Between 2010-2015 the SEO industry went from being seen as a shady backroom box of tricks to a leading and essential marketing channel, driven by data, trends and user behavior statistics.
With ongoing changes Google kept SEO agencies, freelancers and internal teams on their toes by releasing update after update to hone and shape not only what they want search results to look like, but how they want us to act and work within them. This included the once-famed Penguin Update, aimed at webspam and link building practices, supposedly impacted around 0.1% of searches when originally launched, but went on to shape the importance of positive link building, utilization of tools and data and birthed job roles around SEO content strategy while strengthening the importance of content marketing.
Long term with the development of RankBrain and (perceived) closer to real-time algorithm changes, more core updates on a regular basis and the journey through ‘Content is King’ to UX – SEO has become theorized in some sense, with many of us having our own opinions and approaches to the same end result.
As we’ve reached 2020 we have in some parts see new developments from Google slow down, with the company’s focus seemingly on updating reporting suites and core updates that offer little more than ‘an improvement to search results’. We’re no longer beholden to the next big Penguin or Panda updates, but more to the inner workings of Google and sporadic updates to its Search Quality Guidelines – with this in mind, what exactly can we expect from SEO in 2020? Adhering to Google guidelines becomes harder, or easier?
We all know how SEO works and many of us will have specialisms or approaches to SEO we feel get results quicker, but with vague updates and unannounced tweaks to algorithms, is it becoming harder to adhere to Google’s guidelines?
Certainly, the unpredictability is a factor at times – with the recent updates to search guidelines on YMYL and E-A-T being announced, there’s a perception the goalposts are moving ever so slightly, every so often.
This means that if you’re scoring just inside the post on Monday, you might be wide of the mark by a fraction on Tuesday. For websites where the SEO team is at the mercy of web development or other factors outside of their control, this can prove a challenge.
Of course, any SEO agency or specialist worth their weight in gold will be able to outline and approach any issues with a solution in hand.
The flipside to this is, however, is that we all have a clear idea of what a good website looks like and what is going to rank page 1 for chosen keywords. With guideline updates, an industry that shares knowledge like no other and a focus on developing strategies that are future proof, there is no reason for every update to send SEO campaigns spiraling.
In 2020, we predict that the next wave of guidelines will be released, and our prediction is these again will be focusing on trust and authority – not a million miles away from where we’ve been for the last few years.
Actioning and adhering to search quality guidelines
Google Search Quality Guidelines regularly update – these guidelines reflect how Google wants you to work within a website and the process the search engine’s algorithm will take to evaluate the relevance of the website for keyword usage.
These guidelines take into account:
- E-A-T – The Expert, Authority, Trust of the website in relation to the target subject
- Page Quality – How the page is laid out, how it works and whether it has the user’s best interests at heart
- Needs Met – Factors around whether the page ANSWERS the needs of the query
The page quality is assessed to identify where the text is placed, the wording used, content used and the quality of the content.
Google’s most recent updates put E-A-T elements at the heart of the Page Quality section of its guidelines, based on industry and type of product.
The blanket approach, and the actions needed to adhere to (or in fact exceed) Google guidelines are that the page should be “more specific than the query, but would still be helpful for many or most users because” the company is reputable in the area.
Top nine factors content managers should audit for on-page SEO
|Element to Optimise||Definition|
|Landing Page URL||URL of the landing page (after the website name)|
|Meta Title||This is the blue link that shows in Google|
|Meta Description||The text that shows under the blue link in search results – to draw a user to click|
|Heading 1 Tag||A title that shows at the top of a page|
|Heading 2 / 3 Tags||Additional titles which are placed within the content of a page|
|Content||The physical content on the page needs to meet particular criteria|
|Keyword Density||The percentage of keywords to total text ratio on a page|
|Images||The size, name, and title of an image on the page|
|Internal Links||Links which point to other pages on the website|
Dependence on technical SEO reduced but is still important
Technical SEO has been on the rise for a number of years but the buzz behind it has somewhat plateaued in the last 12 months or so – although it is still essential to audit from a technical perspective regularly. Traditionally, technical SEO would include web structure, speed, hosting and so on – with JSON, mark up and structured tagging following on from this.
Across client bases we’ve seen the need for technical SEO regularly drop by just under 50%, with wider-ranging audits, working with web development on new site builds and regular crawls on health being the norm. Working in this way allows for time to be split effectively across multiple areas of SEO and better use of budget. Education on the technical aspects client-side also means SEO agencies and professionals can focus time elsewhere.
Within semi-regular technical SEO audits, there are some core elements to check, all of which will help identify issues and improve the technical performance of a website, without impacting the day-to-day of search marketing.
Top eight factors you should audit for technical SEO
|Element to Optimise||Definition|
|Web structure and URL Structure||Essentially the folders in use website is built|
|HTTPS/SSL||Security for customers or users visiting the site|
|HTML Build||Code-behind core elements of a website|
|Schema / JSON||Code that allows websites to send additional information to search engines|
|Server Speed||The speed in which servers respond to requests from users|
|Sitemaps/Robots||Used by Google to crawl websites|
|Accessibility||Are all pages able to be found|
2020 and beyond
As always, Google is likely to throw a couple of curveballs – However, the SEO industry is coming of age again and it’s no longer an area of expertise that “anybody” can have a go at. There’s a need to understand the market of your clients, their customers, their collateral and the demands of Google to achieve success. Following clear structure, regular audits and systematic approaches will allow all of the above to be achieved.
Keith Hodges, Head of Search at POLARIS, is an SEO expert with over eight years’ experience in the industry.
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