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This article was updated on Nov. 16, 2017.
Any SEO pro will tell you that every day brings something new in the world of search engine optimization. While we spend our careers focused on the next big trends in search engines, as a business owner that’s not always in your best interest. Spending time chasing a tiny SEO detail instead of conducting a full-scale SEO website review can take valuable resources away from more important parts of your business.
However, this often means that businesses are slow to adopt significant SEO changes, if they ever do at all. There are plenty of business owners whose websites haven’t been updated in years who are being left behind by major shifts in digital marketing. You don’t want to be one of those people. In the long run, not changing with the times hurts your business.
Doing a yearly review of the big changes in SEO and implementing them on your site is a good way to avoid spending resources on insignificant changes while still maintaining a high-quality website for the long term.
As 2017 draws to a close, there are a few key areas you should focus on to keep your website up to date. A year-end SEO website review does not replace periodic SEO audits and maintenance you should be doing on your website, but it does help you look at the overall health of your website from an SEO perspective and assess what changes you need to make for the year ahead.
2017’s biggest SEO changes
In 2017, the biggest changes were related to the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence. As Google’s search engine is getting smarter and smarter, it better understands why people are searching, what they’re looking for, and how to give searchers the best results. In 2017, it was all about removing low-quality websites and content from search results and bumping high-quality sites up in search rankings.
Early 2017 saw a number of changes in the Google algorithm that chooses what to put at the top of search results, all to target spammy activities by websites and increase the quality of search results. In January, they put a new penalty into place that combat interstitial popups, so it’s a good idea to remove popups from showing on mobile if you haven’t already.
As well, Google implemented a few algorithm updates that removed low-quality websites from top search ranking positions, with a website quality-focused update in February and another in March. Google also got smarter when it comes to detecting spammy links from other websites that hurt SEO with another update in February that made Google’s search engine better at discounting bad links.
High-quality content more important than ever in 2018
With Google’s changes in 2017, creating high-quality content that serves your website visitors is the most important change to make for 2018. To clean up your SEO for 2018, the biggest step is to revise or even delete low-quality content on your website.
Today, website visitors expect highly engaging, informative, useful content. Thanks to Google’s Fred update, writing short posts that do nothing more than occupy space on your website is a negative. In a post-Fred era, more content isn’t always a good thing.
To maintain a healthy website, do an overall audit of your underperforming blog content or articles to determine what to keep, what to make more robust, and what to remove.
As part of the audit:
- Review your blog content to make sure articles are more than 300 words and are highly valuable to your visitors.
- Ensure posts link between other relevant information on your site as well as outside sources that could further help your audience.
- Make your content scannable with keyword-rich headings and helpful visuals.
- Check your website’s main pages for outdated information.
- Make sure contact forms and contact information are current.
Once you’ve gone through these audits, it’s time to consider keywords.
Make keywords more natural
With the rise of more advanced voice search technology, people are moving away from typing their searches into Google. Instead, they’re speaking — and that changes what they search for. Thinking about natural speech patterns when conducting keyword research should be a priority in your SEO audit.
Focusing on conversational keywords, or keywords someone might use when speaking out loud, will help you future-proof your website for upcoming 2018 SEO trends.
Using more advanced alternatives to Keyword Planner can help you gain access to better keyword reporting to find keyword ideas and choose the right keywords for your site. Try using these steps to improve your keyword targeting:
- Review your most important content on your site, and ensure that posts include conversational versions of your main keyword to target voice search.
- Run search traffic reports on your main keywords to determine if you need to change them.
- Research semantically related keywords to target new, but related, areas to expand your website’s reach.
- Review your content creation plans and make adjustments for new search trends in your industry.
Keyword research doesn’t have to be difficult. Plus, with these tips, you can attract new users who are searching in new ways.
Review your links — but don’t stress out
Now that Google is more intelligent when it comes to detecting and ignoring spammy links, monitoring your links is less of a priority in 2018 than it has been in the past. That being said, knowing where your links come from is still important as it can negatively affect your SEO if there are too many bad links to your site.
Google cares the most about editorial links, or links included in article body copy, and they place particular emphasis on in-content links over links in sidebars, footers, or other places on your website.
Google’s Penguin 4.0 is now included in the core algorithm and is updated in real-time as of September 2016. Before this rollout, website owners waited years to recover rankings lost because of questionable SEO practices related to manipulating links.
It’s also important to take into consideration your site’s linking practices between your own web pages and other websites. As part of an SEO website review:
- Audit links back to your website and make sure they’re primarily from trustworthy, reputable websites.
- Ensure links to your website aren’t trying to manipulate rankings by using keyword-heavy phrases in anchor text.
- Check your website for broken links.
- Set goals for desirable links to obtain in 2018 from key industry websites and competitor analysis.
- Create a roadmap for linking between your own articles to help create a strong internal website structure.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to talk about the SSL factor.
Setup an SSL
Interest in web security reached an all time high in 2017 as more internet users become aware of the risks of unsecured websites, and Google made more users aware of unsecure sites.
There’s little worse than being notified your website has spam or seeing an alert in search results that your website might have been hacked.
In addition to combating security breaches, Google released an update in 2017 to the Chrome browser that alerts a user when a website is not secure. To keep your website up to date and secure, take technological precautions to help protect your website and visitors. To benefit:
- Implement SSL if you ask visitors to login, purchase, or submit information on your site.
- Use .htaccess or other security methods to prevent access to sensitive parts of your website.
- Check your website for outdated plugins, themes or code.
Google already gives an SEO bump to websites with SSL certificates, and some SEO professionals anticipate this to increase as security awareness influences internet user behavior.
Update your local SEO strategy
Local SEO focuses on ranking in Google’s map search results — something important to most businesses that serve a certain geographic area. With changes to local algorithms in 2017 and increased on-the-go internet use, businesses should expect local search results to play a bigger part in their business in the future.
The importance of Google My Business pages to showing up in Google Maps increased in 2017, so investing time in cleaning up your Google Business Profile is an important task if local search results are a priority for your business:
- Check for outdated information about your business on directory sites, particularly Google My Business.
- Claim, update, and complete directory site information.
- Gain links from smaller, local directories or publications like your local Chamber of Commerce or regional business group, regional magazines or online publications.
Editor’s note: Consider a tool such as GoDaddy’s Local Business Listings to manage all of your online business listings from one dashboard.
Looking forward to SEO in 2018
As you conduct your year-end website assessment, it’s important to think about how SEO information can impact your business decisions beyond website maintenance and digital marketing.
Next year, think about gaining more from SEO than just getting more traffic from search results. SEO is no longer something that stands separate from other parts of your business. As part of a comprehensive strategy, it can actually help you make better decisions about new market opportunities to pursue or better approaches to connecting to customers.
Don’t forget the other year-end tasks. Check out our free checklist.