So in answer to the title question, yes, you do still need to do SEO in 2018. Content marketing is widespread on the net nowadays, but a lot of it is very standalone with little SEO credibility. That's fine, there's plenty of social media platforms where you can promote that content for engagement in the hope of generating new leads. The problem is, like with Adwords, when you stop promoting that content to move on to promoting new content, the traffic to the old content drops off and you never climb past a certain level of traffic for the whole site. Frustrating right?
Google's algorithm gets smarter with every iteration. There's no real way to game the system any more, you have to put the work in and create a hub of useful data on topic for users to engage and interact with. Getting great engagement figures on your content is key for getting noticed by Google, but so is making sure that content is correctly formatted to ensure you're telling Google exactly what it is you want to rank for. Here's a list of all the things you need to keep a close eye on to ensure SEO success in 2018 and beyond.
A biggie to start with. It's unlikely if you have had your site redesigned in the last 5 years that it's not responsive. However not all sites are created equal.
Many sites designers and developers took the view that a mobile version of the site should be a very pared down version of the desktop site. This isn't the correct approach and will be damaging your rankings in the SERPs.
Google announced this year that they would rolling out mobile first indexing, which means they look at what a mobile user visiting your site will see to determine the rank worthiness of your site as a whole. This is because Google believes the majority of your visitors will be visiting the site on a mobile device (as mobile net usage has overtaken desktop), so it gives you a score based on that experience. You may argue that looking at your Google Analytics, the number of people visiting your site on mobile is negligible compared to desktop visits, but Google doesn't care about that, you still need dance to their tune, so make sure you have a great mobile user experience as well as on the desktop.
In the same vein as the layout being responsive, page speed is also crucial when it comes to a good mobile experience, as many people will be visiting on slower 3 & 4G networks when on a mobile device, so that will affect your rankings. Be careful with this one though. Some people will tell you that page speed is absolutely everything. For me, it's a little bit of a red herring. You can have the fastest pages in the world if you put nothing on them and they're not powered by a CMS, but what's the point in that? For me a key indicator is to speed check the pages on people who are ranking for the terms you want to rank for and see how well they're doing. Chances are, they're doing worse, so don't see it as the be all and end all of SEO.
Run your pages through Google Page Speed, GTmetrix and Pingdom, fix what you can and don't sweat what you can't. The likelihood you'll ever hit 100% green across the board is pretty low without removing functionality from your site, which will weaken the user experience, which could hurt your engagement metrics and thus your position in the search results.
Title and meta description
Hidden away at the top of the browser and in the actual code of the site so often overlooked, but absolutely vital to get right. You have to remember that the title of your web page coupled with your meta description are the 'advert' that sells you into searchers to click on your link. If the combination of the two isn't inviting enough, then it's no click for you. Remember, Google measures the response of its users to your links in its results and will devalue them if they're ignored when presented. So, what's best practice?
For titles, don't exceed 70 characters. Mobile search results often cut off titles to less than 50, so make sure you get your keyword and something meaningful early on in the title. Don't include your brand at the start. If there is room at the end of the 70 characters then by all means add it in, but don't make it the focus.
Meta descriptions got a new lease of life recently when Google extended the character limit it will display in its results from around 150 characters up to around 300. If you do a search for your target keyword, you might find a lot of your competitors are still using the old length, which gives you the opportunity to refresh your old content and paint with a broader brush to entice people into clicking your link over the others.
There aren't any quick fixes for SEO nowadays. For long term consistent ranking you must create a hub of relevant content. Pillar pages allow you to create extended content, which is based on all the sub topics of the main topic you're looking to cover.
The HubSpot website design system has a really handy feature called 'Topic Clusters' which allows you to lay out your topics and sub topics and associate your resources to each of them to build up the portfolio of content to attract visitors to your site.
There are paid tools that will allow you to work out what sub topics you should be covering to support your main topic, but if you want to aim for proof of concept before investing, you can simply Google your main topic and then walk through each of the results that are returned and list the topics they cover. Google learns what's related to a topic based on what's covered by the pages that are popular when it comes to their engagement, and will expect your page to have the same or similar topic structure before it'll rank you for the same topics. You can make massive inroads with SEO with restructuring and extending of content. I've seen pages make 50+ place leaps after a rewrite, it's definitely worth doing. Remember Google is a computer algorithm, it's not magic, if you satisfy it with extensive relevant content on your site you will rank for your desired terms.
Don't do directories. I'll say it again, don't link build in directories. They won't necessarily hurt your listings in the SERPs, they may even have decent page rank, but relevance will always trump authority, so there's little point to it and will give you a mistaken sense of progress. If it's easy to get a listing then everyone can do it and you'll all be on the same level playing field.
Link earning via outreach can be time consuming and difficult. Broken link building is often a much better way of link building. If you find sites relevant to your topic which are carrying links to dead content, reaching out to the author informing them of the failure, how that will be having a negative effect on the user experience for their visitors as well as a red flag for Google, and offering them a simple fix by replacing the link with a link to your content, then it's a win win for both parties.
Outreach to help extend someone's content with a link to your own is definitely worth trying as well, but again rejection is going to have to be something you come to terms with and 9 times out of 10 you'll get radio silence. Keep your targets relevant, use a template and keep the numbers high and don't get disheartened as the ones you do get will have the most boost for your rankings over and above any links earned through automated processes.
Comments are now widely dismissed as an area to link build from. In my experience I would suggest that depends entirely on your engagement with them. We've had pages skip from 2nd to 1st for their target keyword purely on the fact that it was linked to from a comment thread that ran and ran longer than the original content! If you're prepared to get a discussion going, Google will see it's not just a drop in link and give you credit for it.
Content marketing is 20% content, 80% marketing. If you've spent an hour writing a blog the maths says you should spend 4 promoting it. In terms of SEO value, it might seem we're in directory territory again, with little relevance regardless of the authority. That's true to an extent, but Google is smart enough to pick up the connected content to each social media account and weight it's influence on those additional factors.
The key with social sharing is of course to drive relevant traffic to your pages to kick start those winning engagement metrics. The social endorsement of a link, regardless of it usually being a no-follow, is crucial in modern SEO. Whenever you're creating a piece of content, don't just think about the value it presents to the user, also consider the value it presents to the user if they shared it with their peers. In a B2B environment, this could mean impressing their boss, showing off to colleagues or just trying to enact change in their daily processes with a helpful nudge.
There are lots of social aggregation tools out there such as Buzzsumo and HootSuite which will deliver relevant content to your inbox on a daily basis, highlighting social media activity relevant to your topics that you can piggy back onto. An absolutely essential process in modern SEO if you're looking to get placing in the Google SERPs.
How can we help?
You know your business better than anyone, but we know modern SEO practices and just by reaching out to us for a no obligation, 30-minute website consultation, we could help set you on the path to success for 2018 and beyond. Book a free call with one of our consultants today and we'll provide some tips on how to optimise your website effectively and outline the steps you can take to start generating more leads online.