If last year is anything to go by, the digital marketing landscape is set for even more seismic shifts with the hotly-tipped SEO trends for 2019. The arrival of processes like mobile-first indexing – along with the slow-burners of machine learning and voice search – are poised to come into full effect over the course of the next 12 months.
Here’s what our SEO specialists are expecting to become a pivotal part of search engine optimisation in 2019.
Mobile-first indexing and mobile-responsive websites
Google’s rollout of mobile-first indexing was a huge talking point for SEO in 2018, with the search engine giant gradually migrating sites to its mobile-first index since March 2018.
In a nutshell, this means that Google is now using the mobile version of your website and pages for indexing and ranking. There’s still a single index with both mobile and desktop versions of your site, but this is still a huge change in Google’s search algorithm so expect plenty of chatter around it going into 2019 and beyond.
As we covered in our T-Time show on enabling Google mobile-first indexing for your site, around 52% of web pages served globally are served on mobile devices. Considering the fact that from July 2018, slow-loading content may perform less well for both desktop and mobile searchers, it is vital to make sure your website not only has a mobile-first responsive design, but is fast-loading for users.
We would highly recommend using the PageSpeed Insights tool to check your mobile loading times. Also check out our blog post full of mobile site speed optimisation tips for improving your quality score on Google Ads – they act as equally handy pointers for taking a mobile-first approach and improving your mobile SEO profile.
Machine learning SEO and structured data
Google has been employing machine learning across its whole service over the last few years, in order to give users a more satisfactory experience. Case in point: the RankBrain system which uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand user language and has been integrated into Google’s overall search algorithm.
If your content doesn’t satisfy end user intent, then it’s not going to fare well in the rankings for a search engine which users AI system like RankBrain. Jenn Matthews of Jenn Matthews Consulting says that companies should integrate machine learning into their marketing strategies in 2019 to ‘develop unique content for SEO’.
Optimising your content strategy to accommodate machine learning SEO will not only depend on having high-quality content that meets end user intent – you will also need to effectively use structured data.
Feeding data to search engines in a format it can understand – and doing so as often as you can – will prove beneficial for your click-through rate and therefore your visibility.
Structured data may not work as well for some people as it will for others, but if you’re business that sells online – for example, an eCommerce store – using a form of microdata called Schema can make your website considerably less ambiguous to a search engine. If you’re new to structured data and intimidated by coding, Google has made a great Structured Data Markup Helper available at your disposal.
Machine learning has been a slow burn rather than an overnight sensation, but Beanstalk Internet Marketing CEO Dave Davies has tipped 2019 as the year that it becomes a dominant force in SEO.
He says: ‘We can see the prep work coming with some of the layout changes the engines are pushing out and their drive to answer intents rather than questions. This is the root of machine learning’s impact on search.’
Winning featured snippets with voice search
The rise and rise of voice technology shows no signs of stopping in 2019. As we covered on our blog last year, the browserless commerce market will only prove lucrative to those who integrate voice search SEO into their strategy.
Despite handling more than 2 trillion searches per year, Google says that 15 percent of searches done by users on a daily basis have never been seen before. It’s likely that these searches are minor variations on acknowledged search queries, rather than being completely unique every time.
With the aforementioned NLP model accounting for changes in phonology and syntax and their effect on search queries, voice search SEO means that consumers can still find what they want without having to use exact-match keywords in their queries.
While this is great for meeting user intent, it does mean that businesses have to be a lot more flexible in their content if they want to be seen. More business than ever are now shaping their content around queries with informational intent, rich in keywords such as ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘best’.
The more you practice this through your content, the more likely it will appear as a featured snippet when an informational query is made. The featured snippet – also known as Google’s Answer Box – gives consumers a single answer to their voice search query, with devices like the Google Home or Google Assistant will often citing the website’s name before sending a link to the consumer’s Google Home app.
With Google estimating that half of searches will be voice-based by 2020, Melissa Garner of Marketing Profs says that businesses should ‘think about the FAQs that you get from both potential and current customers that could be answered in long-form content on your website’.
You may want to start conducting keyword research through Google Search Console to determine the queries you’re getting impressions for as opposed to clicks. This method could prove useful if you want to win ‘position zero’ which, considering the popularity of Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, should definitely be on your list of priorities for 2019.
Brand mentions as a ranking factor
The power of branding has never been stronger and more vital to your SEO strategy in 2019. Google now has not just one, but two ways of using online brand mentions in its search algorithm.
The first of those methods is through what are known as unlinked brand mentions – this is where Google analyses all of the properties mentioning your brand, in order to get a clearer idea of how authoritative you are within a certain field.
Google can also use context to distinguish the positive mentions of your brand from the not-so-positive. Your business’ reputation plays a significantly role in your rankings, as does the sentiment around your brand mentions – whether they include a clickable link to your website or not.
Word travels faster than ever these days – start working on your ‘linkless backlinks’ and mention your brand name online at every natural opportunity. Awario offers a handy tool for tracking linkless mention of your brand, which may help you engage and strengthen your relationship with both the satisfied and disappointed customers who are talking about your brand online.
Using a tool like Awario could also help you find further linking opportunities – after all, backlinks from reputable sources are still a very strong ranking signal and should not be disregarded in the slightest.
Amazon Search and ranking more than your website
Google has long held the dominant share of the search engine market, but Amazon is hot on its heels, so much so that Search Engine Land has heralded it as ‘becoming [the] Google of e-commerce’.
According to a recent study by Kenshoo, 56% of consumers visit Amazon first if they have shopping in mind. Alternatively, 51% check for a product on Amazon after first finding it elsewhere. If you are an eCommerce store that sells, for example, books, music, electronics or even clothing, it is imperative to include Amazon optimisation as part of your SEO strategy.
Granted, Amazon is not a universal search engine, but it does have a similar algorithm to Google for searching within its internal pages. It also has its equivalent of focus or meta keywords in the form of backend keywords.
To find the best backend keywords for your products, try conducting keyword research using the Amazon AutoComplete tool which is available on RankTracker. From there, you can use your findings to create user-friendly and effective item titles and descriptions. Finally, make sure that your images are high resolution and accurately represent your products, and you’ll be ready to rise up the ranks in Amazon Search.
The advent of Amazon Search forms part of a larger point about SEO in 2019 – ranking your website is one thing, but it’s important to learn how to encourage more traffic and engagement to elements outside your website.
Cindy Krum, CEO of MobileMoxie, recently observed: ‘Strong brands are becoming multi-faceted, ranking more than just websites. Strong SEOs need to do the same thing.‘
‘If potential customers are searching for apps, you need to rank in app stores. If they are searching for podcasts or videos, you need to rank where people search for those things.’