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SEO in 2018 so Far: What Have we Learned?

By Phil Norris
on 27/9/18

Terrifyingly, we’re now three-quarters of the way through 2018. Rather than starting our Christmas shopping early, we decided this would be the perfect time for a recap of the search engine optimisation tactics that have helped deliver real results for our clients over the past nine months. Read on to find out more.

Competition for SERP real estate has never been fiercer

From an organic search perspective, it’s never been harder to win that all-important click. Google isn’t some benign, charitable internet presence geared solely toward helping us find the best content; it’s a business with shareholders and revenue targets. As such, it’s naturally predisposed toward pushing ads over organic listings.

That means the presence of ads has grown significantly in recent years. It’s particularly noticeable on mobile – which is responsible for almost three-fifths of all search activity – as the following screenshot demonstrates:

Google mobile search

If you’re searching for leather jackets on a mobile device, you have to scroll past the new Showcase Shopping ads and a further two PPC ads, plus three map listings, before you hit the first “regular” organic listing.

The growing encroachment of ads within the SERP real estate has had a significant impact on organic click-through rate (CTR). Data from Advanced Web Ranking shows us that from August 2017 to August 2018, CTR for the #1 organic ranking has dropped by 10% on mobile and 8% on desktop:

graph 1

August 2017

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August 2018

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. For one thing, the creeping presence of ads is affecting everyone equally, so it’s not like you’re being penalised while your competitors are thriving. Second of all, as the below graph demonstrates, the proportion of people with access to the internet is continuing to grow – which means a bigger audience and more searches. So while CTR is dropping, the number of clicks is increasing all the time.

graph 3

What does this tell us?

Now more than ever, you simply can’t afford to rely on a single search channel. A holistic organic and paid search strategy gives you the best chance of capturing that all-important traffic, regardless of further SERP tinkering by Google.

RankBrain means engagement metrics are more important than ever

Back in the “Wild West” days of SEO (circa 2009), getting users to your site via organic search was largely about cramming the relevant keywords into your meta data and page content.

Google has gotten a little more sophisticated since then. One of the biggest changes has been the introduction of RankBrain – a machine learning system that ranks search results based on the way users interact with each page. Specifically, it analyses click-through rate and dwell time (i.e. how long a user remains on the page).

But what does that mean in practice? Let’s imagine you’re searching for borscht, an Eastern European soup described by The Hairy Bikers as “wonderfully vibrant”:

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Let’s say the #3 result from the Guardian looks great, but in reality contains loads of irrelevant, non-borscht-focused copy, causing users to bounce back off after a few seconds. Meanwhile, the All Recipes article at #4 has fantastic metrics – it’s truly a seminal piece of borscht content. Google will learn from this user behaviour, so the Guardian article would probably take a hit, while All Recipes climbs up the rankings.

What adoes this tell us?

Simply put, great content has never been more essential (more on that later). If you’re still creating content based solely around targeting individual keywords, then you need to stop. Take a step back and consider what the individual user would find most helpful.

In-depth content and LSI keywords = better rankings

Search experts have for years been discussing the correlation between content length and organic performance. Way back in 2012, serpIQ deduced that the average length of copy on top 10 ranking pages – based on a study of over 20,000 terms – was more than 2,000 words.

That research may be outdated, but its findings appear to hold true. Separate research from Hubspot shows us that:

  • Articles with between 2,250 and 2,500 words receive the most organic traffic
  • Articles with more than 2,500 words earn the most social shares and capture the most linking domains

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Pandu Nayak, technical staff member at Google and creator of the Panda algorithm update, more or less confirmed the accuracy of these findings when he wrote:

“Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic. That’s why today we’re introducing new search results to help users find in-depth articles.”

What does this tell us?

While writing massive articles obviously doesn’t guarantee rankings and links, this shows us that in-depth content – covering every angle of a given subject area – is often the key to driving organic traffic. This is largely down to the importance that Google places on latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords – words and phrases that have a strong association with the page topic.

Let’s say you’re writing about the Cuban Revolution. LSI keywords that Google would expect to find in an in-depth guide on the subject would include:

  • Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s
  • History of Cuba summary
  • Cuba history facts
  • Fidel Castro
  • Fidel Castro children
  • Raul Castro

You can use a fantastic free tool called LSIGraph to find relevant keywords. Additionally, check out Google’s related searches feature at the bottom of SERPs.

google search

Use your results to pepper your in-depth articles with sweet – and highly valuable – LSI keywords.

Struggling to generate the results you need from organic? Learn how our organic search experts helped Canopies UK achieve a 139% increase in organic non-homepage traffic, and get in touch today to find out what we can do for your campaign!

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