It’s time to take our annual look at what’s ahead for SEO professionals in 2019.
What SEO strategies and tactics will work and help you dominate in the SERPs and earn more revenue in 2019?
Here are 10 important trends you need to know in 2019, according to 47 of today’s top SEO professionals.
1. Understand Your Audience & User Intent
Does your audience prefer text? Images? Video? Audio.
Knowing this will all be more important than ever in 2019, according to our experts.
“You need to understand what someone is expecting to find when they query a word or phrase and you need to give them the answer in the simplest way possible,” said Mindy Weinstein CEO of Market Mindshift.
Motoko Hunt, president of AJPR, agreed, adding that the interests, tastes, and preferences of your audience can change more quickly than you think.
“Even if your website content is perfectly written and optimized, if it’s done for a wrong audience, it won’t grow the business,” Hunt said.
Tomorrow’s high-ranking website is all about the audience, said Julia McCoy, CEO of Express Writers.
“If your site enhances your audience’s journey, you’ll be rewarded by Google and your visitor will invest in you,” McCoy said.
This is especially important because rankings have been fluctuating over the past year to help fit the semantic intent of a user’s search query, said Jesse McDonald, SEO specialist and director of operations for TopHatRank.com.
“It will be more critical than ever for SEOs and content specialists to focus heavily on the user intent of the keywords they are targeting while creating content,” McDonald said.
Casie Gillette, senior director of digital marketing at KoMarketing, has also noticed Google’s shift in keyword intent.
“We have to think more about the funnel and where we really want to spend our time,” Gillette said. “Do I want to spend time and money trying to rank for a broad term or should I instead shift my focus to terms further down the funnel, where buyers are more knowledgeable and more likely to be interested in what I’m selling?”
To adjust to this shift in 2019, you may have to change the way you’ve been doing your keyword research, said Chuck Price, founder of Measurable SEO.
“When doing keyword research in 2019, it’s imperative that you check the SERPs to see if websites like yours are ranking for a targeted phrase,” Price said. “If the top SERPs are filled with directories or review sites and your site isn’t one of those, then move on to another phrase.”
The time is now to stop matching keyword phrases and start making sure that your content comprehensively answers questions your audience is asking via search, said Jeremy Knauff, CEO of Spartan Media.
“Ideally, we should take our content a step further by anticipating and answering follow-up questions they may have once they receive the answer to their initial query,” Knauff said.
2. Go Beyond Google Search
Could Amazon and Apple cut into Google’s search dominance? Eli Schwartz, director of SEO and growth for SurveyMonkey, believes so.
“I think that 2019 will be the year that, once again, SEO will not just be about how to optimize for Google, but we will have to take into account these other ‘engines’ as well,” Schwartz said.
As Cindy Krum, CEO of MobileMoxie, pointed out, SEO is about showing up wherever and however people are searching – not just getting the first blue link. So you must learn how to drive traffic and engagement for things other than just websites.
“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,” Krum said. “Strong brands are becoming multi-faceted, ranking more than just websites. Strong SEOs need to do the same thing.”
Jes Scholz, international digital director for Ringier AG, said she also sees the scope of SEO expanding to cover visibility on other platforms.
“Think beyond driving users to your website by ranking number 1 in the SERPs,” Scholz said. “How can you get visibility for your content in featured snippets and thus conversational interfaces, with hosted articles, with content aggregators and other such opportunities to ensure your brand reaches your target audience?”
In 2019, you also must at least consider optimizing for devices, said Kristine Schachinger, digital strategist and SEO consultant.
“For those with products that can be sold or brands that can benefit from the exposure, being optimized for home assistant or audio-only devices can’t be ignored,” Schachinger said.
Ultimately, this all requires the best content on the fastest platforms geared to meet the users wherever they’re coming from, according to Keith Goode, IBM’s senior SEO strategist, security intelligence.
“The entire search experience is our domain of expertise and control, and our goal isn’t to just drive traffic,” Goode said. “It’s to ensure that we’ve optimized that search experience, whether web-based or app-based or [insert the next big technology]-based, to create the most efficient and engaging intersection of the user’s needs and the site’s offerings possible.”
3. Structured Data Markup Is Key
Use structured data whenever possible, said Marcus Tandler, co-founder and managing director of Ryte.
“With AI becoming increasingly important for Google, structured data is becoming more important as well,” Tandler said. “If Google wants to move from a mobile-first to an AI-first world, structured data is key. No matter how good your AI is, if it takes too long to ‘crawl’ the required information, it will never be great. AI requires a fast processing of contents and their relations to each other.”
JP Sherman, enterprise search and findability expert at Red Hat, said you should start looking at and understanding structured data, schema, active and passive search behaviors, and how they can connect to behaviors that signal intent so that the behavior of search becomes a much larger effort of findability.
“Contextual relationships between topics and behaviors, supported by structured markup, is the critical trend we need to start understanding, testing, and implementing for 2019,” Sherman said. “Using information architecture, tags, metadata and more recently, structured markup, we’ve had the ability to give search engines signals to understand this topical and supportive content structure.”
Further, Jamie Alberico, SEO product owner for Arrow Electronics, said you should “leverage your existing content by integrating speakable and fact check structured data markup. These markups are a key link between factual reality and the screenless future.”
And Bill Slawski, director of SEO research at Go Fish Digital added this tip:
“[Understand] and [use] appropriate schema vocabulary on pages for products, offers, events, contact information, sameAs social and entity associations, organizational information, ratings, and speakable content.”
4. Create Exceptional Content
Google algorithm updates in 2018 revealed that Google is intensifying its focus on evaluating the content quality and at the depth and breadth of a website’s content, said Eric Enge, general manager of Perficient Digital.
“We tracked the SEO performance of a number of different sites,” Enge said. “The sites that provided exceptional depth in quality content coverage literally soared in rankings throughout the year. Sites that were weaker in their content depth suffered in comparison.”
Enge said he expects to see the trend of Google rewarding sites that provide the best in-depth experiences continuing in 2019.
“Google was continually tuning their algorithms in this area throughout the year, and I believe there is still a lot more tuning for them to do,” Enge added.
That means if you’re still creating content just to keep your blog alive, that won’t be good enough any longer, said Alexandra Tachalova, digital marketing consultant.
“The issue with this content is that it isn’t good enough to acquire links, so there’s a slim chance that it’ll rank on Google,” Tachalova said. “Think twice about publishing such posts, since they won’t pay off. It’s better to do one post that is properly distributed every few months than doing several per month that will only receive a few visits.”
What you need to do is create content that solves a problem – content that moves, motivates, and connects with people, said Matt Siltala, president of Avalaunch Media.
“If you can answer a question, get a lead, make a sale, help with SEO (link building), reputation management, social proof or community building purposes with a piece of content, then you win!” Siltala said. “Do your research, be the solution to the problem that people have, and provide something that is meant for people versus trying to ‘SEO’ the crap out of it and you will always do better in your efforts.”
Shelley Walsh, director of ShellShock, expects to see the level of content quality rise in 2019.
“Content strategy in SEO is not just about answering a query and getting users to the page. It must also use language to engage the user and guide the user to the next action,” Walsh said. “There are still far too few pages doing this well. More use of content maps and experience maps would help this.”
5. Increase Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness
Establishing and growing your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness – better known as E-A-T in Google’s search quality rating guidelines – will be another key trend in 2019.
“Although the E-A-T guidelines are written for Google’s algorithm raters, rather than Google’s algorithm itself, it helps us to understand where Google is heading in the short term,” said Dixon Jones, founder of DHJ Ventures. “I think this will help SEOs start to understand that ‘quality’ comes with context. You cannot rank so easily writing authoritative content unless you are already an authority on a given subject.”
Grant Simmons, VP of search marketing at Homes.com, said you should look at content distribution and promotion from a reputation standpoint.
“Hire experts to author, leverage data from known entities, and ensure credentials and credit is given to both, with appropriate affinity to the promoted brand,” Simmons said. “How can you get more of your employees to blog, write, and speak? How can you (the brand’s people) be the go-to source for journalists around your core topic expertise? Because that level of expertise is what Google is looking for to power their results.”
Like Google, Bing also wants to reward E-A-T.
“A major goal of our ranking team is to build an algorithm that would rank documents in the same order as humans would as they are following the guidelines,” said Frédéric Dubut, Microsoft’s senior program manager, Search & AI. “You can only do so at the scale of the web by generalizing your ranking algorithm as much as possible. It turns out that modern machine learning is very good at generalizing, so you can expect our core ranking algorithm to get closer to that ideal Intelligent Search product view that we hold internally and which we try to capture in our own guidelines.”
6. Invest in Technical SEO
Websites continue to grow in complexity every year, making technical SEO a major area of investment in 2019 and beyond.
Some key areas of focus on the technical side of SEO will be:
Speed: “Sites will finally start to become simpler and faster as SEOs discover that Google is rewarding sites more than once thought for [first meaningful paint] speed,” according to Jon Henshaw, founder of Coywolf Marketing and senior SEO analyst at CBS Interactive.
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs): “For 2019, you should start thinking about how your website could live on as a PWA in the future. How can your PWA become a keepable experience your users would like to put on their home screen?” Tandler said.
7. Win with On-page Optimization
On-page optimization will continue to be important in 2019, said Tony Wright, CEO and founder of WrightIMC.
“We are still seeing incredible results from nothing more than on-page SEO tactics for many companies that come in the door,” Wright said. “Links are still very important, but the biggest bang for most companies’ SEO bucks is ongoing on-page optimization. Because on-page SEO isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it tactic.”
Alexis Sanders, technical SEO manager at Merkle, also shared some key website optimizations:
Content that answers common user questions.
Ensuring internal site search is providing relevant results.
Shortening conversion process.
Ensure that repeat customers can restock commonly purchased items simply.
Customer support responds to questions related to the business.
Consider use of chatbots to lighten the load for basic, common questions and procedural tasks.
Users are easily able to navigate to physical locations.
Providing users with their stage in fulfillment funnel (think: clear, visual process forms).
8. Get Ready for Voice Search
Last decade, “the year of mobile” became a kind of running joke. Every year, the experts predicted that this, finally, would be the year of mobile. Year after year. Until hype finally matched reality around 2015.
Well, is this year the year of voice search? Once again, not quite.
As Wright put it:
“In my opinion, the ‘juice isn’t worth the squeeze’ yet for most companies when it comes to showing up in voice queries,” Wright said. “However, I think more companies will look into a voice optimization strategy next year. As I said last year, voice search is coming, it still just isn’t quite there yet.”
Although voice search got lots of attention in 2018, Aleyda Solis, international SEO consultant and founder of Orainti, said voice search is just a piece of a bigger shift, from specific “results” to “answers” as part of a longer “conversational search journey.”
“This will only gain more prominence and importance in 2019 – and the shift has already started,” Solis said. “While ‘voice’ might be an easier way to request answers in some scenarios, it certainly isn’t the ideal format to fulfill the intent in more complex answers (e.g., when comparing services or products).”
All that said, Michael Bonfils, managing director of SEM International, said voice search is a game changer for multinational and multilingual websites.
“Hopefully, marketers will realize in 2019 that the effective use of voice response can’t be done by translators (machine or human). The use of voice is, and can be, very different from country to country, region to region, dialect to dialect, social class to social class, etc.,” Bonfils said.
9. Watch Machine Learning
Dave Davies, CEO of Beanstalk Internet Marketing, said machine learning is about to explode in 2019.
“While we’ve seen machine learning in search with RankBrain, Google News groupings, etc. we haven’t really experienced the true power of what it can be. This is the year that changes,” Davies said. “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.”
But machine learning won’t just be something to watch on Google and the search engines, said Jenn Mathews of Jenn Mathews Consulting.
“Companies need to adopt machine learning to develop unique content for SEO, beginning with a set of data based on specific variables,” Mathews said. “Machine learning, coupled with the need for analysis and reporting, as testing new strategies and implementation is imperative to understanding successes and failures.”
10. Optimize for Featured Snippets & Other Google SERP Features
In addition to optimizing for your own website, you must also optimize for the Google search experience in 2019.
“Answer boxes, recipes, the knowledge graph, carousels, and who-knows-what-else will take an even bigger bite out of organic traffic,” said Ian Lurie, CEO, and founder of Portent. “That makes SEO even more important because exposure is as much about visibility in the SERPs as it is about clicks.”
That means optimizing for featured snippets (a.k.a., position zero) and other Google search features will continue to be an important trend – and more important than ever – in 2019.
“We have been able to achieve many answer boxes for our own site and client websites,” said Jim Bader, senior director of SEO at Vertical Measures. “Every time this happens, it results in a significant spike in organic traffic.”