SEO success in 2019 and beyond will be about much more than keywords. SEO strategies in 2019 need to look holistically at customer journey and discovery, content and brand authority.
These are key areas for all businesses who want to win online, regardless of SEO. This makes me excited about the future.
I love the fact that running an SEO campaign is now looking more and more like running an end-to-end brand building campaign.
I’m going to break down each of the key areas of content, customer journey and brand authority in more detail below. First, let’s take a quick look at the major changes in SEO during 2018.
Google started to implement the mobile-first index in March, meaning Google now uses the mobile version of a site for ranking it in the search.
We saw the mobile speed update in July, making the speed of a page on mobile a ranking factor for mobile search results.
The biggest change arrived in August: the “medic” update. Many in the industry saw this update as targeting health-related websites.
User experience and the authority of your brand should have been at the top of your list in 2018.
And that’s the direction we continue to head into the new year…
A Bird’s Eye View On The Future Of SEO
Everyday in SEO is like a school day, and 2019 is not going to be any different. If anything, it’s going to become even more complex.
Let’s take a look at some of the complex questions and challenges SEOs will face in 2019:
- How do brands leverage voice search to get in front of more customers?
- How do brands use visual search to drive customer acquisition?
- How do SEOs continue to drive organic traffic, given that search-rich results give answers directly, reducing CTRs?
- How do you create content that achieves search-rich results and at the same time drives organic traffic?
- Will link building continue to be a key driver of organic growth?
- How do brands get found in search during a queryless search?
These questions will continue to create debate amongst SEOs, new test cases and research articles, but there’s one thing we know for sure. Brands that focus on optimising user experience will align themselves to Google’s mission and win.
And when talking about user experience, I’m not just referring to providing someone with the best information based on their search query.
Google is shifting towards a concept users on Instagram and Snapchat are used to: content discovery.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, when looking at SEO for 2019 and beyond, I break it down into three areas:
- Customer journey and discovery.
- Brand authority.
I’ll dive into each one and provide implementation recommendations.
Customer Journey and Discovery
When Google first launched 20 years ago, its focus was on becoming the first place people across the world look for information.
Serving the user and optimising their search experience has been central to this.
In a world where there is information on anything and everything, including misinformation. People’s attention is pulled in different directions and into various channels. In this environment, it couldn’t be more important that Google continues to provide the right information and keep users coming back.
And that’s why Google is shifting from answers to journeys.
Traditionally, Google has looked to serve searchers with an answer. They might be shopping for a product or service, looking for help with a particular problem or browsing for information around a particular topic.
Going forward, Google will make information more accessible and useful by helping users along with their journey, enabling them to discover more content that is highly relevant to their interests.
I underlined, “discover more content”, as this is a concept that is very common in social channels like Snapchat and Instagram, and I’m interested in seeing how that progresses in the future.
When I began writing this post, I was planning a family holiday to Riviera Maya, Mexico.
(meet my wife, Dipna and Sienna in Mexico)
I’ve already been searching for places to visit, see and eat in and will continue to do so even when we’re there.
Advancements in AI mean that Google will serve me better along with my journey (not literally my journey to Mexico!), by helping me find more useful and relevant information based on my interests.
To achieve this, Google is launching a number of new features (source: here):
- Activity cards to help retrace your search steps: you will be able to access search history when searching in the moment.
- Search collections: help you organise content you want to revisit into specific collections. This feature feels a lot like Pinterest boards meet the Pocket app.
- Dynamic organisation of search results: sometimes navigating a particular topic can be difficult. With this feature, Google offers searchers a number of different choices to easily determine what information to explore.
Since Google launched the feature it now calls Discover in 2017, it has grown dramatically, with more than 800 million people using it monthly.
The goal of Discover is to help users uncover fresh, interesting content about things they are interested in.
This means content publishers can now get their content found in both scenarios: “I’m looking for something specific” (normal search) and “I’m looking for information related to a topic” (Discover). This is quite a shift, compared to what the SEO world is used to.
Rather than creating content around specific keywords, SEOs will need to consider the overall customer journey and sales funnel and ensure content is tailored to a customer’s particular circumstances. Specific and highly targeted content will trump generic content.
Before we look more broadly at the content in the context of search, I’ll share my thoughts on actionable SEO recommendations for 2019.
My SEO Implementation Recommendations For Customer Journey and Discovery In 2019
- Content Linkage:
- Check that similar content topics link to each other intuitively
- Do you link larger, in-depth broad content to a more specific question and answer content, taking users from the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey to the decision stage easily?
- Content To Buyer’s Journey Mapping: Analyse the content across your site and bucket it into one of the buyer’s journey stages: awareness, consideration or decision.
- Do you have more content in a particular bucket?
- Check how many monthly visitors you get to each page or post. Optimise highly viewed pages for customer journey. In other words, ensure it has the right call-to-actions and further content recommendations
- Reading: Keep following developments on customer journey and discovery as it’s a hot area and still in its infancy.
First, let me warn you, this is going to be the biggest topic of the three. If you can get through this, you can run a successful SEO campaign this year (that’s what I told myself when writing this) 🙂
To begin with, we need to break the content beast into a few subtopics:
- Voice search.
- Visual search.
- Search-rich features.
- Content strategy and quality.
Voice search was the new kid on the SEO block during 2018, and conversations about it are certainly not going to stop in 2019.
Voice search is not just limited to mobile phones either. People are talking to their desktop computers and smart speakers too.
Talking of smart speakers, every home is expected to have one.
By 2020, it is estimated that 50% of all searches will be voice searches (though this econsultancy article questions that stat). Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that voice search is taking a bigger share of the overall search pie.
That means SEOs must shift gears to start taking voice search into account in their content strategy, if they are to maintain and grow search presence.
So, what do we know about the people using voice search?
Searches Are Longer and More Conversational
Google found that 70 percent of searches made using Google Assistant are expressed in natural language, not the typical keywords people type in a web search.
Voice searches are things like:
Hey Google, where is the closest Indian restaurant?
Google, how do I make pasta arrabiata?
Compared to typed searches, which are things like:
Indian restaurant London
Pasta arrabiata recipe
Voice Changes Where People Make Searches
Google reports “____ near me” searches have increased by 150% over the past two years.
When the “_____ near me” search includes the word “buy” in it, it’s clear that the purchase intent is as strong as it could be.
“Near me” mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” have grown over 500% over the last two years.
And these searches are taking place in public places like restaurants, gyms, theatres, parties and on public transportation.
The Searcher Is Looking For An Answer Not To Search Results
Voice searches tend to happen when someone is looking for a specific answer.
Google’s algorithm was built to give users the best answer for their question. The higher the answer comes on page one, the greater the chances of it being close to what the searcher was looking for.
Users keep coming back to Google because it’s consistently helpful and adds value. That’s why Google constantly makes changes to and rigorously tests its algorithm.
The longer a user stays on a page, the lower the bounce rate and the less likely a user hits the back button the more likely it is that the user experience is a good one.
And hitting that back button could be seen as a nice get-out-of-jail-free card for Google, as users can still try and find a better answer.
If you use your phone for voice search, you will continue to see the search results, but Google will only read out one answer to you, usually based on the featured snippet.
See how appearing in the featured snippet could be pretty handy?
Visual Search And Discovery
When Google first launched, search results were just plain text. In early 2000, after noticing how people were looking for images or a video and with the growth of mobile, Google began to show images and videos in the search results.
With the rise of platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, it’s no surprise that Google is now moving towards visual search and discovery.
While we’re used to visual search, seeing how visual discovery plays out is going to be interesting.
Let’s look at each facet of visual search and discovery individually.
Google Images was launched in 2001 and offers users an immersive visual experience to shop and find products and gather inspiration for interior design or DIY projects.
If you sell products or think your consumers are looking for visual information related to your offering, then getting found in Google Images is key.
Google’s advancements in computer vision now allow them to understand the content of a video and find the most useful information in a new user experience: featured videos.
Let’s say you’re looking for places to visit in London. Using featured videos you might see a video of tourist hot spots like the London Eye and Big Ben.
Google announced AMP Stories early last year. It allows content publishers to share information and stories in a visually rich format, which users can tap through.
Now, when a user is searching for a particular brand, the brand can offer multiple touchpoints and share their most current story directly.
You can now expect to start seeing these stories appear across search results, news and images.
Google is also looking to construct its own stories using AI and will be starting with notable people – like celebrities and athletes – providing facts and important moments from their lives in a visual story format.
To check it out AMP stories, just google “CNN” using your mobile.
Search Rich Results
It’s the start of the new year and it’s time to get some abs…
Google is going to continue to roll out new search snippets (examples above). Learning how to secure these for brand exposure and organic traffic is going to become increasingly important for SEO.
Here are the pros and cons for brands of search rich results:
- The ability to secure a featured snippet (i.e. the one in the image at the top, referred to as position 0). With this, your brand can dominate page one.
- The snippet answers help to disqualify anyone that is looking for a quick answer only. In other words, searchers who click through to your website are highly targeted and want to know more.
- As I mentioned in the voice search section, if you want to be the voice search answer, featured snippets are important.
- Users can get the answer to specific questions without having to visit the site, reducing click-through-rates. Want some evidence? Here.
In summary, if you want to continue to drive search market share, you need to review and optimise your content for search rich results.
Content Strategy and Quality
User experience will continue to be paramount to ranking highly in search and that’s why quality content needs to be central to your SEO strategy.
Quality content leads to higher user engagement, which leads to positive signals back to Google, which leads to higher rankings.
We saw the rankings for a travel brand’s site increase after we increased user time on page by 2 minutes.
A Content Marketer who fully understands end-to-end SEO is like The Avengers assembled.
So, how do you optimise your content to drive user engagement?
I’ve been saying for a long time now that the value in SEO will be driven by the quality of a brand’s content and your content strategy is going to be key to this.
To create stand-out content and drive brand value, a content marketer will need to create a content strategy that drives all three of the following goals:
- Awareness content. Content that drives non brand queries search traffic that fits perfectly to the searcher’s intent. If you’ve noticed that more and more images are appearing in search results, it’s because Google is getting better at understanding intent. Content at this stage tends to be at the top or middle of the funnel.
- Engagement Content. Getting in front of both brand queries and engaging existing traffic with relevant content. This type of content will be middle or bottom of the funnel.
- Organic Search Maximising Content. A content strategy takes into account new search features and SEO changes to drive even more organic brand exposure and traffic. This also includes customer journey and how your content links together to lead someone from the top to the bottom of a funnel. The more logical the structure and links between the content, the more this is going to benefit your site for Google Discovery, where users navigate content without searching for it.
It’s clear that highly detailed, long-form content that covers a topic (not a specific keyword) with depth and expertise will earn organic rankings.
Of course, the chances of higher rankings dramatically increase with a highly authoritative site, but sites with weaker content will not compete long-term with sites that clearly go out of their way to enrich and build trust with their users.
High-quality content drives a better user experience, in turn driving positive ranking signals to Google, including:
- Long session duration.
- Long time on page/site.
- High user engagement (time on page, comments, shares, high returning visitor rate).
- Low bounce rate.
Quality content answers questions, solves problems or leads customers along their journey naturally. Build an ideal customer persona and make being useful to your customer your ultimate goal.
Content Needs To Be Optimised For Users And Google Crawl
There are a few more factors that need to be top of your mind when planning, creating and publishing content:
Website Load Time. Great content on a really slow site is a bit like going to an amazing restaurant but waiting an hour for the starters. Your brand is already starting on the back foot. Google has confirmed speed to be a ranking factor.
Mobile User Experience. Mobile usage is only going to grow and brand investment on mobile is only going one way: up. Your content needs to be perfectly presented on all devices.
Structured Markup Data. The more information you can give Google about your content, the higher your chances of getting it found. Especially with Google showing featured snippets, content discovery and voice and visual search.
Time Of Publishing. Recently published content is going to be a lot more relevant to users searching now, and that’s why Google will also lean towards fresh content. If you’re in a niche with a load of dated content, you have a good opportunity to fill the gap.
My SEO Implementation Recommendations For Content In 2019
- Content Strategy. Create a content strategy that looks across the customer journey, sales funnel, organic search, rich results and discovery. Ideally find a content marketer with SEO knowledge – someone like me :). Looking for some consulting? Get in touch through the digital marketing consulting page.
- Search Priority. Prioritise keywords that you can resource with time and money.
- Make WOWing Your Prospect Customers Your Goal. Stop publishing mediocre blog posts and start publishing what I like to call WOW content. What is WOW content? Content that is in depth, highly shareable,linkable and (most importantly) memorable.
- Video Content Is A Non Negotiable. Video is a BIG part of Google’s strategy for answering voice search queries. So if you want to get your content in front of voice searchers, you need rank your videos in Google.
- Content UX Is Key. Optimise your content UX by confirming it is optimised for
- User expectation: so users expecting to see a video see a video.
- Search result expectation: existing search results are a pretty good hint as to the format your content needs to be presented in.
- Optimise Content For Natural Language. With longer keywords and phrases coming on the back of voice searches, it is important your content is optimised for longer phrases.
- Underperforming Content Must Go. Look at Google Analytics for content that gets few visitors, high bounce rates, no links and poor search traffic. It’s like having a king-size bed taking up all the space in box room. here’s no need for it!
- Marketing and Sales Need To Work Together. Create an ongoing feedback loop from the sales team to the marketing team of customer questions and objections. This will help you identify unique content opportunities.
- Content SEO Optimisation. The basics of SEO optimisation are even more important now. They include:
- page load time.
- meta data, and
- structured markup.
- Mobile Should Be Considered Without Saying. Check your content across mobile and ensure your user experience is just as good as the desktop experience.
- Target Rich Results and Voice Search. Ensure your content is optimised for Google- rich results and voice search. Start by focusing on keywords that show rich results in search and analyse your content to ensure it matches the expected format. Let’s break this down.
- The rich results expect questions and answers to be together within your content. It’s important that your content answers someone’s query in 30 words or less.
- Apply the content optimisation points highlighted above in point seven.
- Google’s structured data tool can help you to mark up your content and optimise it for site crawlers.
- If you have images or videos, make them central to the page and push them up the page as high as possible to take advantage of visual search.
- Create an FAQ Page. This will target a bunch of user questions in one go.Answer The Public is a great tool to identify good questions.
- AMP Stories. If you have a high number of branded query searches (and have the required resources) I’d suggest you start testing AMP stories. Here’s an AMP tutorial. But at this stage, I wouldn’t put all your time into this sub-channel.