What will your key SEO points of focus be in 2020, and what new developments do you need to keep in mind in order to ensure that you're maximizing your search traffic opportunities?
We recently spoke to ten experts in the field to get their thoughts on the latest SEO updates, and how businesses can apply them in practice, which we've outlined here in this post.
Some of their answers overlap, which only emphasizes the urgency of these tasks or aspects.
Let's take a look at the highlights of our small round-up, which was organized with the informational support of SE Ranking.
1. Focus on the basics. There are no shiny objects in SEO
"There are no trends", insists Ryan Stewart, SEO Consultant, and Managing Partner at The Blueprint Training, "Just do the work and stop wasting your brain space on shortcuts."
"Too many people in this industry waste time and resources chasing shiny objects. There are no silver bullets, SEO is all about putting in the time and dedicating resources to getting things done. Keyword research, website speed, content generation, and link building are all things that require time and attention. There are no shortcuts."
Chris M. Walker from SuperStarSEO echoes the same:
"Everyone loves to make SEO this complex abstract thing… and they want to skip over the basics, specifically on-site SEO and technical SEO. The truth is if they spent the necessary time and effort on this, their job would become far easier and more profitable."
Matthew Edgar, Technical SEO Specialist and Partner at Elementive, advises along similar lines:
"A lot of companies I've talked with are focusing their 2020 SEO efforts on cleaning up errors, resolving duplicate content, restructuring their website, updating content inaccuracies, improving speed, removing/disavowing bad backlinks, and other similar tasks. None of these are the bright, shiny objects of SEO that capture the spotlight but it is the kind of work that will help fix the big underlying problems to rebuild rankings, traffic, and conversion."
2. Write for users, not machines
Google is continuously updating its algorithms in order to better understand user intent, and provide the most relevant search results. Often this is simplified into acronyms like 'BERT' or 'E-A-T' to help understand Google's latest focus - but the constant changes likely mean that we should stop trying to please Google's latest focus, and instead stay locked onto creating truly useful content which answers users' needs.
Along this line, Chris M. Walker says that writing for search engines doesn’t work like it used to. As artificial intelligence gets more sophisticated, producing the kind of content Google algorithms like will only get harder while Google has even stated that you can’t optimize your content for the search engine, you just have to write for the end-user.
Omi Sido, Senior Technical SEO Specialist at Canon Europe is of the same opinion, stating that highly relevant content is best for SEO strategies.
"Searchers want content that is helpful, 'to the point', and timely. People go online with a question in mind and your web page must provide the answer for it."
Daria Khmelnitskaya, an SEO Specialist at SE Ranking, gives this thought another perspective:
"Search engines strive to give users the information they need even before the search query, deepening the interaction between the user and SERP. Google Discover is a great example of this. To get your website featured there, you need your content to be popular and engaging. This means that you should optimize your content not only for search engines but, foremost, for your readers.''
3. You have a brand, not a website. Build trust to it
"The days of a random website with a few links dominating Google are going to come to an end", says Chris M. Walker. "You need to build out a website and a real business with numerous entities in place in order to prove that it's a business with a real name, that search engines can trust and understand. You don’t have a website, you have a business/brand."
Renowned search marketing consultant Jason Barnard argues that Google is now judging your business continuously, based on the quality of service you give to your clients.
"It can be through many channels: activity of the users on Google itself (how they interact with your brand on SERPs), the reviews they give through Google, and even their Android phones. It knows when they go to a business, when they leave a business, and when they don't go back. So the signals of people going to your store are actually the quality signals of your business to Google."
Besides the quality of your offline service, it’s also worth investing time into building up your website's expertise, authoritativeness, and trust.
According to Matthew Edgar, at this point, “we may as well rename SEO to EAT given how much focus there is on improving signals which highlight expertise, authority and trust (EAT).”
In addition to improving your content, it’s about restructuring the way such is presented, including internal site links and the website's navigation. That means that SEO, CRO, and UX teams should be working closely together to maximize website success in the post-EAT SEO reality.
4. Comfort is ever trending. Make your site fast and safe
Questions of basic comfort on the web - such as page speed, security, and UX - will probably be more important in 2020 than ever. Search engines care about the user's convenience and safety above all.
Dan Taylor, an account Director at SALT.agency, predicts that the speed race will become only more intense, and advises businesses to start being more mindful of metrics Google considers - to remember, for example, that it passes the position of HTML elements in the DOM tree to Google’s indexer.
"Standard recommendations around asset compression, cache-expiry, etc. are not to be ignored as well. And we also need to get more involved in asset delivery."
Back in January 2017, Dan wrote a post on Search Engine Journal looking at how Google could increase focus on cybersecurity as part of its goal of delivering high quality, safe results to users. And, he insists that this issue is not losing its urgency:
"Google already highlights potential phishing and uncommon downloads in Google Search Console through passive scanning of binaries along with speed."
Dan believes that Google crawlers can be scanning for known vulnerabilities, both platform-specific and those from databases such as OWASP.
5. Search is expected to get more and more personalized. Get to know your user better
Daria Khmelnitskaya is certain that Google's perfect SERP state is when the results are as personalized as possible for the user.
"Personalization became more relevant long ago, and it will keep trending in 2020. SERPs differ depending on the user's location, device, history of previous interactions with search and websites. For SEO specialists, this means that you need to better understand the needs of your user and the context in which the user is doing a search, what they expect to see in response to a query."
The deepening of the personalization trend is also supported by the development of Google Discover. According to Dan Taylor, Google Discover isn’t going to go away, and even though it's in its infancy, it represents a change in user behavior and the way Google presents content to users.
"Much like Netscape of old, and current “web portals” like Yahoo!, Baidu and Naver, Google now aims to provide a personalized content experience. We need to be accommodating to this shift in both our strategy and the way we report on performance to the client."
6. Aim for Featured snippet. It's worth it
Search engine results pages have changed tremendously over the past few years.
Now, instead of a simple list of blue links which provide users with relevant options to choose from, Google also tries to give a single, most relevant answer, right on the results page. And while that may be beneficial to users, for many marketers, this is their worst nightmare.
And the thing is, it's here to stay.
Digital strategist and brand consultant Shane Barker claims that in 2020, getting to the top ranking spot on the SERPs isn’t good enough - brands need to aim for #0. The featured snippets that you see above the first organic search result get a high click-through rate because the results featured in this section generally answer user queries directly.
Answering the question about how to make it to position zero, Shane advises keeping the 5W1H rule in mind:
"Your content should aim to answer questions that begin with “What, Who, Where, When, Why, and How” in a crisp manner. This tactic can also help you optimize your content for voice searches, another trend that’s going to be huge in 2020.”
Omi Sido agrees with Shane's point of view, but also adds that rich snippets are equally worth paying attention to.
As zero clicks are becoming the new 'normal' in the SERPs, SEO’s future is increasingly about engaging with your audience directly in the SERP, rather than driving traffic to websites. Sido's advice is to:
"Optimize your website content for featured snippets or rich snippets. In 2020, all SEOs should focus on making this new trend work for their businesses."
Ann Smarty, the owner at SeoSmarty.com, suggests going even further, and to understand that Google is an answer engine.
"[Google] wants to categorize and organize the information scattered around the web in order to instantly satisfy any user. In a recent Google patent - called a question-answering system - they are pretty transparent about their plans to become the ultimate answer engine with the help of "…advanced natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation and reasoning, and machine learning…" To adapt your content strategy to this important trend, businesses need to embrace semantic analysis and intent-optimization strategy. This simply means building content which gives your readers exactly what they're looking for."
7. Don't disregard link building. Link value isn’t going anywhere
"Links are the very fabric of the world wide web", explains Kaspar Szymanski, an ex-Googler, and one of the Search Brothers.
"It has been frequently predicted that links are bound to lose the prominent role they had in the search for many years. However, links will remain a fundamental factor that is at the very beginning of every SEO success story. That being said, their role is often misunderstood. Backlinks serve two primary purposes as far as SEO is concerned: they help search engines find and crawl content, and they drive converting traffic, directly contributing to the commercial success of a website."
This means that we should focus not only on acquiring links for SEO - we also need links for ourselves, as a powerful traffic driver if properly built.
Daria from SE Ranking echoes this, noting that, over the past year, Google has stated several times that it can identify spam. So there's no point in wasting time on earning junk links - Google will ignore them anyway. We need to focus on getting links that will benefit not only our SEO but also bring traffic and potential leads.
In 2020, you'll still have to maintain the classic SEO routines to keep your website error-free, fast, safe, and easily browsable.
Yet at the same time, you should forget about old-school techniques, like buying links or creating content for machines. Aim for quality backlinks and write for people instead. Get to know your audience, your people, and take care of your brand reputation, since Google is judging how successful you are at delivering a good experience to your customers.
Think of your links as a traffic channel, not only as SEO-related must-have elements, and fight for your right to be highlighted in SERPs - strive to have rich snippets and get your content displayed in Featured snippets.
As a starting point, Google yourself. Google your own business and learn how Google sees you. This will give you insight into what impression the search engine has of you, and what you need to work on moving forward.