Near the end of the year, every year, you see SEO firms and various “experts” in the online field produce and distribute various lists of top trends to watch for in the coming year.
As an avid search watcher, and one with a general interest in technology, I’ve been watching the rise and change of search over the past 2 decades. There have been many trends which have come and gone, but there are just as many trends which become more and more prevalent every year.
The nice thing about trying to predict what’s around the corner is that, after a while, it does become easier. However, my feeling is that the same trends have been coming up year after year, for the past few years. Predictions like “voice search will dominate next year” I’ve read and heard this one ever since I got my first voice enable device over 2 years ago. And while I do use my Google Home device more for more different things, as well as the baked in Google assistant in my phone, I don’t see how people will completely, or even mostly, switch from their current way of searching to searching primarily by voice.
I mean, sure it will happen eventually, but if you looked at American Broadband adoption, for example, there’s still a significant percentage of the population that doesn’t even have a fast enough internet speed, either mobile or locally at home, to handle voice searches, and barely fast enough to use the more traditional web based search. So to think that voice search will somehow take over in 2020 is very optimistic from my point of view.
But it is growing, and that’s something to consider. But before I get into my predictions for 2020, let’s look back 1 year. That’s when I made my top 9 predictions for SEO for 2019. And for the most part I was right. To refresh your memory, here were my top predictions:
- 1) Growth of Voice
- 2) Mobile First Indexing
- 3) Site Speed
- 4) Brand becomes more important
- 5) Increased usage of Social and Video
- 6) Optimizing for User Intent
- 7) Local search becomes more important
- 8) Schema and Structured data become more important
- 9) PWA – Progressive Web Apps
With the advent of assistants baked into mobile devices, as well as other devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, the Google Assistant (built into Android phones, and also available on Google Home / Nest devices), Microsoft’s Cortana, built into Windows 10, Samsung Bixby, and more, it is clear that Voice enabled devices continued to be popular. Some estimates suggest that ½ of mobile users used voice search at least once in 2019. Estimates put the growth of voice search at as many as ½ of ALL searches will be done by voice in 2020. While I think that number is too high, it does illustrate that voice search continues to grow.
This prediction was partly true
This should come as no surprise, but there was a greater emphasis on ranking mobile sites. And, in fact, Google switched to what they call “Mobile First” indexing starting July 1, 2019. What that means is they began to use a mobile optimized browser to index websites, as opposed to their traditional desktop-based crawler. Even with advanced warning from Google and others, however, many site owners still hadn’t considered their mobile strategy until it was thrust upon them when their site was switched to mobile first indexing. Now, thought, mobile is becoming a main consideration for many site owners.
This prediction was 100% correct
This should have been, and continues to be, a major issue for many site owners. The speed of a website, even as a small ranking factor, is still considered a ranking factor. That means that your site needs to be as fast as possible. When combined with mobile first indexing, site speed becomes even more important.
This prediction was partly true. Site speed continues to be important, but it’s not the “be-all end-all” ranking factor many SEOs will lead you to believe.
Shortly following the switch to Mobile first indexing, Google rolled out a broad core algorithm update focusing on quality. This August 1 update soon became to be known as the EAT algorithm in some circles. EAT stands for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. In short – how important is your brand? Is your brand associated with high quality content and a great user experience? Or is it optimized for search only and therefore perhaps not as trustworthy?
I’d consider this to be 100% correct.
Tied to brand, this was an obvious prediction. After all, how can you improve your brand without considering the social and video aspects of it? And while we didn’t see social signals play a huge part in improving rankings, we did see an increased reliance on video in search rankings in 2019.
This was partly accurate. While many businesses embraced social and video, there’s still a huge opportunity.
For a long time, SEO’s optimized for search engines. Our goal was to get visitors to the site. But that has now morphed into helping ensure when users land on your client’s website, their positive experience is carried throughout their interaction with that site. This ties back into the brand aspect and EAT.
This is 100% accurate.
Local search grew tremendously in 2019. Early in the year Google made adjustments to show local map listings in more search results, while later in the year they applied many of the same ranking algorithms to local results. Therefore, things like EAT, and brand become more important than just the number of reviews or how close you were to the searcher’s location.
This is 100% accurate
Structured data – data that wasn’t visible to searchers, but important to search engines did indeed become more important and led to the rise of what’s been known as “zero click searches”. That means searchers didn’t have to click off the search results to get the info they needed.
This is 100% accurate.
This one didn’t really come true. While more sites are beginning to embrace PWA, most are not yet taking advantage of this simple way to capture site visitors and keep them coming back. However, Google did make huge inroads in advancing PWA.
This was mostly accurate.
As you can see, I did pretty good in my assessment of what would be big in 2019. All my predictions came partly or mostly true. Some, I was a little early on (like PWA) and others, like the rise of voice search, I’m still pessimistic on, but overall, I must pat myself on the back for this 😊
So now that I’ve reviewed last year, let’s get to the good stuff: What is going to be important in 2020. You will probably see there’s a lot of overlap. That’s because much of what started this year, in 2019, will carry through into 2020. Some will be more important than others, but all should be considered as important to some degree. These are presented here in no particular order.
2020 SEO Prediction #1 – Increased Focus on Zero Click / Onebox / Rich feature snippet results
What started in earnest in 2006 and only showed up in a handful of searches, seemed to become much more visible in 2019 and I believe will grow a lot in 2020. That is, the increasing intensity in the frequency of “zero click” searches. The searches that generate results right on the Google results page which don’t require the searcher to click through to a site. These searches also help those relying on (or just playing with) voice search, as these are the results they get when using a voice enabled device. Many of these queries are questions which can easily be answered without clicking through to a website (hence the name “zero click”) which is why you will see more and more of these making appearances in search results.
As a searcher, I love these. I can find more and more answers to my questions without having to click through to a site. Especially if it’s a simple question/answer type of response.
As an SEO professional, however, I dislike these. After all, most SEO practitioners in the field rely on hard data – clicks on pages, visitors, visitor session duration – actual numbers you can report on. But by their nature, zero click results are hard to measure because there’s no on-site activity associated with them.
On the other hand, zero click searches (or onebox, or rich / feature snippets, whatever you want to call them) do have a positive impact on brand building. So, while you aren’t earning “credit” for the click, it does show you that Google values your brand by emphasizing it in the #0 ranking spot above all other results – above all organic, all paid and all map listings.
2020 SEO Prediction #2 – Increased Focus on Local Search
With the recent changes to Google’s ranking algorithm as they related to local search, it’s clear that Google expects their dominance in search to carry over to the local space. As Google beefs up it’s own local results with additional fields (for example they’ve recently added improved services) we’ll see more and more map results showing up for searches. This combined with Google’s ability to better infer searcher intent – means local search will be the greatest area for improvement in 2020 in my mind.
So, if you are a business that serves customers in your area, or you travel to serve them, it is imperative that you have a Google My Business (GMB) listing.
It is also vitally important that you don’t just claim your listing and forget about it. You need to be constantly updating it. Ensuring your hours are correct, responding to reviews, adding images and posts and so on. Such activity will illustrate to Google that you are trustworthy, thus having a positive impact on your brand overall.
However, it won’t simply be a matter of ensuring your customers write you great reviews. Because I do see Google applying more and more of it’s more traditional organic ranking algorithms (or parts of them) to the GMB listings. Think EAT for maps. It’s already starting. The latest map algorithm updates have started us down this path towards less focus on review counts and star ratings to a more holistic approach to ranking competitively in the map space.
2020 SEO Prediction #3 – Increased Focus on Brand Improvement
As you may have already guessed – brand will play a huge role in 2020. Even more than in 2019. I think 2019 laid the foundation for brand improvements with EAT (Expertise Authority Trustworthiness). But other algorithmic improvements will also affect brand. I’m talking about BERT – Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers. In other words, Google’s neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training.
That means, as a business owner or SEO professional, we must take everything we’ve learned about brand building in 2019 (ensuring your site is fast, trustworthy, easy to use. Make sure your videos have a consistent message. Make sure your social media carries that message through to your customers and then tie it all together in one cohesive unit) and take it up a notch. Make your business stand out online. It needs to really shine.
Ensure you use the same location information across all platforms and sites (Business Name, Address, Phone Number, hours of operation, even ensuring you use the correct website URL).
As an SEO I’m always telling my clients to focus on the things that make them unique, and then try to translate that online. That includes putting pictures and descriptions of latest projects online, to sharing stories and tips on social media, to replying to reviews and ratings on Google, Yelp and other business directories.
Even simple things like ensuring your spelling and grammar on all pages of your website are correct is becoming more and more important.
2020 SEO Prediction #4 & #5 – Increased Focus on User Intent and UX (User eXperience)
I am combining these 2 because they are so closely related. They are also tied closely with brand management mentioned above. Ensuring that the user, your customer, is not forgotten. Sure, they may have positive experiences interacting with your Facebook or Twitter account, but does that experience carry over to the website? Is your site fast and easy to use on multiple platforms? Or does the desktop version differ from the mobile version in some fundamental way?
User Intent is important when it comes to SEO as well. We can’t just focus on merely ranking at the top of search results. An enhanced user experience needs to start there but continue through all interactions with the customer and all our online presences. Whether that is your GMB listing, your Facebook business page, your LinkedIn business page and so on.
By now you should see that this is where Google and the other search engines are heading. The online experience for the searcher MUST be consistent from beginning to end, and across multiple platforms.
2020 SEO Prediction #6 – Ensuring your Mobile Presence is Well Optimized
What I’m talking about here isn’t optimization in terms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). What I’m referring to is ensuring your mobile site is your priority. Even above your desktop presence, mobile is now more important.
If you are considering redesigning your website in 2020 my first suggestion would be to build your site for a mobile device FIRST. Don’t make it an afterthought. Too many sites built over the past few years were designed and built on and for desktop devices, with mobile as a secondary consideration (if that).
But as we’ve seen with the switch to mobile first indexing in 2019, mobile is now THE most important aspect of your online presence. Therefore, you must make sure that your site loads quickly on a variety of mobile devices and with varying connection speeds. That means test your site on iOS and Android, on phones and tablets. Simulate a slower network as well as broadband connection so that you can see what about ½ of the world’s population (the one’s without broadband) will see. There are online tools available to help with this, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Ensure your navigation is easy to use and intuitive. The text is easy to read on many screen sizes and dimensions and your images are optimized for mobile. Do you have a PWA? (See the next section) These are just some of the many myriad of things to consider.
2020 SEO Prediction #7 – The rise of PWA (Progressive Web Apps)
2020 is the year I see the beginning of a shift away from traditional phone apps (the ones you download and install on your mobile device) to Progressive Web Apps. The businesses that take advantage of PWA in 2020 will be the leaders moving forward. Traditional apps will still be popular for at least the next couple years, but I do think you’ll start to see the transition away from them in 2020.
In early 2019 both the Google Play Store and the Microsoft Store began accepting PWA in addition to traditional apps, while Apple also began to support PWA. I expect you will see developers begin to transition away from more traditional apps and into PWA development. This is because they will no longer need to develop multiple versions of an app for different devices (IE 1 versions for iOS: one for phone and one for tablet, as well as 2 for android). Instead they can build 1 app and have it work on multiple devices. Much like how responsive websites became popular a few years ago and now the standard, I know PWA will do the same.
As a site owner you no longer need to hire a web developer and an app developer. Now your web developer should be able to create your own standalone PWA with some minor changes.
2020 SEO Prediction #8 – Increased Use of Video as an Effective Marketing Channel
Video has always been an effective marketing channel for some businesses, but I think 2020 is the year we’ll see more businesses realize the true potential for video. From brochure type “infomercials” to more useful “how to” style videos, I see video as the next marketing channel to embrace and integrate into your online marketing portfolio.
The truth is you can get videos to rank in Google sometimes within hours of it appearing in YouTube. This makes sense since Google owns YouTube, but when you can get your content to appear in SERPs within an hour of launch it’s still impressive.
I can see many businesses taking advantage of such turnaround. Imagine if you are a car dealer, for example. Instead of creating a bunch of ads with an image or 2 of the cars you have for sale, you can now produce a short video and release it on YouTube later that day. You could potentially sell the same car the day it appeared on your lot simply because you created a short video of it. The same holds true for most businesses.
Now, you might not think a video put out by a plumber or electrician is going to do a lot for you, but you might be wrong. That’s because people’s attention spans are changing. No longer are people willing to sit down and read an article of a couple thousand words when they can sit and watch a 1- or 2-minute-long video to get the same information. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve truly figured out what video can do as a marketing channel. And of course, like everything, it’s always evolving. I think in 2020 we could see interactive videos. Videos where you don’t just passively stare at the screen but are required to interact.
2020 SEO Prediction #9 – Increased Length of Article Posts
While I’m not a huge fan of long blog posts, I do see how they are becoming more important. They do help your EAT because they do illustrate that you’ve spent the time to research a topic thoroughly.
However, it is also these articles that tend to win the zero search / onebox results. So, while they do show that you are an authority on a topic, they do make it harder to encourage clicks through to the site.
I think you will see SEO firms pushing longer articles on their clients. Primarily because of cost. You can hire a writer to spin an article and have it returned the same day, but video product takes longer and is generally more expensive. In the end, I do feel a video will have more of an impact than a long wordy article.
2020 SEO Prediction #10 – Voice Search WILL NOT Take Off in 2020
I left this prediction to the end because while I do see voice search continuing to grow, I don’t feel it is yet mature enough to overtake other forms of search. In other words, I think people are still more comfortable with reviewing 10 blue links as opposed to assuming your voice enabled device is returning the “best” result for your query.
So, while voice search will continue to improve in 2020 I don’t see it becoming the default search for most searchers for a few more years yet.
There you have it – my annual list of SEO predictions for the coming year. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments on this list. I’m sure there will be those that disagree with me, but as someone who has been in the industry for almost 2 decades, and someone who traditionally has been pretty accurate at predicting what’s to come, I stand behind my list of 10 predictions for SEO in 2020.