How to Improve SEO in 2018

There’s a saying that floats around the internet about the definition of insanity being repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome. This can be applied to your SEO strategy. As we kick off this new year, it’s natural to reflect on 2017 and what you’d like to do differently in the coming year – why not use this opportunity to stop repeating your mistakes and try some new approaches?

What you end up choosing to adjust will be very specific to your page, your vertical, and your goals with your audience, but you can start by giving your strategy some high-level industry context. A recent survey headed by North Star Inbound asked enterprise SEO professionals – both in-house and agency – about everything from budgeting through the campaign challenges that they were facing in 2017. The key takeaways both establish an industry baseline as well as point to some critical items for you to consider as we move into 2018.

You’ve Addressed Mobile-First, Right?

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of SEOs (85.7%) noted that they’re hustling to be fully mobile-responsive ahead of Google’s 2018 rollout of its Mobile-First index. This is not a suggestion; in order to be successful in the new year, you absolutely must have a responsive website. Failure to do so will cost you big time with Google and your rankings. It will also make you likely to miss out on over 55% of internet traffic, which is the percentage coming from mobile devices and only continues to grow with time.

Google knows you’re thinking about this as we ease into 2018 and recently published a blog post all about getting your site ready for mobile-first indexing.

Link Building is Hard

If you’ve been struggling with link building, you are not alone. Across businesses of all sizes, link building was by far the most difficult SEO strategy to execute.

And yet, 85% of survey respondents noted that they are planning to either maintain or even increase their link building budgets in the next year, indicating its continued importance for both improving traffic and position in SERPs.

link building statisticsBacklinks – when earned right – are critical signals for popularity, authority, and trustworthiness. Crappy black hat link building is an ongoing problem, with its spammy directories and paid links, and should be avoided. But organic link building can be costly in both time and resources – so what should you do?

Defining clear metrics for link building success is critical. How are you detecting and measuring the relevance of potential linkers and actual linkers? What are your central desired outcomes for your link building efforts (e.g. traffic, SERP rankings) and how will you measure success over time? What does success look like? Getting a clear sense of your desired pace and scale for your link building campaigns can help you set realistic goals.

One benefit to working with link building agencies – whether totally outsourcing to them or working on a project-by-project basis – is that they have an existing infrastructure in place that lets them repeat success for their different clients. Be careful about how they earn these links; be very upfront in your questioning of their methods to make sure they are white hat.

Keywords and Content

A whopping 96% of professionals use keyword research and topic importance as their central criteria for planning content. This likely doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s touched this industry. Using keyword research to determine which content to create or optimize is standard, as is using search intent and volume to analyze keywords.

Though considered vital by all, there is a shift in the types of keywords being handled. In-house SEOs tend to focus on national keywords while agencies lean towards also incorporating local keywords. National-level keywords were the most important factor for 73% of in-house SEOs but only 54% of agencies.

This survey did not research why this is happening, and so we cannot say for sure, but it does seem possible that this discrepancy comes from differences in the nature of the work taken on by the different teams. An In-house SEO team is often used to help a company catch up with its competitors, and smoothen out a patchy foundation. Agencies are often the ‘special teams’ brought in once a company has exhausted traditional avenues and standard practices. Many agencies even have specific verticals they tend to work with, and best serve clients within those spaces.

One thing does seem clear: particularly with the growth of mobile, we expect local considerations to only continue to increase in importance.

Keep Teams Sharp

Larger teams and larger budgets tend to positively correlate with perceptions of successful SEO campaigns, but this could result from a wide number of contributing factors. You don’t need to hire an army in order to see success. The typical in-house SEO team has 2-5 members, no matter the size of the parent company, showing that a lean, tight-knit group can handle the tasks.

Agencies seem more confident about their performance, with a whopping 42% calling themselves “crushing it” as opposed to 13% of in-house SEO teams, who were a bit more tentative about how scalable and repeatable their campaigns are. 38% of in-house SEO teams had a negative view of their SEO strategy, while only 17% of agencies did. You may consider sparing yourself and working with an agency, or you might read this as a sign that it takes a lot of repetition and work to find the strategy that will work for you – and that’s normal. Agencies don’t spring up overnight, after all.

SEO specialists – both agency and in-house – agree that demonstrating ROI and securing talent are their obstacles. Again, clearly defining objectives and setting realistic expectations for success – both within the team and for the site you are serving – prove critical.

Of course, the best way to tackle your SEO strategy is to diversify your efforts and have good systems in place to objectively measure success, all so that you can adjust course according to actual performance. There is no one magic formula to successful SEO, but we have been able to glean some essential values that are worth considering as you re-evaluate your campaigns in the new year.

About the Author

nicole deleon northstarNicole DeLeon has spent 8 years creating innovative link building campaigns to drive superior gains in rankings and traffic. As founder and lead strategist of North Star Inbound, a leading link building agency, she leads her team to excellence by combining innovative content strategies with unparalleled outreach to achieve the link building goals of startups and household brands alike. Her pay-for-performance link building model is revolutionizing an industry plagued by questionable tactics and underperformance.

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