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It’s coming up to the end of the year, which means it’s the perfect time to start planning your 2019 SEO strategy.

We all know that what works for SEO changes regularly – one minute keyword stuffing is all the rage, the next minute that’s the worst thing you can do to your content. 

Keeping up with the changes is pretty much a full time job. Luckily, that’s what we do – so here’s your guide to what’s in store for SEO in 2019. One thing doesn’t change, however, and that’s the importance of the customer journey. Making sure you serve the customer, in the way that they need, is key to improving your SEO

Voice search

Voice search has been increasing in importance for the last couple of years, and it’s only going to become more and more relevant. According to Google, 41% of adults perform voice searches every day, and 20% of searches on mobile are voice searches. We’ll get on to the importance of mobile shortly, but it just emphasises how much voice is becoming the norm – especially when you consider how many tools there already are on the market.

So, what does this all mean for SEO? Well, if you want your content discovered when people are searching by voice, you need to optimise your content with that in mind. Backlinko did some extensive research and found that the vast majority of voice search answers are from pages that ranked in the first three positions on a Google search. They also found that 40% of them came from featured snippets – more on those later, too.

One of the best ways to optimise for voice search is to include questions and answers within your content.

If someone asks ‘Alexa, how do I optimise for voice search?’ the easiest result for Google is a page that includes that question and then moves onto the answer – when you make it easy for Google to deliver what their searchers are looking for, you give yourself more opportunities to rank.

User Experience

When we’re talking about SEO, we should really be talking about optimising for the user. The job of a search engine is to find what people are looking for, so their intention is to get the best result possible for the search query. As the algorithms behind searching get more sophisticated, they get better at doing this. And they use a variety of methods to work out whether or not a specific result was the best one.   

When someone lands on a search result, Google’s RankBrain engine assesses whether or not they’re getting what they need. If they bounce away from the page – for any reason – without spending any time looking at the content, the algorithm starts to question whether that page is in fact a useful result. If lots of people bounce, the page’s ranking will drop as the engine reflects the lack of engagement with the page. 

In order to meet your SEO needs, you need to meet your visitors’ needs. Just like with SEO in previous years, your content needs to answer their question.

There’s more to keeping people on your page than the content, though. You also need to make sure the site is easy to navigate, works well on all devices, loads quickly, and is easy to follow. Don’t design yourself into a corner – if your navigation doesn’t do what your users want, they won’t use it. Design the experience that they’re looking for. 

If someone arrives on the page and it takes more than a second or two to load, they’ll jump right back to the search results and move onto the next option. With so many websites available, people don’t need to wait for your page to load, they just move on. That’s a sure sign to RankBrain that your site isn’t a good result, even if the page did actually have everything the person was looking for.

If someone lands on your page and the layout is difficult, or the text is hard to read, or images don’t load – essentially, if the page isn’t a good experience from the instant they get there, the same thing happens. They leave and your rankings start to take a hit.

User experience is everything. 

Content 

Once you’ve optimised your page for user experience, the main thing you need to tackle is the content itself. This isn’t just about including questions or keywords, as important are those are. It’s also about creating the best content, content that covers a topic in an accessible but comprehensive way.

One of the things RankBrain looks at is dwell time - how long a person stays on the page before moving on.

Sites in the top spots in search results generally have longer dwell times than those ranked lower.

Increasing dwell time, or time on page, relies on having enough content on that page for your visitors to get all of the information they’re looking for. If you’re talking about search engine optimisation, a page that covers the basics won’t be as useful as a page that goes into detail about what it is, what it means, how to do it, everything else you need to know.

As search engines are trying to give searchers the best possible result, a page that covers everything on a topic is more likely to contain the answers to their questions than a shorter page – it will include more context that provides a better understanding of the answer to the original search. So that page is seen as a better result.

Of course you can’t just write a great long page and call it done; your content needs to be clearly signposted through appropriate header and title tags, so that readers can see at a glance that what they’re looking for is covered. Not to mention the fact that the content needs to be useful, original, and high quality, to make it worth spending time reading.  

Video 

According to Cisco, online video will make up 80% of all online traffic by 2021.

That’s an insane percentage. YouTube is already referred to as the second largest search engine, eclipsing Bing by quite some margin. So, if you’re not using video in 2018, you certainly need to start using it in 2019 if you don’t want to miss out on a huge proportion of search traffic.

Videos are starting to show up in search results, featured snippets and even image searches, so if you’re not using them, you’re not fully embracing one of the biggest SEO opportunities for 2019 and beyond.

Videos give you an opportunity to put a face on your business, provide useful content to people, and create something that’s shareable across social media.

While you should be hosting your videos on YouTube to make the most of its traffic and search opportunities, you should also embed those videos on your website. Videos increase dwell time and have been found to reduce bounce rate, so pop them into your blog posts and on key pages to further optimise for user experience.

Bear in mind that many web visitors watch videos without sound, so include subtitles to boost the likelihood that people will continue watching after the first few seconds.

There’s huge opportunity in video, but make sure the videos you produce add value – user experience is still the primary aim here. Choose topics that you’re already optimising your website for. 

‘How to’ videos are extremely popular because they give viewers something to take away, something they can use.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on videos, but they do need to be professional – well lit, stable camerawork, good sound quality, and so on. Bear in mind that the content you put out there represents your business, even if it’s being hosted elsewhere, so make sure anything you create fits your brand style.

Mobile first

why-hire-meIn previous years, mobile optimisation has primarily been around making sure you have a responsive website so that it’s usable on mobile. But with Google’s ‘mobile first’ focus, creating a responsive website is only step one.

The mobile version of your website is now viewed as the ‘true’ version, so you should now be designing the mobile experience before the desktop. Don’t hide things behind accordions to make mobile pages shorter, because that hidden content won’t add value to your page and it won’t be able to compete with pages that have all their content in plain sight.

User experience is, again, critical. If customers increasingly use mobile phones to browse the web, we need to recognise that the customer journey on mobile isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s an absolute must. 

Your site needs to be more than ‘technically’ usable on mobile. It needs to be fully optimised, easy to use, and high quality.

If users find your site confusing, cluttered, hard to view, or slow to load, they’ll hit the back button right away. You might have all the right information on there, but if the experience of trying to find it is anything other than easy, you’ll see your bounce rates skyrocket and your rankings take the resulting hit.

Review your page sizes – are your images optimised so they don’t take too much time and bandwidth to load? How many plugins are weighing down the page unnecessarily? Look at things like how close together clickable items are placed – if it’s too easy to tap the wrong thing, your site will frustrate users and send them off to a different search result.

Featured snippets

Featured snippets are those boxes at the top of search results that answer your question without you even having to click on a result to find what you were looking for. As Google’s intention is to answer people’s searches as quickly and effectively as possible, you can expect these snippets to appear on more and more results pages as time goes on. 

Featured snippets are already estimated to show up on over 10% of searches, and that number is only going to get bigger.

These snippets are quick and simple answers to search questions. Which means that they’re often enough for a user without them delving further. But if someone wants more information than they got, which result are they most likely to click? The one in the snippet or the ones further down the page?

When you add the fact that voice results often come from featured snippets, it’s obvious that trying to get your content into that spot is a key SEO tactic for 2019. So how do you get in there?

The pages that find themselves in featured snippets are almost exclusively on page one of search results, so start by finding keywords that you’re already ranking for. You don’t have to be number one, but you do have to be on page one.

Then you need to optimise your content. Look at featured snippets that are out there now – they’re short and to the point. SEMrush analysed millions of featured snippets and found that the average length of them is 40-60 words. So you need to create a block of text that’s 40-60 words long, ready for Google to drop into the snippet box if they think it’s the right answer.

One of the most obvious ways to do this is focus on definitions – what is SEO marketing, for example. It’s easy to drop these definitions onto your page, it makes sense for the user to have a definition on a page they’re looking at. And the featured snippets don’t only appear when someone searches for a definition – if I type just ‘SEO marketing’ into Google, I get a featured snippet with a definition:

This type of snippet is the most common, but you will also see list snippets, like this result, which features at the top of the page when I search ‘seo skills’:

To optimise for a list snippet, make sure you use h2 tags for every item on your list – Google can then pull the titles straight through to the snippet.

Stand out

The first page of Google is getting increasingly busy. Between knowledge graphs, featured snippets, list snippets, Google Ads, shopping carousels, video and image results, and ‘people also ask’ boxes. As Google tries to be more and more efficient in answering people’s searches, they crowd out organic results. Good for the user, less good for the website owner or SEO manager. Then, to add insult to injury, RankBrain recognises when your result doesn’t get clicks and devalues it.

Just look at the page of results for ‘SEO’ – there’s a whole lot of information before you even get to an organic result. In fact, you only get one organic result (wikipedia) before you then get the map box with local services. See what I mean about the page getting busy?

How can you combat this? Well, it’s time to look at your meta titles and descriptions again. They were all the rage a while ago, and fell slightly out of SEO favour when Google stopped using them as a ranking factor directly. But they’re vital for CTR – they’re the only thing a searcher has to go on before they make that click, so you need to grab their attention. Don’t waste space on waffle – be to the point. Don’t go over the character limit, you’ll get your message cut off and it looks like you didn’t try.

To find out which pages have low CTRs from organic search, head over to Search Console. There you can find the keywords people used that showed your site in the results, the number of impressions, and the number of clicks.

Find the pages with high impressions and low clicks, and rework those meta titles and descriptions.

Then, next month, go back and see if things changed. If not, try something else. This isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it task – keep an eye on those CTRs and continue to tweak and optimise your content.

Plus – 4 SEO mistakes to avoid in 2019

So, if that’s what you should be doing for SEO, what about the SEO mistakes to avoid in 2019?

Keyword stuffing

This one has been a definite SEO mistake for a long time, but we still see people doing it – so it goes on the list. As Google’s algorithms get stronger, keyword stuffing gets less and less (and less) effective. Search engines now understand context better than ever – so you don’t need to use the same words over and over again.

Don’t write for a search engine, write for a human. A human who’s going to land on your website and read what you’ve written. The more naturally you write, the better. Because keyword stuffing makes you sound crazy:

Ok, so that’s an extreme example, but I guarantee there are sites out there still writing like this. The thing is, SEO doesn’t stand still. What used to work is no longer best practice – in cases like this, it’s now damaging to your site’s ranking. But the easiest way to keep up to date nowadays is to fully focus on providing the user with the best experience and the best information you can.

Thin content/zombie pages

Do you know how many pages your site has that provide absolutely no value? A combination of thin content and zombie pages may be dragging down the SEO of your entire site.

What are zombie pages?

They’re pages that add no discernable value, either for SEO or to the visitor to the page, killing the customer journey. Thin content – pages with very little information – and duplicate content, low-quality or super-short blog posts, old services pages, outdated product pages, and even boilerplate content that has never been updated – they’re all zombie pages and they’re slowly draining the life out of your good pages.

Years ago, people would write a 200-300 word blog post for a specific keyword. And another for a similar but not identical keyword. These days, longer, more authoritative posts are the way forward. 

It’s time to consolidate those bitty posts into something meaty and comprehensive. Don’t forget to delete or redirect the posts you’re replacing.

If you set up twenty landing pages to respond to minor variations in keywords, but all the pages are pretty much identical – for example services pages that are the same apart from including the name of a town or city – these are just as bad. The duplicate content does you no favours at all. Either combine them into one page, with a list of locations included, or make the content on every page unique and relevant to the specific place you’re targeting.

Cannibalisation

Have you considered cannibalisation? Sometimes businesses set up a website with the aim of ranking for ‘digital marketing services’, and use that keyword extensively throughout the site. But if you optimise multiple pages for the same keyword, they have to compete with one another, cannibalising your traffic.

A better SEO approach is to do a keyword mapping exercise, and assign different keywords to different pages. Then you can optimise those pages without drawing traffic away from other areas of your site. Rather than the entire site focusing on ‘digital marketing services’, one page talks about ‘digital marketing for small businesses’, another focuses on ‘digital marketing SEO’, another on ‘digital marketing in Bristol’, and so on. 

The same root might be found across the site, but the pages aren’t fighting each other for prominence.

This also helps you work out the best content for your website – if all your pages are cannibalising each other, chances are they’re too repetitive and not specific enough to give a visitor real value. Which, after all, is the main aim of SEO in 2019 and beyond.

Ignore CRO

Ignoring CRO is a particularly big mistake to make these days. 

If you set up SEO as your primary goal for 2019, and forget to add CRO to the mix, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

CRO – or Conversion Rate Optimisation – isn’t about getting more visitors to your website. Instead it’s all about converting more of the visitors you do get. So, even with the same traffic, you’d be getting more value out of your site.

Combining CRO and SEO gives you the power to increase your traffic and increase the value of that traffic – a double whammy.

Take a look at your current website conversion rate. Let’s say you have a modest 1% conversion rate and monthly traffic of 1,000 users. That means you convert 10 people per month.

If you increase your conversion rate to 2%, you double your conversions to 20 people per month. If you’re doing SEO at the same time, and increase your traffic by 10%, you’ve now got 22 conversions.

What’s a conversion worth to you? Worth putting some time into CRO?

In conclusion…

It’s clear that the customer journey is key to SEO – and that’s not going to change in 2019, or 2020, and so on. Search engines are constantly getting more sophisticated at delivering exactly what users are looking for, so our job is to make sure we do the same.

As searchers use the different methods at their disposal, we need to meet them along the way. People are increasingly using voice search, so we need to be optimising for voice. The same goes for video.

No matter what we do, we must always keep the customer at the centre.

The trends for SEO may change year on year, as search engines tweak their algorithms, new technologies come to the fore, or consumers change their behaviour. That’s why it’s important to keep up with what’s new and what still matters. But the customer experience and customer journey is always what matters – we just need to keep up with the experiences they’re expecting.

 

Are you ready for the requirements of SEO in 2019? Which techniques are you planning to focus on? Let us know your thoughts, below. 

Natalie
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