SEO, as we all know has gone through a myriad of changes of the last few years. One thing that has always remained constant is the mission behind SEO – to give users/customers the most relevant, valuable piece of information that they are looking (searching) for whilst delivering an exceptional experience.

There was a lot of activity in 2017 that led to an even more strategic and philosophical way of approaching SEO.

As 2018 is now in full swing, here are some key things to note to drive success:

1. Be smarter about your approach to Technical SEO

Technical SEO is a thing and it’s not going to go away despite many teams not placing enough emphasis on it. Technical SEO also doesn’t have to be overly complicated and time-consuming. Signing up for efficient crawl solutions like Deepcrawl, Botify, Oncrawl will give you the best chance of “catching-all” common technical issues that can cause major problems (as well as Google Search Console). These solutions have features that allow you to set alerts for anything, which then get sent to the right people, detailing which actions to take to resolve.

Your technical team/resource, can identify what to set alerts for depending on how often you run your crawls  – using 404s (page not found) as an example, you can set an alert to report on this (which can also show you the difference in the number of 404s in comparison to the last crawl), which then alerts the relevant people, with a prescribed action to take to resolve.

The point here is to be cut down on excessive time spent eyeballing issues. This by no means that you should set and forget.

2. Be obsessive about user customer experience

Stop looking at people that interact with your platforms as a “user”. I find that the term ‘user’ makes it sound less human and gives webmasters the permission to be more robotic about the way they deal with the people that access their platforms (side note: yes we know that bots access platforms too, but we’re not talking about bots in this example).

Customers are no different to you and I. We (marketers) just appear to have a more sophisticated way of interacting with platforms; however, this is changing as people are becoming more evolved and more and savvier in their approach to search.

Moving to an advertising/media agency has given me a greater appreciation for customer experience. I’ve spent a bit of time with some amazing creatives, strategists and UX people that have a totally different view of customer experience than a typical ‘SEO-er’ does.

The key lesson here is to truly incorporate how an ordinary person might interact with your platform (be it your website, marketplace store or other web-based platforms) first. Working around this will derive better results to areas like page speed, page load, keyword research and even content creation. Incorporating customer experience into your SEO strategy at the very beginning will lead to more customer-led results.

3. Get serious about Mobile > it is not a fad, it is how we’ve evolved

I wrote an internal post on our company intranet recently about the advent of mobile-indexation and I used the image below to emphasize one of my points about the evolution of mobile.

I remember my first mobile – a Sony Ericsson. The most interactive thing about it was the backlight..but oh, how far we have come!

If you think about people in developing countries such as India and countries in Africa, to possess computers and laptops is a luxury. Mobile devices are more easily accessible and cheaper; so a vast number of the population have actually bypassed the laptop/desktop era and super-charged straight into mobile.

Also with the accessibility of trade in China, these countries have far more sophisticated phones than we’ve ever seen in the west. Devices that can take 4-5 sim cards as standard in some cases.

Android has also made accessibility to smartphones easier with it being an opensource platform.

Google has announced mobile-first indexation coming in the earlier part of this year – 2018. This is due to mobile superseding desktop as the most favoured way of accessing the internet.

If you currently don’t have a mobile-first strategy, I’d advise getting one together sooner rather than later. First, start by reviewing your analytics data as not ALL websites will have an over-indexation for mobile, but most will.

I’ve seen some brand websites with a 70/30 split towards mobile, with poor mobile assets and experience.

If you have a heavy indexation for mobile and aren’t mobile optimised, you need to start to look at how to do this.

Google favours a responsive website – if you have an older website with a standard template; this will mean that you will have to redesign your website with a responsive theme.

The short-term solution is to have a separate mobile website so; however there are various issues around this and can prove to be more complex, issue prone and time-consuming than just going down the responsive website route.

Google has made a stance about mobile and they are not about to go back on this – in fact, things will only evolve – think virtual reality.

4. Automate like a boss, but use human intuition

I love automation. Not because it makes you lazy, in contrast, it makes teams much more efficient. Agencies probably need automation more than brands, however, everyone should have some level of automation towards their SEO programmes.

Simple things to automate are reports, keyword research processes, technical monitoring (and even audits to a degree), high volume metadata creation/optimisation, data de-duping and more.

This naturally leads to getting into APIs and data. Not “big data” but relevant data. We all have access to some level of data; be in your own data – i.e. first-party data or data from tools i.e. third party data.

Harnessing data sources using APIs and generating actionable insights should be at the centre of your SEO strategy, but you shouldn’t act like it’s the be all and end all. You should also add a layer of human instinct, experience and common sense to tell a better story.

5. Test, test and test again

The beauty of SEO is that nothing is proven unless you test it. This is what is fun about SEO.

The way algorithms are set-up, it can reward one site for one thing and punish another site (ok too harsh, however about just ‘not reward’?) for the exact same thing.

So if you can, then develop a dummy/play site that allows you to test a solution before fully implementing it to see what happens; especially if it’s something that’s a little unconventional and out of the box.

Incorporating regular testing into your SEO approach will not only advance your learning but will also open up new avenues – plus it’s Better for Google to punish a “test” site than an actual live site.

I once worked as a consultant to a company that thought it was a good idea to launch a large-scale ‘auto-page’ creation project all at once. It was a very significant number of pages and they had never done anything like it.

Google did not like it and punished them for it. They lost a lot of money for a significant amount of time; through other pages that were not allowed to be live.

So test first.

6. “I don’t get it… break it down for me…”

Find a ‘tell it like it is’ person in your team or organisation to get an objective view on your strategy – so it’s not too robotic and even too “technical”.

– this goes back to point number 2.

If you have someone in your organisation that you can use as a non-SEO-er, then try to get them to review your approach – they will more than likely have a completely different, but more logical view of what you’re trying to achieve.

For example, I recently had a casual intro to SEO chat with someone on our recruitment team and she used examples (as a consumer) to assert her understanding of what I was trying to explain, which I’d never have thought of (we were talking about fashion retail and SEO) – because I’m too close to the discipline.

So try and get a “what does the customer” want person on your team to either validate or constructively critique what you’re proposing.

7. Look for content everywhere

Don’t just stick to keyword research to find ideas for content creation – although this is crux of SEO performance.

Content ideas can come from any and everywhere, here are some examples of great places to look:

  • Look into an organisation’s DNA. Some organisations produce magazines and brochures that can be repurposed for digital performance content.
  • Social listening can also prove to be a great source of content ideas, as you will be able to quickly decipher themes that relate to what your brand is / can offer.
  • Twitter is a great source of opinion, whilst Facebook is good for idealistic content.
  • Instagram comments are filled with very elaborate opinions that can be shocking or insightful.
  • Reddit is a treasure trove of actual people looking to share valuable information.
  • Look at unconventional competitors. For example,  if you are Morgan Stanley you might want to look at Wealthify to see what type of content is resonating.  

Your premise behind this should be about whether you are truly giving customers what they want and also measuring if it’s tying closely to your objectives.

There should be a happy balance.

So there you have it, an easy to reference guide for SEO success is 2018.