2019 is going to be a big year - particularly in the world of search engine optimization, or SEO.
Already this year, there are trends and narratives taking shape in the SEO realm. On Google and other search engines, changes and developments, big and small, are starting to have an impact on search engine results pages (SERPS). Audience tastes and techniques are changing. New technologies are gaining a foothold.
Bottom line? If your brand is considering starting with SEO in 2019, or fine-tuning the approach you already have in place, it’s important to keep an eye on all these developments as they come up. Knowing what lies ahead for SEO could make all the difference when it comes to getting your business the traffic and conversions you need - or else, getting left behind.
So, what SEO storylines and strategies are we following for 2019 and beyond? Here are five big SEO trends and developments to keep in mind right now:
1.) The Growing Importance of “Zero-Click” Searches
Google SERPs are constantly changing. Many of the SERP elements that we take for granted today - including Featured Snippets, Knowledge Graphs, Image Carousels, and “People Also Searched For” charts - were virtually unheard of in search results, even a few short years ago.
In 2019, these elements are becoming more and more common - and they’re fundamentally impacting the way we search. In 2019, brands looking to stay ahead of the curve on SEO must be aware of the rise of “zero-click” searches.
In short? “Zero-click” searches are user queries on Google that do not lead to a searcher clicking through to a landing page - more often than not, because the answer they were looking for is already presented via the SERP, perhaps as a Featured Snippet, a map, or some other type of answer card.
According to findings brought to our attention by Search Engine Journal, roughly 34 percent of all desktop searches currently result in no click. That nu62.5 percent on mobile.
Part of the reason why? Google is emphasizing its own branded multimedia elements on SERPS, in a way that it never has before. To wit, a study from Ahrefs found that roughly 14 million queries have Featured Snippets - out of 112 million queries. That’s more than 10% of Google searches with a Snippet!
So, what does this mean for brands using SEO? It’s important to keep your content ranking and visible, by whatever means necessary. Over time, it’s going to become even more important to find ways to maximize your visibility on SERPs. There are many different tactics you can take to this end. For some brands, this may mean focusing on optimizing for Featured Snippets and Knowledge Graphs (also called “position zero”). In other cases, this may mean focusing on local SEO, in order to ensure that your brand appears on maps, local listing pages, and so on.
2.) Mobile-First Indexing Is On the Rise
Mobile matters - we’ve been saying that for years. But in 2019? Mobile is going to matter more than ever. And that’s not speculation, it’s a fact, and it’s going to have a huge impact on SEO for audiences and for brands.
By conservative estimates, more than half (52.2%) of all online traffic was generated by mobile devices in 2018 - up from ~43% as recently as 2016, per data from Statista.
To keep up with the growing prevalence of mobile activity, Google began mobile-first indexing in 2018. What this means is that search engine ranking tools began evaluating the look and functionality of mobile pages as a primary consideration for SERP position.
What does that mean in 2019? In short, if your site doesn’t work well on mobile, you may be penalized in search. Even more importantly? If your site offers both mobile and desktop versions of a page, then it is the mobile page that will get indexed in search. In fact, one recent study found that mobile and desktop searches produce different rankings nearly 80 percent of the time.
So, in practical terms, what does this mean for you? The bottom line is that, as a brand competing for eyes on the internet, you have to think about mobile experience - in terms of the types of content you’re creating, and the interface you’re using to share it. Your content needs to be accessible and engaging on mobile devices as well as desktops, and your site needs to be responsive, functional, and quick to load for smartphone users.
3.) Site Performance and Optimization Will Matter More Than Ever
Technical SEO can be intimidating. But it’s important to keep it in mind as you develop your search strategy for 2019 and beyond. Because the reality is that the functionality, structure, and performance of your site can impact SEO in a major way - in terms of how high you rank on SERPs, and in user satisfaction among the audience who does visit your site. If your ultimate goal is increasing traffic and leads, both of these are critical to keep in mind.
So, what are some site performance and on-page optimization factors to consider in 2019? One of the most fundamental aspects to remember is page speed. Load times really matter. According to one study, nearly half (47 percent) of consumers expect a webpage to load in two seconds or fewer, and a full 40 person will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load.
So, page load speeds are going to impact whether users actually stick with your content. Also important? According to Forbes, Google began evaluating page speed as a mobile ranking factor in 2018. In a nutshell, speed and site performance matter. They will impact how high you rank, and influence whether users actually consume your content.
Beyond page speed, it’s also going to be important to remember to be strategic with your on-page optimization. There are many small things that you can tweak and streamline, in order to have a pretty large impact on your SEO results. For one thing, you’ll want to make sure your site is user-friendly on the front end, with robust internal site search functionality, easy navigation, and a straightforward conversion path for users.
On the “backend,” it’s important to remember to optimize URLs, descriptions, and images for keyword-friendliness. Another 2019 goal may be to optimize your site with structured data, in order to make your site easier for search engine bots to crawl, index, and, ultimately, rank on SERPs.
4.) Voice Search Is Becoming Even More Common
We probably don’t need to tell you that mobile devices are continuing to become more and more commonplace (after all, they account for more than half of all web traffic). But more recently, a new generation of devices has started to sweep across the US.
Smart speakers, digital assistants and smart appliances - all part of the “Internet of Things” - are becoming more common, and are beginning to really impact how we search. Specifically? These audio-focused devices are leading to a massive surge in voice-based searches.
According to reports, nearly a quarter of all US households owned one or more smart speakers as of mid-2018, with some projections expecting that number to climb to nearly 50% as of 2019. Other recent studies suggest that nearly 127 new devices connect to the internet every second; by some estimates, there may be 30 billion connected devices in the market by 2020.
And smartphones are playing a major part in voice searches as well. Google said that 20 percent of mobile queries were voice searches as far back as 2016 - and that number is only continuing to grow.
Now, the rise of voice search is ongoing, and it remains to be seen just how far-reaching its impacts are going to be.It may be difficult for brands to monetize voice search right away, and we could well be a few years off from the moment when optimizing for voice becomes essential, rather than simply shrewd. But it’s important to keep in mind that the rise of voice may well represent a paradigmatic shift in search.
For instance? A rise in more specific voice searches could mean that SEOs are going to want to refocus on content optimized for long-tail keywords and conversational specificity. In other cases, it could mean wanting to place an emphasis on local SEO, so that brands gain traction and start to appear in specific listings and location-based queries (e.g., Mexican restaurants near me, digital marketers in Chicago, etc.). The rise of voice searches suggest that we could well be moving toward a more conversation style of search, in general. As a result, focusing on user intent is going to be key when researching and creating content. Which brings us to…
5.) When It Comes to Content, Quality and Relevance Are Still Key
High quality, authoritative content is still the engine driving SEO, for 2019 and beyond.
As we mentioned earlier, search engines have only grown more sophisticated in recent years, as have the searchers who use them. As a result, a big part of creating effective content in 2019 is going to come down to understanding audience and user intent. What are people searching for, and how are they searching for it? Are you adding value to the customer’s journey? Are you competing in the right space, for the right keywords?
In 2019, success in search is going to come down to a number of different factors. For one thing, it’s going to be important that you create the right kinds of content - answer questions, solve problems, inspire your audience. Searchers are getting specific, and your content has to be able to keep up with what your audience is actually looking for.
In that same vein, it’s important to remember that the deeper and better your content, the more results you’ll see. Historically speaking, Google has tended to reward sites with more pages, and rank longer individual pieces of content higher in search results. While the company keeps the specifics of its algorithms under tight wraps, we do know that Google is always tuning results in favor of real quality content, rather than “black hat” gamesmanship. You need to provide value and depth in order to get noticed.
What’s more? The better your content, the higher your authority - a factor that is becoming increasingly important in search rankings. Quality content gets more backlinks, which in turn leads to higher authority levels, which in turn leads to an even better search ranking. If Google doesn’t perceive you as an experienced, authoritative, and trustworthy source, it won’t promote your links on SERPS.
And remember, content is also about leads. It’s not just an end in and of itself - it’s the first step in a process, which hopefully ends with conversions. So, as you create content, ask yourself how you’re moving people through your funnel. From your content and the look and feel of your site, will users be inspired to click through, return for more updates, follow you on social, make a purchase? Are you making it as easy as possible for users to consumer your content, navigate your site, and move through your conversion process?
BONUS: It’s Time to Consider SEO for Non-Search Engine Platforms
We’re going to leave you with one last “big picture” idea for 2019: Could this be the year when it’s time to think outside the Google search bar?
Google is still the dominant force in search engines, with trillions of searches per day, by most metrics. Other search platforms are developing some buzz, including DuckDuckGo, but Google is still the main player in search.
But what if - hear us out - search is changing, as a very concept?
The reality is that the we use technology has been fundamentally changing in recent years. Google is more ubiquitous than ever. But the fact of the matter is that people are using alternative strategies to get what they’re looking for in 2019, above and beyond search engines.
It’s important to think about what other engines and mechanisms people are using in 2019. Today, a search may mean getting an answer direct from a Featured Snippet or Knowledge Graph on a SERP. It could mean getting a voice response from a smart speaker. Ot it could mean combing through the app store to find a piece of software. It could mean turning to the search bar in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. It might mean searching through Amazon or another ecommerce platform. A desire to “search” for multimedia such as video or podcasts could lead a user first to YouTube or Spotify, rather than Google.
Now, there aren’t any easy answers here, and we’re not necessarily prescribing a strategy. Every brand’s wants and needs are going to be different. But one approach to keep in mind may be to think holistically when it comes to the digital space. If your brand exists in different spaces and platforms, or offers multimedia content, what are you doing to make it accessible for every potential audience that is out there? This is a key thing to consider in 2019 - and Geek Chicago would love to help find strategies that could work for you.
Looking to Step Up Your SEO Game in 2019?
The digital ecosystem is always changing - and that includes SEO. Search engines are always growing smarter and more sophisticated, and there are more and more sites out there competing for users’ attention. Still, SEO can be an incredibly powerful and effective marketing strategy, particularly for local businesses - but it’s also critical to stay on top of trends and developments as they come up.
That’s where Geek Chicago can step in and help. Our team of search aficionados eats, sleeps, and breathes SEO, and we pass on our unique insights and knowledge to our customers every single day. We believe in giving local businesses a leg up in this crowded space, allowing brands to build their audience through a comprehensive digital marketing strategy, including social media, website development and maintenance, and SEO-focused content creation.
Have any more questions or topics you want to explore? Ready to start generating more traffic in 2019 and beyond? Drop us a line to keep the conversation going.