Let’s start by stating the obvious: search engine optimization (SEO) is hard. For one thing, effective strategy includes more moving parts than even some of the savviest SEOs can master—everything from user friendly content to meta tags, search intent, customer experience, site load speed, mobile optimization and quality, inbound links.
For another, the rules of engagement keep changing—and, truth be told, it’s hard to know precisely what those rules are. Consider for example that last year alone, Google pushed out more than 3,000 algorithm updates (3,234 to be exact—that works out to more than 9 every day). Then ask yourself how many of those updates you understood well enough to make changes on or off your website that aligned with the new rules.
IT’S AN ENIGMA
Remember Enigma—that encryption machine the Germans used to flummox British leaders in WWII? Remember how it took Alan Turing, arguably the most astute mathematician in the U.K., to decode it and help the Allies win the war?
That’s a little like disentangling the nuances of Google’s algorithm updates, and of SEO more generally. As Databox points out regarding SEO, every website is like one component of a giant machine (namely, Google)—the problem is, none of the components really knows how the whole thing works, and trying to solve that mystery can mean a hit or miss strategy that leads to costly mistakes:
“Once you know how any machine works, you’re then able to figure out what each component does. You can then do some testing…to make improvements…The same concept applies to SEO–only in this case, the “machine” is one of the biggest websites…on the planet, Google, and the “components” is your business’ website. Unfortunately, Google is a secretive machine. They don’t publicly state the components that websites need to be a success, which leads to a lot of trial and error… Not to mention several SEO myths that could ruin your site instead of skyrocketing it.”
SEEING THE BIG PICTURE
So, SEO is no cake walk—one of the reasons an increasing number of forward leaning businesses are investing in digital agencies who can give them the advice and guidance they need. But the fact that your business can’t know everything there is to know about SEO doesn’t mean you can’t know anything. Some things about SEO, in other words, are demonstrably true, and the trends which shape best practice strategy can in fact be known.
- Search intent will be more important: when someone types “dog groomer” into Google, they might be looking for a dog groomer—or maybe they’re thinking about a career as a dog groomer or writing a term paper on the topic. Search intent means understanding what users mean when they enter keywords—and Google will reward your site the more you understand search intent and deliver content that effectively responds to it.
- Content is still king: Google cares about front loading content that best answers users’ pressing questions and best solves their protracted problems. That of course will continue this year—but look for a subtle shift from an emphasis on keyword-related to topic-related content—in other words, content that provides a holistic treatment of the subject about which a user cares—not just this or that point within that subject.
- You are what you E.A.T.: Google’s push for content that conveys expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E.A.T., in other words) will become more granular, with the search engine giant diving deeper into the quality of your content based on your company’s reputation—and the reputation of those who create your content. This is one way Google will push back against “fake news,” not to mention armchair experts.
- Refining user experience (UX): like several other of the trends that made this year’s top ten list, promoting stellar user experience is nothing new. What’s new is the definition of what constitutes excellent UX. Google will reward those sites that provide outstanding user experiences throughout the visitor journey, from the quality of SERPS content to landing pages, contact forms, calls to action and (for ecommerce) the entire shopping cart experience.
- Going mobile: every marketer knows that most searches now take place on mobile devices, and that mobile friendly is a must. But many stop there, not considering all the nuances of their mobile presence. To stay on top of search results this year, you’ll need to optimize every aspect of mobile experience, from load time to design to easily accessible content. That means a deep dive into your analytics reports to find out what’s working—and what isn’t.
- Leveraging structured data: structured data is the way you help Google (and other search engines) understand every element of a given web page, as well as the ways those page elements relate to one another—and the way every web page relates to every other web page, and to your site as a whole. To ensure you’re sending Google the right message (and that you’re getting all you can out of your analytics reports), you’ll need to revisit and if necessary improve structured data.
- Learning entity search: Google defines an entity as “A thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined and distinguishable.” It’s another way of saying “real world.” Increasingly (and getting a big push this year), Google will base the prominence of search results on the presence of content that contains recognizable entities, things like people, places and things.
- Strike up the brand: polishing your brand has always been essential to reinforcing consumer trust and building loyalty, but increasingly branding is also about SEO strategy. For example, you’ll see a trend this year in which links to your site should not only be authoritative, but also positively impact your brand. Said differently, driving traffic to your site and polishing your brand will increasingly be two sides of the same coin.
- Snippets and zero-click searches: with more than 1 in 4 searches now in the form of a question, SEOs need to adopt a “zero-click” search strategy—this is where the user sees the answer to his or her question at the top of the SERPs page. That will mean crafting content that includes the kinds of snippets Google will prioritize, this to make your site (and business) more visible, and to carry Google’s imprimatur as the authority of choice on that topic.
- Adding programming to your SEO toolbox: learning programming languages like Python will empower SEOs to eliminate a lot of redundant and time-consuming tasks and focus on more mission-critical activities—things like branding and customer experience. Search engine optimization in 2020 will mean more SEOs “going back to school” to learn programming and, in the process, substantially improving their effectiveness and efficiency.
Search engine optimization has never been easy, but there are ways to cut through its enigmatic innards and identify the steps your business needs to take to boost SEO, increase site traffic, bolster user experience and ramp up your company’s profitability. That’s where we can help.
To learn more about the ways our SEO, content marketing, Facebook advertising, conversion rate optimization, growth driven design and analytics services can make your business more visible—and more profitable—contact us today.