Wondering what expect from Google, Yahoo, and Bing in 2019? With search engines constantly evolving and improving, so too does the practice of search engine optimization. There’s always speculation as to what changes we’ll see in the upcoming year. Rather than make predictions, let’s focus on actionable 2019 SEO strategies for business owners, web freelancers, and marketing agencies.
5 SEO Strategies for 2019
1. Exceptional Content
It may come as a disappointment to see the first strategy being an oldy. Yes, content has been the backbone of SEO since its inception. Today, let’s look at content through the lens of RankBrain.
Starting in 2015, we saw Google further support the value of quality content with RankBrain. RankBrain uses machine learning to filter search results. It is (a big) part of Google’s algorithm - the third most important signal.
RankBrain focuses on two key factors:
- Dwell Time: How long a Google searcher spends on your page.
- Click-Through Rate: The percentage of people that click on your webpage in the search results.
How well your web pages perform for dwell time and click-through rates are inescapably linked to the quality of your content. Thus, we continue to recommend exceptional content as the backbone of your 2019 SEO strategy.
Let’s take a closer look at how RankBrain influences the search results.
Google cares about user-experience. If a person goes from the Google search results page to a webpage and back to Google in a short period of time (or a short dwell time), then Google is going to question the value of that webpage. It makes logical sense. Why did the searcher not like what they found? Are others having a similar experience?
On the other hand, if Google searchers spend a long time reading an article, then perhaps it is engaging and deserving of more credit in the search results (ie. a higher position). SearchMetrics found the average dwell time for a top 10 search result to be 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
SEO TIP - Be sure to include long-form, evergreen content in your content calendar for 2019. This type of content tends to perform well for dwell time.
Click-through rates are influenced by page titles and meta descriptions. If Google’s machine learning finds that people are clicking on the 5th result on the page instead of the 1st, then it stands to reckon that the webpage currently ranked #5 must be very engaging to outperform the click-through rates of the #1 spot. In time, Google may move that #5 listing up the page.
SEO TIP - Think like a prospective website visitor. Search for your top keywords in Google and assess which results are the most engaging. Evolve your page titles and meta descriptions accordingly. Measure the results via the Google Search Console.
We think of RankBrain as a self-fulling prophecy. If a webpage is marketed well in the search engines (engaging page titles and meta descriptions). And, the content on the webpage is great (long dwell times). Then, RankBrain will kick into gear to boost this page’s rank in the search results.
That being said, RankBrain mostly applies to page one listings. Your web pages must be in a traffic receiving position for RankBrain to kick into gear. Without traffic, they can’t measure click-through rates or dwell time. Next, let’s talk about how to get content cast into the top 10 search results.
2. Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness
On August 1, 2018, Google rolled out its biggest update of 2018 which was nicknamed the Medic Update. It focused on Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EAT). EAT has been part of Google’s best practice guidelines for years. The Medic Update was EAT being given more weight in Google's algorithm.
How you do excel in a world where EAT matters (more) to Google?
Expertise is first. Be an expert and share that expertise on your website. Over the years we’ve seen certain industry verticals such as law firms and medical related websites outsource the majority of their content creation. Often, their blogs are being authored by SEOs… not attorneys and doctors. The quality of the content and expertise provided went down. Google responded by measuring and valuing expertise and many such websites saw a drop in traffic after August 1st.
The good news is that you are an expert! You just need to take the time to share that expertise online.
SEO TIP - Set a goal to write your own blog posts in 2019! It is your voice and your expertise that your customers and Google want to hear. If you are going to outsource content, do so by partnering with established industry leaders in content marketing. Our favorites are Audience Ops and The Blogsmith.
Authoritativeness is built via off-site factors. Take your business off-line for a minute. Hard to imagine. How do you run your business off-line? You do so via relationships. Google wants to know about these relationships. For example, if you are a real estate agent, then you likely have partnerships in your industry space - contractors, lawyers, inspectors, mortgage brokers, etc. These are the people who can help your business build its authority online via link building.
SEO TIP - Our favorite link building strategies are around content - written and voice. Pitch yourself to be a guest on an industry relevant podcast. Offer to write guest blog post content for one of your industry partners. It’s that easy.
Trust is built via transparency. Build your website’s trust in the eyes of Google by making sure you have transparent, readily available, and accurate information about your business on your website. Prospective customers and the search engines want to know who is behind a business. They want to know about company culture. We see the About page on most websites as being a top five performing page in terms of sessions and engagement.
SEO TIP - Do you have transparent, readily available, and accurate information about your business on your website? This includes pages dedicated to About, Contact, Privacy, and Terms of Service. Re-read this copy and make sure it’s up to date for 2019.
3. Mobile Matters
Did you receive a mobile-first indexing message from Google in 2018? If your website is verified in the Google Search Console, then it is likely you did. Here’s an example:
Mobile-first indexing means that Google considers the mobile version of your website to be the definitive version. Google has been pushing responsive design for some time. With over 60% of searches occurring on a mobile device, this is logical. Google cares about user-experience, especially on mobile devices.
Follow this four step process to make sure your website excels in a world of Mobile-first indexing:
- Make sure the content on your website is consistent across device size. Google is measuring your website - desktop and mobile - based on the mobile site. Thus, all of the content on your website that matters for SEO needs to be available on a mobile phone.
- Move to a responsive solution rather than a dedicated mobile site. Most businesses have already done so. And CMS platforms such as WordPress, SquareSpace and Drupal make this easy with responsive themes. But, if you are behind the curve here, jump on the responsive bandwagon.
- Make sure your website passes the test for mobile performance. Here’s a handy Mobile-Friendly Test from Google. Listen to Google’s feedback and take action to make sure your webpages meet the mark 100% of the time.
- Focus on mobile performance. Think speed! Take a look at how your webpages perform in Google PageSpeed Insights for mobile devices. Then, focus on improving speed. More on page speed is below as it applies to more than just mobile-first indexing.
4. Page Speed
Google cares about user experience and user experience is heavily impacted by page speed. Have you ever tried to shop online on a slow website? It’s painful. Our expectation is for content to load quickly. Google and users expect instant gratification.
To address page speed, first, start with benchmarking. How does your website perform today? Create a spreadsheet that notes the current scores from page speed tools for your website’s most important pages. Here are a few of our favorite tools:
Then, do the same exercise for 2-3 competitors. At the end of the exercise, you’ll have a good understanding of how your website stacks up for speed against your competitive landscape.
Likely, there will be ample room for improvement. Dedicate resources to page speed in 2019. Here are some handy resources:
- An overview of Google’s Page Speed Tools.
- 20 Ways to Speed Up Your Website and Improve Conversion from Crazy Egg.
- An introduction to page speed from Moz.
Overwhelmed by SEO? Try a guided approach.
5. Featured Snippets & Voice Search
We link featured snippets and voice search together as a 2019 SEO strategy because one of the best tools for achieving strong results in both is writing style. First, let’s understand a bit more about both of these trends.
Featured snippets are blocks of content that are featured in the search engine results. They contain content extracted from a webpage.
Featured snippets often sit in position 0 - above the #1 organic listing. According to SEMRush, 10%+ of search queries lead to featured snippet results. Featured snippets are often in response to search queries with who, what, why, where and how questions.
Voice search is speech recognition technology that allows a search to be done via voice command rather than typing. Think Alexa, Siri, Cortana, etc. It continued to build in momentum in 2018. Google notes that 41% of adults use voice search at least once a day!
Backlinko performed an outstanding study of the ranking factors influencing voice search. Many of the factors are the same as traditional SEO - page speed, domain authority (EAT), and quality content.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Backlinko found that “Appearing in a Featured Snippet may help you rank in voice search. 40.7% of all voice search answers came from a Featured Snippet.”
If you are interested in positioning your content in Featured Snippets and Voice Search in 2019 (and you should be), then one of the best tools in your toolkit is content and writing style. Here are three tips:
- Long form content about larger topics broken into its component parts outperforms short content that is specifically geared to the desired query. For example, if you would like your chocolate cookie recipe to be a featured snippet and a voice search result, you need to create a webpage that has more than just the recipe. The search engines like context. Think photos, reviews, a strong introduction. This post is also an example of long-form content. Aim for content with more than 2,000 words.
- Apply structure to your content. If you are going to create a page with 2,000 words of copy, then the copy needs to be broken into logical and formatted sections. Google utilizes this formatting to better understand the content. Paragraphs are step one. Headers (H1-H5) are step two. Bulleted lists are helpful. FAQ style content can also be great for answering commonly asked questions about a topic.
- Easy to read is important. Aim for a 9th-grade writing level. You want your content to be digestible. Think of your audience. Perhaps, the search is being done via voice while cooking dinner. The searcher wants an easy to understand and concise answer.
My fear in writing “SEO Strategies for 2019” is that the overview will leave you feeling overwhelmed. SEO is often described as being overwhelming, complicated and challenging. At Pathfinder SEO, we don’t think it has to be.
To simplify, turn these SEO strategies into actionable tactics. And take action! Learning SEO and becoming an SEO expert doesn’t actually do anything to help your website or your customer’s websites improve. Actionable tactics do.
Lindsay Halsey is a co-founder of Pathfinder SEO. She has over 10 years of experience working in SEO with small to large businesses. Lindsay focuses on teaching business owners and freelancers how to get found in Google, Yahoo, and Bing via a guided approach to SEO. Stay in touch on Twitter - @linds_halsey.