In SEO terms it’s been a relatively uneventful year, at least when compared with some of the drama we’ve witnessed in recent years following major algorithm updates – see Penguin and Panda.
While things may have settled down on the algorithmic front, 2018 hasn’t been totally event-free. In August Google rolled out ‘Medic’, a core algorithm update that had a big impact on health and medical websites in particular. Google also launched its new and improved Search Console, and with it, gave its users access to a greater depth of organic search data, which was nice. And perhaps most significantly we saw the introduction of Mobile-first indexing, an inevitable yet major milestone in search, and for many, the catalyst for some significant site overhauls.
With 2019 just days away, here are some key SEO considerations for website owners looking to get ahead in the new year. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but should hopefully serve as a useful starting block.
Position zero & long-tail opportunities
Google’s much coveted featured snippets, or ‘position zero’ listings, have been a hot topic this year, not least because of their rising prominence in SERPs. The infinitely-populating ‘People also ask’ results boxes are also now a familiar sight for most of us. In fact, according to Moz, there was a whopping 1,723% growth in People also ask results in SERPs between 2015 and 2017.
When it comes to optimising pages for search there is a tendency amongst SEOs to focus exclusively on keywords with the highest search volumes. In competitive spaces, the real opportunities lie in the long-tail. In 2017 Ahrefs conducted a study of more than 2 million featured snippets that revealed a featured snippet that shows for a search query will always get more traffic than the first organic search result. If that’s not enough to get you thinking about featured snippets, I don’t know what is.
Brand awareness is more important than ever
Earlier this year I wrote about the link between brand awareness and SEO, and how according to one recent study the vast majority (82%) of searchers will click on a brand that they’re familiar with in SERPs, regardless of that brand’s ranking position.
Image via quickmeme.com
While there’s no escaping the fact that search rankings are still a major factor when it comes to attracting organic clicks, visibility is really only half the battle – web pages not only need to be visible, but they also need to be familiar. To gain a competitive edge in 2019, brands need to look beyond SERP positions and consider how wider marketing activities can help drive recognition, and crucially trust.
A link don’t come for free
The term ‘link building’ feels very dated in 2018, a bit dirty, even. As an industry we prefer to talk about link acquisition, link earning, or just good old fashioned PR. Acquiring high-value links in particular requires a shift in mindset; Instead of asking ‘where can we find links’, the focus should be ‘how can we make news’. So next year, instead of pestering publishers for links, give them something they’ll want to talk about and share for all the right reasons. Create good content and amplify it in the right places, and the links will follow.
“OK Google, talk to me about voice search”
It’s impossible to ignore the buzz around voice search at the moment, and with good reason. After years of speculation, connected devices have entered our homes and they’re spreading like a nasty disease. Comscore predicts that by 2020 50% of searches will be made through voice, and with smart speaker adoption on the rise, this figure is only heading in one direction.
So what does this mean for voice search and SEO in 2019? Earlier this year Backlinko analysed 10,000 Google Home search results to examine the key ranking factors, which included pagespeed, secure protocol (HTTPS), and the authority of the domain, all of which are also important elements of desktop or mobile SEO. The research also revealed that when it comes to voice search specifically, Google prefers short, concise answers, while the typical voice search result is 29 words in length. It also favours simple, easy-to-read content, written at a 9th-grade level (14 to 15 year-olds).
Crucially, the research found that content that ranks highly in desktop search is also more likely to appear as a voice search answer, with 75% of voice search results ranking in the top 3 for that query, and 40.7% of all voice search answers coming from a featured snippet specifically. Conversely, very few voice search results had the exact query in their title tag, leading us to believe that creating individual pages optimised for voice search queries is not an effective strategy.
Voice search is bound to be a major topic of discussion throughout 2019 and there will be plenty to discuss as both consumers and businesses explore its capabilities, and limitations.
Don’t forget the basics
We are very much a ‘flavour of the month’ industry. From churning out infographics like it’s a matter of life or death to flapping hopelessly over https migrations – and more recently obsessing over voice search – we have a bit of a tendency to focus on what’s hot at any given time, often at the expense of other equally important things.
While I’m all for forward thinking, jumping on these bandwagons can be dangerous. So next year, before going full steam ahead on the ‘what next’ stuff, I’d urge site owners to spend some time looking at the nuts and bolts of their websites.
Page load speed tests, indexing issues, meta content analysis, copy updates, redirects, broken links and so on. These things are not sexy, nor are they much fun, but they can have a major effect on a website’s search visibility, click through rates, and conversions.
Happy SEO-ing in 2019, you know where to come if you need some help.