From voice search and IoT to intent research and structured data—it’s clear that the future of search is more user-focused than ever before: Providing the best answer, in the best format, wherever and whenever a query is made.
Competition for organic search visibility will continue to grow and be a focus for marketers in 2020. But while smart and balanced on-page SEO tactics will remain a must, as content continues to proliferate and search engine algorithms advance, expansion, integration, and creating better experiences will be critical ingredients for success.
#1 – A Focus on Credible Content to Create Best-Answer Experiences
Content optimization for improved search visibility is no longer enough. Not for Google, not for brands and certainly not for buyers looking for the best answer to their questions. Content in 2020 must be more than relevant and helpful. It needs to be credible and serve as part of an experience that differentiates those brands that deserve top visibility and those that lag.
To do that, marketers will need to elevate their skills at optimizing content for findability, credibility, and experience. When marketers see more strategically how SEO can integrate with content marketing and influencer marketing to create a better customer experience, everybody wins.
#2 – Brands Go Off-Page to Build Awareness and Authority
We see competition for organic visibility growing fiercer. While smart and balanced on-page SEO tactics will remain a must, as content continues to proliferate and search engine algorithms advance, expansion and integration will be critical.
What does this mean? Creating high-quality content that’s optimized for the modern searcher (and algorithms) is the minimum. But with brand building and demand generation— especially for the growing portfolio of B2B tech brands, being paramount—SEO will become more ingrained in B2B brand building initiatives. Maybe we’ll see a rise in brands leveraging off-page factors to increase brand awareness and build authority, with link building—especially around unlinked brand mentions—becoming a pivotal focus area.
#3 – Delivering Anytime, Anywhere Thanks to Voice Search and IoT Devices
Looking back at how much easier it is to do voice queries now, and how kids even do it, it’s becoming so natural for people. We are on the verge of this really exploding and it’s grown so much, so fast already.
There is growth of search with embedded devices, not just from voice appliances and smart displays, but even more: in your cars, refrigerators, ovens, your clock or speakers, etc. Heck, integrating all of that with your light switches and internet of things (IoT) devices, it’s super exciting to watch.
We also have video features in YouTube and beyond, audio features with podcasts, and even image features with 3D and augmented reality (AR) images. There’s also Bing’s move to get publishers to push content and to see if Google will expand their indexing API.
In summary, search has come so far in understanding natural queries via voice. In 2020, we’ll be able to show search results anywhere and anytime.
#4 – Closing the Gap Between SEO and Brand
It’ll become increasingly important to close the gap between SEO and brand. SEO experts will need to get better at collaborating with other teams to build integrated strategies, which work to improve the product-market fit.
If you’re not a good fit for the consumer, it won’t matter how many links you have, or how perfect your website is. Google’s intent was never to show a list of links, but rather, to provide the best solution for a user. If you’re not trying to be or become that solution, you’re not even going to show up.
#5 – Raising the Stakes for Mobile SERP Visibility
A few SEO trends that are expected for 2020 are:
- The growth in importance and usage of structured data due to more rich results in mobile SERPs and usage to generate voice actions for the Google assistant.
- An increase prominence of predictive search features via Google Discover and additional integrations.
- A further shift to a more technical SEO ecosystem fueled by more JS frameworks usage from new sites, the growth of PWAs and need of SEO automation for bigger websites.
In 2020 it is expected a growth in importance and usage of structured data, an increase in predictive search features, and a shift to a more technical SEO ecosystem.
#6 – Creating Content for Search Intent by Topic, Rather Than Individual Keywords
A large focus on improving content creation by focusing on holistic topics instead of just singular keywords. This will force content to utilize more natural language that satisfies a user’s question instead of filling the page with fluff and marketing jargon. As Google continues to update its algorithm with updates like BERT, this focus will become even more important.
#7 – Automation = Freedom
Automated SEO insights will become more accessible, freeing us up to work on higher level thinking and strategy. In addition, incorporating QA markup and crafting content around intent and SERP features will continue to be important.
#8 – SEO + CRO + Unique Brand Story = A Winning Combination
First, more convergence of SEO and CRO—this trend will be driven by three factors:
- Google’s continuous focus on user experience
- More companies and brands paying closer attention to conversion rates and how to increase sales
- SEOs trying to find new methods to drive more business
Second, brand stories will become more important. Most brands are copycats of each other. When it’s difficult to distinguish between brands, users will have very little brand loyalty. With Google changing the rules as it wishes, establishing a unique brand that attracts visitors away regardless to search becomes essential.
Third, we will see more SEO testing. A/B (split) testing is popular in experimentation programs, but it has not gained much traction amongst SEOs. Split testing site structure/content to see which version of the site generates more traffic is still in its infancy; however, it will gain more popularity as Google relies more on artificial intelligence (AI).
#9 – Semantic Markup and Schema Will Become Overpowering
Google intends to increase the amount of schema that they support – semantic markup and schema will become overpowering in 2020—whether you are optimizing content, images or events—every SEO will need to understand schema and use tools like inLinks to help make that happen.
Google will start to extend their “rel=” attribute in links. They currently support rel=nofollow, rel=ugc, and rel=sponsored, maybe this will be the start of Google trying to get more information from links.
#10 – Moving from Keyword Research to Intent Research
BERT is just the tip of the iceberg on what is coming in terms of a better understanding of user intent. We will see SEOs moving away from traditional keyword research and doing more “intent research”. What are the yet unfulfilled intentions that clients can address with new engaging content?
While BERT helps a lot with understanding natural language, GPT2—a natural language generation algorithm—helps with generating compelling content.
We anticipate new Google and Bing guidelines to clarify good and bad uses of this type of powerful content generation technology. Many companies will race to scale their content efforts and produce business value.
Chrome is going to start shaming slow sites next year. You can expect page speed to be a big priority like HTTPS was for the last two years.
Cheers to a New Decade of SEO
Big changes are ahead, which is cause for both celebration and critical thinking. A renewed and consistent focus on providing best-answer content, advancements in how we can automate day-to-day tasks, and the concept of voice search for the whole home could mean huge changes in the way SEOs and marketers interact with their teams, and the way consumers interact with brands.