SEO is making a major shift going into 2020.
With schema.org, Google Actions and increased competition, you need to have a cutting edge SEO strategy.
Today, I’m going to give the most important strategies for SEO going into 2020.
What We’ll Cover:
- Content marketing (at scale)
- Page speed
- Refresh or rewrite old content
- A new approach to backlinking
- Google Actions
- International SEO
- Technical SEO
- Voice search
1. SEO in 2020: Content Marketing…at Scale
If you’re thinking, “wait, is this 2013, or something?” bear with me for a moment.
Yes, content marketing has been around for a while. Still, content marketing in 2020 kicks things up a notch—and I’m not just talking about great content. Rather, marketers will need a really sophisticated strategy. This strategy will include a team of people, and each will play a role in generating WAY more traffic for every single page.
SEO in 2020 leaves no room for fragmented, piece-meal content strategies.
Instead of cranking out keyword-stuffed blog posts in bulk, create less content that provides more than a quick overview of any given topic.
Here are a few ways to bring your content marketing strategy into the new decade.
Go Beyond Blog Posts and Videos and Think Omnichannel
Think about it. The most effective marketing and advertisements take place over the course of several interactions, which is part of the reason that you see and hear the same ads over and over.
While we’re talking organic marketing here, one of the biggest SEO trends going into 2020 is embracing a diverse mix of content across multiple channels.
It takes more than posting an article to get more leads and conversions. Instead, you’ll need to give your audience the chance to find your brand in their preferred format on the channels they love. Today’s content creators should work toward telling a seamless, on-brand story across all channels.
Additionally, content isn’t just a multichannel game, it’s a multimedia game. Augmented reality, voice search, Google Actions, and even messaging apps, are all part of the content conversation these days.
Develop a Collaborative Content Strategy
Because content is getting extremely diverse, you’ll need to take a different approach when it comes to piecing together the content calendar.
Between video, podcasting, messaging, blogging, personalization, social, and so on—there’s way too many moving pieces involved for one person to shoulder the burden.
Brands must continually develop quality content assets in a wide range of formats–a process that is incredibly hard to scale.
Content collaboration aims to solve this very problem in 2020.
Teams need to embrace a content collaboration strategy that involves a plan for scaling, building backlinks, and promoting your various forms of content in as many places as possible.
In this post from Convince and Convert, Kyle Lacy recommends putting together a team of experts with different skillsets–his “stack” includes a content creator with storytelling or journalism experience, a researcher skilled in uncovering market insights and interpreting data, as well as another writer and a social media manager.
Your dream team might include a podcaster, someone who really “gets” technical SEO in 2020, or someone who makes amazing video content.
Always Be Helping
How can you help your readers win? Google’s ultimate goal is that its users stay happy and keep using their search engine.
As such, content that helps users answer a question or solve a problem stands to rank higher than a post that offers nothing of substance. Google has been embracing the user experience more and more, rewarding those publishers that deliver the highest value to their users.
As you put together a strategy, ask yourself the following questions:
- How does this content deliver value?
- Does it bring anything new to the table?
- Will the reader walk away with something actionable?
- Is the headline misleading and likely to increase the bounce rate?
- How do I link this article to other pages on my site to increase my overall page views?
- How do I keep my user engaged as long as possible on this page?
2. We Still Need to Talk About Page Speed for SEO in 2020
Since 2010, we’ve known that page speed is closely linked to bounce rates and dwell times. In 2018, Google made it official, announcing page speed as a ranking signal.
In July 2019, Google made the switch to mobile-first indexing—which means the Googlebot crawls the mobile version of a site as the default. And, as we know, one of the most critical factors in mobile optimization is speed.
In 2020, we’ll still be talking about speed due to its central role in the customer experience—which of course impacts everything from revenue to SERP rankings.
Slow speeds are bad for Google and your visitors. On the Google side, slow load times mean the search engine can’t crawl as many pages, making poor use of its crawl budget, which may result in lower SERP rankings. On the user side, slow load times lead to higher bounce rates and lower conversions.
Run Regular Speed Tests
Performing page speed tests should be both a high priority and a habit.
Running a speed test couldn’t be easier, type in a URL and Google spits out a score and a list of opportunities and recommendations.
Here’s an example of one I’ve run on an anonymous client. You’ll see a breakdown that outlines how you can improve be it compressing your images, getting rid of unused CSS, or reducing server response times.
Use a CDN
A content delivery network (CDN) can significantly reduce load times by bringing your website into the cloud and using the server nearest to your website visitors to deliver the content to their device.
The benefit is, a CDN eliminates the delays associated with loading content from a far-off locale.
Without a CDN, those users closest to your server receive the quickest access to your content, making this a must-have for businesses with a national or global reach.
Additionally, CDNs use caching to prevent downtime and reduce your bandwidth, allowing for quick rendering and faster delivery times by handling the following elements of your content:
- Images and videos
- HTML pages
- HTML pages
Get Rid of Plug-ins You Don’t Need
Run a plug-in audit to identify any plug-ins that could be slowing you down. Get rid of inactive plug-ins, even if they’re not currently active.
Only install plug-ins when they bring significant value to your business and regularly assess your usage—if a plugin hasn’t been used in a few months, get rid of it.
Inactive plugins don’t just slow you down, they also compromise your website’s security, leaving you vulnerable to hackers.
Not only will this create extra work, it could also hurt your reputation, expose customer data, and tank your SERP rankings.
Clean Up Your Codes
It’s also worth mentioning that poorly configured theme files might mess with your users’ browser and decrease load times.
3. Refresh or Rewrite Old Content
Google likes new content and so do its users.
I recommend going through your old content and developing a schedule for refreshing posts, making sure no posts are older than six months.
The reason you should update your content, as opposed to just burying the old with new posts is that Google will notice these updates when it crawls your site.
A few things to think about when approaching refreshes:
Start by Auditing Your Content
Crawl your site using a tool like Screamingfrog, DeepCrawl, or whatever you prefer. You’ll want to look at the following areas:
- URL: Is your URL SEO friendly? As a reminder, URLs should be structured like this: https://example.com/about-us or http://example.com/category-name/product-name/. Be consistent.
- Title: Does the title contain your target keyword? Is the benefit clear to the reader?
- Author: Is there an author bio on the page? Are they an expert or authority in your industry?
- Word Count: While not directly indicative of quality, short articles often just don’t have the time to dive deep into a topic.
- Inbound Links: How many backlinks do you have? Are they coming from high-quality domains?
- Publication Date: When was this published?
- Stats and External Links: Is the information in the article up to date? A good rule of thumb is to use statistics and source material no more than two years old.
Know When to Refresh
You’ll want to refresh a page that meet the following criteria:
- Has valuable links
- At one point, got consistent traffic
- Ranks high in the SERPs
- Content is outdated
- Engagement is low
- Conversions are few and far between
In this case, you’ll want to update information so that it’s factually correct, up-to-date, and ideally, is better than what your competitors are posting on this topic.
You’ll benefit from hanging on to the old URL, as it carries some domain authority, as opposed to starting from scratch with a new post.
And When it’s Time to Do a Rewrite
If there’s no domain authority and bad writing, but there’s some good information on the page, you’ll want to do a rewrite.
In this situation, you’ll want to rewrite the post from scratch, with updated information and keywords. Then, set up a 301 redirect from the old post to a new (optimized) URL.
Google can forward PageRank through 301s; however, the new page must closely match the topic of the old one.
4. A New Approach to Backlinking for SEO in 2020
Building on the last section where I went over content, backlinks are one of the best ways to spread the word.
Backlinks are another mainstay of any SEO strategy, as they signal to Google that other people think your content is credible, engaging, and useful—and as a result, can help you rank higher in the SERPs.
So far, I’ve described backlinking as we’ve come to know it. Moving into 2020, I’d recommend taking a slower, hyper-targeted approach.
Here are some tips for building a backlink strategy that centers around high-quality content:
First, Set the Stage for Conversions
Building backlinks is pointless if the referral traffic doesn’t convert. Before you start reaching out to publications, really take the time to understand your buyers and map your content to each touchpoint they encounter from beginning to end. While buyer persona research and journey mapping aren’t exactly new, according to one study, only about 40% of marketers actually do it.
You’ll want to map out your customer journey and identify where you can set up landing pages and conversion paths appropriate for each persona and each stage.
This way, you’ll have a system in place when visitors arrive from your backlinks and can get them into your funnel for future marketing efforts.
Write Content that Speaks to Your Target Audience’s Pain Points
Again, a deep understanding of who you’re targeting and why is required if you want to develop a sound backlinking strategy.
As you consider what content you’ll be focusing on, think about what you can do to be more useful to your audience–and get really specific.
Gartner calls this process “buyer enablement” and while this recent report discusses the concept in a B2B selling context, it should apply to all content.
The idea is, sellers should create content that not only speaks to the buyer’s needs, but also helps them make sense of the vast amount of information available, and presents solutions they may have never thought of on their own.
What is it that you can offer your audience that offers the information they need but provides something new that they can’t get from other content providers?
When you don’t understand your audience, their motivations, and their pain points, you’re writing to a general audience, a strategy unlikely to deliver any meaningful results.
Build Links from High-Authority Publications
Finally, once you’ve developed some content that delivers value and set up a funnel for incoming traffic, the next step is outreach.
My recommendation is approaching this process with a keen focus on identifying and targeting one or two opportunities at a time. People who also care about the same things as your brand and share the same audiences.
This allows you to craft targeted pitches to the right publications as opposed to mass emailing a bunch of editors with the same template, while at the same time, ensures that you continue to build authority by staying true to your brand’s values and messaging.
To find new guest posting opportunities, you can search for the following both on Google and via Twitter:
- “keyword+ “write for us”
- “Keyword” + “guest post”
- intitle:guest post guidelines
- intitle:guest blog guidelines
- “Niche + guest author”
- “Contributor guidelines”
Alternatively, you might look toward social listening tools to help you identify some potential options.
Craft the Perfect Pitch
After you’ve identified some targets, it’s time to prepare for your outreach effort.
Your pitch should consist of two or three ideas, allowing publications to choose the one they like best. Use keyword research to inform your topics and aim for mid-funnel, high-volume keywords that attract receptive referrals to your site.
Make sure you keep your message short and sweet and add samples of links that speak to your shared audience: Be sure to add samples of your previously published content to maximize your chances of getting a positive response.
While this might seem obvious, it’s worth a quick mention; only reach out to publications share the same target audience.
The goal is to attract relevant referral traffic, so you’ll want to get in front of visitors who are most likely going to be interested in your offerings. If there’s a mismatch, visitors will bounce away fast, which, of course, can cause Google to push your site further away from the front page.
Schema.org just got SO important.
Though schema has been around for nearly nine years, the collaboration between search engines Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex is now making a bigger impact than ever.
As a quick point of reference, schema is a type of microdata that can be added to websites to improve the way that search engines interpret what’s on your page, improving the likelihood that your content will appear in front of your target audience.
While schema isn’t an official ranking signal just yet, it is required for eligibility to appear in the featured snippets, which increases visibility in the SERPs and has been shown to result in higher click-through rates than traditional organic listings.
Every website needs to have an SEO schema strategy, here are some of the main areas where marking up your site can help you expand your brand’s reach.
Use it to Optimize for Voice and Mobile
Use schema to optimize for voice and mobile. Ranking for featured snippets become even more critical when you move away from traditional desktop search.
Most voice search results are pulled directly from the site currently in position zero and the Google Assistant only reads one result at a time.
Because schema is required for snippet eligibility, marking up your content is your only shot at ranking here.
While you’ll need to make sure your content game is tight, structured markup could help you become the only result for a specific voice query–the perfect way to get ahead of the crowded desktop landscape.
Markup for SERP Feature Eligibility
For years now, Google has been working toward a big pivot, where the SERPs are the destination, not just a means of transporting searchers elsewhere.
SERP features represent a broad range of elements that bring more interest to the front page and include the knowledge graph, AMP articles, podcasts, and more—all aimed at delivering comprehensive answers to search queries that don’t require a click-through. Keep in mind, they do require structured markup to be eligible for the rich result.
For better or worse, the zero-click result is part of the SEO landscape and brands need to embrace schema to help them stand out.
6. SEO in 2020: Google Actions
Google Assistant is literally available in everyone’s phone these days, causing major changes in SEO for 2020 and beyond.
Now, all companies need to have a Google Action strategy. Google Actions, of course, are apps that allow you to “extend your brand experience” (Google’s words) to the Google Assistant.
Schema Markup and Templates Make Google Actions More Accessible
In October 2019, Google announced that it would automatically generate Google Actions for certain types of content with properly-implemented structured data. Eligible content types include: recipes, podcasts, AMP articles, How-tos, FAQs, and
That said, building a simple Action using Google’s Dialogflow builder is relatively straightforward. I was able to put one together in about 15 minutes, granted if you’re planning on building something more complex, it’ll probably take you a bit longer.
Develop a Clear Use Case Before Building an Action
While it’s understandable to put the cart before the horse when there’s something new to bring into your 2020 SEO strategy, it’s important to take a lesson from the mobile app boom and make sure you have a use case and a plan before building a voice app.
Instead, you’ll want to make sure you carefully consider how users currently interact with your brand and whether voice-based content offers your audience something that adds value to their lives. Can you solve a problem? Provide information?
7. International SEO
Now is the best time to do international SEO, you can now easily translate content into a different language by adding hreflang tags and rank for those languages on an international version of your website.
This opens up a whole host of opportunities from backlinks to conversions, traffic, and more.
Here are a few things to consider before jumping into the world of international search:
- You May Need a Site for Each Country—If there’s a big market in the countries you’re targeting, investing in a separate website can help you deliver a better user experience and set the stage for better SEO performance. If you have, say, a mid-sized e-commerce store and want to sell to a global market, hreflag tags should be sufficient—in other words, whether you need a new site depends on the size of your website and how much content you’ll be posting. Keep in mind, you’ll also want to invest in a CDN to optimize load times.
- Keyword Challenges—As is the case with creating content in your native tongue, you’ll want to target keywords real people would actually use to find your brand. Looking at the keywords your competitors are using might be a good place to start, though it’s worth asking someone familiar with the target language and culture for some help, as literal translations likely won’t deliver the results you were going for.
- Selecting a ccTLD— A ccTLD, or country-code top level domain is a domain name that shows that web content is related to a certain country. Your ccTLD, hreflang, and flag choice should all match up, otherwise, you’ll have trouble ranking for that country. You’ll also want to make sure you verify your ccTLD with Google to connect it to your main website in your Google Search Console account.
- Hreflang Won’t Take Care of Everything—Hreflang offers a direct translation of your existing pages, which is fine for product pages, but not so hot for delivering culturally relevant content to your target audience. If you’ve set your sights on a major international content marketing push, it might be best to enlist the aid of an international content agency to help you capture the nuances of the local language.
- You’ll Need a Plan for Handling Tasks—From IT help to analytics and content, you’ll need local support if you want to succeed internationally. Consider if its worth hiring some help—whether that’s a local freelancer or two or a whole SEO team.
8. Technical SEO in 2020
As a quick reminder, SEO is typically broken out into three different categories; on-page SEO, which refers to what’s happening on your site from product pages to blog posts, off-page SEO which refers to what’s happening away from your website directories, guest posts, and backlinks, and technical SEO which is the stuff that happens behind the scenes.
Technical SEO is becoming increasingly important and complex, and while it’s always been a ranking factor, today’s marketers have more components to keep an eye on if they want to compete for limited SERP space.
- Keep a Close Eye on GSC Reports: The new Google Search Console reports are a big help with the technical side of SEO, breaking down everything from structured mark-up errors to link profiles, and AMP performance. Make sure you regularly review your manual actions report, test mobile-friendliness, rich results performance, and the URL inspection tool. Here’s Google’s breakdown of all of the GSC reports you can currently use, as well as a recent post where I go over some of the 2019 additions.
- Create and Optimize XML Sitemaps: According to Google, XML sitemaps should contain URLs of every valuable page on your website—meaning pages with high-quality, original content. It excludes “utility pages” like contact us pages, tools, and other things that might be useful to a user, but don’t offer much info. If your site contains a lot of rich media content and/or a lot of content, you’ll want to make sure you optimize your site and submit a sitemap per Google best practices.
- Address On-Page SEO Issues: Use an SEO tool like Ahrefs, Moz, or SEMRush to check your site for errors like duplicate content, broken links, missing alt attributes, or structured data issues, and work through addressing them sequentially. While this might sound overwhelming, making quick audits a weekly habit can help ensure you don’t miss anything that could compromise your SERP performance.
- Secure Your Site: All websites need to be secure for SEO, otherwise they will not show in Chrome. While the importance of security is well-known at this point, you’ll need to watch out for any cracks in the system. If there’s a single page on your website without the HTTPS designation, you’ll get down-ranked by Google.
While E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust) isn’t an official ranking factor, the quality guidelines provide a framework for ranking across the 200+ factors that determine your place in the SERP from page speed and security to credible content.
With semantic search and a focus on delivering search results that line up with end-user intent, E-A-T aims to prioritize content that comes from credible sources, is engaging, and serves a purpose.
- Earn links and mentions from high-authority domains
- Continuously update your site–by keeping information relevant and timely and linking to authoritative sources to back your claims.
- Build a unified brand across several channels
- Secure your domain with properly implemented HTTPS.
- Add terms and conditions and privacy policies in a clearly accessible location (typically the footer).
- Include an “About Us” section on your website.
- Add author bios to content.
- Cite high-authority relevant sites if it’s helpful to the reader.
- Include a physical address on your website
- Provide a clear way to get in touch with the website owner—phone number, email, and socials should be easy to find from any page on your site.
- If you sell items, include detailed specifications and any relevant information like safety precautions or care instructions.
- Sellers should also clearly lay out a returns and exchanges policy.
10. SEO in 2020: Video
Today’s customer expects to see video content from their favorite brands.
Whether we’re talking about B2B or B2C, video keeps viewers engaged and helps them make purchasing decisions in a way that no other medium can compete with. While we’ve all been talking up video for the past several years, here are a few ways you can use video in your 2020 SEO strategy:
- Live-stream continues to rise: Live video’s interactive qualities place the medium at an advantage, 80% of LiveStream survey respondents say they’d rather watch live video than read a blog post and a Forrester report found that people spend 10-20x longer watching live feeds versus on-demand videos.
- New Google Home Hub: Plays YouTube videos, but also presents the potential for video-based actions.
- Google Discover: YouTube content feeds directly into Google Discover.
- Diversifying Video Pays in 2020: To get ahead of the changing social algorithms and more complex SERPs, the goal is to be in as many places as possible. IGTV, LinkedIn, Instagram Stories, Snapchat—should be a core component of any strategy, along with YouTube.
11. Voice Search SEO in 2020
By 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.
That stat has been floating around the web for what feels like five, six years. But, as we’re staring down the new decade, it seems like that prediction is becoming a reality.
One in six Americans now own a smart speaker, according to a joint study by NPR and Edison and per Google research, 72% of those people say that talking to their smart speaker is part of their daily routine. And of course, way more people have a smartphone (globally, an estimated 2.5 billion), most of which have voice search capability baked in.
Optimizing for voice SEO means you’ll need to get more conversational in your approach to SEO.
Today’s virtual assistants are getting better at understanding the way we speak, and as a result, we need to relearn how to incorporate natural language into your strategies.
Search engines such as Google are now placing a higher emphasis on voice search optimization, and effective voice search optimization is based on conversational speech.
Remember, speaking and typing aren’t exactly one in the same. Luckily optimizing for voice may help us write better, as we can now say goodbye to trying to work awkward sentence fragments into our content so that it sounds natural.
Google data shows 70% of all searches on the Google Assistant are in natural language, which means longer-tail keywords that reflect real human speech are becoming more important than jargon or awkward sentence fragments.
Voice & Visuals Are Coming Together
We’re starting to see voice capabilities move beyond smart speakers and mobile and onto more visual platforms. Siri and Google Assistant allow users to ask their computer questions and new versions of the smart speaker now include screens.
While sure, these innovations have been around for a while, new smart speakers with screens like the Amazon Echo Show and Google Home Hub are becoming more accessible with many models priced at under $100.
Local Rules the Voice Landscape
As I’ve mentioned in the past, voice search is particularly powerful for local businesses.
Searchers looking for “near me” results dominate the space, using voice to search for local businesses while they’re on the move.
For better or worse, your phone or home assistant device always knows where you are, the fastest-rising search trend is including “near me” in the search.
You don’t have to say, “best breakfast burritos in San Francisco” anymore, you can just say “best breakfast burritos near me.”
According to a study from BrightLocal, people primarily use voice search to find businesses within their local area. Google research found that “near me” mobile searches have seen a 500% increase in the past two years when combined with high-intent phrases like “to buy” or “can I buy?” Voice search is also time-sensitive, with users searching for near me results when they’re hungry or need to complete an errand.
Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP, is an open-source project that aims to help publishers deliver fast-loading content to mobile users by stripping its code down to a simplified HTML format.
AMP pages don’t offer as many on-page elements as their non-AMP counterparts. Thus far, AMP has been more about offering improved user experiences. But it seems like 2020 might be the year it takes things to the next level.
Bands are using AMP for email to deliver rich experiences directly to fans’ inboxes, and Google recently launched AMP Stories. These allow advertisers to create AMP landing pages for their campaigns and content creators to create visual stories that, in Google’s words, support “evolving news consumption.”
While AMP isn’t an official ranking factor, speed is, and AMP markup allows news publishers to be eligible to appear as a top story in the Google News carousel and is one of the formats supported by the new Content Action capability.
13. Branding for SEO
You might not think of brand building when you think about SEO, but it absolutely applies. If you don’t have a great brand, then you can’t expect to rank well for SEO.
Great branding helps you build authority and trust, two major factors when it comes to how search engines rank your content.
It’s also a huge factor when it comes to user experience, as today’s buyers take to social media, review sites, YouTube, and more to learn more about products and services. As such, you’ll need to really focus on maintaining a consistent voice and brand aesthetic on-site and off.
Focus on Branded Keywords
Google’s algorithm is all about brand queries. Your goal is to make sure that any time someone searches for your brand, they’ll get a full page of results that link to your website.
Branded queries include the name of your brand or a close variation, and those users who research branded search terms do so after hearing about your brand elsewhere and wanting to learn more.
While there are likely to be fewer people searching for your specific brand name than relevant unbranded terms, branded searches represent a high-intent searcher who may be looking to make a purchase.
The other benefit of honing in on branded terms is, you’ll see growth across all keyword rankings. The higher your branded search volume, the more likely you are to rank for an unbranded search.
This means if your brand appears alongside a high volume of unbranded queries, Google may start associating your brand with those keywords, which in turn can really raise your profile in the organic search rankings.
Create an Omnichannel Narrative on Multiple Channels
Because people need to hear about you from somewhere before they can type in a branded search term, you’ll need to develop your narrative all over the internet.
Contributing your thoughts, ideas and content on high-quality websites is a great way to build your brand awareness, reach wider audiences, and increase traffic
Claim and Optimize All Relevant Profiles
From Google My Business to the Google Assistant Directory, your social media profiles, and YouTube Channel, SEO in 2020 is all about capitalizing on any opportunity to rank.
Wrapping Up SEO in 2020
It’s worth pointing out that these tips are all closely connected. EAT best practices emphasize the importance of building a consistent brand reputation, as well as focusing on usability standards like page speed and security.
Content extends beyond the blog post and into new formats like Google Actions, Voice, and the massive lineup of video platforms—and now, you can translate your work into different languages.
Schema, too, is creeping into everything from podcasts and recipes to local business profiles, AMP articles, and reviews. The list goes on, but my point is, SEO in 2020 is largely about creating high-quality content in multiple formats at scale.