The last days of 2017 are quickly unfolding ( more like disappearing at lightning speed ) and there was plenty of action to follow in the seo world this year. Among the year’s seo changes there were numerous feature updates to Google My Business, key local algorithm updates like the hawk update, and strong moves by Google to push https just to name a few. There’s already plenty of articles you can read from the seo community predicting trends and best-practices for 2018 if you have the time to scour the internet. However, for those that prefer a slightly shorter version I’ve gone ahead and compressed it all down to what I believe are the essential takeaways to create a solid seo foundation to win your local market in 2018 and beyond.

You Can’t Hide From Technical SEO

When’s the last time you did a technical audit of your website? Having a website architecture that is easily crawled with accessible url’s and content is fundamental. Google needs to be able to find and understand what’s on your website in order for you to rank and that’s not going to change any time soon.

If you’re a small business you probably haven’t implemented AMP yet but you should definitely still take some time to inspect and improve your page load times particularly for mobile. Mobile-searchers have goldfish level attention spans and they will simply not wait around. Website security – namely https – is going to continue to be an important part of your overall technical seo strategy to improve rankings as well as user experience.

Using relevant Schema markup will help you convey context to search engines and boost visibility potential for your pages in the SERP’s with rich snippets.

Everything’s Coming Up Mobile

If you haven’t already taken a mobile-first approach to your local seo strategy then now is the time. Google’s mobile-first index is already being rolled out and mobile may have already outpaced desktop when it comes to driving traffic to your site. A responsive website is the recommended solution to create a seamless experience across devices for your users and make sure your pages are being indexed properly by Google.

Voice Search + Intelligent Personal Assistants

Some data scientists are estimating that 50% of searches will be done with voice by 2020 which is a huge shake-up to the current landscape and it’s a big topic for 2018. The shift is being driven by the popularity of personal assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa just to name the heavy hitters. For local businesses this puts more emphasis on securing local pack rankings and optimizing your content for voice searches. Featured snippets or answers boxes are being called “position zero” because they show up above the organic search results and will become the battleground for voice search. If a search result for a voice query has a featured snippet, that’s what will be read out to the searcher as the answer to their question. Do you have a strategy to start creating and optimizing your content for voice?

Machine Learning

We know that RankBrain is a key ranking factor in the Google algorithm ( because they said so ) but we don’t know exactly how to rank for it. Google has become extremely apt at understanding search intent, topical relevance, and how to show the best results to its users. According to Gary Illyes at Google

“..if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that … Then you are doing great.”

This topic deserves a much deeper look but for now we’ll just leave it at that.

Local Signals + Link Building

I know there’s some folks that don’t think actively building links has any place in a future-proofed digital strategy but I disagree – especially for local businesses. The idea that your amazing content is going to naturally attract great links might work for companies with bigger budgets but for the average local brick and mortar store it’s just not that realistic. Building quality links, especially hyper-local links from other businesses or organizations in your community is a giant opportunity for SMB’s to outrank competitors and generate more traffic from potential customers in 2018.

Having an optimized Google My Business listing, consistent NAP info across key local citations, and other local signals will continue to be essential moving forward.