To me at least, it has seemed like a shaky year for SEO.
SEO has become less of a commodity, less of a career, and Google has been taking more real estate with its own content or ads.
And yet, how can we complain if indeed Google is getting better at discerning between relevant and irrelevant content?
Anyway, less of my half-baked ideas – here’s what the experts think. And if this lights your fire for SEO, remember Econsultancy has a range of SEO Best Practice Guides (just the 13!) that subscribers can read today. We’ve got an SEO training course, too.
SEO is will start to become way more accessible, but ultimately less of a career
Malte Landwehr, VP Product, Searchmetrics:
“The no-code and low-code movement will make the development of both websites and internal SEO tools more accessible to a larger number of individuals. Without being a developer, you can now start to use and combine tools like Airtable, Shopify, Webflow, SquareSpace, Typeform, MailChimp, HootSuite and IFTTT to run business operations of almost any complexity. And I expect that we will see a lot of small companies (maybe even those one-man-band digital nomad companies) creating crazily efficient SEO workflows.
“For example, you could create a workflow that automatically identifies your high performing pages from Google search console and shares them on social channels using the HTML titles descriptions – a sort of automatic evergreen content sharing engine. Similarly, you could build a process that automatically creates internal links from well-linked pages on your site to other pages which are similar (but not performing so well) in order to share the ‘link juice’ and give them a boost.”
“This is all part of a longer-term trend, in which I believe over the next few years we’ll see many aspects of SEO starting to also be automated and incorporated into content management systems. There’s a gradual shift that could eventually make SEO less of a job or career and more of a skill that is covered by a combination of marketing, product management, UX, PR, content marketing, and frontend development.”
‘Traditional’ SEO on the brink?
Rebecca Sentance, Deputy Editor, Econsultancy:
“2019 was a year when traditional SEO and its tactics seemed to recede even further in the rearview mirror. In August, SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin unsettled the industry by publishing data showing that for the first time, a majority of browser-based searches on Google resulted in no click whatsoever – confirming that many of SEOs’ efforts to drive traffic to their websites will yield diminishing returns. Two months later, the announcement of Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers – or BERT – a major Google algorithm update which improves the search engine’s understanding of queries, and which there is very little way to optimise for, only reinforced the fears of SEO irrelevance.”
App-based search may compensate for a drop in desktop organic clickthrough rate
Will Critchlow, Founder and CEO, Distilled:
“I think the story of 2019 is the work that Rand / SparkToro has done with Jumpshot to show the changes over time in outbound click rates from Google search results. While it’s unsurprising that the effect of increasing ad load and Google-owned search features has been to reduce organic clickthrough rates, quantifying this effect has been invaluable. At the same time, I remain positive about the opportunity in organic search, and don’t expect to see a sustained downward trend in absolute click levels (indeed, I suspect that when you factor in app-based search, absolute clicks may still be flat or growing).”
Google acknowledged that great content doesn’t necessarily have to be created by humans
Malte Landwehr, Searchmetrics:
“It may not have been widely picked up, but this year Google made one of the first public acknowledgements that good content does not necessarily have to be created by humans. Up to now Google’s webmaster guidelines have advised against auto-generated content, under the assumption that it’s usually spammy, low quality content generated mainly to try and game the search giant’s algorithm. However, in a Google hangout this year, John Mueller Google’s senior webmaster trends analysts, suggested that machine learning algorithms are now able to generate content that can be useful to humans.
“At some point in the future Mueller indicated, we can expect that the Google guideline against machine-generated content will likely be revised. Already, I am starting to notice examples of robot content ranking in both Google web search and Google News. The most common occurrences are auto-generated summaries of sport matches, financial statements and stock market observations.”
Google Discover promises mobile traffic
Rebecca Sentance, Econsultancy:
“Search marketing in 2020 seems certain to focus even more heavily on opportunities to be featured prominently on the SERP, be they featured snippets, paid search ads, or other Google properties like images and video. Google Discover has started to become a significant source of mobile traffic for publishers (including the blog here at Econsultancy) and I predict that will be a big topic in 2020, as publishers are never ones to look a traffic gift horse in the mouth.”
AI takes a load off?
Dan Peden, Strategy Director, Journey Further:
“2019 has posed some interesting challenges with AI taking over more marketing operations than ever before, we fully expect this to grow in 2020. This is effecting all areas but especially search and social.
“This leaves marketers more time to be creative and 2019 again saw ads having to work harder to grab attention. Platforms are offering more and more formats (smart shopping by Google for example) which takes away the heavy lifting from marketers with a “one click and you’re live across all these platforms” approach but the creative output leaves a lot to be desired.”
More corporate transparency at Google?
Will Critchlow, Distilled:
“My hope for 2020 is an increase in transparency at the corporate level. With Sundar taking over as Alphabet and Google CEO, there is speculation that we may get to see YouTube financials broken out properly for the first time.”
Voice hype will continue, for now
Rebecca Sentance, Econsultancy:
“2020 is also the year that – per the frequently-debunked statistic – 50% of search queries are meant to be coming from voice devices. While I don’t expect we’ll see voice suddenly take off in 2020, we will likely see a spike in debate, speculation and attempts to optimise for the long-awaited voice revolution – before interest either fizzles out or the industry finds another statistic to latch onto.”
Ian Pereira, Head of Organic Performance, Ayima:
“The tail end of 2018 and throughout 2019 has seen Google make greater strides in understanding the user intent behind search queries. Much of the talk in the SEO industry has been around ensuring your content matches up through different stages of the user journey, however, for larger websites, you could wind further back. What if your brand or product is talking to different types of customers? You then need to think about who your customer is, how their intent may differ from category to category, or product to product. These considerations can have a significant impact on how you approach your content strategy and perhaps make you think twice about the one-size-fits-all strategies we so often see.
“So in 2020, it’s all the more important to listen to your customers and truly understand how they use your site and what their pain points are. Their behaviour should play a part in your IA, your content, all the way down to opening and closing facets, if you’re running an ecommerce site for example. …for SEOs, there has never been a better time to get close to your analytics and UX teams.”