As we reach the end of the year, it’s time to think deeply about how the next year may impact SEO professionals.
For us at OnPage Champ, this question is even more important because of 2 reasons:-
- Our vision is to build OnPage Champ as the de facto product for on-page SEO. It’s important for us to understand the trends and evolve the product accordingly.
- Since we eat our own dog food, we need to get our content ranked for the selected keywords. Staying on top of the upcoming trends will help us in this direction.
With this objective in mind, here’s our list of 6 must watch trends for 2020.
Top 6 SEO trends for the year 2020
#1. Take a holistic view of your website SEO
SEO is no longer a stand-alone practice, nor is it just a technical field anymore.
No doubt the foundations of SEO still stand on great content and stronger technicals, SEO has now evolved into a full-fledged practice of brand building.
And in my opinion, this trend will further strengthen in the year 2020; and beyond.
Why do I say so?
Google has 200+ factors as ranking signals, with every factor contributing differently to make an impact. Further, the contribution of each part is not fixed and varies as per the situation.
This means that “the SEO whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts”.
What should you do?
It’s clear that no single strategy alone will work for your SEO.
If you have been focussing only on links or keyword stuffing or content, your SEO efforts are bound to fail.
Google wants to rank the results that express EAT (Expertise-Authority-Trust). For that to happen, you need to treat yourself as a brand rather than just a webpage.
That means quality content is important, but so is its promotion.
Backlinks are important, but so are the social media signals.
Unlinked brand mentions by high authority websites are important, and so are the do-follow backlinks.
OnPage SEO factors are important, but you can’t just ignore off-page SEO.
Text is important, and so are the videos.
And across all these activities, your brand has to take the center stage.
In essence, you don’t need a separate SEO strategy. You need a brand-building strategy and SEO becomes a part of it.
How do you build a brand?
- When you answer questions of your target audience
- When the target audience sees you as an authority and with trust
- When the audience engages with your brand and does a +ve word of mouth
- When other reputed brands talk about you
Now translate these 4 ideas into actionable items.
Maybe you need to write more in-depth content, or you need to focus on capturing more positive reviews, or you need to expand the reach of your brand.
The opportunities are endless, but every action will amplify your SEO value.
In this entire equation, the pure-play SEO component is just minuscule.
In short, focus on brand building and you will see your SEO and Google rankings improve automatically.
#2. Get ready to compete (more) with Google
In 2020 (and beyond), your internet rivalry will be less with other organic search results but more with Google itself.
If you read the joint study done by SparkToro & Jumpstart, almost 12% of all US Google search clicks in Q1 2019 went to Google owned sites (like Maps, Play Store, Google Finance, Google flights, Google News, etc.).
Google is a public listed company that has to focus on the quarter on quarter growth. In all probability, the absolute traffic to Google-owned sites will increase in the future to fuel revenue growth.
That means Google is (and will) cannibalize your market, especially if you happen to be in a competing category like aggregating books, flights, hotels, music, etc.
What should you do?
While you can hardly do anything about this, this is the time to focus more on brand building and generating customer loyalty.
You can’t beat Google on search results but you can beat Google by providing exemplary customer service and treating your customers well.
So much that the search users should either use a branded keyword search or looks out for your brand name in the organic search results.
Businesses with no customer focus will lose their users to Google very fast. Make sure you are not one of them.
#3. You can’t ignore voice search anymore
As per this interesting infographic from Brafton, the sound of change is already in front of us.
Yes, the market for voice search is expanding year on year.
To throw some stats, 66 mn Americans now own a smart speaker.
Alexa, Ok Google and Siri now directly compete to get access to your life space.
In 2016, 20% of the search queries on Google were through voice.
This doesn’t imply that everyone in 2020 will start talking to their smartphones.
What it does mean is that the percentage of voice queries in 2020 will be more than the above mentioned 20%, given the increase in market penetration of smartphones and smart speakers in the last 3 years.
What should you do?
Since voice searches are more conversational and descriptive, you need to audit your content to ensure it fits for voice searches.
Most of the voice searches start with questions like “which”, “when”, “how” etc. (as researched by Quora creative below).
Moreover, the majority of voice searches happen for local businesses (restaurants, groceries, movies, etc.) or things that are on the go (like directions, weather, events, timings, etc.)
For example, if you are making a text search, you will probably search for “Chinese restaurant near me”.
If you are making a voice search, your query will become more elaborate like “which all Chinese restaurants are open right now”.
That means to be voice search ready, you need to have proper cues on your page (or on the internet) that can answer these questions.
If you are a local business, you will definitely be affected by voice search big time. You can’t afford to be absent on local business directories (like Yelp, Google My Business, etc.).
Remember that voice search returns only 1 result, so you don’t just have to make a presence on the internet but have to be on the top, and that’s the difficult part.
To rank well for voice search, you need to perform well on the text search.
For this to happen, the basics still remain the same: All factors of SEO (like page speed, easy crawlability, readability of content, intent-based content, schema markups, local SEO, etc.) play a very important role for voice search.
#4. Get prepared for a bigger rollout of BERT
The recent BERT Algorithm update from Google takes the Natural Language Processing & AI to the next level.
The entire objective behind BERT is to better understand the search intent behind the query.
BERT solves a very basic problem of NLP: processing bidirectional content as opposed to unidirectional content.
For example, the search query “math practice books for adults” would earlier result in textbooks for standard 6th to 8th.
That means Google unidirectionally understood the keyword “math practice book” but didn’t give much importance to “adults”, thereby bringing less contextual results.
After the BERT update, the Google algorithm will give increased importance to strings before and after the joining word (i.e. for). This generates a better context of the query and helps improve the quality of search.
Right now, it impacts 10% of the search queries, that too in the US for the English language. As BERT rolls out completely, it will impact multilingual websites and many more keywords.
What should you do?
Since BERT aims at improving the relevancy of the searches, it will impact websites that have been ranking for unrelated keywords, misspelled keywords, double meaning words, etc.
If you are running one of those websites, your website traffic will get impacted sooner than later.
It will also impact eCommerce websites (as shown in the example above) that have been ranking because of unidirectional but less contextual keywords.
That means if you are ranking for keywords that use prepositions like “for” and “to” and your result is not taking care of the conversational aspects of the query, you are going to be hit with BERT.
To save yourself from this impact, your focus should be on basics, i.e. answering real questions with quality content and targeting long-tail keywords that clearly indicate the context behind the query.
That’s what you should do to your content if you want to rank higher (and avoid traffic loss due to BERT).
#5. Focus on zero-click search keywords
Referring to the same study by Jumpshort, almost 50% of searches in Q1 2019 in the US resulted in zero clicks.
There can be two reasons behind this
- The search result was irrelevant
- The search result was relevant and answered the question on the search page itself.
In my opinion, the probability of the second event far outweighs the first.
Ask yourself, how many times your query is answered right on the SERP. I bet many times.
So whether it’s translating a piece of text or looking for the phone number of your favorite brand, you don’t need to click on any result.
The answer to a lot of your questions is available right on the result page itself and doesn’t require a click.
What should you do?
As Rand Fishkin famously said, we will soon witness a practice of SEO focussed on capturing this zero-click search market. He names this as on-SERP SEO.
I know it’s next to impossible to measure the impact of zero search results for your brand, unfortunately, it’s something you can’t ignore either.
After all, your user is making such searches on the internet and you need to ensure they get the right info immediately, even if that results in a no-click.
So irrespective of you being a local business or a multinational chain, you need to optimize your pages (home, about, contact, etc.) to show your important information (like working hours, support number, open today, directions, feedback options, etc.).
While I don’t have the stats, in my opinion, this is the type of information that should drive the most zero-click searches.
That means schema tags Organizational markup is a necessity for your business.
You can go more granular with your Schema Tags, and each level of detail will help Google better understand your business. That will result in better and instant search output for the user. See some of the more granularities of Org Markup below.
If you want to know more about the implementation, here’s a detailed guide on Organization Markup from SEMRush.
#6. Look out for featured snippets
What’s better than the 1st rank on Google?
Simple, it’s ranking for the featured snippet; that small result box that sits right at the top of Google and helps a search user get an instant answer to his query.
Owning a featured snippet alone increases your traffic by ~30%, as analyzed by Ahrefs.
Featured snippet helps you get an instant answer to some of your questions, for example
- Paragraphs/text snippets answer questions on “how, who, what, when, why” etc.
- List type snippets answer questions on step by step guides or reviews
- Table snippets show comparisons by way of numerical data
In short, featured snippet is the best result in the eyes of Google for a particular search query. It’s also used in voice search and is definitely a major contributor to organic traffic as well as zero-click searches.
What should you do?
There is no set way to capture the featured snippet so there is no single way to rank for it.
If I talk about my 2 years old personal project, I capture the featured snippet for multiple competitive keywords.
The approach is no different: just start by understanding the intent behind the search query, analyze your competitors well and then outrank them with better and more relevant content.
You can use OnPage Champ’s SERP audit functionality to run in-depth competitor research to understand the strength of their SEO.
This feature also runs an in-depth analysis of the featured snippet and showcases how to best capture position 0.
2019 has been a year full of action.
Be it the BERT rollout or increased focus on voice search, SEO is not what it used to be at the beginning of this year.
These 6 trends (along with countless others) will result in transforming SEO from just a technical and standalone field to a more holistic brand building exercise.
What’s the trend you are going to focus on in 2020?