At this time of year, nearly every SEO blog has an article which lists the top predictions for the coming year. Whilst it’s always helpful to be aware of trends and prepare for changes in the industry, many of these posts can often hype up their likely impact.
This can lead many web owners to panic and think that they need to make huge, significant changes to their websites or the way they’re currently conducting campaigns.
While it’s true that SEO is a continuously evolving beast, I wanted to debunk some of the hype around the biggest predictions for 2020 and get to the core of what it really means for you in practical terms.
Voice Search: Why it’s not as Critical as you Might Think
Many blogs are predicting a huge trend in the use of Voice Search this year, some even going as far as to say that it will “dominate” SEO in 2020. This isn’t really anything new, as it’s been one of the big predictions for the past couple of years. So, what is voice search, what are the statistics around it and should SEO’s really be optimising for it?
What is Voice Search?
Voice Search involves using a spoken command to retrieve the information you want from search engines. There are two types of voice search, each differing in their type of output. Only one of these, however, is relevant to SEO:
Type 1: When a user chooses to use spoken voice commands as opposed to typing a query into Google. This is treated as a normal web search, the data of which will be collected in Google Search Console, so SEO as normal.
Type 2: When a user chooses to use a spoken voice command in order to receive a spoken answer. This is the case with many smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa. These searches are not logged in Google Search Console and have very little relation to SEO.
This means that regardless of whether the uptake for voice search increases, the game stays virtually the same for SEOs.
Voice Search Statistics
One of the most common predictions you’ll see about voice search is that “in 2020, 50% of all search queries will be conducted via voice”. This is a huge statement, reiterated by many recent blog posts and one which would get most web owners jumping into action, developing strategies to optimise for all the users now using voice as their preferred search method.
So, what’s the reality?
Context is always the key to these things. The prediction above was made by the Chief Scientist of Baidu (Baidu not being a market leader for voice search), Andrew Ng back in 2014.
How he came to the figure of 50% remains a mystery, but what we do know is that this hasn’t come to fruition. Over the past 6 years since the prediction was first made, there has been no major revolution in voice search and SEO’s haven’t had to dramatically change their strategies.
That’s not say that voice search isn’t important and that the number of people using it won’t increase, but it shouldn’t be treated with the urgency that this stat makes it out to be.
How Should I Optimise my Site for Voice Search?
There are a lot of recommendations out there about what steps you should take in order to fully optimise your site for voice search, however many of them can be misleading.
Ultimately, if you’re following SEO best practices, have thoroughly conducted your keyphrase research and have a website which is designed so that the information contained within it is both useful and easily accessible, then there’s nothing further that you need to do.
BERT: Don’t Believe all the Hype
In 2019, Google launched its latest algorithm updated called BERT.
BERT is a pre-trained natural language processing (NLP) model which essentially provides Google with a richer understanding of language, therefore helping it to better understand search queries.
The example provided by Google is the search query ‘2019 brazil traveller to USA need a visa’. Before the BERT update, Google didn’t understand the meaning of the phrase and returned results relating to U.S. citizens travelling to Brazil.
After the update, however, Google understood the importance of the word ‘to’ and instead returned much more relevant results. This means that Google is now able to better comprehend the user’s intent behind a given search query, rather than just the face value.
When BERT was first announced there was a significant buzz, with many saying that it would totally change the SEO landscape. While it’s true that Google is now better at understanding user intent, it is still a long way from understanding language in the same way that us humans can, so panic not!
What Does Google BERT Mean for SEO?
BERT is an algorithm update which SEO professionals just cannot optimise for.
There are, however, a lot of recommendations out there about how to better optimise your site for search intent by creating content focused on user’s needs. While this is all very good and crucial advice, understanding the customer journey and user needs should not be seen as something new for 2020.
Instead, the introduction of BERT should only cement the hard work that SEOs have been doing for years, to ensure that sites provide quality, relevant, unique and engaging content, throughout the whole of the customer journey (if this isn’t the case then why would users want to visit your site).
So, if you’re doing it right, BERT now just makes it even more likely that your site will be found for increasingly relevant search queries. Huge bonus!
Zero-click Searches: Do They Really Mark the End of SEO?
There’s a lot of talk about how zero-click searches are going to be a major threat to SEO over the coming months and years with many doomsayers marking it as the demise of SEO altogether.
While it’s true that the number of zero-click searches has increased (and are likely to increase further), there are still ways to get value from them as well as finding opportunities in other areas.
What is a Zero Click Search?
A zero-click search occurs when a user receives the answer they were looking for directly from the search result page rather than having to click on any of the links.
The most common of these are things like ‘weather in …’ or ‘what’s the time in …’. When these types of searches are performed, the user will be presented with a featured snippet at the very top of the results which displays the answer. Job done.
Why Are Zero-click Searches Going to Impact SEO?
Google is all about providing users with easier access to the right information and so supplying a direct answer to a search query isn’t a bad thing. What SEO pros are worried about is the ever-increasing number of direct answers, which therefore results in less opportunity for sites to get click-throughs from the SERPs.
Currently, less than half of Google searches result in a click. This is a striking figure, however, it doesn’t mark the death of SEO. Instead, search marketers need to find ways of getting value from zero-click searches as well as seeking out new opportunities.
What Can Be Done to Mitigate the Effects of Zero-click Searches?
First and foremost, it’s important to see the value in featured snippets and not write them off. Think of them as a brand awareness opportunity. If you can do it by answering a unique question your customers are asking, then it’s an opportunity worth taking.
You might not gain a direct click-through from the SERPs, but if you have a lot of impressions for a featured snippet, then people are going to remember you and are therefore more likely to visit your site or contact you at a later date.
Look into other avenues e.g. those keywords whose results have higher CTR opportunity. Open-ended questions still rely on having a variety of answers available, so even if a featured snippet is included within the results, one answer will not be sufficient and so there’s still plenty of SEO opportunity here.
Rather than being the death of SEO, zero-click searches are just another opportunity for SEOs to be more strategic, focused and holistic in their approach, which isn’t a bad thing.
So what next?
It’s vital to keep up to date with what’s going on in SEO. It’s a fast-paced industry and things are changing all the time. SEO predictions certainly have their place, and I for one am an avid reader when I see one.
That being said, SEO today should be conducted in much the same way as traditional marketing, taking into account the full customer journey and not just instant conversions and quick wins.
If your strategy is aligned with this and focuses on fulfilling your customer needs with engaging and quality content, then you’ll be in the best position to not only survive future changes but to take full advantage of them.
We help a range of businesses across B2B and B2C industries with their Digital and Search performance, helping them to achieve results and thinking about SEO predictions and the likes of BERT etc. for them.
If you’re looking for an experienced pair of hands, get in touch. We’d love to chat and show you what we can do!