We’ve all heard the expression, “New Year, New You.” In the world of SEO, a new year means new guidelines to follow and continuously changing algorithms to master. To be clear, Google is constantly making changes to their algorithms, and as they sometimes go unannounced by the corporation, it’s up to SEO experts to analyze the differences and identify what they mean for the future of SEO and digital marketing.
Google generally releases what they call a broad core algorithm update several times throughout the year. The last one for 2018 was on August 1st, so it wouldn’t be surprising if there is another significant change coming down the pipeline. In the meantime, it’s important to keep in mind that Google publishes minor updates daily (sometimes more than once per day), and that their overarching goal is to find and rate the BEST results for any given topic.
Clicks, RankBrain, and Machine Learning
RankBrain is Google’s machine learning system for recognizing and evaluating user experience signals. In a video from 2015, Google identified just how significant the information and results from RankBrain really are:
“In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.”
What can we conclude from this statement? First of all, because RankBrain places the greatest emphasis on dwell time and click-through rate, the value of increasing the number of clicks on your site cannot be understated. That may seem obvious, but again, Google’s algorithms are making it harder to do so; organic click-through rates are on a significant decline. In other words, if you’re going to maintain high rankings, you need to become a master of CTR and engineer titles and metas specifically to produce clicks.
Featured is the New First
Google is becoming more and more a fan of featured snippets, ads, carousels, and ‘people also ask’ lists. It would appear that ranking in the #1 spot just won’t cut it this year. Some of the best advice to receive in 2019 is to get yourself on a featured snippet. Unfortunately, this tip is only valid for sites that already have first page rankings; if your ranking is any lower, you won’t have a chance at the snippet spot.
What is a featured snippet? When Google searchers type a question or even a keyword phrase into the search bar, it is the short paragraph that appears at the top of the page, before the #1 ranked spot.
Here is an example:
The Organic Kitchen, in this case, earned the featured snippet spot, but if you look at the actual rankings, they’re #4.
Google chooses these phrases from your content, so you can increase your chances of being featured by first researching which of your keywords actually have a featured snippet (because not everyone will), and second by creating short snippet bait phrases. These pseudo paragraphs are approximately 50 words and long contain informative and engaging content.
Google is Getting Smarter
It’s hard to imagine that, in such a relatively new industry, so much has already changed, but it’s true. If you’re still using the same SEO techniques that you were when you first began ranking, sorry to say, but your method is likely out-dated and no longer very effective. What Google cares about in 2019 is not so much content and quantity, but rather context and quality. Google wants its users to be informed not spammed. Essentially, search engines are requiring in-depth, authoritative, expertly written content, and it appears that’s what consumers want as well.
One way that Google tracks this sort of content is through LSI keywords. Latent semantic indexing refers to words that are not synonymous with, but related to and often used with, your keywords. This algorithmic change can be summed up by simply stating that Google is getting smarter, and you better keep up.
Hey, Google: The Rise of Voice
The number of people that start their day off by saying “Hey, Google” is most definitely on the rise. The smart home is revolutionizing everything about modern technology and the digital world, and yes, even SEO. It’s time to jump on the bandwagon and start optimizing your content for voice searches. One of the best ways to do this is by including questions and answers within your content for Google to draw from.
SEO is Not Dead
It’s changing, but it’s not dead. Unique, quality content is still essential, and your website won’t rank without any links. So no, content, keywords, and links are not irrelevant, there has merely been a shift in the emphasis. While we may not know everything that’s in store for this year, we do know something, and if there’s one thing that’s clear and definitive, it’s that search engine ranking will require renewed effort and devotion.
Past trends, present updates, and future forecasting indicate that 2019 is the year to ‘eat’ your words if they do not emphasize Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It’s going to take all hands on deck, plenty of research, and extensive creativity, but achieving first page rankings this year is not impossible, and you might even find the benefits are greater than they’ve ever been before.