In 2020, to succeed with SEO, you will need to adopt a user-focused approach with smart and integrated marketing strategies and a customer-first approach at the heart. With rapid changes in user-behaviour and search algorithms, it’s important to stay on the top of all of the latest developments. See our top 2020 SEO trends you need to know and must adopt within your online and digital marketing strategies to succeed.
Towards the end of last year, we saw the launch of a new algorithm update called BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) that signifies a huge change in search. This update will have a large impact on rankings in 2020. It will help Google to understand search intent better than ever before and will affect 10% of all search queries. This should improve search accuracy and search results quality.
This is what Google said:
“These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT is able to help Search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results.
Particularly for longer, more conversational queries, or searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” matter a lot to the meaning, Search will be able to understand the context of the words in your query. You can search in a way that feels natural for you.”
This update is still in its infancy and has not resolved all of the longer-tail search query relevance issues. However, it is a huge leap towards a better understanding of language and delivering search results that in turn will better answer customer search intent in the future.
Audience-first High Quality Content (this is a big one!)
This year more than ever you will need to include an audience-first approach across all of your business strategies and channels. Integrating SEO activity within other marketing channels from the start and ensuring that SEO is not an afterthought, offers an opportunity to gather a large amount of useful insight that can be used to develop effective integrated annual marketing business strategy.
Think about how customer insights can help to identify future and currently trending topics. How can the content be scheduled to reach the right audiences and at the right time? Can you address what your visitor is looking for with well a rounded response that meets all their needs? Will that require producing different kinds of formats (articles, research content, videos, podcasts, thought leadership content, etc.) to achieve a better impact? Be sure to start planning annual content with relevant seasonal events (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc. ) as well as important marketing activities in mind. All of the above questions will help to address the questions that your audience might have. It will also help to ensure you are producing effective, relevant and high impact content that resonates with your audience, that helps to improve brand awareness and most importantly, converts.
Think of the ‘full loop’ approach, i.e. publish content onsite, push it through social and email. Publish PR and partner with relevant publishers to reach relevant audiences and receive traffic that converts onsite. All of this will help to ensure maximum reach of your content to your audiences and potential customers.
Structure your content to be user-first and ensure all the technical elements are taken care of. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to do all the hard work and then let your customer sit and wait for your webpages to load for 30 seconds on mobile.
Don’t publish content for the sake of publishing. I have lost count of how many times I have had to recommend removing irrelevant content from websites that either brings no traffic or ranks for completely irrelevant terms. One example is a financial currency conversion brand ranking for Irish jokes. Make it your priority to plan for and produce the best content possible that is relevant to your topic and will fully answer your audience’s questions. Know what your user needs to know now and needs to know next. Doing this will help to future-proof all of your content, receive relevant traffic and gain better visibility.
Additionally, it is important to remember: “The goal of switching the mentality to more of a topic-focus is to create content that addresses an entire conversation holistically as opposed to just worrying about the single keyword a page should be targeting.”
Think about long-tail searches, as they have a click-through rate of 3% to 5% higher than generic searches and account for around 70% of all search requests. They also convert better as user-intent is much more clearly defined with long-tail search queries. We are in an era where voice searches are on the rise. Voice search devices use Featured Snippets to read out the answer. Featured Snippets can be an effective strategy to raise your search visibility above strong number one publishers, steal a significant share of CTR of around 20% and generally raise your brand awareness.
Expertise, Authority and Trust – the three factors Google measures on a website in order to ensure search engine users receive the best experience. Google has employed human contractors to evaluate its search results and although they don’t directly influence search rankings, those contractors provide feedback that helps Google to improve its search results and its algorithm.
All websites which could affect people’s financial situation or health, and are targeting organic YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) type searches, now more than ever need to ensure that they have the proper expertise to provide information on those topics. Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content is the type of information that, if presented inaccurately, untruthfully, or deceptively, could directly impact the reader’s happiness, health, safety, or financial stability. Trustworthiness is going to be very important in 2020 and therefore connecting with the right type of content partners and influencers is key.
Even today algorithms do not fully understand all of a website’s content. It is therefore important to ‘help’ search engines to understand as much as possible of the content through structured data. This will help search engines to deliver better search results based on user intent.
Going the extra mile and working on improving CTRs by enhancing your content and product features will help to drive additional visibility and traffic to your website. Focusing on structured data in 2020 will help give you a competitive edge.
Technical and User Experience
Since July 2018, Google has been using page speed as a much more prominent ranking factor, to align with its ‘Mobile First’ algorithm. This means that while considering a range of other ranking factors, Google will aim to serve the fastest loading site to users. If the website speed is low, it negatively impacts that website’s visibility in the search results. Additionally, user-experience and conversions will also be affected negatively as visitors have to spend a long time opening each page as they navigate through the website.
Build sites for mobile-first and then make them compatible for desktops. Your website may not be yet receiving over 50% of its traffic from mobile, but if you improve your mobile performance you may notice an influx of mobile traffic once you address potential technical barriers to a good mobile speed. Track mobile rankings and ensure that your online reporting contains insights into your mobile performance.
Growing brand through local is a must in 2020 if you want to grow and protect brand presence. Optimise all the entities and try to own Google’s Knowledge Graph. Grow your brand’s prominence to make sure your brand is well-known in your field of service/trade. According to Google, “Prominence is also based on information that Google has about a business from across the web (like links, articles, and directories). Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business’s local ranking. Your position in web results is also a factor, so SEO best practices also apply to local search optimization.”
Local search results are location-based and are closely connected to mobile search. More Google searches have taken place on mobile devices than on computers since 2015. Since 2018, Google has adopted mobile-first indexing. “Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. Historically, the index primarily used the desktop version of a page’s content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query. Since the majority of users now access Google Search with a mobile device, Googlebot primarily crawls and indexes pages with the smartphone agent going forward.”
Further local developments can be seen in Google Analytics, where Google tests store visits tracking in Beta. Therefore, it is important to ensure all of the aspects of the mobile optimisation are taken care of and all of the assets are optimised for maximum performance and visibility. This is important for all brands with or without a set address location that is open to the public. Having good visibility within your target area (street, city, country) and having good brand visibility through Knowledge Graphs will benefit all types of brands.
Zero-click searches, or Featured Snippets, became a big reality in 2019, and they will continue to grow in importance in 2020. Make sure that you are adopting the latest practices and using newer schemas (e.g. FAQ and How-To), image targeting, and favicon optimization. There are a lot of reservations about featured snippets, as according to the latest Jumpshot data more than 50% of searches end up with no user-click to the website.
Overall, the decline of organic clicks has apparently been brought on by UI changes on the search results page. A redesign of Google Ads, Featured Snippets, People Also Ask and the introduction of support for FAQ and ‘how-to’ structured data have all influenced current user behaviour and have contributed to mobile paid ad clicks rising from 3.4% in January 2016 to 11.4% in June 2019.
All of the above said, Featured Snippets can help increase your onsite traffic significantly. If the answer in the Featured Snippet does not fully address the search query the user is more likely to click through to find out more information about their subject of interest. The Featured Snippet results attract 20% CTR over the organic number one result, as well as help to grow brand visibility and awareness. Therefore, Featured Snippet strategy could help to overtake the ‘aggregator land’ which occupies the top of the pages for many competitive searches.
Featured Snippet results are also read out by voice search devices and voice assistants. As the voice assistant reads out the Featured Snippet from the first result on the page, optimising for Featured Snippets will help to bring further visibility to your site and brand.
A large amount of data suggests that voice searches are only going to rise in the next few years and it is paramount that your content strategy is ready ahead of time for this behavioural search change.
As people become familiar with voice search, the demand for voice search-based purchases will keep growing. In the retail ecommerce space, grocery shopping accounted for 20% of voice-based orders; entertainment shopping accounted for 19% of voice-based orders and electronics shopping accounted for 17% of voice-based orders. Voice-based shopping is expected to jump to $40 billion in 2022 in the USA.
72% of users surveyed by Bing have used voice search to look for information through a personal digital assistant (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana) and Bright Local’s 2018 voice search study found that 58% of consumers have used local search to find local business information. While the stats are strong and the behavioural change is underway, how do you actually make a case for a voice search optimisation strategy? The answer is not an easy one but would mainly depend on a number of factors, i.e. your audience research and voice search usage demand; your website’s direct traffic which partially comes from mobile apps, mobile Safari and voice search assistants; your long-tail conversational search queries; featured snippet availability and their search volumes; tests of voice search queries that you want to appear for; etc. The research and the data that you will gather will be the key in helping you to understand if voice search is the strategy you should be considering to pursue this year and what returns you may be expecting from it. On a personal note, I have noticed a significant amount of traffic increases, some have seen around 30% CTR increases, to the pages that were triggering Featured snippets.
Building Brand and Link Building
In 2020, link building will be more about brand building. The more customers trust you and the more familiar they are with your brand, the more they will share your content, talk about you, and buy your products and services. Therefore, plan to be original and adopt a consumer-first approach in 2020.
Understand your audience, partner with websites your audience trusts and reads, and receive relevant traffic that will convert. Be a thought leader, publish original content and insightful industry reports, compile new expert advice – all will help you to become a dominant voice in the market and will give you entity-related signals that will help you to rank and be visible in search results.
Other important considerations for 2020
Don’t forget about Amazon optimisation. With over 50% of product searches starting on Amazon, it is important to ensure your brand is present on Amazon.
The last, but not least, consideration is growth hacking, which focuses on the identification of the most effective and optimal conversion strategy through AB testing, website development, analytics and SEO strategy. Clients want to improve their sales and aiding them with performance optimisation will be key in 2020 and for many years to come.