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Google is now older than millions of its daily users.
It’s no longer the cold 10 blue links but more of a refined, sophisticated experience that shapes our lives – and it looks way cooler.
Year over year, Google is launching nearly 2,000 search changes, including real-time experiments, search quality tests and algorithm adjustments.
That’s a lot of modifications to keep up with, and the goal posts for what is considered high-quality content are constantly moving.
We’ve synthesized these changes into four of the most far-reaching and notable SEO updates you need to stay on top of.
Here are the top algorithm overhauls most likely to impact every web page (including yours!) in 2018:
#1. RankBrain: The machine-learning algorithm keeps getting smarter
Google’s primary algorithm, RankBrain, is powered by artificial intelligence, and the engineers responsible for designing it now state it’s better at ranking content than even they are.
As the third most important ranking signal, RankBrain computes more data in a millisecond to wrap our human minds around, and it helps Google determine in which order to rank content and at which position in SERPs.
At its core, RankBrain measures:
- Click-through rate: percentage of time a user clicks on a result.
- Dwell time: amount of time a user remains on a web page before going back to search results seeking a potentially better result.
For example, if a page ranking in position four has a higher dwell time than pages in positions one through three, over time, RankBrain will interpret this fact and likely push the fourth result above the others in SERPs.
That is to say, RankBrain’s movements and influence are not immediate factors that are easily measured. Its impact lies in its ability to continuously consume user data and reassess the value of the results it helps order.
For content’s sake, this means marketers will likely need to integrate an effective content optimization program into their strategies, as a blog that ranks on page one today could easily drop to page two if CTR and dwell time are reporting lackluster signals to RankBrain.
#2 The rise of voice search: Optimizing for search devices of the future
Voice search has reached a tipping point of sorts: Forty percent of adults use a voice-enabled device at least once a day. And by 2020, it’s estimated that 50 percent or more of all queries will come from voice search.
With standalone voice-search devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo, as well as ubiquitous devices with voice-search capabilities like iPhone’s Siri and Apple Watch, marketers must craft content around this new paradigm.
In reality, this means using natural-language phrases in your content, diving deeper into long-tail keywords, expanding your Local SEO presence and structuring microdata to win Google SERP features (Knowledge Panels, Rich Cards, Featured Snippets).
Google’s algorithms now reward pages that appeal to voice searchers, a trend that will grow only more prominent.
#3 Mobile-first indexing: Responsive design now mandatory for search
Mobile-friendliness isn’t new. But, now, it is mandatory, as Google has pivoted to mobile-first indexing.
Optimizing for mobile is the only way to retain your current search presence because Google now considers the mobile version of your web pages to be the “true” version, which affects how it indexes and ranks content.
Likewise, mobile search dominates the total query landscape, with more than 60 percent (and rising!) of searches originating from mobile devices.
Takeaway: Search algorithms are stacked against you if you’ve still not moved to responsive web design.
#4 Truthfulness as a ranking factor: Distinguishing fact from fiction in search results
Truthfulness within search has been an ongoing experiment since 2015 when Google began using a “Knowledge-Based Trust” method for assessing content based on the accuracy of its facts, not just inbound links.
While it’s not confirmed how extensive this system is or whether it is officially in use on a widespread scale, KBT is clearly the precursor to the newest developments in Google’s “fake news” algorithm.
Rather than serving to users what it deems to be the most valuable web page in SERPs, Google is now actively attempting to demote sites that promote false information, intentionally demeaning content and other forms of “non-authoritative” results.
Publishers of fake news are being de-indexed, and Google’s truthfulness algorithm is getting smarter at differentiating between fact and fiction, which can be seen in the new “Fact check” tags that are added to Google News posts.
We can expect this type of fact-labeling system to evolve in front of our eyes in more live test experiments in 2018.
With algorithm updates dictating the value, quality and format of content brands produce, content creators and strategists must be more intuitive and user-focused than ever in 2018.
Google will reward you for doing so.
Mike O'Neill is a writer, editor and content manager in Brafton's Chicago office. All buzzwords are his own.