Several thrilling algorithm updates brought major changes in Google Search results and click-through rates (CTRs) in 2019.
We’re witnessing a rise of new factors like expertise and branding, and we’re pushed to change our understanding of link building. The way people search (the platforms and the devices they use) are constantly evolving, too.
Our experts at Hop Online gathered the trends that we believe will be most important for 2020 and beyond, and combined them with actionable tips so you can start using them right away.
Let’s dig in!
SERPs Are Evolving & CTRs Are Going Down
Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) have changed a lot over the years. In the beginning, Google showed just ten blue links. We now have a variety of snippets that try to get the user’s attention.
Here are the various types of SERP results we see:
- Google Ads. They are taking up more space with their extension options and are becoming hard to distinguish from organic results.
- Google’s own products (e.g. Google Maps, Google Flights, Google Hotels).
- Organic search results in various formats, like featured snippets, knowledge panels, top stories, images, and videos.
- Related questions panels that encourage users to engage and spend more time on the SERPs (not land on your website).
With such a rich SERP, it’s no surprise that we’re witnessing a rise of the so-called “zero-click” searches. The user doesn’t click any result and gets everything that showed 49% of the searches are “zero-click”, and the percentage is rising.
Additionally, Google is unlikely to display your page’s title and meta description on the result page. Instead, the algorithm tends to pick up the content from your page that – it believes –matches better with the query. Many times, it’s ridiculous or doesn’t make any sense.
These trends may sound discouraging, but it’s crucial for marketers to monitor changes in the playing field and do their best under these circumstances.
Here are our tips on how to adjust to this SEO trend:
1. Monitor SERP Changes
Set up rank tracking for your most important keyword phrases. Ensure that your rank tracker records all possible SERP features and gives you the option to compare the results before with the ones now.
This information could be priceless after a Google algorithm update or when you see that your positions haven’t changed (but your CTRs are in freefall). When a new element pops up in the SERP (for example, a featured snippet or People Also Ask panel), start making changes on your page. The updates need to be tailored to whatever content Google shows in the new elements in order to get featured.
2. Include CTRs in Your Keyword Research
Most keyword research tools provide a relatively good estimation of CTRs. Make sure you’re analyzing this data when choosing the keywords you’re optimizing for, especially for new projects. Relying only on search volume and keyword difficulty in 2020 probably won’t end well.
3. Discover What’s Missing in Titles and Metas
If you’re using templated titles and descriptions, it’s no surprise that Google won’t show them in SERPs. However, unique meta elements sometimes get replaced as well. If you notice that Google is constantly replacing the SERP snippet for your pages – and it hurts your CTR – try to find a pattern in the changes.
Chances are, the titles and metas you’ve created are either too salesy or don’t accurately describe the page content. Make changes aligned with what’s displayed and you’ll be back to being the owner of your SERP snippet.
Searcher Intent Is Here to Stay
Searcher intent is an SEO buzzword that gets repeated a lot, but it rarely gets enough attention in SEO strategies. Google is getting better at matching user needs (especially after the BERT update in November.) This gets mixed up with well-known user engagement signals (like pogo-sticking, bounce rate, and time on page) in order to provide the right formats and informational sources for users.
When creating content, stop thinking about your company (or what you want to achieve) and emphasize what your audience wants to know or do. Though the categorization of searcher intent can vary, the main types are:
- Informational (I want to know)
- Transactional (I want to buy)
- Navigational (I want to get somewhere).
Here’s how to get searcher’s intent in your keyword research and content creation process:
1. Dig Into the SERPS to Determine Intent
The best way to find the user’s intent is to analyze SERPs and see what types of pages are ranking. Some tools have tried to incorporate automatic ways to identify intent, but none are doing a great job so far. They rely on words that indicate a certain intent (like “cheap” for commercial queries), but there are a lot of surprises when you analyze the results.
2. Add Intent to Your Keyword-To-Page Mapping (Plus Content Types)
In addition to search volume and CTR, be sure to include intent in your keyword research and clustering process. Every cluster should be mapped with the right intent. Don’t mix keywords with different intent on the same page. Here’s a simple example:
3. Include Intent in Your Ranking Drop Analysis
When investigating rankings drops, pay particular attention to whether those pages answered user intent. Look at the pages that outranked you: What are they doing better? If Google has changed the displayed content types, either make changes to your content or try ranking a new page that matches the intent better.
Be Trustworthy or Go Home
There are two types of SEO experts: Ones that think E-A-T signals (expertise, authority, and trust) are overrated and those who are obsessed with them. This year, Google officially admitted that EATs are an important ranking factor, which makes us pretty confident they’ll continue to play a major role in the future of SEO.
Many website owners may think that these factors won’t affect them because they’re not a Your-Money-or-Your-Life (YMYL) niche business. However, Google’s broad definition of YMYL doesn’t apply just to medical or financial websites.
Even if you’re a skeptic, it’s worth dedicating some time to review whether your website is aligned with Google’s quality rater’s guidelines. Start with these steps:
1. Motivate Your Experts to Share Knowledge (And Put Their Names Behind It)
For years, brands have published blog posts without an author or by simply using the brand’s name. Some are still performing well (for now), but for new content, it’s crucial to have an author with relevant experience. We are well aware of how hard it is for experts to find the time to write blog posts or create YouTube videos, but this a seriously effective strategy.
2. Brush up Your “About Us” Page and Online Presence
It’s easy to create an “About us” page and forget about it. Make sure you update it and add info for business credentials, certificates, and awards (Note: If you don’t have any, start working on that ASAP!).
In addition to updating your own website, check out your local listings, company information in databases and directories, and all other places where your brand is mentioned. Make sure that the info is consistent and accurate.
3. One Information Source (Or Even One Author) Is No Longer Enough
Multiple information sources are a must for any good web content. Google’s team has been working hard to eliminate misleading or manipulative information, so be sure to quote authoritative sources and mix in your own research and experience.
Having multiple authors with different expert backgrounds can also be beneficial for your content. After all, the last update of Google’s guidelines emphasizes diversity, then including various authors is a great step, for sure.
Brand Building to Replace Link Building
Doubting the good old-fashioned guest blogging strategy to get a do-follow link? Yeah, you should be.
Links are still important, but not in the way we’re used to thinking about them, and they’re no longer measured solely on domain rating (DR). Plus, there’s a solid theory that the November 2019 update was about backlinks and affected websites dropped because of unnatural backlinks.
There are two new and important players that matter most to link building: relevance and branding. The goal of your link building efforts should shift to brand exposure instead of chasing a do-follow. The value of a single brand mention should not be underestimated and is a clear E-A-T signal.
Start revamping your link-building strategy this way:
1. Get Link Builders and PR Together
It’s surprising how rarely these two parties collaborate. Every PR initiative can turn into a source of backlinks and brand mentions. Motivate your PR team to include links in press releases, and work together on a win-win initiative for both parties.
2. Create Assets That Are Worth Linking to
In a world overwhelmed by copy-paste and republishing information with minor changes, conducting research and publishing valuable data for your industry is the only way forward. Make your content user-friendly with great illustrations and infographics – and enjoy the backlinking results.
3. Monitor Your Online Presence and Backlink Profile
Google claims to disregard spammy backlinks, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and put together a disavow file. If you performed old experiments (or somebody in the past leaned towards “the dark side”) and those pages are no longer ranking, delete them right away to preserve your domain. Almost every old domain has a link-building skeleton in their closet.
The SEO Battlefield Has Moved From Google.Com to Other Platforms
SEO has traditionally focused on Google, and while it’s still the dominating search engine, there are way more players than Bing, too. The number of people searching directly on YouTube or Amazon is huge, and you’ll be missing out if you don’t address them as organic traffic channels. There are two more important trends you need to have in mind:
The Importance of Voice Search
Voice search is steadily rising, and the number of people using voice devices for shopping is increasing. However, due to the lack of a data and tracking conversion tool, many marketers still hesitate to dedicate significant resources to voice search optimization. This means only one thing: You can be one of the few people in your niche that works on that (which could be a win in the long term).
New Search Engines Are Growing
New search engines continue to grow in popularity. Their audiences are still not huge, but the growth rates should make us think twice before deciding to optimize for Google only.
The top player so far is Duckduckgo, which emphasizes privacy and has created a powerful campaign on how Google abuses user data. They’ve reached 49 million daily searches and the number is rising steadily. As more people become sensitive to how search engines collect and use their personal data, alternative search engines will get more users. This may prove particularly important if you have “privacy geek” buyer personas.
The next steps to take:
1. Explore Video SEO Opportunities With YouTube
Several keyword research tools (e.g. Ahrefs, Keyword Keg) can be extremely handy to check your niche’s search volumes. Similarly to regular search, user intent plays a big role in video optimizations. Create a catchy title, a good description, video shooting, and plan how to expand your brand in video search.
2. Don’t Miss out on Voice Opportunities
The good news on voice optimization is that it has a big overlap with rankings for question-based queries and featured snippets.
Due to the lack of good tools, the best option is to buy several smart speakers (starting with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa) and monitor the content they deliver. Since the smart speakers’ capabilities include actions such as showing pictures or playing videos, you have a ranking chance with all content types you create.
3. Dig Into Alternative Search Engines
If you have a well-optimized website and high-quality content, chances are that you already have search visibility in alternative search engines. If you’re not sure, hit Google Analytics and check your organic traffic sources.
The search engines to look for are DuckDuckGo, Qwant, StartPage, Searx (for privacy geeks), and Ecosia (for eco lovers). Since our tool kits are pretty limited (there are no search consoles or keyword research tools), you should rely on old-fashioned manual research.
Start with the cornerstone topics you’ve collected (from Google and Bing) and try to identify trends in the SERPs or get insights from autocomplete suggestions. Check the backlinks to the top-ranking pages to better understand the importance of backlinks vs. content.