Perhaps that well-known PR pro Yogi Berra was envisioning Google algorithms when he said, "Making predictions is difficult, especially when they concern the future." He also said, wisely, “The future ain't what it used to be.” These Berra-isms come to mind as we embark on a fool's errand...predicting what SEO will look like this year. That's akin to trying to predict what Google will do this year. Based on these prognostications, we'll advise you how to approach SEO in 2020. In the spirit of Berra, known for swinging and hitting impossible pitches, let's take a whack at it.
Dramatic Rise in Voice Searches
Some studies suggest 2020 will see 50 percent of searches done via voice. Smart speakers and smartphone virtual assistants are becoming more popular, intelligent, and comprehensive in functionality. SEO pros need to be on top of optimizing for text and voice searches.
Voice and text searches have unique cadences, structures, and other traits that require specific strategies to properly address. Voice search queries tend to be longer, frequently target quick/one-off questions, and are great for searches that contain local modifiers like “near me” and “open now.” SEO strategies that fail to optimize for voice search will be left behind.
Featured Snippets and Knowledge Graphs Taking Prominence in the SERP
Traditional organic search results are moving lower and lower on the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). Paid results, featured snippets, map packs, and knowledge graphs are at the top.
- Featured snippets are quick answers to common questions.
- Map packs are the integrated Google Maps functionality found in the search results.
- Information dumps for popular topics are known as knowledge graphs. Find them to the right of results.
Since they improve users’ experiences, Google values these. They provide the information users are looking for without leaving the search results page. Here’s an example of a search result and these features’ placements.
The other features are drawn organically, unlike paid results. This means SEO professionals can optimize for them. Google automatically curates these in response to common questions. Building your content to include a concise, accurate answer to certain queries will help you get to the top of the page. Poorly written, higher-ranking links may fall below you.
Rich snippets answer about 20 percent of queries. This number will grow with the increasing use of smart speakers/assistants. Speakers/assistants often use them to answer voice searches quickly.
Improved Understanding of Search Intent with BERT Update
As Google continues to tweak its algorithm, it is improving its understanding of user search intent. Google’s most recent algorithm update, BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), addresses user intent. It touches 1 in 10 search queries.
With BERT, Google can better understand context. This comes into play particularly with longer, more conversational queries, often found with voice search. It's also applicable with prepositions such as “for” or “to.”
The phrase “parking on a hill with no curb” confused Google. The algorithm would place too much importance on “curb.” Google would produce results for parking on a hill with a curb. BERT ensures the proper results show.
The traditional advice hasn't changed. Content creators should focus on crafting experiences for the user, not Google. In the early days of Google, SEO pros used tricks to improve rankings. As Google gets smarter, fewer of these work. Answer specific questions and create positive user experiences. You will play into what Google seeks now, and in the future.
Greg Barkley is SEO & digital PR director at Effective Spend