Do you remember Reading Rainbow? I loved that show. LeVar Burton, the host, would close every episode with some recommended reading, submitted by viewers. He would always say ‘but you don’t have to take my word for it’ before they would cut to the reviewers.

It’s in that spirit that I offer up some thoughts on 2018. What are some emerging trends and issues that you need to keep an eye on as you prepare to hit the ground running? I have tapped into the incredible talent here at AKHIA to find out–what are they seeing, every day, that they want to share with you? What are some issues they feel you absolutely have to be paying attention to?

Every day this week I’ll share a take. These are all very relevant and definitely deserve to be on your radar. But remember…you don’t have to take my word for it.

Remember SEO? Yeah, it’s still a big deal.

Ryan Stainbrook, Digital Project Manager

We are heading toward 2018 and the term “SEO” can still cause confusion for marketers everywhere. To say SEO has changed a lot over the years really would be an understatement. In fact, Google releases multiple updates a year that affect where sites rank based on their relevance to the typed search term. Is this still a big deal? In short, yes. In fact, Google accounted for 91% of U.S. site visits produced by mobile search in Q3 2017.

So what can we do? Well, our friends at Google don’t make it that simple as they (understandably so) keep the keys to their search algorithm inbound marketing’s best kept secret. There are a few things we can do though, and below is our top five tips when it comes to SEO heading into 2018:

1. Content is (still) King

Over the years, search engines have gotten pretty good at predicting and analyzing our search queries, but written language or “how we search” will always be the key factor. Keywords will always be important, but now, Google uses RankBrain, “an artificial intelligence bot to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities, called vectors, that the computer can understand.”

Simply put, in order for RankBrain to recognize your site, it is important to optimize your page for the user experience. This means that you do not have to place your keywords word-for-word in the content. Instead, write the content for the user. It’s important to realize that Google is no longer trying to match the keywords you type into its search engine to the keywords of a web page. Instead, it’s trying to understand the intent behind the keywords users type so it can match users to the most relevant, high-quality content possible.

The bottom line: Search engines of the future aren’t going to punish sites for underusing keywords or failing to have a perfect keyword-optimized page title, but they will continue to punish you for overusing keywords. Remember, relevant content and giving users what they are looking for will always be most important in the eyes of search engines like Google.

2. SEO Is More Than Ranking

There is no denying that there is a strong connection between search result placement and click-through rate, but ranking is not (or shouldn’t be) the ultimate end goal that many believe it to be. Studies of click-through rates and user behavior have shown that searchers favor the top search results—particularly the top three listings. However, it’s also been shown that “on subsequent pages within the search engine, being listed toward the top of the page shows similar click behavior.” Many factors, such as meta descriptions, ranking for the correct keywords and paid search, are the main drivers of higher click-through rates on lower ranked sites.

The bottom line: There is a big misconception when it comes to search: that higher rankings mean more clicks and traffic. It is true that people will see your site, but it does not mean you will get more clicks. This shows the importance of having correct and accurate meta data that correlates with your keywords. The more relatable you can make your content within the search engine to users, the more likely you are to get click-throughs.

3. Mobile Optimization is as Important as Ever

In the spring of 2015, Google had an algorithm update called “Mobilegeddon,” which put much more weight on a site’s “mobile-friendliness” when it comes to ranking factors. The update rewards mobile-friendly websites and penalizes those that aren’t fully optimized for mobile in mobile search results. After an analysis of more than 15,000 websites by HubSpot, it was found that websites that aren’t mobile optimized had an average of 5% decline in organic traffic. Mobile isn’t going away either, in fact mobile now represents nearly 7 of every 10 digital media minutes, and smartphone apps alone account for half of all digital time spent.

The bottom line: The optimal experience for your site visitors and your own web performance is to implement a responsive design for your site. Even if a majority of your traffic is from desktop, responsive design makes your page adapt to the visitor and will display information that is sized and zoomed appropriately so it’s easy to read on whatever device is being used. User experience is important to search engines like Google, and if your site isn’t optimized, it will not rank as highly.

4. A Good User Experience is a Must

As Google continued to invest and improve its algorithm, the results allowed them to provide better results to their users. Making the investment in improving their algorithm allowed Google to take a step back and measure the overall effectiveness of their product for users. This allowed them to adjust the weights of ranking factors for search queries and as a result, a good user experience is more important than ever. Think about it from Google’s point of view: they didn’t create the web page, but they are essentially endorsing it. To ensure that users keep coming back and using their product, they want to ensure users have a good experience.

The bottom line: Google wants to send its users to pages that are not only useful, but also provide a good experience on the page. To improve a site’s user experience, you must focus on aspects like page load time, bounce rate, time on page and page views per visit. Content is also very much a part of the overall user experience. Good, consumable content can have a large effect on some of the aspects listed above.

5. The Marketing, Sales and IT Teams Must Work Together

There is a very technical side to SEO and you will more than likely need to engage your IT team to execute these elements.  For example, unless you have a web background, you will likely need IT’s help in technical areas such as setting up redirects and XML sitemap files. When it comes to content, your sales team can be a vital part of developing a strong list of keywords that their customers will search for (remember the importance of “how we search”). Working in a silo to complete these tasks simply doesn’t work. To make sure your content, keywords and technical aspects are working together, you must engage these different internal teams early and often.

The bottom line: SEO is a team effort. It takes research and communication between the marketing, sales and IT teams to come up with a strong list of keywords, research the proper search queries and ensure that everything is technically sound. The more often (and sooner) you bring in these teams, the stronger your SEO will be.