5 Key Things we Learnt About SEO in 2019

As we fast approach not just a new year, but a whole new decade, now is the perfect time to look back on SEO in 2019, a truly eventful year in the world of search engine optimisation. With a number of significant Google algorithm updates, and so many ranking variations throughout the year as a result of Google’s mission to improve user experience, there is plenty to reflect on before we start planning our strategies for 2020. So let’s not waste any more time and take a look at SEO in 2019.

seo 2019

A quick overview of SEO in 2019

Before we delve into the top five things we learnt about SEO over the past year, let’s quickly sum up the key search events of 2019.

Google’s focus on quality and user satisfaction shaped the majority of its algorithm updates and refinements. These included:

Florida 2: A broad core algorithm update considered at the time one of the biggest updates in years, Florida 2 had the aim of helping Google more accurately match search queries to web pages, and improve user satisfaction. Whilst the search engine stated that ‘there was nothing to fix’ following this update, many SEO industry commentators believed that it was built around content relevancy to search queries.

June Broad Core Update: This update led to reports of authoritative websites, including the Daily Mail news site, losing rankings. On the back of the update, Google published core algorithm guidance for content publishers, listing four questions to ask when assessing whether content is good enough to appear in Google’s search results and providing advice on other content related areas, which we will look at later in this post.

September Broad Core Update: This update appeared to focus on links, including ‘nofollow’ links, a way to let Google know that a link is not trusted. Google said it would not treat such links as a ‘hint’ as to whether to include or exclude them within search.

BERT: The most recent update, announced in October 2019 and labelled as the biggest change to Google search in the past five years. This is significant news and is set to shape SEO in 2020, so we’ll be looking at it in a lot more detail.

In summary, Google is using BERT models to better understand search queries, resulting in changes to search rankings and featured snippets. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. We’ll unravel the science for you when we look at search marketing trends for the coming year in our next post.

Google algorithm updates 2019

Google’s focus on quality and user satisfaction shaped the majority of its algorithm updates and refinements in 2019.

What we learnt about SEO in 2019

 Every time there is a major Google update, so we as search engine optimisation specialists must adapt our strategies to ensure our clients’ websites continue to enjoy excellent visibility. The following are the major things we learnt from Google’s 2019 updates.

1.     Quality content REALLY matters

Long, very well-written content that answers the queries that people are actually searching for is the type of content that is driving traffic to websites. When we say long content, we’re talking around 2,000 words. What we’ve learnt this year is that publishing longer, better content less often is key to ranking success.

Google’s guidance for content publishers issued on the back of its June update suggested content publishers ask four questions of their content when assessing whether it will make the grade in the search results:

  1. Is it of sufficient quality?
  2. Does it reflect true expertise?
  3. Is it well-presented?
  4. How does it compare to other content on similar topics?

The guidance also encourages content creators to be ‘original, insightful and comprehensive’. In addition there is a caution against the use of clickbait headlines that exaggerate the topic’s impact.

We’ve published a fair amount of advice this year on writing quality content for search engine optimisation:

Content marketing 2019

Long, very well-written content that answers the queries that people are actually searching for is the type of content that is driving traffic to websites.

2.     Expertise, authority and trust (E.A.T.) has grown in importance

Something of a crossover with the importance of quality content, we’ve seen E.A.T. become increasingly important this year.

The original guidelines were set by Google in 2018, and 2019 saw the search engine continuing to penalise sites with poor quality or thin content.

The June guidance from Google included a section on the authoritativeness of content. It suggested that the best kind of content would inspire bookmarking by the reader, and would be good enough to be cited in print. So, content publishers should ask themselves of their content:

  1. Is this the kind of page you’d want to bookmark, share or recommend?
  2. Would you expect to see this content referenced by a printed publication such as a magazine, encyclopaedia or book?

On the subject of trust, over the latter part of 2019, Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) worked on establishing the true source of all web content, choosing what it thinks is the best url when there is identical content so as to reduce instances of duplicates, a process known as canonicalization.

When a web user knows the true source of a piece of content, they are more likely to trust it as fact.

3.       Voice search has changed the face of SEO content

20 per cent of all mobile searches are voice searches. That means we’ve learnt to tailor our SEO content so that it is more natural and conversational, and takes important factors such as pronunciation variations into consideration.

Natural language shows intent more strongly. Honing content so that it shows up for long tail searches is something we’ve adapted for the voice search generation.

Voice search queries often include question words, so including this type of content is very useful indeed. It’s also a great deal more engaging to read.

4.       The USER is king

The phrase ‘content is king’ has long been banded around the world of SEO. But, as our Genesis revealed following his attendance at Brighton SEO, whilst content is still of course vital, it’s now the user that is king.

Genesis emphasised the importance of answering user intent, and writing articles that answer questions in a unique way. He says that content is indirectly king, but that the driving force for SEO in 2019 is now centred on what people want:

  1. What do they ask?
  2. What information are they looking for?
  3. Which products are they comparing?

One of the key takeaways from Genesis’ blog was this:

“We have to stop focusing our efforts on Google bots and start focusing on our users.”

It’s something we wrote about in our post, SEO and User Experience, a Relationship to Nurture.

User experience for SEO

We have to stop focusing our efforts on Google bots and start focusing on our users.

5.       Local SEO is crucial for local businesses

If you have a physical location and / or a local audience, then local SEO is vital if you want to enhance your local presence, increase enquiries for your services, and boost footfall to your physical location.

With almost half of all smartphone searches involving local intent, it means there are plenty of people out there ready to make an enquiry or buy something. This year, we learnt that 89 per cent of consumers search for a local business at least once a week, and that 75 per cent of all local searches result in a phone call.

Local SEO strategies focus on delivering directions, opening hours and product range availability to web users. They also work to boost trust, which is absolutely vital if someone is going to buy from you.

Such is the importance of local SEO that we created an infographic based around everything you need to know about local SEO ranking factors. In addition, our post, what is Google local SEO and why is it important for my business? is a worthwhile read if you want to learn more about how this category of SEO could significantly boost the success of your local business.

Summing up

2019 was certainly a big year for search engine optimisation. With so much learnt, we are looking forward to a New Year and new decade, and readying ourselves to take on everything that the world of SEO has to bring us in 2020.

If you could use some expert guidance on increasing your search engine visibility in the coming year, the dedicated SEO team at Figment is ready to help, so please get in touch for the tailored advice you need to boost your sales in 2020.

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