I’ve been writing these predictions blogs for years and every year I get somethings right and most things wrong. It’s the unpredictable nature of organic search marketing that keeps us SEO consultants gainfully employed. So take what you’re about to read with a pinch of salt!

Modern Life Is Hectic

When you think about the way we consume things it’s all about consuming bite-sized chunks of information on the go, whilst commuting or whilst multiscreening when we’re in front of the TV. Even in social circles it’s the norm – and generally acceptable – to pick up and check your phone mid-conversation or during a meal.

In order to benefit from this trend, you need to make sure you are able to deliver content in as rapid a manner as possible. But I’m not just talking about site speed here (that’s so 2016). Sure you need a fast loading site, but you also need to develop ways to quickly deliver the primary standout messages in your content.

Now, this is a complicated one, because no one is saying you should start creating loads of short form content. What I’m suggesting here is you need to be delivering what the visitor to your website is looking for, as quickly as possible, whilst providing them with the opportunity to find out more if they’ve got more time.

User signals are becoming increasingly important to SEO. If you speak to an SEO consultant who doesn’t talk to you about click through rate (CTR) then you should keep on looking.

We’ve all done it, we’ve all clicked on a link from the SERPs and found a page of content, had a quick scan of the content and then clicked away. Of course, that page probably had the information we were looking for. But because of it didn’t appeal in some way, this can suggest to Google that the page doesn’t contain relevant information.

In addition to presenting the information in an easily accessible format which rapidly engages the visitor and keeps them on the page, you’re going to want to think about search intent.

I recently did a load of marketing for an online letting agency and the importance of search intent was really brought home to me. In that market, there are two audiences, landlords and tenants. They both search for things like Letting Agency, but the landlords are generally looking for somewhere to advertise their rental property whereas tenants are looking to find somewhere to live. Similarly, searching for ‘rent house in XXXX’ can be used by both audiences but would mean different things.

One of the things I quickly learned was organic search could be used to target the mass audience, whilst PPC offered a better opportunity to target the audience with the lower volume. It’s not perfect and fortunately, most businesses have a relatively homogeneous audience who experience similar pain points, leading to similar searches, which have similar semantic intent. But it’s not always the case and I’d guess understanding and being on top of this is going to get much more important, especially as the amount of content being created and distributed is exponentially increasing, meaning seemingly small differences in the way language is used could be all the differentiation that’s required.

If you’ve been speaking with an SEO consultant who argues keyword density is the first place to start and then you just need to get backlinks to help the page rank, they’re living in the past.

One of the things we all hate is having to go through multiple pages of content in order to find the one that delivers the answers to the problems we’re trying to solve. When Google sees that, it has to let other content into the mix to try to see if it can deliver better results. But that instability doesn’t deliver a great user experience for regular searchers either. This is known as pogo-sticking.

In addition, it’s not just about winning those organic rankings on page one, a true SEO consultant will come up with and implement strategies that will help get your content featured in Google’s standout areas, such as the knowledge panel, images and maps.

As SEOs, we need to be thinking about images, videos and the amount of relevant content on the page.

When thinking about ranking highly for a search query the first thing is to understand the amount of effort your competitors are going to. If there are image packs and video carousels in the search results, I’d be suggesting that kind of content needs to be on your page too. If the search results have a combination of all kinds of different content then you’re going to have to be making a breadth of really comprehensive content that delivers in different mediums.

2019 is also going to be the year you should go through your older content and refresh it. Google is increasingly rewarding content that has been refreshed. I’ve seen this myself with GrowTraffic, some of the pages on this site, which used to rank but haven’t done for a long time haven’t been touched for years, by putting some effort into tidying them up and bringing them up to a 2018/19 standard I’ve seen them start to rank well again.

Bear in mind as well that Google loves fresh content. The more content you can produce and distribute regularly the better. The idea here is to create a website that is super-focused in the content that’s added to let Google know what your overall domain is about. It also means you’re demonstrating to Google that you’re actively trying to attract customers and this will encourage Google to rank you above those companies that aren’t adding content.

In addition, creating fresh content on your website also gives you something you can actively promote offsite, which is a great way of attracting your audience without relying on Google and which will hopefully help you to generate more links.

Content Marketing And SEO In 2019

I hope you already understand the importance of content marketing for SEO and that’s not going to change much in 2019, but we are going to start seeing the types of search queries changing and that change will impact the types of content – and the types of titles – used when trying to influence search.

Back in the day – way back before Google – we used to use search engines such as Ask Jeeves and we were trained to ask questions. Google came along and we stopped asking questions, but rather started using short queries, this benefited Google and the other earlier search engines because there were fewer words in the query for them to (mis)understand the search intent. But as the years went by, those queries started to get longer and longer, and the shorter ones began to be exploited by things like unnatural linking schemes and blog networks. So we arrived at semantic search and this lead to searchers being almost retrained to ask questions again when they were looking for answers and generally to include more words in their queries. This has been great for SEO and content marketing because it’s meant SEO consultants and marketers working together to create content that soaks up loads of the long tail queries along throughout the funnel, which could then increase the relevancy of the cornerstone/money pages and increasing link density etc.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time reorientating the types of content I create by concentrating on the buying cycle rather than just creating content that I know will soak up traffic and create relevancy from an SEO perspective. This is where SEOs and content marketers will have to become more aligned to developing content that will not just help SEO but which will also convert customers.

But we’re now in an era that has seen the proliferation of content marketing and where voice search technology is rapidly advancing. Google is now 20 and they’ve been talking about changing their focus from queries to journeys. Google is moving more and more towards presenting the information searchers are looking for without making searchers use search queries. They’re doing this by gaining a huge understanding of semantic intent, their use of entities, NLP and trusty artificial intelligence.

The information that’s started to appear – especially in the cards – is based on all that data Google has been collecting about searchers and their searches. So Google doesn’t need a query to deliver relevant content, it just needs to gain an understanding of the previous queries and align the content it presents to anticipated future queries before they’ve even been made. This also means the traditional organic rankings on Google’s page one are becoming less important over time.

This all means that SEOs are going to have to get better at incorporating marked-up structured data in their content if they’re going to win at the SEO game.

But this is all about the written form. Google has been working on getting better at finding the answer to a searcher’s questions where they occur in the middle of videos and podcasts or where they are presented in infographics.

You’re going to want to be developing scripts with entities and NLP as well as transcripts that are roughly similar to the copy on your landing page. I’d always advise hosting videos on YouTube wherever possible but there are plenty of options out there for hosting videos, including self-hosting. I still believe Google will reward you for hosting videos on YouTube.

The same for images, but you’re going to want to focus on structured markup, keywords in file names, where they are placed on the page. Wherever possible explain what the picture is about, especially if it’s an infographic.

Don’t stick with blogs in 2019. Google estimates that by 2020, 50% of search will be non-traditional – that means we’re looking at 50% coming from image or voice queries – and that’s where SEO consultants are going to have the biggest wins in the coming year or so. That’s because it will take time for everyone else to catch up!

I’m in my late thirties and the internet has changed a lot of things but shopping around is something that still takes place. It’s just changed a little bit. I remember when I was younger. If my parents wanted to buy something, they would drag me around various shops – perhaps travelling hundreds of miles altogether – over a number of weekends, before they would be satisfied that they had all the information they required to make the purchase. The same thing is still happening online, it’s just we don’t need to travel hundreds of miles, we simply review various websites – perhaps opening several tabs at the same time – and reading a bit about the products, either howto guides, maybe a video, often a review, and then we’re done. So to win at SEO in the future, we need to work out how we can cover every one of those bases.

And if you think you’ve created a lot of content, trust me, it’s not enough. We’ve been living through a period of exponential creation of content. So not only have you got to be able to create well-aligned content in a smarter manner than the competition. It’s also essential that you create content at the type of velocity that will leave those competitors in the dust.

And think about the process of buying online, one of the most significant things is reviews. In order to make a sale in the future, you don’t just have to convince the purchaser to make the purchase, you also have to convince the purchaser to write a review for you and you probably need to convince a few people to write a review in order to help convince one additional person. And those reviews need to be in various formats including traditional review sites, videos shared via social media, comments on forums etc.

Back in the day, I used to talk about being a finding strategist and not just an SEO. What I meant by that was applying a strategic approach to helping people find the content I wanted them to find. Search marketing is changing again and now we’re talking about not only helping people to find the main content we want them to but also helping them to find the other types of content so as to help them engage and convert. And if you think this isn’t that important, just think about how Google views these things, if everyone is putting additional signals out about your product or services, Google will look for those as trust signals when it’s working out how to rank your page.

And whilst most SEO consultants will talk to you about onsite optimisation, when discussing offsite work most of them will still be thinking about link building instead of looking at offsite in a more holistic manner. So, that’s brand awareness, brand trust, creating influencers out of your business’ social media profiles and influencers out of your key employees etc etc.

The ways in which people search changes over time and sometimes it’s been because a search engine wants us to change the way we search. At other times it’s because a new technology has come along, such as smartphones and voice search, and the way we interact with search engines changes. This naturally means the search engines will change the way they weight content and display the SERPs.

As discussed earlier, the traditional organic rankings are becoming increasingly less important, but those top rankings have been the focus of most SEO consultants over the years. Many SEOs are still talking about rankings and blindly ignoring the other ways Google displays information in the SERPs.

These days, as an SEO consultant, I spend much of my time trying to work out how to get my clients’ websites to feature in the rich results, whilst also balancing reporting of the traditional ranking places, which clients still place significant value on.

Voice Search And Direct Answers Boxes

Across the globe, people’s homes are increasingly becoming populated with voice assistants such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri etc. The results found in Google’s Direct Answers boxes are being used by these devices to answer the questions searchers ask. That means for voice assistants, there is only one result that matters and it’s often not the first organic result.

Each Christmas these devices increasingly penetrate our homes and lives and change the way we interact with the internet. This means SEOs and marketers should be increasingly going through their existing content to rework it to focus on quickly and succinctly answering questions people might ask a voice assistant out loud.

I’ve been a huge advocate of question answering for content marketing and SEO for more than ten years. Virtually everything I write to help grow traffic to a website will start from the perspective of answering a question. But I’ve spent a long time researching word count in different industries – different industries have different levels of competition, so it’s important to use the relevant word count for an industry – but longer word counts mean the answers can be buried in loads of content. Direct answers need the answers there and then, often straight at the top of the content, generally in bullet point form. So what’s the point of often thousands of keywords in the rest of the post? I’ll leave that one hanging….

We also can’t assume that we know the types of questions people will ask their voice assistants. In 2019 I intend to run a number of workshops where I’ll be getting people to ask questions through voice assistants and later see how they would try to find the same content through traditional search queries, before comparing the outputs.

I speculate how this will change the way we create content. I do wonder if we are about to see a return of short form content. For a long time, long-form content has been seen as the go-to standard for SEO. But, if voice search is going to grow, those long-form pieces will largely become irrelevant to this technology.

I’ve often thought that the era of content proliferation isn’t good for Google either. The amount of content that’s being produced is more expensive for Google to deal with because it takes more servers and more electricity to power those servers, and more brain power to come up with ways to differentiate between the content.

Over many years, I’ve heard the phrase SEO is dead, and the voice search revolution is another one of those occasions in which search marketers are pulling their hair out and worrying about their futures. But I think this will simply add another level of complexity rather than killing off traditional search. If you think about the way people consume media and find information, it’s far easier and quicker to read and skim through reams of copy than it is to watch someone speak on a video at their speed – or have a voice assistant read the contents of a web page.

I try to write conversationally and I encourage all of GrowTraffic’s customers to develop their own unique conversational tone of voice. I believe this is going to become more important as we go forward with voice search, as it will make the delivery of copy through voice assistants, more accessible. I’m confident it will also help content to rank better in the future (and possible for the same reason).

I remember when mobile phone use started to change the way we search. Increasingly, we saw people searching for things “near me” and content became increasingly localised, as did the search results. These days Google suggests voice search is having a similar impact on the way we search for things with people asking more personal questions, with queries including “for me” becoming increasingly important.

Embracing AI For SEO

Google has been using machine learning and AI for years, so it makes sense that we need to get our heads around this technology sooner rather than later. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been toying with using automation and machine learning in some of our SEO processes – with varying degrees of success.

Google’s machine learning framework is called RankBrain and this is going to become more and more important. This is especially important if you consider some of the technological trends discussed above, which will see fewer results having more importance. Google is going to have to get even better at understanding intent and delivering on the nail results.

Content marketing for SEO is going to grow in importance but SEOs are going to have to get better at producing strategically important content rather than simply creating content to demonstrate freshness and increase relevancy. But I can’t help thinking we’re heading towards the much-fabled content crush, in which content marketing will become too expensive for most businesses based on the returns and only larger brands will be able to get in on the act. If you’re worried about this, remember to increasingly create content now that covers pain points and interests of your customers.

At GrowTraffic we advocate implementing a content marketing approach to SEO and I’d suggest if you’re speaking to any SEO consultant they should be able to give you a good steer on how to grow your traffic through content. Many still can’t.

One of the things we hope to achieve with a content marketing strategy is backlinks. Google’s unique ranking factor has always been based on hyperlinks and I don’t expect this to be replaced anytime soon. It never fails to surprise me how many links there are out there for a website owner if they are prepared to go out and look for them.

I always advise not to get too hung up on dofollow and nofollow links and I think the distinction will become increasingly less important in the coming years. There are now lots of examples where page one rankings can found to have 100% nofollow links pointing back at them, which demonstrates that Google looks at links in a way that isn’t solely fixed on the old PageRank model. It makes sense though, all those links coming in from social media and from paid advertising are being seen an often crawled by Google and they must be indications to Google that a website is being actively marketed – and therefore is probably of value.

This is also important when you think about the role of guest posts as a link building strategy. More and more high profile websites are pulling back from offering guest blog – or at least non-curated guest posts – and even those that do allow guest post are generally only allowing nofollow links. On GrowTraffic, we’re prepared to let people add guest posts, but we have a very strict guest post policy. We only allow links that genuinely add relevance to the reader and I find these are normally links to articles on other people’s websites. You’d be surprised how many people don’t provide content when I tell them they aren’t going to get a link to their homepage or product/services page!

SEO Is About Marketing – So Build A Brand!

Although I’m an SEO consultant, first and foremost I’m a marketer. I’ll argue to everyone who’ll listen that SEO should always be approached with the brand in mind. I’ve had over 15 years working in marketing and a lot of that time I’ve headed up various marketing functions, so you may say: “well you would say that wouldn’t you?!” In fact, when people approach me about SEO and I start talking about their brand many people start to switch off. But I won’t work on your SEO if I don’t think your brand has what it takes.

A good brand is going to create a load of user signals that are going to help you outrank your competitors. Google has been talking about this for a great many years. But these days that brand isn’t just about press releases and reviews on review sites, it’s going to be about mentions in videos and podcasts as well – think about this as a new type of citation or a different type of currency in the link building world.

Long gone are the days in which businesses built lots of different websites and microsites to rank for various types of searches. These days, businesses increasingly recognise the importance of concentrating on their own website and their web presence, but it’s interesting that many businesses – especially smaller businesses – consider brand building to be something carried out by larger businesses.

One of the things that a good brand will impact on is CTR from the SERPs. Increasing your brand will increase your click through rate and this will help you maintain/grow your rankings and this has to be a good thing when Google is actively reducing the number of organic clicks it’s driving, in order to increase the proportion of paid clicks (this makes sense when you think there are fewer ads on mobile and who knows how they will monetise voice…).

In 2019, you’re therefore going to have to review your expectations of what kind of search volumes you’re able to receive. Before localised search became a thing one website could receive all the traffic for one search term. With personalisation and localisation, this has hugely changed already. With voice search and Google’s attempts to deliver curated content and clicks only to paid ads, expect your organic traffic to go down further.

Focus on Click Through Rates to develop your user experience and you won’t go far wrong in attaining and maintaining the rankings you’re looking for. My experience with search marketing hasn’t been simply restricted to organic search and it’s through my experience with PPC management that I recognise the importance of click through rate optimisation and it’s something I’ve always carried over into the SEO consultancy work I carry out.

I believe SERP click through rate is one of the lesser used user signals. Most marketers and SEO consultants are well versed in bounce rates, time on site and average pages per session but I still speak to people who don’t know how to use click through rate for SEO.

But don’t fall for those who tell you that user signals are more important than links. So far, this isn’t the case although it may change in the future.

There are always going to be some ways in which we can benefit from changes to algorithms and I think we need to keep up to speed with those changes but everyone needs to increasingly see SEO as an integral part of any business’ marketing strategy, which is linked to content, brand building as well as optimisation of user signals, viewed through the prism of all the different devices people use to search for content.

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Simon Dalley is a marketing professional with over 16 years of experience. He is the founder and a director of GrowTraffic.

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