Another year has come and gone, and 2018 is upon us. As usual, the big question for us—SEO experts, digital marketers, and brand experts—is what will the New Year bring for SEO?

Search engine optimization has been around for years, but it is evolving rapidly, perhaps more so than any other field in marketing. Indeed, 2017 saw several major leaps forward for SEO, from an increased focus on machine learning for search engines to changes in the way that consumers search for information online. In 2018, things will only heat up further. A key piece of UK legislation will fundamentally alter the tracking of consumer data on the global scale, while Google’s decision to emphasize mobile users will pave the road towards the future.

Recently, we conducted our fourth annual poll of SEO experts to see what they think is in store for 2018. Their full thoughts are catalogued in our annual eBook. The eBook, titled ‘The Ultimate Guide to SEO in 2018: 50 Insiders on the Future of Search,’ provides detailed insights about everything from GDRP to Amazon Alexa.

Here are seven of the biggest trends that our SEO experts identified for 2018:


Voice search will change


Already, at the outset of 2018, voice search accounts for roughly 20% of all online searches. That fact isn’t altogether surprising. After all, personal assistants such as Siri made the voice search function commonplace on our phones and tablets years ago. However, with the growing popularity of smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, voice search queries are becoming more and more popular. Typically, voice search queries are simple questions asked in pursuit of simple answers. As such, SEO experts will need to devise pages in such a way that they can provide concise, informative answers to voice queries.


User experience will matter
more than ever


It used to be that SEO was all about keywords and backlinks. Slowly, that perspective has shifted, spurred toward a ‘user experience first’ mantra by the rise of content marketing. As search engines become smarter and more sensitive to the emotions and needs of users, though, those days of SEO are fading further and further into the rear-view. Simply put, it will be more important to focus on topics than on keywords, and more important to focus on usability (e.g., the ability of users to find information quickly) than on backlinks.


The effects of GDPR will be felt
far beyond the EU


So far, most SEO experts outside the European Union have spared little thought for the General Data Protection Regulations, or GDPR. After all, if the legislation is exclusive to the EU, how much impact could it have on website managers in Canada or the United States?

An awful lot, in fact. These regulations are designed to give consumers more ownership and rights over their personal data. Those rights include a right to be forgotten and a right not to be tracked without consent. For any EU company that uses tracking cookies, mines personal data for email lists, or takes part in any similar activity, this legislation is a gamechanger. If your website serves or sells to EU users, though, you are technically required to abide by GDPR—even if you’ve never set foot in the EU. Failures to comply with the legislation can result in fines of up to 5% of a company’s worldwide revenues per violation instance. In other words, GDPR has the potential to be devastating for any website or digital marketer in the world. It will rewrite the norms of consumer data collection, thereby affecting every part of the digital marketing equation—SEO included.


Websites that aren’t mobile
friendly will be DOA


Once upon a time, having a mobile version of your website was an option. Those days were gone a long time ago, but 2018 will draw a line in the sand between sites that are mobile-friendly and those that are not. In late 2016, Google acknowledged that most users were searching the Internet using mobile platforms. At the time, though, Google was still evaluating sites based on their desktop versions first and their mobile versions second. In 2018, Google will officially flip the switch on that front for the first time. Mobile-first indexing is almost here, which means that the mobile version of your website (or your clients’ web pages) will soon matter more than the desktop version. SEO experts, web designers, and digital marketers will need to work together this year to make everything as mobile-friendly as possible.


Defensive SEO will become a part of the
SEO expert’s job description


Few terms were repeated more often in 2017 than ‘fake news.’ The rise of inaccurate or poor-quality content last year made digital content experts look bad, almost across the board. In 2018, businesses and Internet marketers will be looking to avoid scenarios where their brands associate with this unsavory trend. A part of that will be monitoring political situations and real-world news, watching for headlines or occurrences that could drag a brand into a PR crisis. SEO experts will be asked to consult on and defend against these potential threats—a new ‘defensive SEO’ capacity that will redefine the SEO role for the future.


Readers will demand substantive, informative,
and accurate content


Partially because of the fake news debacle and partially because long-form content has been doing well on search engines as of late, we can reasonably expect 2018 to be a year of growth of substantive and detailed content. At least one of our experts predicts that this focus on more in-depth content will push SEO experts to depend more on content written by specialists and journalists and less on jack-of-all-trades content writers.


Machine learning will matter even more
than it did in 2017


Machine learning on the search engine front was one of the big predictions that our SEO experts got right in 2017. It will only continue to impact things in 2018. Google has trained its search engine to track and remember when users are bouncing from a page they found through a search, or when they are hitting the back button. These behaviours indicate an unintuitive page and show that users are having trouble finding the answers they want. Over time, Google will internalize these insights and use them to penalize poorly designed pages—and reward pages that do deliver satisfactory results.


What do you think 2018 will bring for the world of SEO? If your prediction isn’t listed above, it may well appear in our ‘Ultimate Guide to SEO in 2018’ eBook. Download the eBook and read the full thoughts of 50 industry leading SEO experts. And, as usual, good luck with your SEO endeavours in the New Year.