By Kristopher B. Jones, serial entrepreneur and investor.

Remember the biggest trends predicted to remold SEO in 2017? Virtual reality has remained a nascent industry, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) have still not been adopted by the general population and local SEO is not dead.

SEO webmasters must always be looking forward in order to stay afloat amid a changing technological environment and Google algorithm updates that dramatically shift organic search results. I thought I'd offer some advice to stay ahead of SEO trends that are bound to make a big impact in 2018. Looking back at data from the past year, we'll explore how these trends will continue to shift the SEO industry in 2018.

The Mobile First Index?

Will this finally be the year Google unveils the mobile first index and makes AMP a ranking factor? Due to debut in 2018, Google should be creating a mobile search index that takes priority over its desktop index in terms of refresh and updates. How different ranking factors and keyword queries will be weighted on the mobile first index is currently unknown. One primary ranking factor that will take major precedence is site performance and speed. Incorporate responsive web design or AMP to your organic and paid search strategy.

Evidence of this shift has already had an effect. According to a BrightEdge study, mobile and desktop searches produced different results for the same keyword searches on the same search engines 79 percent of the time. This will produce major implications for local search, as well as general keyword research.

Natural Language Queries

The value of keyword research is still prolific in SEO, even though we've been switching to a topic-based search world for years now. One major impact the mobile-first index and the rise of voice search could have on SEO is the shift from exact match phrases to a more broad match SEO, where search engines more easily interpret natural language.

While voice search volume will probably not increase as much as it did in 2017, ComScore predicts that 50 percent of all searches could be voice searches by 2020. As voice search receives higher volumes, you should apply the principles of semantic search and try to meet user intent with the appropriate information. This will be crucial, as voice assistants pull answers from the rich snippet box on Google.

Agencies should begin shifting their focus on longer-tail keyword searches with stronger intent and a higher mobile conversion rate.

Conventional Ranking Factors Continue to Decline

Google employed RankBrain in 2015 to better meet user intent with the most relevant and helpful listings available. RankBrain soon became the final arbiter of SERP rankings. They could gather historical data on each unique search query and sort listings by analyzing user engagement rates, such as click-through rates. This iterative process allows Google to deliver increasingly relevant listings over time and data.

As this machine learning technology becomes more advanced, conventional ranking signals applied to popular searches will decline in importance, including backlinks and domain age.

Visual Content Is King

This will produce a greater need to curate content that increases engagement and social shareability. While Google will never admit it, many experts suspect user signals and social signals serve as either a core or indirect influence on organic rank. Consider that Facebook posts with images receive 2.3 times more engagement than those that don't.

Producing a multi-media strategy should be a primary focus to expanding your brand's reach through content marketing in 2018.

Brand Building Over Link Building

Finally, I believe advertising and SEO agencies are shifting more from an organic performance-based model toward a more inclusive, traditional marketing model. Agencies are slowly shifting from focusing on organic search strategies to offering reputation management, managing social media accounts and optimizing content to focus on conversions rather than rankings.

Influencer marketing and brand management continue to grow as industries and as some of the most effective ways to retain existing customers and scale businesses. They're also some of the best strategies to compete organically by creating desirable user experiences and increasing website and social media engagement. Expect online media management to start to blend in with conventional SEO strategies across campaigns worldwide.

SEO is by no means a static industry, and in many ways, it's shifting back toward more traditional push and pull marketing tactics because of new technology. 2018 may not represent an entirely new paradigm in digital marketing, but it will shift us one bit closer.

Kristopher B. Jones is a serial entrepreneur and investor. Kris recently launched Special Guest App with comedian/actor Damon Wayans, Jr.

Published on: Nov 29, 2017