile or tablet device. This was a huge problem for webmasters everywhere – with nearly 40% of all searches at the time being made on a mobile. That figure now of course is much higher, with nearly 79% of Google searches coming from either mobile or tablet devices compared to 21% that come from desktops, according to smart insights.

Since Mobilegeddon a lot has changed. Not just have searches from other devices increased, they’ve actually overtaken the traditional desktop search meaning these should now be a webmaster’s main focus. Google soon realigned the mobile and desktop ranking systems, hoping to get websites with better overall ranking on both desktops and mobiles. This sees them concentrate more on user experience and satisfaction to separate ranking on different devices. For example, some of the biggest ranking factors now include direct traffic, bounce rate and time spent on page. These are all indicators of how a user is engaging with a website and its content and is used as a type of trust mark. The more users are engaging with your content, the better search engines will rank you for the terms that brought these users to your website in the first place.

Mobile websites are now more important

The latest update goes one step further – how your website performs on mobile and tablet devices is now arguably more important than how it performs on a desktop. No longer can you design a desktop website and tell the developer to “do a responsive version too” – this needs to be the forefront to your entire strategy. You should be asking yourself ‘how is this going to work for mobile users?’ The mobile-first indexing system does as it says on the tin, it indexes your mobile website first and structures your results and rankings around what the crawlers have found there. This means if your website isn’t responsive, you’re likely to see a huge drop in rankings across the board.

SSL security is no longer a choice

Okay so my subtitle may be a bit dramatic, no one is physically forcing you into implementing HTTPS security using an SSL certificate. However, it’s only getting harder and harder to rank against secure sites, with Google and other search engines taking users’ security as an absolute priority, whether your website is ecommerce or a simple brochure site. In 2014 Google announced that SSL security would now be a ranking signal in order to keep users safe on their top displayed websites. When the implementation of the SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is possible on your website within an hour or two it’s hard to see why not, and as for the certificate itself they aren’t expensive, and some are even available for free.

There’s been a lot of debate since the launch of the mobile-first indexing system in reference to the “quality” of the certificates themselves. With sites such as LetsEncrypt and SSL For Free offering free certificates to webmasters, it opens up the question as to if these provide any real sort of security for your website or are just another technique bordering on black-hat SEO by doing something just for the sake of the search engine. The whole point of the algorithm is to improve safety for users, so if the free certificates are inevitably going to provide your website with a penalty for poor quality security, its better getting it right first time. The main difference we can find between the most popular free SSLs compared to other low-cost alternatives is that the paid ones are manually checked by a human, meaning each part of the certificate is officially verified by that company before it’s uploaded to your website. Due to the free ones being, well, free, these are put forward as “self-signed certificates”. This massively devalues the quality of the certificate, as you’re basically saying “Trust me Google, we are who we say we are” rather than independent and trusted verification.

How to check the quality of an SSL certificate

There are also other things to think about. If you are running an e-commerce website, it’s important to have a high-quality SSL that users can check out if they desire, and rest easy knowing that their bank details are safe when inputted on your website. Your clients are going to be wary of your security, even more so when their personal details are involved, and they’ll be doing the following checks on your site. The first one is simple, is there a green padlock in the search bar? This may be a bit different depending on which browser you use, but on Chrome there will be the name of the SSL in green along with a padlock which shows the page is secure to enter any sensitive details. All SSLs will provide this padlock, even free ones. This is where my next check comes in – give the padlock a click. Once you’ve clicked the padlock you will see that next to where it says certificate it should say “valid” – this shows your certificate has been validated before being uploaded. If you click on the “certificate” section it will bring up a new window showing who the certificate has been issued by. A quick Google search into the name of the SSL provider will provide you with the peace of mind (or not) knowing that the website is secure.

However, did you know some browsers now refuse to display a website if it’s not secured by a valid certificate? Since introducing mobile first indexing Google Chrome will now show a warning telling you the website isn’t secure, and actually blocks you from visiting the website in many cases. This means you might lose out your entire traffic from people using the chrome browser if your website isn’t secure. Overall, it’s important to invest in a decent certificate. Not just could it genuinely protect your website and its users, it should improve CTR/conversions as well as your rankings, whilst keeping visitors feeling fully protected.

Content is still king, and no one’s dethroning him

Without meaning to sound like a broken record, content is still one of, if not the most important element on a website. There’s now discussion around increasing the length of both landing pages and blogs, to provide as much information to the user as possible instead of just pure keyword usage. In the past it was very linear, if you we’re a hat store, you’d write a landing page and call it “Cowboy Hats”. You would put a bit of text explaining how to enquire/place an order and about the variety you offer – and that was that really. But now, you have to think one step ahead.

Ever since user experience became the forefront of SEO, it’s been important to put their views first. As such this makes you think about the user journey – each landing page can’t just be written for people who are ready to convert, you need it to be appropriate for people at every stage of their journey. Your traffic are doing more fact-finding, more research around your services and products. They’re looking at reviews, comparisons, and different price points before they commit to a provider. For a website to instantly convince them to buy, they have to make these wandering eyes feel secure, prioritised, and informed on all their needs. This information also needs to be easy to digest – trawling for information through lengthy paragraphs to find one badly written or 4-year-old review isn’t how your curious traffic want to spend their time.

A lot of modern designs don’t actually incorporate space for content, and designers need to start thinking about what content is going on a page before they start designing it. We’ve nicknamed these “mega-landing pages” – a one stop shop for everything you need to know about a particular product or service, designed to support the content in easy to digest sections.

Pages and blogs below 500 words are now simply a waste of time. They don’t have enough information for crawlers and indexers to place the page, meaning the rankings aren’t going to be amongst the top competitors. The chances are users aren’t going to spend as long on your service pages, as we’ve previously discussed this is a ranking factor in itself, meaning your rankings will drop in comparison to websites with longer forms of content.

Voice search is still coming… slowly.

We remember Brighton SEO 2015, where they held talks that boasted of voice search dominating searches over the next 12 months. Obviously, the process has been much slower. Since then it’s not just phones providing “helpbots” such as Siri and Cortana, but with the new arrivals of home assistants such as “Ok, Google” and Alexa, many more people are now using voice search. If there’s any time for search marketers to start taking voice queries seriously, that time is now.

How to optimise for voice searches

By now everyone should know how the simplest of successful voice searches are done. After summoning Google, Alexa, Siri or the helpbot of your choice, you give it a simple question. For example, we could say “Hey Siri, is it going to rain today?”. If it’s on an iPhone it would automatically connect to the weather app and give us a summary about the weather for the day. Other helpbots will also have pre-set applications linked to certain queries, meaning you can only optimise for ones that have to link directly to a Google search to establish the answer. For example, if we say, “Hey Siri, what are the benefits of green tea?” it will then bring up “results from the web”. It will bring up the top 4 web pages that have this information, or if there’s been a featured snippet then it will read out the first few sentences. For anyone who doesn’t know what a featured snippet is, it’s a piece of information in the SERPs that provides you with the answer to your question without you have to directly click and search the landing page to find the answer. See below.

Featured snippets are often referred to by digital marketers as “position 0”. This is because you don’t have to organically rank in position 1 to have a featured snippet as an answer to the question, although it is common that this snippet is taken from the top-ranking website. There’s whole guides about how to get featured snippets for your website – it’s takes some time and you’d have to effectively follow a strategy, however these are excellent in terms of CTR for both normal and voice searches.

Overall, SEO in 2018 is forever changing. The main updates aren’t anything new, just the next inevitable steps in Googles implementation of secure, information-ridden websites, that are quick and display well on mobiles. The best advice we can give to every SEO-er is to get a network. Regularly check industry approved news websites, read the blogs of the top agencies in your area, and keep yourself up to date with what is happening in the world of search. This is the only way you can adapt your strategy and constantly be one step ahead. For help with your SEO strategy, get in touch with our SEO team or take a look through our blog for more information,