Top SEO Trends for 2020

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • A company’s SEO strategy will have a greater impact on business performance, including the company’s stock price and strategic acquisitions.
  • “Search Engine Optimization” will shift further towards “Search Experience Optimization” in 2020.
  • Zero-click SERPs are on the rise, so competition will increase for queries that still earn organic traffic.
  • Google is investing heavily in AR, an indication where the search giant is headed, especially with the mobile experience.

New SEO trends tend to evolve a little like fashion (stick with me here). Month over month or even year over year, you may not notice the subtle changes in what people are wearing.

But then, a few years down the road you find yourself looking back at old pictures and thinking “we wore that?” (Shout out to JNCO jeans and shoulder pads.)

SEO trends don’t change overnight. Even so, when your company is moving one hundred miles a minute to keep up with every trend that does change overnight, you may look up one day and find that you’re the only one still wearing JNCO jeans – or an outdated SEO strategy.

It’s a new year, and a new decade. So, here are our 2020 SEO predictions to plan for if you want to grace the first page of Google.

5 people discussing SEO trends

SEO TRENDS 2019: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

In the past decade, Google has pushed itself to become more personalized and user intent-focused than ever. This has spurred websites to become better than ever: more relevant, more intentional and easier to use on every device. Here’s a list of the current SEO trends today, and throughout 2019:

rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc”

Historically, link attribution has been tricky for Google to navigate. First the “nofollow” attribute was introduced to designate links that shouldn’t be crawled or indexed. It was meant to be used on sponsored content (as opposed to the default “dofollow”) because Google sees paid links as an inaccurate and unfair measure of site authority. Unfortunately, many websites began using the “nofollow” internally to preserve crawl bandwidth and externally by default.

Thus began some confusion about search engine optimization best practices as they related to link attributes. What did the proper ratio of “dofollow” to “nofollow” links look like? If your SEO strategy focused too much on securing only followed links, would Google penalize your site for having an unnatural backlink profile? Etc.

In the last year, 14 years after introducing the “nofollow” attribute, Google announced an update. Websites can now use the “sponsored” and “ugc” attributes to denote paid and user-generated content, respectively. At the same time, Google eased up on their practice of never crawling or indexing “nofollow” links. The search engine now sees the “nofollow” as a hint, not a directive. That means they can ignore the directive and crawl/index at their discretion.

The more specific attributes don’t change much for individual websites, but they do relieve some pressure from a link-building standpoint. And the “sponsored” attribute is an unambiguous way to handle what the “nofollow” attribute was supposed to do. It does leave the fate of the “nofollow” somewhat tenuous. But the directive is still useful for links from blog comments and more.

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BERT algorithm

Four years after the introduction of Google RankBrain, there’s a new machine-learning algorithm in town. BERT, which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, will help Google better understand the nuances of natural language. The open source program is a neural network-based approach to natural language processing (NLP). It will help Google learn the context of different search queries and match them with more relevant results.

To help people understand why we need BERT, Google provided the following example: say someone searches for “2019 brazil traveler to usa need visa.” Previously, Google wouldn’t understand the context of this Google search and would provide results for U.S. residents traveling to Brazil. That’s largely because of the word “to,” which Google had ignored. The new algorithm helps Google understand that the word “to” is actually very important in this context.

This is part of the same SEO trend we’ve been seeing for a few years: natural language, long-tail keywords and voice search are in. And while broad keywords aren’t quite out, they’re no longer the only important target. A diversified keyword research strategy that targets long-tail keywords is no longer an option. It’s a must.

SEO trends in 2020

SEO TRENDS 2020: WHAT TO EXPECT

SEO in the C-suite

One of the latest SEO trends involves the C-suite. Fortune 1000 executives are beginning to understand the full business impact that SEO has on their brands. And this new understanding is driving major business decisions and outcomes. Board members and shareholders now put company SEO and digital strategies under the lens as they assess the company’s outlook. The C-Suite discusses SEO in their quarterly earnings calls. The success (or lack thereof) of a company’s organic strategy can impact everything from stock prices to acquisitions and strategic partnerships.

Take Pinterest, which filed for IPO in 2019. Thanks to Google’s decision to de-index Pinterest landing pages in the search results, the company was forced to admit in its IPO filing that the change had negatively impacted their growth and profitability. The market response fell short of the smashing debut Pinterest was hoping for. And share prices are still slowly recovering.

On the flip side, Chewy.com was acquired for $3.35 billion by PetSmart in one of the largest ecommerce acquisitions ever. A major factor in the acquisition was PetSmart’s interest in Chewy’s consistent dominance in the SERPs.

The moral of the story? Enterprise SEO drives business performance. And now the C-Suite (and your shareholders) are heavily focused on that.

“Search engine optimization” becomes “search experience optimization”

Another growing SEO trend is the merging of search engine optimization and user experience.

A recent study by Forrester Research showed that a high-quality user interface had the potential to increase conversions by up to 200%. And better user experience (UX)? It could increase conversion rates by up to 400%. Because business performance increasingly relies on a solid user experience, it is also increasingly important to wrap UX into your SEO strategy.  What’s that high CTR worth, after all, if you also have a sky-high bounce rate.

As SEO and UX continue to merge, expect the post-click user experience to become a priority for SEOs. Strategists shouldn’t just be thinking about ranking factors and click-through rates. They also need to fundamentally concern themselves with the experience the content provides as well as the business outcomes.

  • Is it as tailored as possible to the user and search intent?
  • Is the page designed for the proper step in the user journey?
  • What about a path to conversion?
  • Is high-quality content your standard?
  • Is the whole experience cohesive?

Tech SEO is getting more sophisticated

Google’s increasingly sophisticated machine learning capabilities change how we think about SEO on every front, from our link-building strategies to our use of language. Google’s algorithm used to ask itself questions like, “How much weight should this individual link have?” Now, instead of assigning the link a static value based on a static set of criteria, Google can learn the link’s value over time as it tracks user behavior and link patterns.

If Google decides your backlink profile looks manipulative, it may diminish the value of all your links. The search engine’s ability to learn makes the rules of SEO less black and white than ever before.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning aren’t the only SEO trends posing a challenge on the technical SEO front. On the one hand, progressive web apps (PWAs) are creating a better and more accessible experience for users, which positively impacts SEO. On the other, PWAs are the latest example of the long-term tension between SEO and JavaScript.

Historically, any content that was coded in JavaScript couldn’t be crawled or indexed. But developments like HTML5 and Angular now make it possible for JavaScript-based sites and good SEO to coexist happily.

That doesn’t mean technical SEO strategists aren’t given a run for their money as they make sure JavaScript-based content renders properly. Client-side rendering is still dangerous territory for SEO. And both server-side rendering and dynamic rendering come with their own list of SEO best practices. But for as long as JavaScript provides a better experience for the user, you can expect Google to work to make sure JavaScript-based sites get the attention they deserve.

Semantic search

As the BERT algorithm unpacks modifiers like “to” and works to understand natural language use, other advances on the NLP front will make Google’s understanding of semantic search as robust as ever in 2020. Google no longer understands content by considering the individual keywords alone. Instead it sees each keyword as a cloud of semantically related material within a certain context, including pluralizations, variants and synonyms.

Think about the word “ship.” Google is becoming more adept at deciphering whether you mean a boat or transmission or a glass decanter, or whether you’re referring to “jumping ship” or “running a tight ship,” etc.

When you optimize web pages for a particular keyword, hitting the specific keyword as hard as you can is no longer as important compared to making sure the language and pages surrounding the keyword is both semantically and contextually relevant. Ensuring you’re clarifying your expertise for the broader topic category to Google also plays an increasingly key role in semantic understanding of your content.

Sentiment analysis

Sentiment analysis is yet another form of machine learning, this one designed to analyze the positive, negative and neutral emotions associated with words and phrases. Given that Google cares deeply about user experience, you can expect the technology to have a major impact on SEO. Sentiment analysis gives Google a more precise way to analyze links from both websites and social media as it gains a deeper understanding of why links were shared in the first place. The technology may also change what appears in featured snippets.

Zero-click SERPs

Next on our SEO trends list is zero-click SERPs. The search engine results pages will continue to transform in 2020 as Google increases the instances of a zero-click SERP experience, a change we can track with the growing frequency of featured snippets. When a user Googles a question that has a quick, straightforward answer, Google doesn’t want to send them digging through different websites to find the answer. Instead, Google is more often now displaying the answer at the top of the search results, eliminating the need for a click within the Google SERPs.

The zero-click phenomenon is commonly seen with database-style searches. Think dates, times, weather, currencies, etc. Pick a celebrity and Google their year of birth to see a basic example of zero-click search results. Now expect to see more and more not-so-basic zero-click experiences as Google advances. How-to searches and directional searches (“pizza near me”) also rely on featured snippets with increasing frequency.

The zero-click search experience doesn’t signal the demise of SEO or organic traffic, though. It does require more sophistication by SEO experts moving forward.

The countless searches that require more detailed or complex answers will continue to require a click-through by the searcher. With all of this in mind, it’s now important for any SEO to understand which keywords will likely result in a no-click experience vs. those that will compel the searcher to click through.

Optimization will need to align with the changing SERPs accordingly. Instead of narrowing opportunities in the field of SEO, these SERP advances actually open up a whole new category as well: SERP optimization. And it’s about to become an imperative part of every well-rounded SEO strategy.

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Structured data

Google loves structured data. Rich snippets provide a more tailored and helpful experience for users. And they help Google serve zero-click experiences where appropriate. As such, Google is pushing websites to make better use of schema markup.

There’s an ever-expanding list of tools, guides and resources on structured data. And the list of markup types continues to grow too. But knowing the likelihood of people exploiting a good thing, Google also tightened up their rules about how structured data should be used.

man using voice search

Voice search is still an SEO trend

Expect to see a divergence between spoken word search and written word search in 2020 as voice search evolves with Siri, Alexa and others. Comscore predicts that half of all searches will be voice search in 2020. And it looks like we’re on target to hit that prediction.

The uptick in voice search isn’t due to mobile devices alone. More people than ever will also own smart speakers and other voice-controlled devices. On our list of SEO trends, this one is a huge reason Google is so focused on NLP. And it’s why certain aspects of keyword optimization are starting to change.

Broadening of ecommerce SEO

Amazon is more than an ecommerce juggernaut, it’s a vertical search engine that gobbles up 37% of traffic from conversion-ready customers. Yet, the marketplace has many vulnerabilities. Specifically, Amazon is brandless. It’s a place shoppers often go for a great deal on a commodity.

Businesses can exploit that weakness by looking past product pages. Build out a holistic ecommerce SEO strategy that leverages your brand’s personality and targets the complete buyer’s journey.

Influencers

Influencer marketing is still a nascent field in digital marketing. But marketers have learned quickly that influencers deliver unique value in their ability to connect with targeted audiences. So, although influencer marketing has been around for a while, it’s been slightly refreshed for our 2020 SEO trends list.

Brands now care about engagement over impressions. And they’ll choose a modest targeted audience over an enormous untargeted one. For many brands, the Kardashians and other celebrities aren’t the influencers that provide pay-off. Instead it’s about those influencers with extremely passionate audiences. It’s with this in mind that many brands will rely on micro influencers in niche markets in 2020.

The scope of influencer marketing has also changed. Companies no longer silo influencer marketing into their social media or PR departments. The SEO department also has a vested interest. Influencer marketing is becoming a broader part of almost every SEO strategy, moving beyond backlinks. SEO-focused brands will leverage influencers in new ways, including:

  • Amplify content marketing
  • Generate shares and backlinks
  • Enhance and strengthen brand reputation
  • Inspire engagement
  • Boost trust signals
  • And much more…

Faster is better

Page speed seems to make the list of top SEO trends every year, and that won’t stop anytime soon. As long as the majority of searches originate on mobile devices, Google will continue to prioritize loading speed.

Consider everything Google has done to improve the experience for mobile users: They introduced AMP to bring near instantaneous load times to mobile pages. They launched mobile-first indexing to ensure mobile users have a good experience.

Although we can be sure page speed will be important in 2020, it’s hard to say whether Google will raise the bar significantly.

a woman using augmented reality to spot seo trends

The rise of augmented reality (AR)

Augmented reality (AR) is here. Google is investing heavily in AR, as seen in its ARCore initiatives, providing you with an indication of where the search giant is headed, especially with the mobile experience.

Google Lens is Google’s technology for making both the real world and online world more contextually rich through AR.

Rolled out in the summer of 2019, Google’s AR-based search results let users navigate 3D models in the SERPs and explore everything from the anatomy of a whale to the interior of the Louvre.

The interactive 360-degree vantage point opens up a world of opportunity for ecommerce retailers. Potential customers searching for products can view their options from every angle before picking one to learn more about. Ultimately, Google hopes to mimic the experience of being in a shopping mall as much as possible (sans the omnipresent Cinnabon smell).

According to Google it takes just a few lines of code to support the 3D objects that comprise the AR search results. New Balance, Target, Samsung and Volvo have already taken advantage of the technology. And other major retailers are likely  to follow suit.

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