Now that 2020 is here, it’s pretty remarkable to look back at the previous decade in search and see how much things have changed. There were some heavy algorithm updates over the past year and we’ve also got some major search trends that are already changing the way SEOs need to optimise their campaigns. Here are the three SEO strategies that are going to matter most in 2020.
Optimise for BERT & a smarter Google
As we wrote on our own blog recently, the official word from Google is that you can’t optimise for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT), but this isn’t strictly true.
There's nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) October 28, 2019
BERT makes Google more capable of understanding complex search queries and ultimately better at returning relevant results for them. For SEOs, this makes Google more effective at matching their content to a wider range of queries and this opens up new opportunities, which is something marketers certainly do need to be optimising for.
When Google applies BERT, search queries like this one become opportunities for search marketers.
Google tells us BERT is being applied to 1 in 10 queries in the US (in English), which means roughly 10% of all queries related to your brand could be more valuable with this algorithm being applied. Search marketers need to identify where these opportunities are, especially for long-tail keywords and complex queries where the competition will be very low.
Optimise for zero-click searches
According to research from SparkToro, more than half of all search queries in 2019 were zero-click searches. This means users get the information they need from the results page without clicking through to any website.
We’ve looked at how to optimise for zero-click searches in a previous article published here on The Drum, so take a look at that for a more in-depth analysis of the situation. Here’s a quick summary of why there’s no need to panic:
- Almost half of all searches still generate traffic.
- Most zero-click searches have little commercial value (eg: “weather london”). In other words, the other half of searches (that are still generating traffic) are where most of the business opportunities are.
- Most of the zero-click searches that do have commercial value are local searches.
If this somehow an important keyword for you, maybe it is time to panic
In most cases, the rise of zero-click searches has a minimal impact on the kind of queries that are valuable to brands. However, they are on the rise and this is something SEOs need to analyse because the impact will be different for each brand/strategy.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Pinpoint your zero-click opportunities: are they on Google Maps, featured snippets, the Knowledge Graph or elsewhere?
- Implement structured data
- Create content for no-click formats - eg: step-by-step guides, FAQs, definitions, etc.
- Knowledge Panel: claim your knowledge panel and make sure the information in it is accurate
- Aim for position zero by creating the best content for informational searches.
- Optimise your no-click listings - eg: definitions that fit in featured snippets, better images on Google Maps than your competitors.
- Build your organic no-click presence by ranking in relevant featured snippets.
- Turn featured snippets into traffic by optimising your snippets for users to click through for more info.
- Optimise Google My Business to turn no click searches into phone calls and store visits.
- Attribute where possible: the biggest problem with zero-click searches is they’re difficult to attribute in analytics so aim for CTRs, calls or zero-click conversions where possible.
Don’t be afraid of zero-click searches. Just optimise for them.
Optimise for featured snippets
As mentioned in the previous section, the majority of zero-click sessions come from local searches or SERPs showing featured snippets. At the same time, featured snippets also represent the growing trend in organic search of one position dominating the SERPs rather than the traditional list of 10 blue links.
A recent study carried out by RankRanger found that the presence of featured snippets has more than doubled since 2018. If the numbers are accurate, this means featured snippets are now showing for up to 86% of desktop searches and 73% of mobile searches.
As always, it’s important to analyse the business opportunities available here because featured snippets generally show for informational searches. So you’re not going to be losing end-of-funnel leads by not ranking for featured snippets. Most featured snippets are no more valuable than “weather London” searches but there are going to be opportunites at the early stages of the consumer journey (eg: product research) and branding opportunties to be had here.
You need to identify where these opportunities are.
Once you know which featured snippets you want to rank for, here’s how you need to optimise for them:
- Create content that answers questions.
- Know which questions your target audiences are asking.
- Produce better content (ie: better answers) than your competitors.
- Create FAQ-style articles with questions in h2 headings.
- Provide complete, concise answers (40-50 words) to questions and then expand with additional paragraphs where necessary.
- Use tables, bullet points, numbered lists, charts and images to answer questions wherever relevant.
- Create step-by-step guides using the same optimisation techniques, as these are also used in featured snippets a lot.
Finally, if you’ve already got a strategy in place to optimise for featured snippets, go back and check for new opportunities that BERT may have created.
Dave Colgate, head of enterprise SEO, Vertical Leap