We’re a full month into the new year and with that folks are lock­ing in their dig­i­tal strate­gies and goals.

The ques­tion of the impor­tance of SEO rears its head at least once a year as folks scram­ble to under­stand what the chan­nel means to their busi­ness and decide what they should invest in the com­ing year.

The quick answer to that ques­tion is unequiv­o­cal­ly “more than last year.”

When giv­en the prop­er atten­tion the organ­ic chan­nel can be the most pow­er­ful weapon in your dig­i­tal arse­nal and every year more and more busi­ness­es are real­iz­ing this.

As SEO becomes less of a black box for com­pa­nies, the more they will invest year to year, which increas­es its impor­tance in the mar­ket­ing space and legit­imizes it as a viable, ROI-dri­ving chan­nel.

Year after year we have seen Google improv­ing its algo­rithm and push­ing site own­ers to the point of insan­i­ty in the name of the prac­tice, and this year they will con­tin­ue to push, often in new direc­tions that pre­vi­ous­ly didn’t have any­thing to do with SEO.

How important will SEO be in 2018?

More impor­tant than it was last year.

SEO is a prac­tice that con­tin­ues to grow, evolve, and inno­vate.

Most impor­tant­ly, though, SEO con­tin­ues to invade and influ­ence oth­er chan­nels.

What mar­keters need to under­stand year to year are the fac­tors that are in play that are dri­ving that growth and inno­va­tion.

Each and every year these fac­tors are dif­fer­ent.

How­ev­er, know­ing what they are is equal­ly as impor­tant as exe­cut­ing on them through­out the course of the year.

Below are the trends we are see­ing and thoughts behind why SEO will and should be more impor­tant to you in 2018.

1. Google Is Pushing Quality Over Quantity

Over the course of 2017, Google made count­less updates to their algo­rithm. While any­one who inter­acts with me knows that I am the last per­son to point to algo­rithm changes hold­ing any sig­nif­i­cant impor­tance to your day to day, the way our friend­ly search giant refers to them is worth tak­ing note.

Last Octo­ber, I wrote a piece on how nam­ing algo­rithm updates was one of the worst mis­takes Google ever made, which you can read here.

In it, I wrote that “every update is a qual­i­ty update,” which is rel­e­vant here again because I believe Google has been push­ing this same mes­sage since late 2016.

We aren’t see­ing any named algo­rithm updates any­more (e.g., Pan­da, Pen­guin, etc.), but instead are see­ing “qual­i­ty” updates that hap­pen every few weeks which are impact­ing an amal­gam of sig­nals instead of focus­ing on one aspect of your site as they have done in the past.

You need to take heed of this mes­sage because this mes­sage will only grow stronger through­out 2018 and into the future.

Folks who con­tin­ue to spend time dig­ging around in rab­bit holes for sil­ver bul­lets as to why an algo­rithm shift may or may not have caused their site to have an increase or decrease in traf­fic are miss­ing the point and are wast­ing valu­able time that would be bet­ter spent on mak­ing their sites bet­ter, which is the point. (See: 5 Real Dan­gers of Chas­ing Google Algo­rithm Updates)

What site own­ers need to do in 2018 is take that point to heart and move away from this out­dat­ed mind­set.

SEO is becom­ing more impor­tant year after year and those who spend time on increas­ing the qual­i­ty and expe­ri­ence of their sites will ben­e­fit great­ly.

Which leads to the next point:

2. A Focus on a More Experience-Centric Web

This is going to be the year we start to see more empha­sis on an expe­ri­ence-cen­tric web, and Google is at the fore­front of that evo­lu­tion.

As user behav­ior trends toward a more immer­sive and infor­ma­tive web, com­pa­nies are adopt­ing new tech­nolo­gies, such as PWAs and AMP, to pro­vide that expe­ri­ence.

Over the years the idea that users’ atten­tion spans have been dimin­ish­ing has been gen­er­al­ly accept­ed by the indus­try, and thus, videos have becom­ing short­er and con­tent has been bro­ken up into digestible blurbs, which has led to a shal­low­er online expe­ri­ence.

Inter­est­ing­ly enough, in 2017 we start­ed to see user behav­ior buck this trend and start to demand more infor­ma­tion and edu­ca­tion before being reward­ed with a con­ver­sion.

A lot of this can prob­a­bly be attrib­uted to the more cost-con­scious mil­len­ni­al who is more pro­tec­tive of their dol­lars and their want to feel con­nect­ed to the brands they buy from.

With that in mind, how do you con­nect with folks in a more mean­ing­ful way on the web? The clear­est path is to cre­ate a web expe­ri­ence that helps them immerse them­selves in your brand and what you are all about.

2018 will see more and more com­pa­nies adopt­ing new tech­nolo­gies and with that, a new chal­lenge for organ­ic search mar­keters will sur­face as peo­ple push these tech­nolo­gies beyond their intend­ed pur­pose and try to get them to pro­duce traf­fic and con­ver­sions.

Cre­at­ing an expe­ri­ence that users can con­nect with is impor­tant, but we also have to make sure that Google can make a mean­ing­ful con­nec­tion as well because:

3. Google Is Sculpting Your Site’s Indexation on Its Own

In ear­ly 2017, we start­ed to see fluc­tu­a­tions in index­a­tion and crawl bud­gets, espe­cial­ly for large-scale sites.

Every week was a dif­fer­ent sto­ry, where we would have mas­sive amounts of pages indexed one week, and then see mas­sive amounts drop out the next.

Why was/is this hap­pen­ing? The answer is that Google has been sculpt­ing our sites for us and we are going to see them con­tin­ue to do this through­out 2018 and into the future.

We just spoke about a more expe­ri­ence-cen­tric web start­ing to take hold of our indus­try.

Google, much to the dis­be­lief of every SEO pro, is not obsessed with mak­ing our lives more dif­fi­cult, but rather, is obsessed with pro­vid­ing their users with the best user expe­ri­ence pos­si­ble.

Why do they care about this?

Because they want users to con­tin­ue to use their search engine so they can con­tin­ue to serve them ads.

To ensure that users are get­ting that A+ user expe­ri­ence, we are see­ing Google tak­ing a long, hard look at the types of pages that exist on your site, and plac­ing a more judg­men­tal eye on them.

Main­ly, we are see­ing faceted pages and search result pages that live on your site, being dropped from the index to make way for high­er qual­i­ty “hub” pages such as cat­e­go­ry pages, prod­uct pages, blog arti­cles, etc.

Trim­ming the fat from your site is com­mon­ly referred to as “sculpt­ing”, and it’s some­thing that every­one should be pay­ing atten­tion to in 2018.

While it’s great that Google is think­ing this way, you real­ly don’t want to leave it com­plete­ly to them to fig­ure out and you should be tak­ing this mat­ter into your own hands.

Look at your site and see what pages are most impor­tant to you and then see if they are com­pet­ing with any page on the site. If you believe this is hap­pen­ing, it might be time to con­sid­er cut­ting the oth­er pages out to make more room for them.

Google’s John Mueller even said that often hav­ing few­er strong pages is bet­ter than hav­ing many weak ones.

This is a trend that is con­tin­u­ing to gain momen­tum month to month and in 2018 this could be some­thing that will make or break your site, espe­cial­ly if you are a large-scale retail­er with a lot of faceted pages and search result pages.

This is also anoth­er trend that speaks to an increased aware­ness of the qual­i­ty of your site and its con­tent.

You always want Google to find the high­est qual­i­ty pages on your site, so you might as well take con­trol and tell them where they are.

While going through this exer­cise, take a minute to reassess all of the con­tent on your site and see if it can be beefed up as we are see­ing that:

4. Longer Form Content Isn’t Just for Early Stage Engagement Anymore

Ear­li­er we men­tioned user behav­ior trend­ing toward the desire for more infor­ma­tion and edu­ca­tion lead­ing up to a con­ver­sion.

While more users, espe­cial­ly younger ones, are mov­ing in this direc­tion it changes the per­cep­tion of what longer-form con­tent can be.

His­tor­i­cal­ly long-form con­tent has been seen and used as ear­ly-stage con­tent to entice new users to vis­it your site by answer­ing a ques­tion or address­ing a broad top­ic that your prod­uct or ser­vice solves.

It was nev­er meant to aid in a hard sell, but rather,position your busi­ness as a thought leader in that space and plant the seed that you can help solve the user’s prob­lem.

2017 saw a change in users behav­ior and inter­ac­tions with this type of con­tent. The user who is look­ing for more edu­ca­tion around a sub­ject before they buy a prod­uct asso­ci­at­ed with it has actu­al­ly helped trans­form long-form con­tent into more of a trans­ac­tion­al vehi­cle than it’s ever been.

In 2018, we will con­tin­ue to see this trend as more and more folks seek more infor­ma­tion and edu­ca­tion before spend­ing their dol­lars and the com­pa­nies that rec­og­nize this trend and engage with their users in this way will win big at the end of the day.

So, How Important Is SEO in 2018?

You can see that there are some com­mon threads that tie togeth­er all four of these trends:

  • Google is look­ing to index and rank high­er qual­i­ty pages.
  • Users want a more immer­sive online expe­ri­ence.
  • Google is push­ing an expand­ed focus on the user’s expe­ri­ence.
  • Users are look­ing for more infor­ma­tion and edu­ca­tion before mak­ing a pur­chase.

These trends sug­gest big­ger than ever because they are more focused on the user than ever, and ulti­mate­ly the user and their expe­ri­ence is what we should all be car­ing about.

If we do that, it will mean more busi­ness, more con­ver­sions, and a longer, more mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ship with our users.