As 2019 comes to a close, we’ve reached the end of an era in SEO. In the past year alone, the SERPs have changed dramatically. EAT rules the Google-verse, omni-channel is a requirement, and snippets are the new “first page.”
Oh, and we’re no longer just optimizing for mobile–we’re optimizing for voice, visual, and potentially, Facebook Search.
In this article, I’ll look at where I think search is headed in 2020 and the areas worth focusing on right now.
Content Marketing that Scales
Content marketing is no longer the revelation it was in the early 2010s. In 2020, my prediction is that brands will start thinking about what their content strategy looks like at scale.
One of my favorite strategies these days is creating one great piece of long-form, actionable content and building out a whole strategy around that one piece.
Consider how your content strategy works together from the press releases you push out to podcasts, videos, and Google Actions. These days, content includes multiple platforms, media, and even things like the language your chatbot uses.
While Google algorithm updates like Medic and BERT have helped content creators up their game when it comes to blog posts and articles, brands will need to focus on quality where new channels are concerned.
One of the biggest trends right now is, brands are creating content based off of original research or case studies that demonstrate expertise. My recommendation is that organizations build a team around creating and distributing content. Get a great researcher, a video pro, a couple of writers, designers, and so on.
This will allow you to write well-informed pieces, turn them into compelling visuals and videos that can be shared across all relevant channels.
Update Existing Content
By now, the idea that you should continuously publish content is something we take for granted as marketers. However, it’s worth noting that Google notices when you update your old stuff, too.
My rule of thumb is, no page on your website should be older than six months.
The reason is keeping your website up-to-date is a big deal for ranking. After all, one of the key SEO themes of 2019 is relevance.
Refreshing your blog posts, SEO pages, and any more detailed resources gives you a chance to update any stats, links, and external resources used in the content. My recommendation here is, the newer the better–however, depending on the content, some sources can be up to two years old.
You’ll also want to hone in on making sure every page is perfectly matched to the search queries visitors use to find them.
Conduct regular site audits using a tool like SEMRush, Screamingfrog or DeepCrawl to spot issues like duplicate or thin content, among other technical errors that could undermine your SERP performance.
You might also follow an approach like the one laid out below. They’ve done a nice job simplifying the assessment process starting with content analytics and digging into more specific areas that need improvement.
From optimizing your descriptions and targeting the right keywords, tagging, and transcribing, YouTube has been a relevant part of the SEO landscape for a while now.
Those brands that haven’t yet developed a strong YouTube strategy need to start taking the platform seriously.
As I mentioned above, scaling your content is all about applying your strategy to a wide range of media.
You can also embed YouTube videos in your blog posts, a little trick I use quite a bit on the Ignite site. Per Brian Dean, embedded videos may even help reduce your site’s bounce rate.
Additionally, sites with embedded YouTube videos can use schema to create a thumbnail that appears in the search results. Or, you can apply markup that enables enhanced features. Here’s “basic” versus “enhanced:”
It’s also worth noting that YouTube videos now feed into Google Discover and the Google Home Hub, presenting new opportunities to get your content in front of some new eyeballs.
Facebook just released a new addition to their paid ad lineup, and I think it’s going to be a pretty big deal. Facebook search ads, released in beta back in July, are now available to all brands and ads are beginning and are now included in the platform’s Automatic Placements.
Brands that do not want ads to display in the search results will need to disable Automatic Placements, as there is currently no option to opt-out.
Per Facebook, the new search ads will run in both the primary search results and in the Marketplace.
While Facebook search ads are brand new, the ability to use this new medium to drive conversions directly is a pretty big deal. Brands can now cut through the noise by targeting niche keywords that reach less saturated audiences, rather than relying on Facebook to keep their best interests in mind.
Where there has traditionally been this divide between paid search and paid social, Facebook is blurring the lines going after commercial intent users much like Google PPC.
Backlinking and Guest Posting Are More Intentional
Backlinking is one of the better ways to build trust online, showing Google and your visitors that other (credible) websites think your content is valuable.
According to a recent study, while quality backlinks always do a website some good, they’re particularly helpful for ranking for competitive keywords in competitive markets like tech.
Yes, I’m saying we’re taking backlinking with us into 2020, but with a caveat.
Today, it’s about quality, not quantity. I’ve started changing up my outreach strategy, focusing on promoting one or two pieces at a time to very specific outlets.
For me, that means reaching out to digital marketing platforms with high domain authority that targets a similar audience.
The same thing applies to guest posting. Only here, my recommendation is that you work on targeting long-term guest posting opportunities–like recurring contributions or a regular column. This allows you to build out your personal brand on another website, thereby increasing your real estate in the SERPs.
One of the biggest shifts we’ve seen over the past couple of years is that Schema.org has absolutely blown up.
While the search engine collaboration has been around since 2011, structured data has become essential for helping Google understand what your site is all about, as well as standing out in the increasingly competitive SERPs.
Google is answering more and more questions directly in the results–a practice known as “zero-click” results–which aims to keep users from navigating to a second location to find an answer.
Schema is essential for snippet eligibility, whether you’re aiming for a spot in the featured stories, the knowledge graph, or have a great recipe.
Structured data also feeds information directly to the Google Assistant. Which means, any time someone enters a voice-based query, the information they need is read back to them.
Google only “reads” one result out loud, so using schema to optimize for voice is a huge opportunity to become the “authority” for certain terms.
Finally, schema is closely linked to optimizing for voice search. While doesn’t only read from the snippet, most Google Assistant results are pulled from the top spot, as it’s often where you’ll find the most relevant answers.
Google Assistant is on everyone’s phones and doing more than fielding “near me searches.” Google Actions, or apps for the Assistant, are becoming increasingly important for SEO.
Sure, there hasn’t been one “runaway hit” in the Google Actions Directory–notable examples include the Dominos delivery action, ride-hailing Actions, or that one with John Legend’s voice.
That said, Google Actions are more of an extension of a brand than viral game, an opportunity for more people to discover your podcast, article, or recipe.
Google has been rolling out new (and easier) ways to build your own Action and claim it in the Google Actions Directory. And while claiming your Actions is important, I think down the road, the Directory could represent a bigger opportunity–perhaps a hybrid between the App Store and Google My Business.
2020 could be the year for taking your SEO strategy into international territory. Translating content into a different language with hreflang tags offers an opportunity to reach new markets by ranking in those languages–be it on your product pages, YouTube channel, or blog content.
As it stands, targeting international ranking opportunities isn’t super competitive right now.
Be warned: the lack of competition doesn’t necessarily mean international SEO is a breeze by any stretch. If you’re serious about connecting with an audience that speaks another language, you’ll need some insider support.
Hreflang tags directly translate your content, they’re not this magic bullet for delivering relevant content in any language. In fact, they’re best used for product pages or things like contact information, not in-depth blog content.
If you’re planning a content strategy, get some native speakers who understand how to connect with these new markets, perform keyword research, and create social posts that drive traffic.
Technical SEO in 2020
While technical issues shouldn’t happen a whole lot these days, they still happen. Going into 2020, the SEO stakes are higher, and small technical issues could mean losing a shot at the snippets to a competitor.
Page speed remains a factor–at the very least, scores should be 70+ for desktop and over 80 for mobile (you can check speeds here). As does site security and Google’s ability to crawl your site with minimal effort. Additionally, adding markup to your site means more opportunities for technical errors.
The good news is, over the past year, Google has revamped the Search Console retiring old reports and replacing them with new, user-friendly ones.
Google’s lineup of current GSC reports makes it easy to keep track of manual penalties and smaller stuff like schema mishaps and poorly-optimized URLs.
E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust)
E-A-T, the acronym that shook up the SERPs this year, isn’t an official ranking factor.
But, it’s a super important part of SEO today. Google’s Danny Sullivan, has pointed out multiple times this year, following the guidelines could be one of the best ways to protect against algorithmic disaster.
The 167-page Google Quality Rater Guidelines isn’t exactly a beach read but it will help you understand what Google considers to be “quality content.”
EAT is particularly important for brands that deal in what’s known as “your money or your life content” or YMYL. The category covers financial, medical, and legal topics, or anything else that could impact someone’s health or well-being if they accept advice from someone online.
The point is, for YMYL websites, you need to either have a certified expert write the content or work closely with those who have the right credentials.
For example, health-focused websites should ideally feature content written by health professionals, done right, interviewing experts and citing credible sources may be sufficient.
Outside of the high-stakes world of YMYL content, expertise is less obvious. According to Moz, expert content is content that meets you users’ needs and understands the intent behind the queries they use.
From there, marketers can build authority through earning quality backlinks and growing a positive reputation across social channels and third-party sites.
Trust comes from a different combination of factors from social proof to including a physical address on your website, offering fast and secure checkout, and providing safety information for products.
Voice Search SEO in 2020
We’ve all heard that stat; by 2020, over half of all search queries will be voice-based. It’s been around for most of the past decade, is now a reality.
As it stands, there’s a guide to basically every, single way you can use schema to create a rich result, as well as everything that needs to be marked up to generate a voice response.
Optimizing for voice means optimizing for other SEO elements like mobile page speed and reaching for those featured snippet opportunities by applying the right markup. Other things that can help you out, here:
- Write content with a more “conversational” tone to help Google’s machine learning algorithms understand what’s on the page. Chances are, it’ll lead to better writing, anyway.
- Work on increasing all aspects of organic SEO–Google tends to pull voice results from content that ranks in the top five organic results.
- Include a “question and answer” component–Make it easy for Google to identify the query and interpret the answer. Use the query in your H1s, 2s, and 3s and offer up a concise answer.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) were the subject of much debate going into this year, as AMP pages come with some drawbacks like lost links or potential damage to revenue streams.
AMP’s stripped down HTML pages aren’t an official ranking factor, but mobile page speed is.
Additionally, users can apply structured data to AMP content so that it shows up as a SERP feature and automatically generates a Google Action.
Keep in mind, however, that adding AMP mark-up means you’re giving Google permission to use that piece of content. This means that companies will need to establish policies around what to share with Google–and what to keep to yourself.
As mentioned, sometimes the extra speed isn’t worth the trade off.
Look, if SEO 2020 seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. There are a ton of moving pieces that must come together for this whole thing to work.
With video and voice, Actions and EAT, plus so much schema… SEO is way different than it was a decade ago. However, it’s important to note that SEO still revolves around relevance, ease-of-use, and demonstrating authority.
We just have more tools at our fingertips than we did when Panda started cleaning up the SERPs.