SEO Iceberg: The Changing Shape of Organic Search Results in 2019
Just like an iceberg, the SEO landscape is constantly changing shape. Fragments melt away and collisions with new technology and other digital channels reshape the whole structure.
We first charted these changes in 2014, when we signalled the end of guest blogging, a move to quality over quantity of links and a shift from keyword led optimisation to creating thematic content that was naturally keyword rich.
In the years since, we’ve seen the overwhelming adoption of smartphones and dominance of mobile web searches shift our focus into technical and user experience considerations.
Conversations around site speed, Accelerated Mobile Pages and Mobile First Indexing began to rise to the surface, and we mapped those changes in our 2017 update.
But in 2019, where are the cracks appearing? Which previous priorities have melted away to be replaced by new developments? How is the heat from Google speeding up the changes that are taking place?
Say goodbye to these former SEO trends. We’ve added some handy tips to help adapt to the changes have taken place recently and keep pace.
Read this section whilst listening to:
Users and search engines alike are being turned away by sites which create content for content’s sake. It’s better to invest time creating high-quality content to answer a specific question or tackle a significant need, rather than focusing on including a particular keyword.
You’ll achieve better rankings, engage your users more and create a natural opening to provide your product and service. You might even be rewarded for your hard work with a click-attracting Quick Answer or Related Questions related snippet on SERPs (more on that later).
Single Channel Attribution
The days of a user searching using one or two keywords, clicking the top result in Google and converting there and then are over. It takes a village to win a sale and understanding a user’s purchase journey is key.
Are search results pages for your brand occupied with results that you control, or are you under threat from resellers? Are your products and services featured in top ranking results and lists of the best or recommended sections of your industry?
Does your organic strategy fit in with your paid media and social activity and how are you measuring what works and what should be improved?
SEO used to be about being in position 1 for the term which had the highest search volume at all costs. However, traffic does not necessarily equal enquiries or sales and can lead to irrelevant users and cripplingly low engagement rates.
Putting every resource into ranking for a single keyword can mean you’re overlooking opportunities to rank for more specific, better converting search terms.
In our experience it’s far better to optimise your content to pick up these smaller opportunities which, in turn, builds your authority for the big hitters.
Once heralded as a revolutionary way to browse the web and an unrivalled productivity tool, the tablet has seen dwindling market share and is far behind smartphone and desktop usage.
There are still a fw areas where having a tablet specific SEO strategy will pay off, such as accompanying TV advertising and “second screening”. But generally if your site is well set up for mobile you should be able to scoop up the dwindling tablet traffic too.
Grey Hat SEO
Grey Hat SEO is quite simply the grey area between legitimately improving your site’s technical health, links and content, and the frowned upon Black Hat SEO tactics. Using technically legal but frowned upon methods might be tempting for a short-term boost, but search engines are continuing to crack down on practices like buying links, creating content that only bots can see and purchasing traffic or fake social followers.
Algorithms continue to update to penalise this activity and social media platforms are under increasing scrutiny to crack down on fake accounts. If this currently forms part of your search marketing strategy, it’s time to think again
This category of factors are those changes that brands are forced to get on board with, like it or lump it. Knowing what’s coming can help prepare, so here are a few explanations of the unavoidable features that Google has brought in.
Read this section whilst listening to:
The New Google Search Console
Google Search Console, an essential part of any SEO or website owner’s toolkit, has undergone a gradual but dramatic transformation over the past 12 months.
As well as a new look and feel, there are several legacy features which are being dropped in favour of new ones. Things like the old Crawl Errors report and API, short and duplicated page titles reports, blocked resources reports, and some types of Structured Data reporting are on the way out.
Some of these are being reborn in different areas of the new platform, with the Index Coverage report accommodating crawl errors and Blocked Resource Data available in the URL inspection tool, but some are going for good.
It’s not all bad news though, as these changes mean that the Index Coverage and URL Inspection tools are gaining new functionality, along with updates to how users can be managed.
Sector-specific updates, including the Medic update
Although major algorithm updates like the Penguin link update are now happening in real time, Google is still doling out changes to their ranking factors every day.
Recently there have been updates targeting specific industries or brands, for example the “Medic” update – of which 40% of the overall impact was centred around the medical, health, fitness and healthy lifestyle space.
Other areas that saw big movement were jobs and recruitment boards and ecommerce sites with heavily sales-focussed content. Targeting sites with specific messaging is likely to continue as search engines battle to provide factual information rather than fake news.
Progressive Web Apps
Progressive Web Apps are a combination of traditional website and app technology designed to create a smoother web browsing experience. They offer all of the rich features of a traditional app such as a dedicated user interface, notifications and usage in areas of unreliable connectivity with none of the hassle of downloading and installing an app which takes up storage.
Google crawls these apps just like a normal mobile site and looks for the same key features like load speed, structured data and security. PWAs can enhance your mobile site and provide better engagement and return metrics than their online equivalents which is great news for SEO.
Use of Personal Data
With privacy developments such as GDPR, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the Right to be Forgotten, search engines and websites have to be more careful than ever to comply with new regulations.
Purging any Personally Identifiable Information, or PII from your website query strings and Google Analytics accounts is a must to avoid violating Google’s guidelines and having your GA data being removed in its entirety. Have a chat with our Insights team for more information.
CHANGES ON THE HORIZON
What’s moving out of obscurity and becoming key in the world of SEO? Where are the cracks beginning to show? These areas are factors to consider and get on board with now, to give you a head start on your competitors:
Read this section whilst listening to:
Artificial Intelligence and Semantic Search
Since 2016, most of Google’s search results have been delivered using a machine learning artificial intelligence system called “RankBrain”. This is programmed to work out the subtleties in a search query and provide the best possible answer.
Understanding the intent behind a search is a significant challenge for machines that don’t have human intuition to work out the correct usage of words with multiple meanings or words that are spelt the same but have different pronunciations and meanings. And when users type a search, it’s rare to use punctuation, so there’s added complexity to understanding a query in full.
By learning what specific things are and how they interrelate with each other, the RankBrain part of Google can then determine if your “jumper” query is for a sweater, a bungee enthusiast or the Sci-Fi film. This helps determine the kind of results served up – if it’s the sweater kind you’ll see lots of shopping results whereas the film contains more video listings.
As this becomes more sophisticated, take search volumes with a pinch of salt and make sure your content is written naturally.
Decline of User Generated Content
Google has recently announced that it turned off comments in one of its main communication channels, Webmaster Central. Comments were supposed to allow website owners and search marketers to gain clarification on Google updates and news but ended up being impossible to filter or monitor.
This step highlights the challenge faced by websites around the world who need to police comment boxes and social media platforms to make sure they’re not abused by spammers.
If Google themselves have given up, it’s likely more publishers will follow. So where should you focus your efforts to interact with users instead?
Product reviews and local services are becoming more prominent and responding to these should form part of your ecommerce and search strategy no matter your size.
As browsing habits change and devices become more sophisticated, audiences are not only using different smart devices at different times of day to fulfil different queries and tasks, but they’re starting to use devices simultaneously.
While second screening is already common, as users browse the internet whilst watching TV, there’s an increasing habit of using separate devices during the same browsing session. For example, somebody researching shoes or gifts on a work PC may then pick up their phone and search for the same item on a mobile to then WhatsApp or iMessage it to friends and family.
Where initial research at the top of the funnel has traditionally been performed on mobile devices, before a larger screen is used to complete the purchase, this is slowly turning on its head.
Ranking well for specific long tail terms on both devices and considering end-to-end search strategies including remarketing and paid social helps guarantee you stand out during the device switchover.
In fact, it’s the second most visited website in the world. YouTube videos are embedded on countless sites and appear in search results with an eye-catching freeze frame thumbnail of the content itself.
If your website is in a hard to explain area, your brand is in a very technical sector or a heavily product-oriented market, then video can tell the stories and describe concepts that written content can’t.
YouTube continues to gain popularity and many vloggers are also making the jump into more traditional forms of media and marketing like TV appearances and books. A successful video needs all the same hallmarks as traditional content to perform well. Using a video to answer a particular question along a specific topic or theme with keywords in mind helps target the right audience.
Optimising the video description and title also helps the video appear in results. Sharing it around by embedding it on your site and social media profiles as well as reaching out to relevant sources can maximise the value of your video.
New search engines
There are subtle changes afoot in people’s choice of search engine. With data privacy concerns on the rise, DuckDuckGo has been subtly gaining users with its promise of no tracking or ad targeting.
From less than 1 million searches in 2011, it has grown to 6 billion in 2017, roughly 20 million per day. Although this equates to just 0.2% of the entire search market, this is a high quality, switched on audience. And it’s also a growing audience.
As the search landscape becomes more global, there may be more relevant traffic supplied by China’s number one search engine, Baidu, as well.
This search engine has 14.3% of the global market, which is 3 times larger than Bing’s 4.46%.
Both Baidu and DuckDuckGo work on the same principles – understand your audience, create relevant content, make sure your site can be crawled and indexed by search engines and attract quality links.
With celebrities like Karlie Kloss endorsing the Wix.com content management system, Squarespace advertising prominently on hit podcasts and Google My Business allowing users to create their own website from their profiles, website platforms are becoming distinctive.
All-inclusive platforms like Shopify are disrupting the ecommerce marketplace and traditional CMS monoliths like Magento and WordPress have received major updates in recent times to keep up.
With this in mind, the subtle differences between the SEO priorities on each platform are becoming more distinctive too. Whereas some platforms cover key considerations like site speed out of the box, others focus more on making written content as prominent as possible. With differing site structures and plugins creating new challenges and possibilities, technical and content SEO is becoming more finessed between platforms.
The ecommerce giant keeps gaining momentum, and for 62% of users it is the starting point for a product search. 9 in 10 users will check Amazon to find out if a product is cheaper on there than the brand site.
Plus, with Echo and other Alexa devices in over 5 million households, Amazon scoops up 90% of voice revenue and keeps expanding into new areas.
Listing your products on Amazon and mastering their organic algorithm can be a brilliant way to promote your brand and guarantee revenue while your own website undergoes technical changes.
Audiences are looking for the same well researched content, relevant titles and unique descriptions as on your own site, with the added bonus of not being concerned about site speed.
How are wider marketing channels impacting organic search? Here’s what’s happening from an integrated perspective.
Read this section whilst listening to:
More than ever, organic results and paid strategies are offering something bigger than the sum of their parts when used in tandem.
Integrated search is the here and now and most search results will have an organically gained rich result, followed by several paid ads, a carousel or map feature which is predominantly organic and then the regular organic listings. This results landscape allows your brand to occupy multiple results on a page to make your site as prominent and possible and give audiences more than one opportunity to click.
Paying close attention to your assisted conversion data in Google Analytics, using paid Ads, Shopping data and campaigns to test and improve organic can be great ways to bring out the best in both channels.
With trust in companies at a low and cynicism high, online reviews are becoming increasingly significant. As well as bridging the gap between selecting a product and choosing to make the purchase, reviews help to answer queries and build a reputation based on ethics, trust and good customer service.
Reading a good review on a third-party site can help drive branded searches to your site. Search engines look for social proof and authority when to assess and categorise your site, and reviews can boost this. Having a 5-star local business profile or product rating can benefit your click-through rate too. Make sure you encourage reviews.
As shoppers tend towards a protracted awareness, consideration and decision route to purchase, the role of micro conversions is increasingly important.
Engaging users at the research stage to bookmark the site and then revisit on a desktop, emailing a copy of shopping carts, encouraging social media interaction and interacting with on-page content can all reinforce your site’s messaging and help things stick.
With this prior association, seeing your brand name again in later search results can attract clicks in abundance.
Some things are here to stay for the long term. With these 3 factors at the solid core of your site, you can be sure to keep your visibility intact whilst other things change shape around you. We’ve put together a few more guides to show you what you need to know.
- Well researched, long form content –
- High quality links –
- Mark Up –
If you’re keen to chat a bit more about the SEO changes your brand should be taking notice of, get in touch to speak to our organic search experts.