Just a few strategies are as dynamic or as competitive as search engine optimization (SEO). Marked by a history of algorithm updates, new technologies, and new techniques to win real estate at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs), most SEO experts get excited at the opportunity to predict or learn the latest trends that will shape the digital future our businesses. Though algorithm updates were few and far between, 2017 was still an exciting year for SEO, and 2018 is already shaping up to be even bigger with exciting changes on the horizon. Based on observations, some trends that unfolded through the end of 2017, and some speculation on some newly unfolding technologies, these are some of the predictions for the trends that might dominate the SEO field in 2018: Voice Search Will Rule 2018. Still not convinced about voice search? Have you noticed how our online interactions have gradually evolved to become more visual? Over the past few years, faster internet speeds, more visual-friendly social media platforms, and a general desire by the public to engage with more images and videos has led to a surge in visual online interactions. Therefore, it is feasible that there will be changes to how Google and other search engines treat images and videos in an online environment. Voice search will sharply increase owing to the rise of smart speaker sales. Do you own a smart speaker? If you don’t, I’m sure you know at least a few people who do. Sales for smart speakers i.e Amazon Echo and Google Home surged in 2017, and sales will probably grow further in 2018 as newer models start to roll out. Owing to the fact that these speakers are activated by voice and provide verbal search results, users are getting even more used to interacting with search engine results with only their voices and their ears. This could forever change the types of queries we see and reshape the way businesses think about SERPs (since they may no longer be as visual). Voice search is the real deal Google reports that 55 percent of teens and 40 percent of adults use voice search daily; and, according to Google’s Behshad Behzadi, the ratio of voice search is growing faster than type search. Voice search calls for a whole new keyword research routine: Voice searchers use normal, conversational sentences instead of the odd-sounding query lingo. Mobile-first Indexing Google is responding to the shift in user behavior with mobile-first indexing, which means “Google will create and rank its search listings based on the mobile version of the content, even for listings that are shown to desktop users.” Representatives from Google have stated that we can expect the mobile-first index to launch this year. In other words, 2018 very well may be the year where signals that used to only impact searches from mobile devices become signals that impact all searches. Sites that fail to work properly on a mobile device may soon become obsolete. To this date, Google has been calculating a website’s importance to the user based on its desktop page. However, as mobile searches today account for more than 60% of total searches, this ranking system has become obsolete. Hence the shift to the mobile-first index. It’s probably one of the biggest algorithmic changes in Google’s history that might change the way rankings are viewed forever. As a result, SEOs increasingly adopt accelerated mobile pages and optimize the user experience for mobile: from page load time to navigation, information architecture, and design. With the rise of voice search, over half of Google searches coming from mobile devices, the impending mobile-first index, and mobile-friendliness being a ranking factor, you simply can’t afford to ignore mobile SEO anymore. Brian Dean says even though Google’s Mobile-first index isn’t live yet, it’s coming any day now. That’s why I recommend prepping for it now by checking out the nifty Mobile-Friendly Test tool from Google. Just enter a URL into it, and the tool will let you know if your site is mobile-friendly. RankBrain Is The Way Forward Google has been championing the development of more personalized search results for the better part of a decade, relying on individual search histories, browser cookies, and other information to give better, more customized SERPs for individuals. For those who are yet to believe the influence of artificial intelligence in search, Google has stated RankBrain is their third most important ranking factor. RankBrain is a machine-learning component of Google’s algorithm that was introduced in late 2015, as part of the Hummingbird update. It interprets search queries in a much more adaptive, organic way, and interprets related search terms. Suddenly, dwell time is a very big deal. In other words, it meets user intent with the most relevant and helpful listings available. With the advent of smart speakers, the increased convenience of search, and greater technological sophistication, the personalization factor will likely increase even further in 2018, making it more difficult to predict how your company will rank—or what you’ll rank for. Google’s most direct function is connecting users with what they are looking for. The last few years have shown us Google has gotten better at knowing what we are looking for, even before we do. Searcher Intent is becoming more and more important in search. Artificial intelligence is interpreting what the searcher is up to, and (more specifically) what part of their buyer’s journey they are in. RankBrain knows what searchers want, and presents them with the best user experience possible. Thin content, slow-loading sites, and spammy, ad-infested garbage is the last thing RankBrain wants searchers to see. RankBrain considers searcher behavior and determines who completes a task on what site, and who gives up after visiting certain sites. Dwell time, click-through rate, reviews, social shares, and many other factors culminate in a site’s score. Rand Fishkin, the founder and former CEO of Moz, has noted that there is no one set of ranking factors anymore. Rand points out that RankBrain seems to be weighing various ranking factors differently, based on the industry, user intent and so on, implied by the query. Rand states that while it’s true that we can’t actually optimize for RankBrain, but we can optimize with RankBrain in mind. It adds a layer of research to our SEO processes: figuring out which signals RankBrain is prioritizing for our industry or keyword group. In summary, SEOs that rely on simple tricks to rank will most likely be left behind in 2017. RankBrain is a multi-dimensional, sophisticated, and actively learning overwhelming force that will never die. Content Is A King To Be Reborn Yes! Saying “content is king” is cliché but it still seems like not everyone has fully grasped the importance of content, so we have to keep saying it. However, in 2018, content will be a much more immersive experience. These days when you scroll through your favorite social media feed, what do you see? The answer is videos. Eye-popping visuals. Interactive media. Memes. Surveys. Sometimes, you see content so intense, you are moved to tears over stories of strangers or your heart surges with a dose of adrenaline. Neil Patel says,”For 2018, I’m placing my bets on video-based content, not typical content marketing pieces like blogs and e-books”. RankBrain is surfacing content with great user experience (UX), and that isn’t going to change. SEO is becoming more user-focused, and that means that truly original, meaningful content that actually users can actually connect with will be favored over regular, formulaic content. Leaders in SEO agree that video is a huge priority. YouTube is the #2 most popular search engine in the world. If videos aren’t already the world’s most preferred way to consume content, it definitely will be in 2018. If you haven’t incorporated video into your marketing strategy, it’s time to start.