9 Predictions for 2018
#1: The total number of organic clicks Google refers will drop by ~5% by the end of the year
In 2017, we saw the start of a concerning trend — fewer clicks being generated by Google search on desktop and mobile. I don’t think that was a blip. In my estimation, Google’s actions around featured snippets, knowledge panels, and better instant answers in the SERPs overall, combined with more aggressive ads and slowing search growth (at least in the United States), will lead to there being slightly less SEO opportunity in 2018 than what we had in 2017.
I don’t think this trend will accelerate much long term (i.e. it’s certainly not the end for SEO, just a time of greater competition for slightly fewer click opportunities).
#2: Twitter and LinkedIn will both take active steps to reduce the amount of traffic they refer out to other sites
Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have all had success algorithmically or structurally limiting clicks off their platforms and growing as a result. I think in 2018, Twitter and LinkedIn are gonna take their own steps to limit content with links from doing as well, to limit the visibility of external links in their platform, and to better reward content that keeps people on their sites.
#3: One or more major SEO software providers will shutter as a result of increased pressure from Google and heavy competition
Google Search Console is, slowly but surely, getting better. Google’s getting a lot more aggressive about making rank tracking more difficult (some rank tracking folks I’m friendly with told me that Q4 2017 was particularly gut-punching), and the SEO software field is way, way more densely packed with competitors than ever before. I estimate at least ten SEO software firms are over $10 million US in annual revenue (Deepcrawl, SEMRush, Majestic, Ahrefs, Conductor, Brightedge, SISTRIX, GinzaMetrics, SEOClarity, and Moz), and I’m probably underestimating at least 4 or 5 others (in local SEO, Yext is obviously huge, and 3–4 of their competitors are also above $10mm).
I predict this combination of factors will mean that 2018 sees one or more casualties (possibly through a less-than-rewarding acquisition rather than straight-out bankruptcy) in the SEO software space.
#4: Alexa will start to take market share away from Google, especially via devices with screens like the Echo Show
Voice search devices are useful, but somewhat limited by virtue of missing a screen. The Echo Show was the first stab at solving this, and I think in 2018 we’re going to see more and better devices as well as vastly better functionality. Even just the “Alexa, show me a photo of Rodney Dangerfield from 1965 .” (see, Rand, I told you he used to be handsome!) will take away a lot of the more simplistic searches that today happen on Google and Google Images (the latter of which is a silent giant in the US search world).
#5: One of the non-Google tech giants will start on a more serious competitor to YouTube
Amazon’s feud with Google and the resulting loss of YouTube on certain devices isn’t going unnoticed in major tech company discussions. I think in 2018, that turns into a full-blown decision to invest in a competitor to the hosted video platform. There’s too much money, time, attention, and opportunity for some of the big players not to at least dip a toe in the water.
Side note: If I were an investor, I’d be pouring meetings and dollars into startups that might become this. I think acquisitions are a key way for a Facebook, an Amazon, or a Microsoft to reduce their risk here.
#6: Facebook Audience Network (that lets publishers run FB ads on their own sites) will get the investment it needs and become a serious website adtech player
Facebook ads on the web should be as big or bigger than anything Google does in this realm, mostly because the web functions more like Facebook than it does like search results pages, and FB’s got the data to make those ads high quality and relevant. Unfortunately, they’ve underinvested in Audience Network the last couple years, but I think with Facebook usage in developed countries leveling out and the company seeking ways to grow their ad reach and effectiveness, it’s time.
#7: Mobile apps will fade as the default for how brands, organizations, and startups of all sizes invest in the mobile web; PWAs and mobile-first websites will largely take their place
I’m calling it. Mobile apps, for 95% of companies and organizations who want to do well on the web, are the wrong decision. Not only that, most everyone now realizes and agrees on it. PWAs (and straightforward mobile websites) are there to pick up the slack. That’s not to say the app stores won’t continue to generate downloads or make money — they will. But those installs and dollars will flow to a very few number of apps and app developers at the very top of the charts, while the long tail of apps (which never really took off), fades into obscurity.
Side note: games are probably an exception (though even there, Nintendo Switch proved in 2017 that mobile isn’t the only or best platform for games).
#8: WordPress will continue its dominance over all other CMS’, growing its use from ~25% to 35%+ of the top few million sites on the web
While it depends what you consider “the web” to be, there’s no doubt WordPress has dominated every other CMS in the market among the most popular few million sites on it. I think 2018 will be a year when WordPress extends their lead, mostly because they’re getting more aggressive about investments in growth and marketing, and secondarily because no one is stepping up to be a suitable (free) alternative.
35%+ might sound like a bold step, but I’m seeing more and more folks moving off of other platforms for a host of reasons, and migrating to WordPress for its flexibility, its cost structure, its extensibility, and its strong ecosystem of plugins, hosting providers, security options, and developers.
#9: The United States will start to feel the pain of net neutrality’s end with worse Internet connectivity, more limitations, and a less free-and-open web
Tragically, we lost the battle to maintain Title II protections on net neutrality here in the US, and the news is a steady drumbeat of awfulness around this topic. Just recently, Trump’s FCC announced that they’d be treating far slower connections as “broadband,” thus lessening requirements for what’s considered “penetration” and “access,” all the way down to mobile connection speeds.
It’s hard to notice what this means right now, but by the end of 2018, I predict we’ll be feeling the pai through even slower average speeds, restrictions on web usage (like what we saw before Title II protections with Verizon and T-Mobile blocking services and favoring sites). In fact, my guess is that some enterprising ISP is gonna try to block cryptocurrency mining, trading, or usage as an early step.
Over time, I suspect this will lead to a tiered Internet access world here in the US, where the top 10% of American earners (and those in a few cities and states that implement their own net neutrality laws) have vastly better and free-er access (probably with more competitive pricing, too).