This post originally appeared on Searchenginewatch.com
Get ready because SEO trends will undergo revolutionary changes in 2020. Make sure you are on the side that embraces this revolution, rather than the one that resists it.
Google has achieved “Quantum Supremacy”, this means that they have built a quantum computer capable of performing tasks that would take modern-day supercomputers 10’s of thousands of years to accomplish.
In 2020 Google will start using these new breakthroughs for commercial purposes. This will make Google’s search algorithm exponentially more powerful since the quantum processor is fully programmable and can run general-purpose quantum algorithms and machine learning applications.
I know, scary, right.
Quantum Supremacy might affect SEO in several ways:
- Making search more relevant
- New tactics to overcome black hat SEO
- Lightning fast and reactive algorithmic updates
- Rankings that are truly based on relevancy and merit of website content (instead of backlinks)
- Dramatically change Google Image search results
This is just one aspect of the future of SEO, let’s talk about the rest.
1. NLP oriented content
Google just released a new update in October of 2019 called BERT (which is based on NLP), which has impacted the ranking of more than 10% of queries in Google.
What is NLP?
In computer science, natural language processing (NLP) is a field in machine learning which focuses on the ability of a computer to understand, analyze, manipulate, and potentially generate human language.
Do you want to learn about the basics of NLP? This paper from Stanford University can surely help.
Furthermore, NLP is changing the landscape of businesses since it has the ability to extract critical information from unstructured data (mainly in the form of invoices, online customer chats, emails, or any plain text).
BERT is a deep learning model in NLP used to analyze large bodies of text to provide interesting results and insights to users. The best part is that it’s open-source, which means anyone with Python experience can train the model.
If you’re interested in learning more BERT then check out this official explanation of BERT from Google.
This breakthrough has the capability to understand a sentence based on concepts, intent, and context (not solely on keywords). Moreover, It looks at words that come before and after a sentence when understanding context.
Let’s understand it with an example
Sentence-A: The man went to the shop.
Sentence-B: He bought a PlayStation 5.
BERT can perceive the relationship between Sentence-A and Sentence-B based on the word ‘the man’ and ‘He’ and ‘the shop’ and ‘PlayStation 5’. Previous algorithms couldn’t understand the left and right context in sentences.
Thanks to BERT, Google can now understand longer queries better than before. Moreover, it can detect the opposite as well. Have a look at the below example:
Sentence-A: The man went to the shop.
Sentence-B: Google is changing the gaming industry.
Sentence-A and Sentence-B have no relationship, and they are entirely dissimilar.
But what is BERT’s takeaway?
There is no official explanation from Google, but according to the real SEO experts like Bill Slawski and Ryan Jones, who have been in the SEO industry for more than ten years, you should ignore advice from so-called SEO experts.
Are you thinking BERT can’t be implemented practically until you are a Python geek?
Boy, do I have some news for you.
Let me show you the Google NLP API tool that you can use to optimize your content.
This tool helps businesses identify unique entities from invoices, live chats, emails, or any plain text.
The part I love about this tool is that it can recognize your content against your competitors’ content and Google is using the same technology in ranking websites.
Follow the steps
Go to Google NLP Tool that looks like this:
Type anything that comes to mind. I’ve input my author bio and clicked Analyze.
This powerful tool shows four critical sections: Entities, sentiments, syntax, and categories – each section has significance for understanding content.
As it’s evident, in the ‘entities’section, Google can understand ‘Ata Khan’ is the name of a person. Entities can be the name of any person, a place, an organization, a number, and so on. Google is rapidly growing its entity library.
In ‘sentiment’, Google can understand the context of any sentence from being positive to negative.
‘Syntax’ is the technical part of language forms the grammatical structure of sentences.
The ‘categories’section is my favorite part which lets you know if your content is written for the right industry or not.
Let me explain all this with an example
Type your keyword that you want to rank for in Google. I’ve used the keyword “Best Smartphones 2019”. I opened the site that was ranking for the number one position and copied the content.
I then pasted into Google NLP. Now comes the best part, you can check whether you’re writing for the right industry or not.
Paste your content into the box to compare the results with your competitors’ content.
You should aim for a confidence score of 90% or higher in the industry you want to rank for.
But what happens when it doesn’t show the right industry? Double-check to see if you are using industry buzzwords and words used y by experts in your field (by observing the content ranked by Google).
Want to see an example of why Google ranks the ‘Car Movie’ Wikipedia page?
The reason is simple – the page contains words that are all related to movies, words like :
The secret to a better ranking is to include as many entities as possible in your content, as per Bill Slawski.
2. SEO semantic HTML
Semantic HTML is a crucial part of SEO which most marketers ignore.
What saddens me is that most companies hire web developers that don’t have any SEO experience. This, of course, presents huge problems down the road.
I believe every good developer should know SEO, primarily technical SEO (which helps earn better rankings in search engines).
Below is a developer’s style of writing code that doesn’t possess SEO skills
Here goes logo, navigation, etc.
A place for website’s main content
Footer information, links, etc.
Now, look at the below code, which is perfectly written for SEO. It has <title>, <main>, <p>, and <footer> that aids Google in identifying important elements on the page.
Here goes logo, navigation, etc.
<p>A place for website’s main content</p>
Footer information, links, etc.
What is the main advantage? Semantic HTML helps in getting a featured snippet of your website on search results pages.
According to my research, most featured snippets are taken from the <p> element.
Look at this keyword “Why people fall in love”.
Now take a look at the HTML version of the answer.
What do you find? The featured snippet is taken from within a <p> tag element.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen businesses hiring writers who don’t have any basic knowledge of HTML and end up publishing content that doesn’t rank well.
They write on Microsoft Word or Google Doc, and they use different features to make an article look better, but at the cost of poor HTML structure.
Need a real example?
Take an article written in MS Word and I paste it into the visual editor of WordPress. It looks something like this:
Such a messy code isn’t likely to be featured as a snippet by Google.
3. Schema implementation
As of November, 45% of websites on the internet don’t use Schema at all.
This is a great opportunity to increase your organic traffic as few businesses are utilizing this great traffic source.
And here’s what a search listing with featured snippets look like:
You can mark up any information with schema tags that are relevant to your business, such as reviews, ratings, and prices as compared to normal snippets which only contain a title, URL, and meta description. The greatest benefit of utilizing rich snippets is that they attract more clicks because of the larger real estate they take when displayed on SERPs (as well as providing additional useful information for searchers).
For some people, the implementation of schema tags appears to be a daunting task…But it’s not! Google tag manager makes this process very easy. Check out this tutorial which breaks down schema tag implementation step by step.
4. Voice search
Voice search is becoming more useful to users because it’s more personalized. Now, you can talk to your personal assistance as if it were a real human.
SEOs have been talking about voice search for a decade, but they still don’t know how to optimize their content for it.
If you want to be picked up by Google Assistant, you need to optimize for featured snippets because more than 40.7% of the voice searches are taken from featured snippets, according to Backlinko.
Why is voice search the future?
The reason is simple…people have become lazy. People love to shop online. And people love to chat with friends instead of meeting at a physical location.
So how do you optimize your featured snippets to be presented in Google Voice Search? Simply write the answer to the question but be sure that specific words from the questions are mentioned.
Need an example?
Look at the keyword below. The words in the question are included in the answer. This has helped to get the snippet featured.
Featured snippets may contain:
- Numbered lists
- Bullet lists
- Table featured snippets
- Youtube snippets
You should try to use as many of these formatting types when writing your answers. Check out this detailed guide on getting featured snippets picked up by voice search.
5. The speed update
This is a pretty common trend, so why did it make this list? Because despite Google addressing its importance, corporations continue to ignore it.
So what has Google done so far?
- Made speed a ranking factor.
- Investing time and money on AMP technology across Google.
- Built the new speed feature in Google Search Console.
- The latest chrome version now labels slow websites with a “shame” badge.
So why is Google coming down hard on page speed optimization? Does it really matter? Well, Amazon is a great example of the importance of page speed optimization. They found that every 100ms of latency cost them1% in profit – that’s a staggering $4 million dollars in sales.
That’s a tenth of one second! Imagine what Amazon could achieve if it increases its speed by 1 second!
Ever wonder why this happens? It’s because our brain makes decisions in milliseconds, not seconds.
6. Creating branded queries
Branded queries are a direct sign of your business’ credibility since users are searching for your brand name in Google.
According to the ranking factors report by Brian Dean, branded search is a ranking factor.
The founder of Backlinko has created an astounding SEO blog that has become a brand in the SEO industry.
These branded queries provide a hint to Google that users love their blog which has helped them gain higher positions in the SERPs.
Have a look at the below Google Analytics report, 40% of monthly traffic is coming from returning visitors. It’s become a brand.
Moreover, you can also use Google Search Console to see your branded search queries by clicking New>Query>Type your website name>Apply from the Performance Report.
But the real question is how will you make your website a brand?
There is no secret. You’ll need to focus on providing excellent content to your audience that no one else can provide.
According to my experience, blogs with their own unique voice and personality (that no other blog can replicate) have the highest chances of becoming a brand.
Here are some tips to make your blog a brand:
- Keep the website name easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and easy to speak.
- The shorter the domain, the better (and .coms are best).
- Promote your brand name on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
- Write your own unique content. Branded topics perform substantially better than non-branded ones (like the “Skyscraper Technique” by Backlinko).
- Survey your visitors and customers to understand what they need from your industry.
7. Cumulative optimization
Cumulative optimization is the process of continually optimizing your website and pages until you achieve your goals. The idea is that you never stop making improvements and analyzing your customers’ needs and wants.
Let’s talk about a case study by Ahrefs.
Ahrefs attempted to rank number one for the keyword “free backlink tool”, but they failed. The webpage kept at the 8th position on the SERP despite them doing the following:
- On-page SEO
- Page speed optimization
- Image optimization
- Internal linking
- Paid traffic
- Guest posting
The first rule of optimizing is to ask the question, why are you optimizing in the first place? Maybe you’re not getting the rankings you deserve, maybe you’re not generating sales, or maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, make a note of it.
Once you’ve identified your issue, you need to type your keyword into Google and observe the top-ranking pages. Specifically, you should observe:
- On-Page SEO with comprehensive content analysis
- Off-Page SEO with no-follow and do-follow backlink breakdown
Ahrefs recognized that the top-ranked pages were providing backlink tools free of cost, but Ahrefs’ cost seven dollars (as a trial demo).
A week within the day Ahrefs made their backlink tool-free (which allowed anyone to check the backlinks of any website – along with other useful information), Ahrefs gained the number one ranking. They didn’t create a new page, they simply updated their existing page.
That’s why if you’re not getting the desired ranking for your page you’ll need to audit the page and find out what you lack that could be holding you back.
8. Video SEO
Businesses that utilize the power of video marketing get 49% more revenue year-over-year than those that don’t.
The reason? People love watching videos.
Leading blogs in the SEO industry like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Backlinko focus on making videos to generate quality leads.
Small businesses don’t focus on making video due to it being expensive But thanks to freelancing platforms it’s become cheaper these days. Moreover, you can use video tools that can help you further to create engaging videos.
You’ll need to understand that making videos on just any topic isn’t an effective way of video marketing (you must fuel it with keyword research).
Keyword research is a crucial step in finding topics that can be picked by YouTube and Google.
You can also find great topics on YouTube. Go to any channel in your industry, click “Sort By”, and choose “Most Popular”. You’ll end up with a list of topics that are popular – create videos for those.
Another fantastic way to find topics is by YouTube Search Predictions.
*Note – Do you want to copy the keywords from the suggest list all at once without any tool? Click on “Report search predictions” at the bottom of the suggestions list. It will pop up like this:
Once you do that there will be an option to select all keywords and copy.
Are you eager to make successful videos? Follow these tips:
- You have five seconds to persuade users to keep watching your video.
- Retention is a ranking factor. If you are getting more views, but only a few users are watching the entire video.
- Most of the views on YouTube come from suggestions. It means you need to invest time to make a good thumbnail to attract users.
- Invest in writing a script. Nothing can beat a good script. As an example to learn, watch the best videos in your niche and download subtitles.
9. E-A-T centric website
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness – three factors help Google whether to trust a site.
Recent Google algorithms have penalized many health sites because misleading health information can lead to the death of a person. Many blogs hire cheap writers to write thin content and then rank those blogs with black hat techniques.
Google hired more than 10,000 search quality raters to discover thin websites, and they follow the instructions mentioned in the official PDF.
Every SEO should read this entire document to have a better understanding of the future of SEO.
Healthline strictly follows the instructions in the document and gets traffic in millions.
As we know, “Expertise” is the number one element. Healthline only hires professionals who are experts in their niche.
The second element is “Authoritativeness”. Healthline provides strong references to prove the authenticity of a topic.
“Trustworthiness” is the third element and it looks at the website’s UX and UI, age of the website, reputation on social media and online reviews.
It indicates when you should focus on:
- Hiring expert writers in your niche. Not all writers are equal. If you write yourself, make sure you follow the E-A-T rule with an impressive author bio.
- Must have an “About Us” page to show your testimonials from clients, awards, and qualifications.
- Content should be written to help users, not Google. If you make your users happy, Google will reward your website with higher rankings.
SEO trends keep changing with the advent of machine learning and artificial intelligence, but the main mission of Google remains the same – to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
So don’t let your competitors have all the fun. Execute these aforementioned SEO trends and watch your site climb the ranks.
Here is a short summary of what we just covered
- Using Google’s NLP tool to optimize your content
- Implementing Schema to cover more space and clicks from users
- Making use of featured snippets to get traffic from voice search
- Speeding up your site to avoid Chrome shame badge
- Writing quality content to entice users to remember and search for your brand on Google
- Focusing on improving a webpage that is not performing well until it achieves abetter ranking
- Making interesting and compelling videos
- Making your website E-A-T Centric (that is, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness)
What do you think the future of SEO will look like in the year 2020? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below.
Ata Khan is Co-Founder of Xoobo, a digital marketing agency that is on the bleeding edge of the industry.
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“Semantics” refers to the concepts or ideas conveyed by words, and semantic analysis is making any topic (or search query) easy for a machine to understand.