Where marketing strategies are concerned, SEO is the baby of the group in many respects. Yet while it may be young, it grew up rapidly – kind of like Tom Hanks in Big – and it’s constantly evolving at an alarming rate. If you happen to be an SEO specialist, keeping up with the little tyke is a full-time occupation. Current SEO practice bears almost no resemblance to its original form which saw keywords stuffed in everywhere with relish, and pages packed with text cleverly hidden in the background colour so you didn’t even know they were there.
Yes, there are certain things that always remain a constant (like the need to include keywords in your titles and prioritise responsiveness), but there is so much more to search engine marketing that’s a constantly spinning kaleidoscope of change.
The fundamental challenge of SEO – making sure your website is easily found and understood by the right people – hasn’t changed. Yet the tactics and strategies we need to employ to achieve this change drastically from year to year.
This year is no exception, and as we head into the new year it’s vital your business it taking advantage of all the big search engine marketing trends of 2020. Google and the other major platforms are fighting to become the end destination of user journeys (a fact which, more than anything else, will define how we optimise websites for search marketing in future).
Your business needs an SEM strategy that allows you to remain effective and current within the framework Google has created. Here are the biggest SEO tactics and trends for 2020 and exactly how to implement them…
Forget Keywords, It’s About Meaningful Communication…
The early days of SEO have left everyone obsessed with keywords – and for good reason. Keywords are how we optimise content after all. But the sophistication of search engine algorithms has come on so far in the intervening years that using keywords really isn’t the point anymore (more on this in a minute). For years now, Google has been making it clear they care less about keyword inclusion than they do about quality content.
You can stuff as many keywords into a piece as you like, but if it doesn’t effectively communicate a relevant and meaningful answer to the search query your reader typed in, it’s not going to do you a lick of good.
A successful SEM strategy cares less about keywords and obsessively tracking every change to the algorithms and more about the creation of incredibly high-quality content.
You still need to create content that answers the question of your keyword and use related key terms in your writing naturally, but that really is the extent of it. As long as you’ve done your research and know the questions people are searching for, you can set about creating the best possible answer.
Keyword inclusion will happen naturally – assuming you’re working with a great writer 😉 – and your ranking depends far more on the quality of your writing than it does the number of times you shoehorn a search term into your copy.
This has been the case for a few years now, but a lot of businesses (and marketers for that matter) are really slow on the uptake because the notion of keywords is so ingrained, and the creation of truly high-quality content on a regular basis is so time-consuming/expensive.
2020 is the year you can no longer afford to deny reality. If you want to rank, it’s super-simple: dedicate yourself to effective communication between your brand and your audience.
Speaking of branding…
Your Brand Is More Crucial Than Ever…
If you’ve been keeping up-to-date with online marketing trends in recent years you’ll be well aware that organic social reach is essentially dead, and video and paid advertising is the only way to go on social media. The fact PPC works so effectively and is trending is only going to decrease the effectiveness of organic social further, while pushing the price of social ads up higher.
Paid advertising is only going to get more prevalent and increasingly expensive for everything, which is resulting in one thing: the importance of a strong brand. A focus on brand awareness is more critical than ever, not only on social media but also on search engines.
With both Google and Bing confirming they use linkless mentions as ranking signals, the need to build a quality link profile and build up relevant mentions of your brand is essential as we head into 2020.
Social media is still a powerful tool in this regard, even if you’re not paying for ads, as tools like social media listening enable you to monitor every mention your brand gets and engage directly with your target audience and clientele. This offers a triple whammy of returns as it boosts your social engagement (hugely important), raises your brand awareness (equally vital), and enables you to provide direct, public customer care. The latter leads to even greater brand reach and awareness, positive word of mouth, and of course repeat business.
Going forward SEO success will hinge on your branding. Google has made it very clear they prioritise strong brands, which means wider brand awareness and a comprehensive content marketing strategy (not only on search but also social media and other channels) are the key to your SEM success.
With everyone desperate to dominate the SERPs and struggling in the face of local results, paid ads, or image and video results, more and more brands are finding that even when they’re in the number one or two spots on Google, they’re losing out to competitors in the number three or four slot.
Because in the busy online sphere people don’t automatically go for the top result, but rather, the brand they recognise, or the brand that speaks to them most.
This is good news! It means you have a fighting chance even if you can’t quite pip the top spot, as long as you have a powerful brand. But it does mean that your branding is essential to your SEM success, both in terms of ensuring search engines recognise the strength of your brand and prioritise you as a result, and that searchers click on you over and above everyone else based on your brand’s power.
Get Ready For The New Norm: Zero-Click Searches…
As I said, Google and the like are very keen to make their own sites the end-point of the user journey. In other words, they like it when people type in a question, land on a search engine results page, and immediately see the answer they need. The introduction of features directly on the SERPs like featured snippets, knowledge graphs, and Google’s Local Packs means over half of all searches are now ‘zero-click searches’.
In other words, you pop up on the results page but people don’t actually have to click through to your website because all the information they need appears to them right then and there.
Before you panic, consider the type of searches that result in zero-clicks – people looking for your email address or phone number want to get in touch directly, not view your website, and those looking for a fast answer to an easy question aren’t likely to convert anyway.
That being said, when researching the keywords to optimise your site and content for it’s now absolutely essential you are selecting keywords that will actually bring you clicks, and aren’t easily answered directly on the SERPs.
Pay Attention To Your Featured And Rich Snippets…
With zero-click searches so prevalent the information your brand is showing on the SERPs themselves is even more vital. Two great ways to ensure you’re getting noticed, even when searchers aren’t clicking through, is to take advantage of featured and rich snippets.
If you’ve ever Googled a question and found the top result on the page gives you a snapshot of the key points from the content, you’ve experienced featured snippets. They’re a block of information that’s displayed right at the top of the SERP to give searchers instant answers. They’re awesome when it comes to increasing your CTR, but they’re tricky to get so you’ll need to put quite a bit of extra work into your content!
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you need to be investing in incredibly high-quality, high-value content if you want to take advantage of featured snippets.
These offer the usual title and description but also offer additional content like images, prices, star reviews and more. It’s easier to get rich snippets, but they’re not nearly as good at boosting your CTR as featured snippets. Getting them is still worth it, however, and you’ll notice improved results even if your ranking hasn’t gone up (that whole ‘people go for the strong brand over the rank’ thing).
While there’s nothing that will guarantee you get either featured or rich snippets, the gains when you do make it well worth optimising your content for them.
Big Changes To Local SEO…
Google’s Local Packs have completely changed the face of optimising for local searches. A big proportion of no-click searches are local, and with Local Packs taking up so much space on the SERPs (in fact, on mobile it can be everything a user sees), you need to change the way you approach local optimisation.
Creating a well-optimised Google My Business page for your brand goes a long way towards optimising for searches including ‘phone number’, ‘address’ and ‘near me’ in a single move. Yet it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking this is enough, and you don’t need to do more.
Google My Business is essential but it’s just the beginning. A lot of searchers won’t look at the local packs, turning instead to product comparisons and content that provides more detailed information. For that, they want websites, which means your site as a whole needs to be thoroughly optimised for local searches through a comprehensive local strategy implemented across every piece of content on your site, and a rock-solid backlink profile.
Backlinks (like every other tool in the SEO playbook) aren’t what they used to be. You need links to your page from sites that Google has deemed to have local authority, otherwise, they’re empty links that are doing nothing for you.
Bert And The (Continued) Rise Of The Machines…
The constant flux of Google’s algorithms is an endless merry-go-round for every SEO specialist (myself included). Keeping up with it all tends to induce headaches, confusion, and no small amount of fear that one day, very soon, we’re going to be facing an I, Robot situation (most likely without the aid of Will Smith, unfortunately).
2020 is going to see the continued rise of the machines in the form of learning algorithms. They’re getting more complex each year and the latest (affectionately named BERT) is no exception. There are three uber-technical mechanisms Google is currently using (that we know about at least…) and your SEM needs to take all of them into account:
Neural matching looks at the query users type into a search and figures out what it means, rather than simply looking at what it says.
Next up is RankBrain, which analyses collected data about user behaviour and uses it to adjust the SERPs, providing searchers with results that match their online behaviour and not just what they’re typing in the search bar.
Finally, we have the all-new BERT, an algorithm used to analyse the structure of searches to gain a greater understanding of the context in which keywords are being used. Yet another reason your focus needs to be on quality content rather than keyword stuffing – BERT can tell the difference between a well-written piece of copy that is genuinely about the search query, and a piece of fluff that someone has stuffed a few keywords in after it’s been written.
Diverse Content And Video Marketing…
Video marketing has been the dominant trend in marketing for years now. If you’re not already fully on the video bank wagon it’s high time you hopped on.
The single most effective way to ensure your content ranks well and provides the search engine gods with all that high value they’re looking for is to include a video version of your written content. That may be in the form of a vlog, an explainer video, an animation, a client testimonial, a case study, or a product video. There are a million ways to work video into your content and it will do more for your SEO than any other single tactic.
This is because the SERPs are now all about diversification of content. They don’t want to show people blog posts. They want to give them the option of blogs, videos, images, products and more. So the more forms your content takes, the more likely it is to rank.
Voice Search Is Getting Louder…
Modern life is hectic and we’ve compensated by creating increasingly sophisticated technology to support us. Smartphones are the new norm and more and more people are asking Siri, Alexa, and other forms of advanced machine learning instead of physically typing queries into search engines.
This has only made it more vital for your business ranks on page one of Google, as currently, 97% of the answers chosen after a voice search are page one, while 76% are in the top three, and 70% include a SERP feature like featured snippets, site links, knowledge panel, or ‘people also ask’.
Voice search is about value more than anything. If you want to rank for voice searches your SEO strategy needs to focus on long-term value and the creation of incredibly high-quality content. All of this will lead to increased brand awareness, higher quality and volume of traffic, more sales, and more leads.
Being well optimised for voice searches gives you a competitive edge that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Mobile Search Is Going From Strength To Strength…
All those smartphones, tablets, apple watches and mobile devices have also led to an increasingly high volume of mobile searches taking place. We’ve known since 2015 that mobile searches were overtaking desktop. This spiked even higher in 2018, and consumers are now spending around three and a half hours a day surfing the net on mobile devices.
The result of all this mobile activity is that Google has changed up their priorities by introducing Mobile-First Index, meaning it’s the mobile version of your business’ website that is predominantly used for ranking and indexing.
If your page isn’t responsive and looks crappy on mobile, or if you have less content on the mobile version of your site, you’re likely tanking your own ranking – not only for mobile but for desktop too.
As with voice search, optimising for mobile searches is all about high rankings, high-quality content, and getting featured in the extras.
Intent Optimisation And Semantic Search…
When it comes to writing content and optimising it for search I see so many people doing it backwards. Writing a piece and then shoe-horning in keywords and other SEO elements is fundamentally wrong, and this is largely due to two huge rising trends in SEM: intent optimisation and semantic search.
Whatever content you’re creating (be it blog, article, static page, portfolio, or white paper) the search intent of your audience should be your focus from the start, and the content you craft should be carefully planned to meet the needs of their intentions.
Your goal isn’t to stuff your writing with keywords, not even if you’re using modern practices like LSI to avoid literal keyword stuffing. Instead, your sole objective should be to give your audience the answer they are seeking and ensure that answer it to the highest possible standard.
It’s years now since Google abandoned exact-matching keyword optimisation. Now, the search engine gods are viewing content in terms of how well it answers the question posed by the intent of the search query.
What do people intend to achieve by making this search?
This is the question the algorithms now ask, and the content they show in response is that which is seen to offer a comprehensive solution that meets that intention. This is called semantic search and avoids taking your search literally. Instead, the algorithms consider what you genuinely need to know, and showing you that information.
Remember, intent isn’t always the same as a literal interpretation of a keyword or phrase – people may be searching ‘dog with sticky eyes’ but they’re not interested in cute pictures of puppies; they need a fast, practical way of helping their beloved pooch!
Step Up Your SEO In 2020…
75% of online users only ever visit the first page of the SERPs. Techniques needed to get you there are changing constantly and increasingly depending on high-level, high-quality content creation. It’s more important than ever for managers and business owners to be investing in a long-term search engine marketing strategy capable of generating quality traffic, leads, and revenue streams.
Running such a strategy and keeping it bang up-to-date is not for the faint-hearted. If you’re still stuffing your blogs with keywords, pushing out low-quality, low-value content just for the sake of getting an update on the site, buying links, link exchanging, or duplicating your content, it’s high time you switched things up.
Remember, it’s not just about ranking; it’s about ranking for terms your ideal clients are actively searching for, and ensuring the content that ranks for those terms is of high enough value and quality that it will actually bring you business.
It’s also about creating a strategy that evolves as constantly and quickly as search engines, emerging technologies, and advanced machine learning are demanding. If you want your business to dominate the SERPs in 2020 and are looking for an SEO-savvy digital marketing agency to take away the headache and handle it for you, get in touch. We’re helping local businesses in Northwich, across Cheshire, and internationally, to smash their SEO and content strategies. Book a free consultation below…
Our Head of Marketing, Hazel Butler, is an award-winning author, copywriter, and editor. Part ghostwriter, part blogger, part videographer, and part strategist, when she’s not endlessly penning content for our clients Hazel’s happily concocting the perfect marketing plans to propel their businesses forward.
Get to know her...