Google’s algorithm changes can make or break a company’s fortunes. With more marketing shifting online, digital is no longer an optional extra but the vital component separating success and failure.
A salient example is ASOS, whose challenges in the ecommerce market were well reported in 2019. While a lot of the focus of commentary was on warehouse and supply chain issues, there was a perhaps a less visible elephant in the room: SEO.
ASOS’ decision to launch 200 versions of its website - depending on which country the customer was in - had a massively negative impact on its score and commercial performance. The attempt to provide a more tailored experience geographically conflicted with Google’s move toward a more aggregated display. The key challenge was that users didn’t enjoy their time on site. Therefore, Google reacted by making the sites less visible with a demonstrable impact on the bottom line. The lesson? Pay attention to Google’s direction of travel.
So what smoke signals have we seen coming from Mountain Valley and what do smart digital marketers need to do to stay ahead of the curve in 2020? Here are four SEO trends to watch out for.
SERPs replacing website dwell time
All tech giants want to boost dwell time on their platforms. Facebook has been trying this for years in developing a fully formed content offering with video, news, and engagement to help draw in advertising dollars. Google is no different. However, one key advantage Google has is professional website content powering and supporting its interface. The desire for all websites to rank on Google also means it can in effect dictate terms to the sites.
Over the past 12 months, Google has moved to display an increasing volume of third-party content directly in SERPs. Search results now reveal snippets from the site, graphs, maps, answer boxes, video content playable at a click, and carousels of images. The net result? Fewer reasons for a user to click through to a brand’s website.
Although this trend could easily set off alarm bells, this needn’t be the case for marketers whose objectives are conversions rather than website vanity metrics. If the SERPS present all the information needed for a user to convert, what does it really matter? Indeed, the development of organic carousels means brands could have three or four powerful touchpoints on one single results page.
It will, however, require a change in analytics capturing. Digital marketers will need to account for Google’s SERPs as well as their own websites when measuring KPIs. Monitoring impressions will become just as important as watching a site’s organic traffic because users will be interacting with a website’s content both on the site itself and via Google.
A need for mobile page speed
We have now reached critical mass with the majority of all searches being done on mobile. It is the de facto device for internet users - in part because Google has pushed web developers to improve page load speed, responding to the top complaint from mobile users.
Google Search Console has included a mobile issue report for years. In 2019 it also added a page speed report to help identify the worst-performing pages for each website. Development teams have no other choice than to deliver faster experiences across devices to keep their websites ranking. Expect page load speed to become a more significant ranking factor in 2020.
The new language of BERT
BERT stands for the slightly less snappy Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. Using machine learning, BERT improves Google’s understanding of user intent behind complicated or ambiguous queries. The company believes it represents "the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search."
Going live in the US in October 2019 and expanding to other countries and languages throughout 2020, BERT will not only impact the type of ranking content featured but also the kind of rich snippets, excerpts, and other information displayed. But what does it mean for digital marketers? The winners will be high-quality websites with detailed content (page copy and schema) about their products and services. Good SEO practice will be key and not falling back on the misplaced belief that your content will speak for itself.
E-A-T is an acronym you need to digest
While digital marketers would be forgiven for not being able to parrot what BERT stands for, it is vital they know that E-A-T stands for: Expertise-Authoritativeness-Trustworthiness.
These are the guiding principles behind some core updates to Google’s algorithm, each of which improved the search engine’s understanding of website content to help it better direct search traffic. As Google continues to evolve its core algorithm, the websites it considers to be published by the best in-field experts with the greatest authority will be selected to best satisfy user needs.
This new focus means ranking moves beyond technical SEO and on-page and off-page updates. Every professional concerned with organic traffic will need to focus more on great content, brand awareness, links, and mentions from trusted authoritative sites.
Getting ahead of the curve
Clearly, if you’re already getting the fundamentals right, and your content is high-quality and optimised, you should be ahead of the curve for 2020’s developments. But there is a huge difference between not being left behind and actively getting ahead.
Keep your finger on the pulse if you want your SEO to continue making a meaningful, measurable contribution to your bottom line - watch this space and we will keep you updated with the best ways to do so.
Mike Fantis, VP managing partner, DAC