The Future of SEO in 2019

It’s been over twenty years since Google launched. Now they dominate North American web search and brands optimize their websites to come to the top of Google’s search engine results. Over a decade has passed since the last major shift in search engine optimization (SEO) began with the addition of mobile internet for consumers.

The future of SEO is NOW.

8% of North Americans use the internet. If you’re a North American business, your clients are searching online. Today, new products have hit the consumer market that brings changes to how people search and use the web, much like the explosion of mobile technology did.

The landscape that challenges search engines today involves:

  • Understanding user intent
  • When local content should take precedent
  • Navigating fraudulent websites
  • Fine-tuning speech search and respond technologies
  • Supporting emerging artificial intelligence and machine learning

Here are some things to think about, in no particular order, to make your website ready for the future of SEO in 2019.

  1. Authenticity & Security
  2. Two women facing security camera above mounted on structure
    Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

    The web has always been subject to shady businesses and lies. With over 1.8 billion websites, the web is bound to attract things like thieves, fake news, damning evidence, and conspiracy theories. Search engines attempt to deliver trust-worthy content in a search result void of thieves and fakes. There is no noble reason for this. It’s simply so users will continue to choose to use and trust them so they can continue to make heap loads of money off advertising, data mining, and products.

    If you own a business and a website for that business, chances are your customers are searching on Google. So, you’ll want to ensure your website and brand come across online as trustworthy and legit in order to show up in a search.

    Most web browsers (including Google Chrome) now pop up a warning if a website is deemed “insecure” by their standards. Usually this means there is no SSL certificate (which is a way to encrypt your website), or internet security programs like McAfee deems it unsafe for malware, etc.

    Google can go so far as to scan everywhere links to your website show up online or how your brand is mentioned. All that could add up to ranking your website higher or lower in a search result depending on how authentic your brand appears online.

    Don’t worry, the good news is there’s lots you can do to make sure your brand shows up online authentically and secure.

    What to focus on to improve Authenticity & Security for your website and brand

    • Ensure you have an SSL certificate and the HTTPS is properly set up for your website
    • Consider a .ca domain if you’re a Canadian site and register with the CIRA
    • Make a clear choice for www or non-www, .ca or .com, and other variations of your domain. Establish any necessary redirects to the appropriate domain choice and update your links across the web with the version you’ve chosen
    • Check up on how your host provider has set up their servers and hosting. Where are the servers located? Are you on shared hosting? What kind of firewalls do they provide? If your servers aren’t located in your country of business, consider switching providers. If you’re Canadian, I recommend Websavers (this is an affiliate link, but I use Websavers regularly and it’s run by a nice couple of Canadian guys out on the East coast).
    • Utilize what I like to call “brand boosters” on the web. These are platforms that use verification methods to authenticate a brand and are cracking down on fakes. Those include Facebook (currently cracking down on fakes since getting called out after the 2016 US Presidential election), Yelp, BBB, Google Business Page, Bing Business Page, Trip Adviser, etc. Do the ones that make sense for your business. If it’s a social media account, you’ll want to post at least a few times per week on topics within your industry.
    • NEVER buy inbound links or work with SEO agencies or freelancers who purchase inbound links or do shady SEO practices like mass-link building.
    • Continue to build quality, authentic links for your website with trusted and reputable website owners and brands.
  3. Mobile First
  4. women using mobile phones
    Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

    It seems ridiculous that talking about “mobile” websites still makes it on a list talking about the future of SEO in 2019 when mobile access to the internet has been around for over 10 years.

    Man whose is expressing that his mind is blown with fireworks

    The reality is that not everyone has caught up, even with a decade of warning. An independent study in 2016 from Dave Sloan at www.bigtalker.io found only 30% of small businesses have mobile-friendly websites (I’m blown away by that number!) I recently did a survey among a group of businesses in a particular industry, and found less than half had websites, and about a third of those with websites weren’t mobile responsive.

    In 2017 Google made the official move to rank mobile-friendly websites higher in search results using a mobile device. This is largely due to the increase number of searches and traffic to websites coming solely from mobile devices, a rising trend that is not slowing down.

    But there’s a difference between “mobile-friendly” and “mobile first”. Mobile friendly is simply the ability for your website to resize to various screen sizes, including your cell phone and tablet. Mobile first is designing your website with the assumption that most of your visitors will be using their phone to view and interact with your website. And that’s a fair assumption to make because over 52% of global internet usage is accessed through mobile devices and that number is growing.

    Why do search engines care if your website is optimized for the mobile viewer? Well, users look to search engines like Google to make the best recommendation in their search query. If Google serves back a website that is hard to read, takes a long time to load, or is littered with pop ups, then the user becomes frustrated and the implication is that Google has made a bad recommendation. Over time, deliver enough bad content and people will stop trusting Google as the source for their answers.

    The solution for Google becomes: make a link recommendation that has the answer to the user’s query AND is something they can read and navigate through.

    What to focus on to make your website Mobile First

    • Decrease the load time of your website on mobile. Compress images, get rid of image sliders (no one likes them anyway and they junk up your load times), minimize extra scripts and stuff that needs to load.
    • Maximize your impact in that first impression on mobile device by having the important content above the fold.
    • Ensure your website is mobile friendly. Visit Google’s mobile friendly check and implement their suggestions.
    • Make sure you don’t have a pop-up on mobile because it blocks the content.
    • As friends or clients if they find your website easy to use and navigate on their mobile devices.
  5. Voice Services & Artificial Intelligence (A.I.)
  6. White toy robot
    Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

    Siri, your mobile phone, TV’s, Google Home, Alexa…. you know those little devices you talk into and ask it what time it is or to turn on your favorite show. This network of voice activated devices the key players like Amazon and Google are creating will be the basis of A.I. learning and is the precursor to consumer A.I. and home robotic technologies.   

    Artificial intelligence would be the ultimate version of Google. The ultimate search engine that would understand everything on the web. It would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing.

    LARRY PAGE, CEO OF ALPHABET

    They are run by programs which are called bots. Your website needs to be interpreted these bots. They need to understand the layout, including things like like what is a heading vs a quote and they distinguish content on the page that is unrelated from the main content (like an ad or sidebar). As a human, you interpret a “heading” or “quote” through your eyes using style clues. Big, bold sentence above a paragraph is a heading. But a bot sees everything in writing. They don’t assume a big, bold sentence above a paragraph is a heading, it is formatting that tells it whether it’s a heading.

    Eventually digital ads on websites will read aloud by a machine. Imagine asking your robot (or Google Home) to read you the latest news over your cup of coffee in the morning. They’ll interrupt with “this weather report was brought to you by (product or brand)”. It will only be able to do that if sections of your website and on a web page are properly formatted and it will choose websites that are properly formatted over those that aren’t.

    The information on your website is searched and delivered using a bot and needs to be scanned, understood, and read aloud from code and formatting. The winners in the search results will be those that are optimized to do all that.

    What to focus on to accommodate Voice Services & A.I.

    • Content that sounds conversational and natural when read aloud.
    • Impeccable HTML markup. Don’t style something on your post or page to be a “Heading” if it’s not actually a heading. Stop this. If you’re using markup like “heading” simply because you want something to appear bigger or bolder – you’re confusing the bots that are trying to read and understand your website content. Take your HTML markup very seriously from here on out and take advantage of HTML5 and CSS3 for properly coding your website. Watch a short YouTube or take a crash course training if you need, in order to better understand HTML markup if you’re responsible for adding any content to your website.
    • Use microdata from Schema.org. It came about because there was a need to clarify what certain content was. For example, the word “Avatar”. It could be the movie Avatar or refer to a profile image for a user. With microdata, your website can clarify which it is. This is particularly helpful for websites that use recipes because it can identify to the voice device what is an ingredient, instructions, or cooking time, etc. If you want to see this in action and you have Google Home, ask it to provide you with a recipe for something. What you’re hearing is microdata in action behind the scenes.
    • Use lists where it makes sense for your content. In a short study we conducted here at Geek Unicorn about a year ago, voice search was around 30% more likely to pull back a list in response to a query.
    • Fill in the Alt Text for your images. Have you ever wondered what the Alt Text is for when you’ve added an image to your blog post? It’s the text that will show in place of the image if the image didn’t display for any reason. This makes it of paramount importance to voice search or A.I. that are using bots to scan images on the web because they’ll use that to confirm the image matches the content on the page.
  7. User Intent & Local Content
  8. People at an outdoor street market
    Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

    User intent is understanding what the person visiting your page is after. Is it a how-to, are they ready to buy, are they just doing some research? Search engines and voice services on the market today work hard to interpret the intent of the person when performing a search.

    As a website owner, you should tailor your page content and formatting to line up with intent in order to rank higher in searches. For example, if it’s the search query is “how do I (blank)” then consider using an order list to mark out the steps. If the intent is to buy something, you’ll want to have lots of positive reviews on the product page.

    Location plays a big part, especially in service-based businesses. If you searched for a “plumber”, you’re not going to get back plumbers in another city – you’ll see those that are in your local area. Besides business related searches, I think that local content will become more important in the future in a effort to minimize financial bias against sites that are producing great content but don’t have the resources to invest in marketing or building a huge audience. Google may even start to serve content from your neighbors and local services in order to make better connections. There’s nothing that gets people more excited than connection online. If you search for “school lunch ideas”, then a search result that includes your local Parent Council article about “the best school lunches” makes sense. You’re more likely to be satisfied with that post because you recognize the author or it connects you to your neighborhood.

    What to focus on for User Intent and Local Content

    • Choose the right format for you page based on the intent of the user. For example, lists are great for how-to content.
    • Get a Google Business Page. Those are designed to serve business information when the intent is to find a particular service or store.
    • Have reviews enabled on your products and ask satisfied clients to leave a review on the product page. When the intent is to buy, a 5 star product will likely be higher on a search than a product on someone else’s website with no reviews.
    • Use Schema.org to add address data to your website to tag it to a particular city/country. Even if you consider yourself an international company, tagging your offices is a good idea to help with local search.
  9. Brand Presence
  10. Woman holding steering wheel while driving.
    Photo by Logan Fisher on Unsplash

    Brand presence is everywhere your brand and/or website is mentioned online. Whether the site and content that mentions your brand is good or bad, it is all considered and weighted for or against choosing your web page to make it to the top of a search result.

    Inbound links will start to take a back seat in favor of general brand presence/mentions across the internet. This may be controversial, since inbound links (aka backlinks or referral links) are part of the foundation to how search engines determined rank back in the day. Think of inbound links like an editorial vote. The more inbound links, the more votes to be crowned the most popular. But the significance of inbound links in determining rank is what lead to its downfall. For years, people looking to improve their SEO would solicit inbound links from anywhere. This led to a lot of fake websites set up and maintained with the sole purpose of farming inbound links. You could pay someone to populate thousands of inbound links for your website to make your site appear to be popular. It’s a bit like stuffing the ballot box with fake entries to win a prize.

    Basically, if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that.

    GARY ILLYES, WEBMASTER TRENDS ANALYST

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m NOT suggesting you stop inbound link building. It is still important for SEO. I said they’ll start to take a back seat to SEO, that doesn’t mean they’re out of the car. I want to point out that it has been a controversial method for ranking websites and inbound links will continue to shift into a less-important role as SEO methods and the complexity of data aggregation, across the web as a whole, improves.

    It’s no secret that search engines like Google weighs the value or quality of links to combat the strategy of website owners investing in huge quantities of inbound links regardless of the quality or source. Now Google and other search engines have gone a step further, to focus on brand mentions which does not require a link back to a website (aka inbound link). It’s kind of the way real conversations and influence works. This means you need to take a holistic approach to how your brand shows up online, not just straight up link building.

    What to focus on as well as Inbound Links

    • Think of all the places your brand can be mentioned as an authority in your industry.
    • Continue to build quality inbound links for your website.
    • Find places on social media networks where your brand can be mentioned that aren’t self-owned channels. For example, hosting a contest with another Facebook Page can lead to spreading your brand name around.
    • Continue to create great content that is easily shareable and buzz worthy.
    • Continue to build your social media networks.
    • Get listed on web pages for directories, associations, speaking gigs, and organizations that line up with your brand and business.

Well, there you have it. Drop a comment below to tell us your ideas for tackling the future of SEO this year.

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About the Author

Rachel Di

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Rachel is the owner of Geek Unicorn. She helps women-led businesses elevate to a professional playing field by creating brands and websites that stand out online, like a Unicorn in a field of horses. On top of that, she's a shameless sharer of knowledge and loves to give away her best web design, branding, and SEO tips.