5 Things That Changed SEO in 2019
Remember the days where we used to Ask Jeeves our most pressing questions? When Google was just another version of your favourite search engine, Yahoo? What about those archaic mobile browsers that no one actually used, anyway?
Search continues to grow and innovate, and when we think back, we realize how far it has come. This is why SEOs have to constantly be on top of innovations and updates that impact our industry; our best practices definitely won’t be the same a year or even six months from now. Technology innovates, Google adjusts its algorithms and ranking factors, and people search in different ways.
As the year comes to a close and a new decade approaches, we’re taking the time to reflect on the biggest changes that we’ve seen, specifically within Google, that have impacted our SEO work in 2019 – and how these changes might affect us in 2020 and beyond.
Remember, back in September, when BERT was just Ernie’s roommate? Google’s biggest algorithm update of 2019, rolled out in October, was invented in order to reevaluate how Google understands search queries. With the introduction of BERT, Google’s algorithm can better interpret the intricacies of language that people use.
For SEOs, BERT has illuminated a major shift in the way that we should be optimizing content for websites. The focus should be on creating the best possible content for the user, written in a way that they understand. Google has recognized that there are sites that optimize just for rankings and not to give the user the information that they need. With BERT, Google can more easily recognize the topic of a page and match it to a relevant search query.
While we may find Google’s algorithm updates frustrating, we should always remember that digital marketing is about fulfilling the user’s needs, and content that is developed to rank for keywords won’t do that. You can read Snaptech’s overview of BERT here.
The Local SEO Update
BERT wasn’t the only algorithm that drastically affected search this year. It is no secret that Local SEO, with “near me” searches increasing and Google My Business profiles generating more clicks year-over-year, has become an essential SEO strategy. Less than a month after BERT came onto the scene, there was yet another update; some businesses saw dramatic changes in their Google My Business rankings. This was the first big local algorithm update seen since 2016, unprecedented by SEOs so soon after BERT.
It was determined that listings that were seeing big drops in local visitors were outside of the visitor’s area. Google is favouring listings that are in the same zip code as the user. SEOs are realizing that, even if their business is relevant for users beyond the confines of their zip code, their local search presence needs to be optimized for the users closest to them. You can read a comprehensive overview of the Local Search update on Search Engine Land here.
2019’s SEO changes extend beyond algorithm updates. Voice search devices – from Google Home and Alexa to smartwatches – continue to grow in popularity, impacting the way that people search. Some SEOs theorize that the BERT update, meant to understand natural language, was implemented to better understand voice searches.
Voice search will only grow in popularity as we move into 2020, and Google has made moves to become a leader in voice search devices. These moves range from offering a free Google home to all Spotify users in the Spring of 2019 to their purchase of Fitbit, allowing them to compete with the Apple Watch in the wearable device category. SEOs are realizing that the content on their site must be voice-search friendly and content optimizations will continue to change as these devices become more popular.
Google Chrome Blocking Mixed Content
In order to make users feel more secure in their browsing, secure websites are ranked higher than those without an SSL certificate. Unfortunately, sometimes when we are working with an older or expansive website, there is a possibility that we’re linking out to unsecured content. This often happens because links are not updated when SSL certificates – which secure websites – are implemented. In the SEO world, we call this mixed content.
Google has announced that, as of December 2019, it will start to block mixed content. This threatens sites with mixed content, as generating ‘link juice’ is integral to signalling credibility to Google. This update signals two things going into 2020 – security for both sites and users is top of mind for Google, and that extra care should be taken to determine that the source is of high-quality when linking internally and externally.
Zero Click Searches
SEO authority Rand Fishkin of SparkToro made waves in the SEO community this past summer when he revealed that less than half of Google searches result in a click. That’s right – we spend all this time optimizing our sites, our content, and our metadata to get that click that converts… and it may never come. Why is this happening and what’s the point?
Google aims to give the user the easiest, most seamless experience possible; they’ve done this by increasing the ways that users can find the answers to their queries right within the search engine results pages. This means that SEOs have to consider how they can bring in traffic and conversions through methods that take up real estate on the SERPs while keeping their site optimized for the (now rarer) organic clicks. This includes inputting featured snippets, having a fully optimized Google My Business page, and having positive Google reviews for users to see. Organic optimization has become more than a site-specific practice; it extends to the entire SERP.
What Can We Do?
There is no telling what big changes there will be in Google’s algorithms and user behaviour going into 2020. However, with 2019’s biggest changes in mind, here are our top recommendations for your SEO strategy going into the new year:
- Make sure that all of your content is written with the user in mind; you want to make sure that you’re helping the user select your business within their purchase journey.
- Optimize for Local SEO; make sure your Google My Business profile is up-to-date and your business’ location is obvious to search engines.
- Implement featured snippets on your website to increase your chances of appearing for zero-click searches and within voice search results also.
- Crawl your website for mixed content and update any unsecured links so that they link to a secure version of the site you’re referring to. If you don’t have an SSL certificate, now is the time to secure your site for your rankings, users’ peace of mind, and to keep your links on other websites from being blocked.
What are your predictions for the state of SEO in 2020? Contact us on our social channels or leave a comment below – we can’t wait to hear your thoughts!