Search engine optimization (SEO) is perhaps the single-most-important marketing tool available to businesses of all sizes. In fact, 61% of all marketers ranked improving their search engine rankings and growing their organic (non-paid) online presence as their number one inbound sales goal.
This strategy is important not just because of web traffic and direct sales. Digital marketers say that SEO also helps them with brand awareness, lead generation, and hiring. That same survey found that website content is also the most effective form of digital marketing–beating out social media, email marketing, and paid advertising for the top spot.
Website Optimization Trends 2020
Quality content continues to reign supreme. While there are a variety of tips and tricks that can be used to improve search engine results, the single-most-important factor continues to be the quality of website content.
First of all, quality content helps increase click-through rates (CTRs). This term is used to describe the percentage of people who click on your website after reading the description of the search result page.
Websites with the highest quality content typically have high CTR rates, since consumers can quickly identify whether the writing is quality and relevant at a glance.
High-quality content will also reduce a website’s bounce rate and increase the average time on page. The website’s bounce rate is used to describe the percentage of visitors who leave a website without clicking on a link or navigating to another part of the website.
These are visitors who visited a website and quickly decided that they had little use for the content. A high bounce rate indicates one of two things: the content was low quality or it was not relevant to the search word or phrase that the visitor used. Both are negatives for SEO purposes.
On the other hand, high-quality content will increase the average time spent on-page. A higher time spent on page number means that consumers enjoyed the content and spent time reading carefully through the information.
Google, the world’s most popular search engine, began using artificial intelligence (AI) in its search engine in 2015 with the rollout of RankBrain. The company’s search engine division is now run by John Giannandrea, who is using his previous experience as the head of the company’s AI division to integrate cutting-edge technology into search results.
The tech giant is using a combination of machine learning and deep neural networks to improve its cutting-edge AI search bot. This new technology began improving on Google’s previous, algorithm-dominant approach to search, almost immediately.
These self-teaching AI programs are capable of learning from past customer searches, as well as their interactions with websites, to produce better search results on-the-fly. This has been frustrating for marketers, who, before the launch of AI, were able to use stable SEO strategies until the next major Google update.
Now, marketers must focus even more on high-quality content and conversational search terms that will remain relevant regardless of changes in Google’s AI-based search approach.
Google, in addition to other search engines, has started using featured snippets more prominently. These short experts of text are featured at the top of Google’s search results. They are used to answer simple questions that do not require an extensive explanation.
This shift has several consequences for marketers. One, the rise of featured snippets means that websites are seeing reduced traffic. That’s because consumers no longer have to click on a link to receive an answer.
They can simply ask Google a basic question, like what is the best way to remove a stain from silk, and Google will provide an answer from one of the top search results at the top of the page. What’s more, the search engine will often read the answer out-loud–eliminating the need to even glance at the results.
The rise of featured snippets means that companies are no longer competing for the first page of search results, they are now competing to be the sole website showcased on the featured snippet. This is made even more confusing since the featured snippet is often a different website than the first search result.
Voice Search Targeting
Apple Computers was the first company to release a voice-activated assistant on their smartphones. Siri, first released in 2011, has slowly transformed the way that consumers interact with the electronics that surround them.
Voice search is important for companies of all sizes, but it is especially important for businesses with a local customer base.
That’s because many consumers are already using voice search in large numbers to find local businesses while driving, walking, or getting ready to leave the house. Local companies like restaurants, contractors, and other customer service-focused firms will benefit from a voice search-focused SEO strategy.
The most important way to take advantage of this trend is by transitioning to more conversational keyword phrases. Customers tend to use stilted, machine-like searches when typing on a computer. However, the vast majority of people speak conversationally when using voice searches.
Businesses can also focus on creating informational content, like guides and instructionals, in order to capitalize on voice search and be selected as featured content. Finally, by writing content that describes directions, services, and sales, businesses can also increase results and make voice searching easier for their clients.
Companies that ignore their mobile websites are preparing themselves for failure. That’s because an estimated 58% of website visits are completed on a mobile device. In addition, 56% of total search engine clicks are done via smartphone.
Just as importantly, Google and the other major search engines penalize websites whose content does not work properly on mobile devices. Their current AI will drop a website’s ranking if it has slow mobile loading times or a poor mobile experience.
The first thing that companies can do to improve their Google rankings is to remove interstitials. These are things that make content less accessible to visitors, such as full-page popups, poor layout, and other annoying features that prevent users from immediately reading the main text.
This change is especially important for companies that rely on email marketing since Google will penalize websites that feature email-list pop-ups on the main page.
Finally, businesses can focus on optimizing their mobile websites across devices and increasing download speeds. Alternatively, other firms are turning to Progressive Web Apps, or websites that have a mobile app-like user experience, that can function smoothly on slow mobile networks. They also work on any browser and are linkable like traditional websites.
Structured data is a fundamental concept in SEO. It refers to the way that data is organized, or given structure, within a website. It breaks down information found on a website into spreadsheet-format data that can be easily read and understood by search engine crawlers.
It is incredibly important that all websites store their SEO-relevant data in an organized way. Otherwise, they will miss connecting with the huge number of customers that find businesses through traditional search engines. Despite this knowledge, many companies still fail to structure their data correctly.
Some developers use an Open Graph markup to specify a title and description, while others query a relational database using SQL. By using these tools to structure data in a readable way, businesses not only improve their SEO results–they also increase the chance of getting placed in a featured snippet.
Companies interested in optimizing their websites for search engines can follow the recommendations on Schema.org, a collaboration between Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Yandex, to ensure their data is structured correctly.
SEO continues to be one of the most important marketing trends heading into 2020. It remains one of the most powerful tools for organic sales, consistently beating out paid search results.
Finally, companies can also take advantage of developments in mobile voice search to use more conversational keywords in their writing. This trend is only expected to expand as the percentage of searches conducted using consumer voices increases.