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A little background first.

The core mission at Google remains the same; providing users with relevant search results from the most trusted sources. Understanding this helps digital marketers like us to adapt our SEO strategies in order to provide an awesome user experience without compromise. While Google continues to gain market share and increase its value, it's no secret that a big part of this valuation comes from ad revenue on their search engine results page.

If everybody stopped using Google tomorrow and began using a different search engine, Google would be worth significantly less overnight and Google wants to make sure this never happens.

Google is motivated to deliver searchers with the best search results possible. Hence, 400+ algorithm tweaks per year, keeping us SEOs on our toes.

As an SEO company and services provider, we have an obligation to stay aware of emerging SEO trends so that we can incorporate them into our strategies and ensure we are providing our clients with creative, sound business advice. As SEO professionals, it is our duty to keep our clients informed of these industry trends as well.

Let's dive into the past year of search engine news and algorithm updates before we talk about where SEO is headed in the future!


SEO in 2019 Overview: What Happened?

In 2019, Google continued with its 2018 strategy of focusing on 'Quality.' Significant algorithm updates this past year you should be aware of include:
  • E.A.T. Update Refinements
  • Y.M.Y.L Update Refinements
  • Bert Update
  • Featured Results Evolved
  • Star Ratings Disappeared

E.A.T. Update Refinements: 

In 2018, Google rolled out its E.A.T. guidelines (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). Throughout 2019, Google continued penalizing sites for poor quality or thin content.

Google's AI has spent the past several months using machine learning to help better determine the 'original' source of all content on the internet and has started implementing its own suggested canonicalization in order to reduce duplicate content in the search results.


Y.M.Y.L. Update Refinements:

Originally rolled out in early August 2018, the "Your Money or Your Life" & "Medic" updates continue to change ranking signals at various points during 2019 for "major health/financial impact" niches, such as health/diagnosis, supplements, personal finance, mortgages, car purchases, etc (anything considered to be a major health/finance decision).


Bert Update:

In October of 2019, Google implemented its most impactful search algorithm update in the past 5 years, affecting 10 percent of all search results! The BERT update is Google's attempt to significantly improve the understanding of long-tail queries - it's one of the biggest leaps forward in the entire history of Search. Clients saw a lot of variables, especially in certain industries, and results jumped all over the place.

As we are nearing the end of 2019 the dust is beginning to settle. 🙌

Sites in certain industries, as seen below, experienced frequent fluctuations. As we observe declining organic rankings and traffic, we adjust our approach to help clients maximize their online potential.


Link-Building:

Google has been continually dialing in the penalties for spammy or poor link-building practices. Some sites even saw negative ranking impacts in 2019 from poor link-building practices dating all the way back to seven or eight years ago (the algorithm is finally catching up to sketchy things that were done years ago). Disavows continue to be an effective way to clean up your link profile and restore lost rankings in Google (more on disavows below).


Quality Content & Long-Form Content Dominated

Over the years quality content has been a theme of Google updates, but this year many SEOs have taken it to a new level and seen major gains. Articles, like the one you're reading now, have more words than the typical 500-1000 word page. We've seen these types of articles drive traffic to the most popular websites. The new theme: build long, really well-written, thorough content and publish less often. Instead of writing three blog posts or articles a week, write one awesome one.

Sites like the one below are drawing a huge amount of traffic with just over 100 pages of quality content.

SEO trends seen in Ahrefs

 


Disavows Helped Rankings Jump Right Back

When traffic drops, performing an audit of your backlink profile and submitting a disavow file to Google is an appropriate strategy to combat the fall. Simply stated, your backlink profile consists of all of the links from external URLs that point to your website and is used by search engines to evaluate your domain authority. Spammy, low-quality backlinks pointing to your website can negatively impact your ability to rank. Submitting a disavow file tells Google to ignore links that you do not want to be counted against you.

We've seen some major impact from submitting a disavow file with results in as little as two weeks and 100% plus traffic gains. We suggest disavowing a set of links at a time and submitting them about a week apart. This helps to see the impact of the initial list and make an informed decision as to how to handle the next set. If you're not an SEO expert, don't try creating a disavow file yourself. It can have major negative consequences if done incorrectly.

A set of disavows, over the course of months, helped the client below get right back to the top after a 70% traffic decline. If you're experiencing a major organic traffic drop, talk with us about our Google recovery service.

SEO trends with disavow files

SERP Star Ratings Disappeared

Google rolled out an update to their results making it so star ratings appeared way less. MOZ said the drop was by 14%, but the eye test would tell you it was even more significant. Many results we looked at more than 50% of the website on the first page of Google had stars show, now none of them do. It's always been interested how the schema code works, basically allowing any webmaster to add code to show these "ratings". While lying isn't recommended, in theory, anyone should say their website is rated 5 stars with 10,000 reviews - it's just a line of code you add to your site. We've always recommended citing the source and of course, using real reviews.

While these star ratings have disappeared for many sites, we discovered a method to get them back for a majority of our clients using updated versions of the Schema code and how it is set up was needed. Want your stars back? Talk with us.

2020 SEO Predictions
So, what does the future hold?
Making your website mobile friendly

 

We'll look into our crystal ball and give our insights into the SEO trends of 2020.

Unlike the previous year, there are not any major updates looming over our heads, like the mobile-first update was in 2018. But, whether you know changes are coming or not, we can guarantee you (just like the YMYL / EAT update) major changes will appear.

While Google continues to refine its algorithm and incorporates artificial intelligence to try and determine the ideal results for each and every query, the way people search evolves along with it. The result is that Google and its searchers indirectly work together to change the way people and search engines interact, and more importantly, how we consume information and buy goods or services in the digital world.

Pay attention to these trends for 2020, and you'll be sure to stay a step ahead of your competition as we head into a brand new decade and era of search engine marketing:

  • Featured Snippets
  • No-Click Results
  • Artificial Intelligence and Voice Search
  • Loading Speed & Technical Optimizations
  • Video Becomes King
  • Google My Business Changes
  • Grow Your Backlink Profile

Featured / Rich Snippets

Featured snippets rolled out in 2017 and have drastically shifted the way SEO professionals target keywords. Google tries to give more and more info on the search results pages (see "No-Click Search Results below for more info). Targeting for featured snippets remains the best way to take up primo SERP real estate.

What's it mean:

  • Click-through rates (CTR) are increasing for ads and decreasing for organic as Google gets sneakier and sneakier about ad placement.
  • If your business relies on mobile results, you will be more affected as this tends to affect local businesses where featured results are more likely to populate the search results.

What should you do?

  • Have your SEO agency perform keyword research specific to keywords that are relevant to your business and typically trigger a featured result in the SERPs.
  • Focus on targeting organic featured snippet results as part of your SEO campaign to carve out your organic space.
  • Determine which keywords are driving your best conversions, and prioritize your SEO efforts on those keywords and their related terms.
  • Create new informational content that answers long-tail queries like "how to..." and DIY information.

No-Click Search Results (aka Zero-Click)

Featured snippets have been a growing SEO trend for several years now. According to a June 2019 article in Search Engine Land, nearly half of all Google searches result in zero clicks. In other words, for better or worse, Google is often providing searchers with the info they need directly in the search results, whether it be a phone number for a local business or a featured snippet that provides that recipe they were looking for right in the search results. The searcher gets their info and moves on, without ever going on to another site.

Source: Jumpshot and SparkToro

What's it mean:

  • Click-through rates (CTR) are increasing for ads and decreasing for organic as Google gets sneakier and sneakier about ad placement.
  • If your business relies on mobile results, you will be more affected as this tends to affect local businesses where featured results are more likely to populate the search results.

What should you do?

  • Focus on targeting organic featured snippet results as part of your SEO campaign to carve out your organic space.
  • Determine which keywords are driving your best conversions, and prioritize your SEO efforts on those keywords and their related terms.

Artificial Intelligence and Voice Search

SEO professionals have been talking about artificial intelligence and its impact on our industry for years. Using machine learning and artificial intelligence, Google strengthens its algorithm, making it both harder to manipulate rankings without merit and also generally improving their ability to give searchers the best results.

Now powered by BERT, Google's neural network-base technique that processes language in a way we have never seen before. BERT actually stands for "Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers" which sounds fancy to us!

What's it mean:

  • Rankbrain has not been replaced, BERT and RankBrain will work together.
  • Google has invested heavily in NLP technology (natural language processing). This will be the wave of the future, no doubt.
  • Eventually, SEO will become less and less about "tricking" Google" and more and more about how searches are related to the search query.

What should you do?

  • Make sure the quality of your writing is appropriate for the topic you're attempting to rank for. You can't really "trick" BERT, but understand that Google will look for different types of quality depending on the topic. For example, BERT will probably demand a lot from the quality of medical journals and that type of academic writing, but blogs about your favorite TV show don't need to be written at the collegiate level.
  • If rankings dropped after BERT or any other algorithm update, hire a professional SEO agency to investigate and potentially remedy the situation.

Loading Speed & Technical Optimizations

Loading speed & technical optimizations have always been important, but even more so as Google continues to focus on user experience and mobile-first indexing.

What's it mean:

  • This is not new, Google has strived for fast loading sites for years.

What should you do?

  • Have an SEO audit done by a company fluent in technical optimizations, page speed, etc.
  • Ensure you have a faster loading, cleaner, and more user-friendly website than your competitors.

Video

Video has become increasingly useful in the last few years, as the ubiquity of smartphones on faster cellphone networks has evolved to be able to better support streaming video. It's well known that click-through rate (CTR) and dwell time on your page can be SEO factors. In other words, engaging your visitors with videos is a great way to get your message across in a more direct way.

What's it mean:

  • Expect to see significantly more embedded videos on websites, especially in places like eCommerce stores, informational blogs, etc.

What should you do?

  • Invest in some quality video production equipment to make videos in-house or hire a company to do this for you.
  • Add videos to existing pages that rank well but could perform better with video.
  • Upload your company videos to places like YouTube to maximize those digital channels as well.

Google My Business Changes

What is Local SEO?

Check out this great article from Search Engine Land and you'll see that GMB has had a significant local search update as recently as December 2, 2019.

Local SEO is important for, you guessed it, local businesses. Google My Business is a way for businesses to manage their company profile and information. This GMB data is then used by Google to populate the search results, the local map packs, etc.

Google My Business continues to be a priority for local businesses looking to outrank companies within the same service area. With voice search, more and more people are looking for local businesses with their smartphone every day.

What should you do?

  • Make sure you have claimed your business on Google My Business.
  • Ensure you are optimizing for mobile users and voice search. Put yourself in the minds of potential searchers to imagine what they're looking for.

Grow Your Backlink profile

Recently, we've really seen an uptick in websites with stronger link profiles, meaning they are gaining new backlinks on a regular basis. Whether this is through high-quality guest blogging on industry-related authority websites or "natural" links from high rankings content, links are moving the needle. The combination of high-quality content and links coming into the content will make up the first page of Google.



The Important Action Items for SEO Trends of 2020 Include:

  • Continue to target featured snippets! This remains one of the best ways to take up more real estate and dominate your competitors in the SERPs.
  • Account for artificial intelligence. This means creating better content, doing more thorough keyword research.
  • Create long-form, amazing content! Take your current content that ranks and expand it to be even better and more thorough.
  • Include video on your landing pages, articles and top products
  • Consider LSI and the supporting terms you may want to include on your page to add context and depth to your content to accommodate for artificial intelligence factors like RankBrain and BERT.
  • Read the new Google General Guidelines and see how you can apply those to your website. Use schema and rich data to boost your CTR and boost rankings while targeting featured snippets.
  • Optimize your website for voice search by considering questions people may search in your industry and building out informational content around those queries.
  • Work to get your brand mentioned in the media. Use press releases and social media to get your message out.
  • Consider search intent and build landing pages to focus on truly satisfying the searcher's query.
Tips for a mobile friendly website
Take your SEO results to the next level in 2020

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