Another year has ended and did things ever change a lot.
In fact, in the SEO realm, things seem to change almost daily. This feeling is highlighted when you’re dealing with an especially volatile SERP for your business.
This can be met with optimism – the search engine companies are working hard at making the web a better place and getting the right information to the right users when they need it.
On the other hand, it can be downright frustrating to keep up with. But it gives some of us full-time careers to pursue – :).
That is what we are here for – to keep on top of these trends for our clients and ensure that your business can remain competitive online and increase organic traffic.
Reflecting on our SEO trends for 2018 that we published last December, it seems that every point we discussed garnered relevance throughout the year. As we enter into 2019, some of these remain relevant and some have evolved as we have gained more knowledge.
Let’s take a look.
In last years SEO trends forecast, we covered the mobile-first index as something that would be of importance as 2018 played out. That being said, the topic has been bouncing around the SEO community for a couple years now.
For this reason, SEOs have had ample time to prepare for this switch, so it didn’t create too much of a challenge for most when Google finally rolled out the mobile-first index early this year.
MARSWorks has been offering responsive web design for around five years now, so we can proudly say that we had our clients prepared for this change brought on by Google. Page speed, as covered in the next section, is still a prominent issue that has been amplified even more by the mobile-first index.
As prepared as most are, this still remains an important part of any SEO strategy.
The mobile-first index means that Google primarily indexes the mobile version of your site content and the algorithm uses those metrics for ranking. For this reason, the following should still be at the forefront of your mind as you develop a website for your business or optimize your current website:
- Responsive website design and development is an approach where your website content is the same for both mobile and desktop displays, yet displayed differently to accommodate the difference in screen size. In this case, you shouldn’t have to change anything.
- If you do have a separate mobile site, you should ensure that the content and links are similar enough to the desktop version so that search engines can continue to rank your site the same as it did for the desktop version.
- Make sure to add and verify the mobile version of your site in Google Search Console if you haven’t.
It still remains important that your website loads fast. Users don’t have patience when it comes to loading a site, especially when using a mobile device.
With the mobile-first index rolled out (which was heavily influenced by stats showing that more people search using their mobile device), the emphasis on optimizing for page speed is even greater.
The reality is that most site’s mobile speed just isn’t up to par, and you better believe it – it is absolutely a ranking factor in search engine algorithms.
Website design trends up to this point have been towards nicer websites, with more functionality, image carousels, interactive features – “cool” looking websites. Content Management Systems have made this even easier to do with open source plugins by the thousands available, all with ease of use.
With this in mind, my one piece of advice is – just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
This clunky code makes it even slower to load a page on mobile devices and with Google suggesting that “70% of cellular network connections globally will occur at 3G or slower speeds through 2020,” this means that optimizing your mobile pages for speed is absolutely necessary if you want to rank well and be visible in the SERPs.
There are many things that can slow a website down and Google has created some helpful tools to let us get to the bottom of this. There is the page speed test that will give you clear recommendations on how to resolve some big issues. There is also a Chrome plugin called Lighthouse that can take you into deeper detail.
Google has also launched AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) along with documentation on learning this new form of HTML. This is an open source project helping webmasters create fast mobile pages. As mentioned in last years article, this is to address 2 major problems:
- Poor UX on mobile due to slow loading pages, and,
- The increasing use of ad blockers on mobile devices.
So far AMP has been used primarily by publishers and news sites because it allows them to appear in Google’s news carousel. Though, all industries can start experimenting with it.
I’ll reiterate this – page speed needs to be a part of any SEO strategy. You can work on optimizing your current website or even create AMP pages for mobile. Our recommendation is to start with responsive web design to ensure that your user’s experience is covered no matter what size their screen is and you don’t miss out on any potential conversions.
Based on industry predictions at the time last year, we predicted that 2018 would see massive changes in voice search with the widespread adoption of smart home devices and better voice assistants across all major smartphones.
This should be something to keep an eye on as voice assistants become better and more accessible.
We can agree on that.
However, you should think twice before you change your entire SEO strategy to include voice search optimization. This is opposite to what is being voiced by many digital marketing professionals (ourselves included in our 2018 trends post last year).
On top of this, you should not worry about the claims that if you haven’t already incorporated voice search optimization into your strategy that you are behind the game.
Yes, the use of voice assistants is on the rise. Of course, it is. It is absolutely amazing when you’re driving or maybe when you’re in the middle of cooking and you want to set a timer. But, what a lot of these predictions are doing is conflating voice search and voice commands.
Voice search is not being as widely adopted as expected – and that makes sense. Unless it’s a search for a quick bit of information, most searches are informational and people want to research their different options.
The intent behind a search is important.
There are many examples, but for one, let’s say someone is looking for a tattoo shop in their city. They are not going to use voice search to start researching different shops and looking at artists profiles and reviews.
Another example – if you are a business owner looking for a digital marketing company, you are probably going to do your research and use Google for that purpose. That most likely won’t include using voice to search.
The setting is important, too.
When you’re sitting at your desk in the office you aren’t going to voice every search you do. If you’re sitting on the bus, sitting in the waiting room, standing in the grocery store, walking down the street, etc, you are most likely not going to be using voice to search. With many similar examples, voice search will not be as widely adopted as people are predicting.
Voice commands, like setting your alarm or checking the weather, are proving to be what voice assistants are most used for.
New people in the industry look up to industry experts for advice and could end up wasting money and time when they should be focusing on SEO strategies that are proven to work.
There are a few key situations where you are most likely to be using voice, this includes:
- Hands full,
- Hands dirty,
- Faster to use voice commands,
- Phone out of reach.
For this reason, some businesses may want to adopt a voice search optimization strategy.
Let’s say you are a gardening company that offers content and information to people, adopting a voice search optimization strategy makes sense. Your potential customers that you are trying to build trust with may have dirty hands when they think about something they want to search.
Unless your business falls into one of these categories (though, not an exhaustive list), you have nothing to worry about.
Structured data has allowed SEOs to markup content on web pages to give it more context for search engines. Thanks to a collaboration between major search engines, Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo!, Schema.org was developed and agreed to be recognized by all parties.
We suggested last year to start incorporating structured data into your SEO campaigns and this is still relevant moving into 2019.
Some applications of this include marking up your page for local business information, blog posts, product information, reviews, and much more.
You are able to go to the Schema.org website to filter through all the different categories they have markup for, it really will depend on your business and website needs. Google has provided a tool to help with creating markup HTML, the Structured Data Markup Helper. You can select your data type, such as Products, include your URL for the page you want to markup, and it’s as easy as highlighting the elements and tagging the data.
Remember that to tag information it must exist on the page.
Once you have created the HTML script, called JSON-LD markup, you have to add this to the head section of your HTML. This can be done in numerous ways, through the most common way, if possible, is to access your header file from FTP and add it in manually. If you are not able to do this, contact the developer and have them add in the code.
This can assist in your SEO strategy in numerous ways.
For one, this is how you create rich snippets in the SERP. By marking up reviews, for instance, you can have your star rating show up in your snippet when someone sees your website.
Another utility is trying to get into the featured snippet, the so-called #0 spot – which we highlighted going into 2018. Google is seeking to provide the correct information to certain types of queries by featuring it in the SERP. If the search term you are aiming for has a featured snippet, obtaining that spot has proven to increase CTR on the organic results by 20%.
To use an example, we noticed that a featured snippet had appeared on one of our client’s search terms that we were ranking for. It provided information that we actually didn’t have on the landing page. This meant that Google had determined the intent behind this query and knew what information it wanted to provide those users. We created a plan to include a chart for the prices of the services offered by the business and then use Schema markup to markup the services and prices. To our surprise, this led to very quick results. Within a week we had snagged the featured snippet by providing Google’s users with the information they were looking for and marking up the data to provide the right context to the search crawler.
This is a great tool that should be incorporated into your SEO strategy in 2019 – whether you are looking to obtain a featured snippet spot or just increase the information found in your organic snippet. Either way, this is a proven method at increasing CTR and therefore, remaining competitive and ultimately connecting with potential customers.
In last years article, we touched upon a new approach to content. This was centred around how Google has evolved their algorithm to better understand search intent.
Google representatives continue to say it, having quality original content is the key to ranking well. Provide some different insights for topics at hand and provide Google with a reason to rank your website higher for your desired search terms.
Now that algorithms understand search intent more, they can provide their users with the results that are actually going to provide value.
Look for signals from Google, like what web pages they are currently ranking and what is showing up in featured snippets.
This will give you signs as to what the searcher’s intent may be. Get into the mind of the searcher and provide them more than what they are looking for.
Optimizing your content for keywords is important still, certainly, but your entire SEO strategy should not be centred around this.
Learn about what your users are looking for and provide them with the content and experience that will keep them coming back. Google recognizes this and is increasingly updating their algorithm to be better at this. SEO has changed and your strategy requires understanding your user more than it used to.
Before, with just a technically optimized website and some careful keyword stuffing, you could easily rank on the first page.
Now, more so than ever, that is not enough.
Content and user experience is more important to include in your SEO strategy as Google’s algorithm becomes more focussed on those signals. Better at understanding the context and intent of the searcher.
This is not to say technical SEO and the usual tactics are not important anymore – but it is to say that those are not enough anymore.
Going into 2019 you have to take that next step further – don’t just optimize your site for the algorithm, optimize it for your users as well.
It’s something that isn’t brought up a lot in digital marketing talks.
With an overpopulated online marketplace, building trust in your brand is as important as ever.
This is an age-old brand strategy that seems to have been forgotten in the digital age, but it still exists in the mind of the consumer and those companies that are succeeding in various digital marketing channels.
With the relatively quick adoption of search engine’s and social media platforms, we’ve gone through a period where business owners have been told they can just rank organically with ease, pay for some online ads, and magic will happen.
Consumers still value and are heavily influenced by brand trust and this outweighs almost anything.
A lot of people still view online marketing as an easy environment to get into. A low barrier to entry. And, it really is compared to traditional forms of marketing and advertising.
However, just because the barrier to entry is lower doesn’t mean that the old principles go down as well. Digital marketing should be treated with as much attention as traditional methods of marketing.
Optimistically, business owners are starting to realize this.
Going into 2019 digital marketing, SEO, SEM, Social Media – it will all continue to become more important and it needs to be incorporated into most businesses overall marketing strategy.
While carving out this route, keep all the age-old tactics in mind. Build trust, focus on brand values, maintain a holistic approach even as the barrier to entry lowers.
Building a brand and being front of mind is as important as ever – keep this in mind with whatever SEO strategies you implement in 2019.
If you are lost in the ever-evolving digital world but need to get your brand out there in front of your target audience, MARSWorks can help. We’re your digital production studio and can ensure your unique online presence is there to strengthen your brand and grow your business. Contact us today!