Spider Robinson is a Science Fiction writer who said, “The world turns upside down every ten years. But we don’t notice, because we turn upside down right along with it.”
By way of explaining where things might be by the end of the year, consider how far the world has turned upside down since the start of the year.
It’s a long post – a lot has happened. But, if you only remember one thing from this post it’s this. Intent is king.
Search engines are moving from “see the word” to “see the intent” – and any SEO marketer who doesn’t adjust their thinking will be left behind.
It starts, as does all good marketing, with a deeper understanding of the customer.
1. Advanced understanding of user-intent
If you want to grow your business, make sure you’re talking to the right audience.
Last year was probably peak keyword.
The first six months of this year has seen a differing approach being adopted by leading players.
People will use different words and different phrases when searching for the same thing. The challenge is to understand what they mean when they search, and give them the answer in the easiest way you can.
Changes to algorithms are rewarding relevance and intent.
They are making it more and more rewarding to understand the drivers behind each part of your sales funnel.
Matching keyword phrases are becoming very 2018. Find ways to answer questions, not just match phrases. This raises the importance of content. Rather than simply put content out there that is filled with keywords and matched phrases, identify the search intent of users and write content to that intent. Broad terms still work when attracting visitors and raising awareness – because new-to-the-industry users will think in broad terms. But when you get further into the funnel, customers know more and more, so you should be more specific, and consider the intent of the user at that stage of the funnel.
Answer their question.
And, when you do, answer their next question while you’re at it.
Prepare to reward intent.
By the end of the year, search intent will be One Of The Big Trends Of 2020.
This gives smart marketers six months to get ahead of the curve.
It means research.
It means being able to show the results the user was actually searching for, not a response to the keywords they used, to give them the answer that is relevant, but not the answer they asked for.
Develop content that offers more solutions than you think the user needs.
Learn to optimise for the big six.
Who. What. Where. When. How. Why. Who.
2. People are going beyond Google Search
As we stand now, Google is still the main search engine. By a long way. But…
In the same way Google is encroaching on the markets of Apple and Amazon and YouTube, Apple and Amazon and YouTube are upping their game in search.
Amazon’s search engine apparently uses a similar algorithm to Google’s but is focused on only Amazon pages. While this could just be them practising for a bigger launch, it actually plays into the hands of smart SEO marketers. Amazon has become the buyer’s bible. In the United States, Amazon is the first port of call for over 50% of online shoppers – whether they’re buying or wanting to check a price they’ve seen elsewhere.
What goes in the states tends to go in Australia.
Amazon is becoming a retailers search engine.
The lesson is clear.
Optimise for Amazon in your search.
Become multi-faceted. Find out how to rank where people search for what they’re looking for – whether that’s CDs or cars or corn flakes.
Learn to drive traffic and engagement beyond your website.
Use featured snippets. Use hosted articles. Use content aggregators.
Optimise for devices beyond the main screens – home assistants might just be starting out, but we feel they will be a major source of information for shoppers.
3. Mobile is the new black
Speaking of going beyond the main screen, mobile SEO is rising because mobile is becoming the main screen.
Google have been migrating sites to mobile-first indexing and ranking for over a year. Not just your mobile site. The index looks at mobile and desktop and combines them into a single index, with mobile taking precedence.
The lessons for SEO marketers are both internal and external.
Google is looking at your sites and ranking your mobile and desktop sites. If you need to drive business to your site, get your mobile site search-friendly.
Find a tame mobile bot and have it crawl your site.
You’ll see how well it ranks.
And make sure your mobile speed is up there. Loading speeds matter for search. They matter even more for mobile, because users simply assume if it’s taking too long to load, it’ll take too long to do anything and they don’t have time to wait. If they did, they’d probably be searching on a desktop.
4. Faster is better
Your site’s loading speed is one of the factors behind your ranking.
The faster you load, the higher up you go.
Same for mobile. While this is in its early days (see above) mobile speed is becoming a factor.
Obviously, different devices load at different speeds, and Google seem to be taking this into account. But if they can figure out how they can measure speed of load and allow for difference in devices and networks, mobile speed will be a bigger factor by the end of the year.
Don’t give up on optimisation yet.
Optimisation still rules.
But spend time making sure your optimisation is removing any speed bumps in your site, because these two factors will, we believe, be a major force this time next year.
5. If you’re not making machine learning work for you…
… you’ll be working for the machines.
Many of the big players in the world’s biggest market are turning to machine learning.
And, while many Australian businesses lack the budgets for SEO R&D, there are lessons we can learn before we all become a part of the matrix.
Google is investing big money in machine learning.
Machine learning will be a key driver in the search engines’ drive to reward intent and not simply key words.
Some of the changes will be limited to Google and Bing and Yahoo.
Others will impact advertisers.
Good SEO marketers are already preparing for this by developing content specifically aimed at a machine learning 2020 or 2021.
For those marketers wanting to get on board the machine learning bus remember, the need for analysis and reporting remains critical as machine learning content will start to feel like a state of constant beta-testing.
Many industry leaders are suggesting that AI will become the next big thing.
We’ll move from mobile-first to AI-first. It won’t happen next year, but that certainly seems to be the way the world is moving.
6. Structure is driving behaviour
The architecture of your site is important.
The structure of your data is even more important.
Structured data allows search bots to process content faster. And allows the bots to determine the relationship of separate pieces of content. Which feeds, again, into search intent.
Which suggests we should all be paying attention to active and passive search techniques, information architecture tags, schema vocabulary on relevant pages, and metadata, as well as structured mark-up – to make it easier for AI driven bots to more easily see the answer to the intent in our site.
7. Search engines are getting better at recognising reputation
One of the biggest developments for marketers that is almost going under the radar is the idea of brand signals.
Google is using brand mentions in its search algorithm to determine a brand’s authority in an industry or a specific area.
It’s doing this through unlinked mentions, recognising how many times a brand appears in conversations around particular areas.
The lesson here, we believe, is that brand marketers have to invest in brand communications to raise organic authority, which in turn raises their relevance and ranking. Find ways to weave your brand name into non-advertising communications, in chats or in PR or forums, but – and this is a big but – it must be natural. If you just bombard people with your name, they’ll react against it and your team won’t be able to stem the wrath of a social channel scorned.
Google are also looking at context, looking at the sentiment and language used around mentions of the brand.
This might present opportunities to engage influencers. People who are able to give you third-party mentions (in context) and provide the trust signals the bots are looking for.
8. Content is driving sales
Google is getting better and better at determining depth and breadth of your content and, through that, the quality of your content.
Depth is starting to equal height in the rankings – the deeper the information and expertise shown, the higher you’ll rank.
Just keeping a blog ticking over isn’t enough to reward the “new is best” bots. New content might see a blip in results, but you need to score back links, and to do that, you need to be relevant.
You need to be new and relevant.
Spend the time creating great blog posts that will get shared and linked, rather than just scatter-gunning the market with a heap of new stuff which doesn’t rate a second read.
Create content that makes people want to do something. To send to their friends. To download. To bookmark. To connect. Solve a problem. Make a sale. Get a lead. Have an insight. Take a perspective. Back up an opinion.
Remember, having content that gets people to your site is only part of the battle.
Be the helpful one.
Let them see a next step – either a next step in their journey to your bottom line or a next step in their search for a longer-term solution. Both options will work for you as far as Google is concerned.
Content strategy has been with us for a while now.
As with any maturing trend, you can’t just assume the answer is “do more”. You need to be relevant.
2019 is rewarding people who think quality, not quantity.
2020 looks like being an even more rewarding year for people who invest in better content.
9. Developing trust in an untrustworthy world
If you only remember three things from this post, remember these.
You need to increase E.A.T.
Expertise. Authority. Trustworthiness.
These are the guidelines developed for the people who rate Google’s algorithms. By understanding how they measure the algorithm, we get a clearer picture of how those algorithms will measure content.
Expertise is the measure of knowledge shown in the content.
To boost your Expertise level is simple. Show your expertise. Say something relevant that no-one else is saying which helps boost the knowledge of the people visiting your site.
Authority is the measure of subject-matter expertise.
It goes deeper into the understanding of the niche you’re playing in. Being an expert is good. Being an authority is better.
Trust is about trust.
Is your content accurate? Is it helpful? Can people trust it?
The better you score on the EAT scale, the higher you’ll rank.
It goes back to quality of content. If you want your content to be helpful, to show expertise in an area and demonstrate authority about a subject, and rank higher as a result, you need to find people who can create it.
You cannot simply cut and paste.
Add context to anything you publish.
If you publish by directly lifting a piece, give them a credit. The back link to them helps them out a little. Not doing it can hurt you a lot.
Treat your content as an extension of your reputation-building efforts.
The more expertise you present, the better people will perceive you.
And, thankfully, the better google will perceive you.
10. The call for voice search is getting louder
More and more searches are being done by voice.
The boom in screenless devices (Google Home as an example) is driving the uptake, but hands-free driving and ease of use are also significant contributors.
Recent estimations suggest, by as early as next year, “Siri”, “Alexa” and “Hey Google” will be the opening words in over 50 percent of all searches.
To understand the challenge for SEO marketers, say, out loud, without thinking, how you might search for mattress protectors in your area. Then type in a search for mattress protectors.
Most voice searches are more conversational than simply “mattress protector Moorabbin.”
It follows that SEO key phrases will probably pay off better than key words.
Statements work for typed search. Conversational phrase-based search suggests buying questions will also reap rewards.
It means a little extra thought, but it’s worth it with the rising volume of voice search.
Many of the golden rules of SEO will still apply.
Shape your key phrases to suit specific stages of the funnel.
What is the customer planning on doing next? Shape the language around the questions they’ll be asking Alexa.
11. On-page optimisation is becoming critical
On-page optimisation has been a simple win for many marketers in 2018. On-page optimisation feeds into the E.A.T. guidelines.
It can prove expertise by answering FAQs
It can prove authority while addressing customer support issues.
It can prove trust by making sure internal searches provide the results users are searching for.
Or by making forms easier.
By making links simpler to understand.
By encouraging next steps.
By providing options that get users to their objective faster.
12. The rising tide of visibility
Last year, we were optimising websites.
This year, canny businesses are optimising the search experience.
This will catch on and presents an easy win for businesses looking for an edge.
Make it simple. Draw them a picture.
Show them what they’ve come to do.
Pictures with featured snippets.
Create answer boxes.
Show a graph.
Get used to being visual.
It will help you prepare for visual search.
Long rumoured to be “almost here”, the capability of search engines to recognise images is increasing.
Usage theories suggest users will upload a photo of, say, a dress.
The search engine will then show results for images, in shops, which look like that dress.
13. An increasing focus on local search
Local business needs local search.
Local search gives customers who are ready to buy an easier path to your door.
If someone is in a suburb, and wants to know where a family-friendly restaurant is, chances are they want something they don’t have to travel more than a couple of kilometres to find.
Local search optimisation, precision targeting, and hyper-local targeting and all becoming big business for small business.
“Near me” searches more than doubled between 2014 and 2015 (according to Google).
Customers are expecting precision when they search.
If you’re an SEO marketer, don’t just fish where the fish are, fish where the fish are waiting for an excuse to leap out of the water and shove money down your throat.
If you’d like to know more about how SEO works in 2019, and should work in 2020, give us a Shout.