The quiet period before the start of a new year helps us to find peace of mind and to reflect on the fundamental questions in life before embarking on a new year full of surprises and changes. As always, there are also surprises and changes in store for the SEO landscape. Here are the SEO news for January.

1) SEO at its limit: Is there still any organic traffic growth?

Using extensive data, SEO expert Rand Fishkin has been searching for an answer to the question of whether search engines can still honour their promise to act as inexhaustible traffic sources with huge growth potential more than 20 years after the launch of Infoseek, Altavista and Lycos. Fishkin explores in detail the questions of a) whether the number of queries on Google is still growing and b) whether the volume of queries asked on landing pages outside of Google has decreased. The answer: Both. On the one hand, Google traffic is still increasing by 10 percent per year on average despite seasonal fluctuations and the increasing importance of Amazon as a starting point for transactional searches. On the other hand, the new Google search result features, such as instant answers, featured snippets and interactive knowledge panels, have ensured that approximately 23 percent less traffic found its way from Google to other websites in comparison to the same time the previous year. According to Fishkin, so far the traffic growth has still been able to make up for the loss of clicks. But even the SEO master Fishkin did not expect the results to be so revealing.

2) Google Analytics examines individual users

The free online tracking suite “Google Analytics” has had a real success story since its launch in November 2005. It is currently used by more than half of the world’s websites. The continuous development of measuring technology and graphical user interfaces were always prerequisites for Google in order for them to keep up with transforming digital marketing channels and to represent the constantly changing consumer decision journey in all its forms in the best possible way. Since mid-December, Google Analytics has expanded its features to place individual users at the centre of its analysis. This is news that will make every SEO manager happy because over the past five years, optimisation of user-related added value and the increase in relevance to the target group have caught up with the old, empirical benchmarks such as backlinks or keywords. Google Analytics is now taking this development into account by providing information on the behaviour of individual, anonymised users over the entire lifetime of their cookie. This includes all sessions, the session duration and sales or transactions. In conjunction with the now more extensively applicable target group analysis, valuable data can be gathered to create and verify search persona and demand patterns that can be used as the basis for sustainable and content-related optimisations.

3) Bing: New search features with artificial intelligence

When you think about the news on artificial intelligence and its possible applications in search engines and voice-operated assistants, Google and Amazon have dominated the headlines up to now and have demonstrated their technological capabilities in the best possible PR light. Microsoft has been relatively quiet on this front except for a few bizarre mishaps from its AI-controlled voice-operated assistant. But this is about to change. The old giant from Redmond has announced that users of the search engine Bing will get to experience an entirely new range of features in 2018 that are based on the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The new image search feature which recognises and categorises objects automatically has already been live since December. This should burst the much-discussed “filter bubble” in the news search feature. With the “machine reading” system, texts will not only be recognised and understood, but aspects such as the political perspective will be identified, which means that Microsoft will be able to ensure balance in their search results. According to Microsoft, another new feature will be the improved auto-complete function on the search screen in order to achieve higher search result relevance. The Windows veterans don’t want to limit the use of artificial search intelligence to Bing. Microsoft has announced their intention to implement corresponding features soon in Office products OneDrive, SharePoint and Excel. This is a route that is not available to competitor Google, and so we are anxious to see how it works.

4) Welcome! Yandex has given us Alice

If your active circle of friends becomes smaller and smaller as you get older, the prospect of virtual acquaintances is even more exciting. Over the last few years, we’ve been able to get to know Alexa (Amazon), Allo (Google), Bixby (Samsung) and Cortana (Microsoft). If you were thinking that the next voice-operated assistant would have a name starting with “D”, you’d be wrong. The Russian search engine giant Yandex has named its youngest daughter Alice (Russian: Алиса). Since the end of 2017, Alice has been providing Yandex search results, weather reports, games and nursery rhymes. Of course, Skills can also be developed for her platform. In her own words, Alice provides the most reliable recognition of the Russian language and thanks to artificial intelligence, she can automatically identify the user’s search intention. So far, however, we have only been able to meet Alice in the Yandex app, but according to the company, further products are already being planned.

New wine into old wineskins and an endless relationship drama are what kept us busy last month. Meanwhile, in the Far East, a new player is gaining ground on the search engine stage. Find out who it is – and much more – in the SEO News for December.

1) YouTube data now available in Google Trends

Happily, belittled by SEO experts as a child’s plaything, Google Trends has been an extremely popular tool for many years, used to easily analyse the search market. In addition, the company from Mountain View likes to use its trend feature as a PR vehicle for clickable headlines (“The most important search terms of 2017”). Since the end of November, however, even experienced SEO experts have found it useful to look at the web tool, which quickly and simply provides a comparative overview of search demand and its development over time for up to 125 keywords simultaneously. While the data used to be based solely on Google’s web search, the results can now be filtered by Google’s news, shopping and images categories. What’s more, the search volumes from Google’s YouTube video portal can also be displayed separately. Particularly in times when moving image content is becoming increasingly important, Google provides a reliable source for preparatory market analysis and monitoring.

2) The pivotal question: Is social media important for SEO?

You might think this question is as old as humanity itself. This cannot be true, of course, as humanity is much older than Facebook, StudiVZ and Myspace together. Nevertheless, since the rise (and fall) of social media portals and apps, the search scene has been wondering: Do I really need this to do my SEO job right? To put it bluntly, social media content is not a direct ranking factor in the same way as backlinks, for example. This already inhibits the limited visibility of many posts and likes for search engines behind the login barriers of social media applications. But when viewed from a distance, it becomes clear that Social and Search pay for the same goals: both want to attract the attention of users, satisfy their need for information or entertainment and anchor a product or service as a brand in the collective consciousness of Internet users on the intricate paths of the user journeys. The paths can cross at different points, for example in the search hits of social media content on search engines. Even though it is hardly possible to verify a measurable connection, the realisation is obvious that Social and Search are brothers in spirit who can strengthen each other.

3) Top ranking factors of 2018 according to SEMrush

Now is the time for SEO experts to reflect on the achievements of the fading year and ask themselves what they might be up against in 2018. We started to look forward to the coming year in the last SEO News. A new study of the popular analysis tool SEMrush has now examined more than 600,000 keywords with the help of a self-learning algorithm and has compiled the 17 most important ranking factors. Not surprisingly, direct user signals are at the top of the ranking, such as the amount of direct traffic to a page, the time spent on the page and the bounce rate. Interestingly, the often disregarded off-page factors were considered relatively important by SEMrush. The classic factors such as referring domains, backlinks or IP circles are still ahead of content factors such as text length, metadata or rich media integration. This means that the findings of the study at least partly contradict the publicly announced position of the major search engines such as Google and Bing. Every search engine practitioner should definitely take a look at the study – if the holiday season permits.

4) Tencent floats Chinese search engine subsidiary on the stock exchange

Whether the future will be built in China may only be answered with certainty in a few years’ time. However, the fact is that China is rapidly on its way to becoming a new centre for technological development. The Chinese technology giant Tencent is the company behind the successful chat apps WeChat and QQ. Its search engine Sogou (literally: Search Dog) has been around since 2004, but was not able to escape the field of defeated competitors behind the industry giant Baidu. This is now set to change with the help of fresh money from an IPO and massive investments in artificial intelligence. According to the wishes of the parent company, Sogou users will also be able to search English-language websites within China’s legal boundaries. Tencent also wants to use its immense data pool from WeChat to raise the recognition of natural language and user intentions to a new level. Whether a new Google of Asia will emerge here remains to be seen.