Search engine algorithms are evolving. New ranking factors emerge, old ones drop off, and the rest shift in importance. Google, Bing, and others want to improve search results and drive ad revenue. Here are seven trends you can expect to see this year in search.
We’ve included tips to prepare for and capitalize on them. Let these trends guide your SEO and digital marketing strategies in 2020.
1. Mobile-friendly website usability is essential.
Google’s mobile-first index relies on mobile-focused design, with desktop design becoming secondary. Website owners can no longer ignore mobile-friendly website design for SEO. People access websites and applications from smartphones and tablets. As those become more accessible, desktop traffic will continue to decline. Responsive design is easier with content management systems such as WordPress. E-commerce platforms such as Shopify also help.
2. Good user experience (UX) is good SEO.
Google has made it clear that its focus is on the user. Good UX helps delight visitors and improve conversions. Good UX will also mean good SEO as web crawlers better at reading user signals such as bounce rate and time on page. SEO specialists and website owners should tracking these signals in Google Analytics. They’re crucial site-wide and for individual landing pages.
Content, design, landing page relevance are about user experience. Landing Page Quality Score is an oft-forgotten piece of a good AdWords campaign. It’s a measure of what Google terms “experience,” and also relates to this. SEO specialists should work with web developers to enhance UX as much as possible. Website owners should test usability, website speed, and user behavior tracking. Business owners should hire developers with knowledge of these SEO and UX concepts.
3. Content will continue to be king.
Google values a good user experience, with relevant, well-researched, high-quality, long-form content. That will be crucial to SEO and SEM success and will be the cornerstone of a solid 2020 SEO strategy. User signals such as bounce rate and time on page further emphasize the need for good content. I would even guess that these user signals will be weighted more on mobile views.
Factors such as keyword density and keywords in tags are becoming less important. User-signal importance is on the rise. Website owners must offer valuable content, in writing, images, video and interactive tools.
4. Voice search will grow as digital assistants become more accessible.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve definitely heard about the rise of voice search. Alexa, Cortana, Siri and other digital assistants have more users. As a result, voice queries will surpass those with typed words. Search queries will be actual specific questions, e.g. “How do I pay my phone bill?” or “Which airline offers the cheapest direct flight from NYC to LA?”
SEO specialists should emphasize long-tail keywords. They should create custom informative landing pages to handle these types of queries. Why? Digital assistants and search engines will deliver improving relevant results to voice queries. As a result, the length and types of voice queries will evolve. Users will be able to use complex and detailed queries if they’ve received what they ask for. Machine learning is a growing part of technology for assistants and search engines. So it might not take long to happen.
Analytics and Search Console will separate voice and traditional typed queries soon. But Google may hold onto that data for a while before releasing it to website owners. Keyword research tools will incorporate suggested voice queries people are likely to use. This should drive content and landing page strategy. It’s all about creating content in landing pages relevant to the user’s query and a match for the user’s intent. Need more information on voice search? Find out how voice search impacts SEO strategy.
5. “SERP Features” / “Featured Snippets” / “Rich Results” will continue to grow.
The SERP landscape is changing all the time. While there seems to be a new name every week for “rich” data, we’ll see much more of Google’s “rich results” in 2020. Google wants to feed you more information. (Think local pack, knowledge graph, featured snippets, etc.) in the SERP.) It wants to do away with – or at least diminish the presence of – third-party data aggregators.
30% of search queries on Google have featured snippets, and that number is growing. Structured data markup and Google’s ability to parse it will be important. This is especially true for personalized SERPs. SERP features, such as FAQ pages, should also inform content strategy. This also means the structure and format of content is now as important as its substance.
Local SEO will be imperative to reach top placement in the local pack. This includes creating location pages and optimizing local business listings/citations. Maintaining and consistent NAP data across platforms also helps.
6. Page load speed will be an important factor.
Again, good UX will equal good SEO as Google pushes for improved user experience. People hate waiting. It’s 2020; users demand and expect a fast-loading web page, and the search engines realize this. Every fraction of a second slower than Google’s benchmark for a page will result in a penalty factor. Even if it’s small, it’s applied to that page’s rank, relative to the speeds of competing pages for any given query.
Speed will also become more important for conversions. Visitors will bounce if a page is too slow. Walmart employed a dedicated team to improve speed optimization on its e-commerce site. Speed affects conversion rate, and speed and bounce rate are correlated.
GTmetrix is a good tool to use to examine the speed of your website. It provides speed scores and tips on how to improve them.
7. Links are still a major ranking factor.
Backlinks are and will continue to be a major ranking factor, even though Google likes to deny that fact. Implied links – brand mentions without a hyperlink – will also become a ranking factor.
2020 will be an interesting year for SEO. Traditional techniques are still effective, but SEO specialists must embrace new ranking factors and technologies. They’re key to increase traffic and conversions. With the rise of structured data presentation, presentation, user signals and other CTR-influencing items, ranking well is no longer the only goal.