As we start a new decade in the world of search, taking a moment to reflect on the past decade and all that has changed can offer a valuable opportunity for important insights. When we look back on how search engine optimization has evolved in the last 10 years, the shape of SEO today—while still retaining some constants—is noticeably different.
Aside from the speculated hundreds or even thousands of algorithmic changes that Google releases each year, strategies, content, keywords, along with technical and on-page SEO components, have been in a constant state of fluid motion.
For the SEOs who have been in the game for a while though, we already know this. The very nature of SEO is adapting to change in a landscape often shrouded by mystery and speculation.
Sure there have been plenty of components to SEO that have remained static for all this time. Essentials like title tags, image alt text, and proper site navigation hierarchy and URL structure are still vital and probably will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
When we look at the things that have changed over the years (keyword stuffing, obsessing over the proper use of headings, focusing on quantity over quality in terms of content, etc.), it’s a reminder that if SEOs don’t stay current, dated strategies, practices, and techniques can significantly harm our efforts.
To be successful in the world of search, we need to be constantly adapting, analyzing, reviewing, and strategizing to come up with new and innovative solutions to the obstacles we face.
This next decade is sure to bring plenty of changes, challenges, and most certainly, a few surprises. While the experience and knowledge we’ve gained in optimizing for search over the years still has tremendous value, rising to meet the new challenges and changes that will no doubt arrive, requires us to expand our knowledge, evolve our strategy, and devise new innovations.
As we embark into 2020, here are some evolutionary considerations to ponder when strategizing for the year (and decade), ahead.
Outdated SEO habits will hold you back
It is baffling to still see some SEOs obsessing over strategically placing keywords in their H tag hierarchy thinking it’s what’s going to make that page or content successful. Or websites that provide medical advice when their authors have no accreditation after Google has pushed its emphasis on the E-A-T principle (expertise, authority, and trust) and are wondering why rankings have dropped in the past year.
These are a couple examples of relying on old SEO strategies or schools of thought that are just simply not applicable anymore.
This is a common trend in most industries or even in life in general. People often have an aversion to change and get stuck in their ways of doing things, even if it’s clear it’s not working out anymore. The first lesson in SEO, however, should be that whatever you learn—be prepared to reshape it, discard it, or evolve it at any given time.
Even the best SEOs can get bogged down by daily life and then six months down the road realize they’re out of the loop with the current data and trends in the search community. It might take an unexpected drop in client rankings or getting corrected when discussing a dated SEO concept at a meetup before we realize we’re out of touch, but ideally, we don’t want to let things reach this point.
The best way to go about this is just to simply not holding anything as “set in stone”. If you’re prepared to change and anticipate change, it will be much easier to manage. It’s important to be proactive in staying current as well as anticipating changes, trends, and new information when it comes to search engine optimization.
Making it a priority each day to read up on your trusted SEO sources (like checking the Google Webmasters Twitter or blog for instance), can help to keep you updated and informed so you can make the best decisions for your business, your clients, and your future.
Generic SEO strategies are not enough anymore
When you consider how much the internet and all it embodies has evolved and rapidly grown since the early days of search, it can almost feel overwhelming. Considering that there were around 17 million websites in 2000 and as of 2018 that number has grown to 1.6 billion, the online world seems saturated with websites and content of everything possibly imaginable.
Now while the majority of these websites are inactive today, the reality still exists that the internet has become and will continue to be, incredibly competitive. Trying to build, launch, and rank a new website today using SEO alone is unfortunately not enough anymore. To be successful in the world of search today means being creative, innovative, and thinking outside the box.
Your on-page SEO could be perfect, your blog content could be fully optimized, your site hierarchy and URL structure flawless, and your technical SEO components exceptional. Despite all this, however, without a quality backlink profile, without an established history online, without relying on other forms of marketing, SEO alone cannot sustain a website. While it is a vital piece of the puzzle, it is only one of several important pieces.
Websites that are just starting out will never be able to go head to head with established giants that have been online for years. Even after years of hard work, link building, content marketing, and flawless optimization for search, this reality will still exist. In order to distinguish yourself from the rest, you’ll need to devise creative and innovative solutions and ideas that extend beyond the generic SEO strategies that are preached time and time again.
While basic SEO components are still essential, they will not be enough to reach the objectives of most SEOs today. We’ll discuss more on some actionable concepts later on.
Google is getting much smarter
The past few years have seen Google and other search engines make huge strides in their ability to understand and process search queries (among other things). This is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. As we continue to move forward, new innovations to search will continually be added to the mix.
Consider visual search for example. While still in its infancy, it is already exponentially more powerful now than just one year ago and it’s growing at an unprecedented rate. Technology like Google Lens has been used 1 billion times and this innovative technology will play a considerable role in how we optimize for visual search in the coming years.
Natural language and semantics
Another instance of Google’s evolving machine learning and intelligence is the BERT update which saw significant improvements to the way search queries are understood. Google is getting better and better at understanding natural language and searchers no longer have to focus as much on the keywords and phrasing of their queries. They can search in a more natural way. In essence, a more human way.
This means that we are moving away from the days of keyword-driven content where that was the primary focus. While keywords are still important, content written for humans first in more natural language will continue to be prioritized over mechanically-crafted, keyword-dense content.
Over time we’ve seen more and more that Google has introduced new features that tend to keep users on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), longer and oftentimes, eliminating the need to go any further as the question or query is answered or resolved right then and there.
Consider the update in September 2019 to Google Chrome on Android where users could now receive an answer to a search without even having to submit a query.
While these two examples no doubt make these tasks more simplified, streamlined, and all-around easier for users, it has become increasingly unsettling to many SEOs and websites of all kinds to watch as Google continues to monopolize the SERP.
In the above examples, while these businesses may see fewer website visitors because of these SERP features, keep in mind that doesn’t necessarily mean they will see a loss in revenue. Despite this, many SEOs see this as a slippery slope.
Featured Snippets typically hold position zero in the SERP and if you own the snippet, it is prime visibility and also a testament that Google recognizes your content as authoritative enough to hold the top spot. Again though, holding this spot may mean reduced traffic to that particular page if the searcher can find an answer right then and there, however, it can offer benefits in other ways such as having improved visibility, furthering the E-A-T of your site, and distinguishing yourself from your competitors.
At the end of the day, this is just another example of the dynamic and ever-changing state of the search landscape. In order to maximize your SEO strategy in 2020 and in the years to come, SEOs will need to continue to adapt, assess, and evolve to match new features and innovations put forth by Google and other search engines.
Ways you can evolve your SEO strategy
As time and data have shown us, the search landscape is constantly changing. In order to effectively optimize and strategize for search, we are burdened with the necessary task of staying current with technology, trends, user-behaviour, and algorithmic updates.
Ultimately, cultivating and evolving your own SEO strategy will be unique to your business but the common truth faced by all is that to remain stagnant or uninformed will hinder progress or worst-case scenario, send us backwards altogether. While brainstorming with your team to come up with your own innovations will likely provide the most value in terms of evolving your strategy, here are a few actionable items to get you started.
Take your written content to the next level
While visual search, videos, and other forms of media continue to grow, the fact of the matter is quality content remains the backbone of SEO. This may not be the case forever and in the future, we may need to evolve from this concept more or less, however, for the time being, it remains essential.
The value of content as part of your SEO and marketing strategy has been preached many times before but with Google’s innovations to understanding natural language and the emphasis placed on quality, 2020 is the year to step up your content game to the next level. Writing for humans first—not search engines—is the place to start.
Do everything in your power to design your content to be as valuable to the reader as possible. Find a new angle on something, provide unique insights, look at what your competitors are doing and then find a way to do it better. Content that truly resonates with readers and provides value will be self-sustaining in earning engagements, shares, and backlinks—all of which can help boost your SEO.
Stay in the know
It cannot be understated how important it is to constantly be staying current with the world of search and all it encompasses. The value of this doesn’t just come from one source but rather the collective knowledge in the search community.
Google can often be quite vague in providing important details when releasing important updates and this is where independent researchers come in to help us fill in the blanks. Influential figures in the SEO industry such as Bill Slawski for instance, help to provide the community with foresight into emerging algorithmic changes by monitoring patents filed by search engines and then using the information contained in them, to anticipate upcoming changes or new innovations.
Staying current with SEO news, trends, and changes on a daily basis will ensure that your SEO strategy evolves with the times.
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Your basic SEO should be flawless
It’s 2020. If your on-page SEO is missing essentials like image alt text, optimized meta tags, or your page speed is being weighted down by oversized images or videos, then this is a huge problem. Duplicate content or missing redirects are rookie mistakes. With the vast knowledge of free SEO instruction and advice available, there is no reason why essential SEO components are not implemented properly.
The ability to evolve your SEO strategy will be stumped if basic SEO requirements are not met. Here’s a few resources for trusted SEO education:
Diversify your content
While written copy might still be the backbone of SEO, advancements to visual search along with voice search mean that if you don’t diversify, you’re missing out on many opportunities. With video expected to make up 80% of all online traffic by 2021 and with 55% of all Google search results containing at least one video, it would be foolish not to include video as part of your SEO efforts and marketing strategy as a whole.
Additionally, as voice search rapidly grows with 41% of adults and over 50% of teens performing at least one voice search a day, failing to optimize for voice search will translate into many missed opportunities. Diversifying your written content to optimize for voice search as well as claiming relevant featured snippets will play an important role in your evolving content strategy. Keep in mind too that this will have to be high ranking content, as Google tends to source voice search responses from the top 3 search results.
Consider getting even more strategic by hosting or becoming a guest on a podcast. If you publish content regularly, diversifying your written content and remixing it into podcast form can help boost brand awareness, generate leads, and establish E-A-T. With Google displaying podcasts as a SERP feature—this also allows you the opportunity to optimize your podcast accordingly.
Being invited or pitching to be a guest on an established podcast can also help with brand awareness, leads, and especially securing quality backlinks.
Watch for new social trends
Social media remains an integrated part of the online community and as an essential marketing tool. While social giants like Facebook and Twitter may be what most people think of when they think of social media, the reality is there are new social players entering the game and new giants will emerge in the decade ahead.
Staying current with new social platforms and their unique offerings will help you to understand and capitalize on new trends. Additionally, these platforms can help you reach new audiences as well as collect new insights on demographics and other important data regarding your audience.
By joining new social platforms in their infancy, you’ll have a competitive advantage by gaining more familiarity early on as well as will have a head start in building an audience, engagement, and awareness.
Here are some emerging social platforms you might not be aware of:
Moving into 2020 and this next decade has equipped us with a unique position. We now have several decade’s worth of SEO data to reflect upon. While strategies for search engine optimization have changed along with Google’s requirements and the search landscape as a whole, there are still time-tested method of optimization that we can take with us into the future of search. Within this, however, are also the strategies, techniques, and beliefs to leave behind that are no longer relevant or useful in the ever-changing search landscape of today.
Evolving your SEO strategy for 2020 and beyond will require more than just the generic optimization techniques everyone is repeating over and over again. To be successful this year and in the coming years, will require a close eye on the evolving world of search and ensuring we evolve to match. It will require creative and innovative thinking that will seek to find new angles and insights where unique action can be taken.
While we must all conform to the box of SEO—that is; what search engines demand of us—we must also think outside the box as we hunt for new methods and opportunities to foster growth and cultivate the evolution of our SEO strategies.