Wow – it’s that time of year again already? It’s cold outside, the sun is setting before I’ve finished my lunch break, Micheal Bublé has been awoken to take his wintery throne, and now it’s time to do the yearly SEO predictions roundup!
Forget Christmas; this is my favourite time of the year. The time of year where we can all speculate about what’s happening in the SEO world and where we think it’s heading in the next year.
This is a yearly tradition which has been a success for quite some time. I started this tradition in 2017, decided to do it again in 2018, and even checked back in to see if we were right about our previous predictions both years. (Turns out we’re usually pretty accurate, but when you throw 30 or so opinions at a wall, a few are bound to stick).
Anyway, pour a glass of EggNog, grab a mince pie, sit down by this alluring open fire and get relaxed… It’s time to read 25 expert opinions on how the SEO industry will stress us out in 2020. And then you can celebrate Christmas, I promise.
Matt Pyke – Founder & MD – Fly High Media
In 2020, I believe that rich snippets will continue to dominate search results. Search Engine Land reported that 49% of searches end up in no clicks, so the importance of schema markup data must continue to be in place. If you are not already creating video content, then you ought to be, as videos can be prioritised in organic search rankings. Using Twitter can also help with the visibility of your brand within search results as it can take priority over some organic listings. At Fly High Media, since we started creating YouTube content and using Twitter more, we saw a big increase in referral traffic to our website.
Stephen Kenwright – Co-Founder & Technical Director – Rise At Seven
More large companies will be fined for breaching the GDPR; the ICO will move in on Facebook and Google; plus Apple and Mozilla will continue to build on ITP…so targeting and personalisation will become more dangerous for companies that aren’t good at it. The result? Organic is going to look more and more lucrative in the marketing mix. 2020 will see an increased expectation that SEO is going to step up. We’ll need to make better use of other channels to drive organic performance and we’ll be asked to take a more prominent role in the decisions marketers are making about everything from web platforms to TV advertising campaigns.
Dave Elliott – Head of SEO – GiveMeSport
1) Every tech SEO I know has had ‘learn Python’ on their to-do lists for ages. Following great talks from remarkably clever SEOs, people, myself included, seem to have actually started learning it!
Python means progress will be made around user intent and how SERPS are constructed. These will probably change a bit as a result of BERT and the continuing rise of zero-click searches. This should lead to unique analyses and data sets with more customised analytics set-ups and less reliance on out-of-the-box tools and reports.
2) During last years Google I/O, quite a lot was made of AR in the SERPs but other than a fun afternoon of taking photos with my colleagues getting up-close and personal with a lion, this hasn’t come to much.
Next year I think the previously announced partners will start showing fully rendered trainers, mobile phones and planets straight from the SERPs and Google will announce and launch some sort of Shopping Ads extension that allows brands to add 3D models of products. AR features will change shopping carousels or product listings in the SERPs and push product-focused organic results further down the page while some AR features will be tied to knowledge panels.
3) In these articles, UX and page speed are often talked about, however, so many websites I used to visit have become virtually unusable in the past few years because of the placement, volume and intrusiveness of adverts. At GiveMeSport we took the step of dropping our advert count by two thirds for the benefit of our users. I expect that more brands will follow suit or face serious drops in both traffic and visibility.
Lorenzo Luiso – Founder & Digital Marketing Specialist – Brick Digital
First off… Voice search really won’t be as much of a threat to ‘traditional’ service business SEO as so many people make out.
Overall though, SEO is becoming a lot more user-centric and I can see in 2020, those sites that really don’t make their website worthy of links in both it’s design and usability will struggle to rank. This is more than just page speed, but overall user experience. With all the recent updates we’ve seen Google focussing on more of these ‘soft’ indicators over just links, for example search intent and relevancy has become a major factor hence why some less authoritative sites are able to rank highly, and that’s something I can see being more prevalent in 2020. Links will still be huge, as we all know, but sites that ignore these hints towards better user experience and the overall quality of their online presence, not only their website, will struggle to rank.
Carrie Rose – Co-Founder & Creative Director – Rise At Seven
Links in 2020 will become less about search and more about engagement. For years we have become heavily focused on the value of a link using metrics such as DA, page rank, followed/no-followed as measurement.
But in 2020, the responsibility will fall on SEOs to build links and media placements that drive traffic and push brand, not just links that help with search rankings. More and more we are seeing on-site content pieces being produced in order to drive back-links to client’s sites with topics that have very little relevance to the products or services. It means that links are being built to pass that all important “link juice” but when it comes to customers engaging further on site or with the brand, there’s very little connection.
SEO’s will need to start acting like brand marketers and creating content that drives wider engagement and brand affinity.
Ric Rodriguez – SEO Consultant – Yext
Information, graphs, knowledge and context:
By the end of the 2020s, search as a channel will look very different to how it does today – and this paradigm shift has already started. Consumers are being retrained to look for information in new ways, accelerated in the increasing speed to adoption of technology. The customer journey now starts with a question and if as a brand you don’t provide the answer, someone else will.
As search marketers, our focus must change from blue links to the information that sits “out there” about our businesses. With ranking being intrinsically transient (a voice device will learn and shape all future searches – for everyone – based on your response to “did I answer your question?”), we must look to shape the knowledge that underpins the results. This way, we can provide accurate, engaging experiences – on or off our site.
With BERT, search engines took a major leap forward. Expect customers to ask for things in new, more complex ways – and to blame the companies when they can’t find what they need (remember, 82% of information online is unverified). It’s time for brands to take back their truth, build their own knowledge graph and put this in the hands of answer engines – this is the new frontier of search.
Dan Rice – Marketing Manager/ Ideation & Research Specialist – I Am Dan Rice
We are going to see Google My Business become increasingly important in 2020. People are less likely to trust a company without a profile and Google intends to take full advantage of this and monetise it properly. This all means that having a Google My Business listing is becoming even more crucial for SEO and not just on a local level.
Once you are on board – you are frequently reminded to update your details, secure reviews for your company and post regular content. This isn’t just to make your profile look better. This all raises the significance of the platform to your business (not just your website) and is further rewarded by driving traffic to your site. Traffic which has been converting very nicely based on everything I’ve seen so far!
Google will build in improvements to the current ‘website’ functionality which presents terrible looking websites. I believe they will allow marketers to build pages that feel more like high-quality landing pages but sit on the GMB platform. This feels like a natural progression from selling products and services via pages, which they are already testing. If they do this well enough, it could reach the point where searchers no longer need to visit your website to make purchases from you before the end of 2020. With Google then taking a cut from the huge number of transactions it then manages for your business month after month.
Daniel Cuttridge – Founder – Pathtorch
The biggest thing I foresee changing in 2020 is an increased focus on content analysis vs production.
Content is abundant, there are reportedly over 4 million blog posts published per day… Does the web need more? Or does it need less that is more useful.
I think the answer to that is clear, and we’re starting to see the result. Most sites produce the majority of their results from a small percentage of their content.
For this reason I think instead of publishing more often, we will see the top brands continue to publish less often.
This will be so each article, can be optimized and promoted for maximum benefit.
I also think we’ll see an increased focus on updating existing content and removing old non-essential content.
Bottom-line here is that I think strategy and analysis will become more important than ever.
Daria Khmelnitskaya – SEO Specialist – SE Ranking
My guess is that Google will dramatically change it’s link algorithms.
First of all, the signals we’re sending out directly won’t be considered anymore. You can still use nofollow attributes and the disavow file, but they’ll be ignored. Google will no longer rely on our messy signals and is going to figure out what links to use on its own as it stated that “the majority of disavow files actually harm websites”.
On top of that, more and more junk links will be ignored. Google couldn’t have previously refused to discard the majority of junk links because there wouldn’t have been enough data to produce correct rankings. But now Google can take nofollow links into account, and, as a result, ignore more trash links without distorting the link graph.
Giorgio Cassella – Technical SEO Specialist – Evoluted
As a technical SEO, there are two trends that I foresee developing further throughout 2020.
First, I anticipate a few new structured data types to be supported for rich results and SERP enhancements following the arrival (and overuse!) of How-To and FAQ schema in May this year, and the deprecation of Corporate Contact and self-serving review markup. In particular, I expect to see markup used in a similar way to the Google Jobs experience – surfacing content that is already being pulled together by the various aggregators who are starting to dominate most industries.
These sites are already collating all the information Google needs for rich results. Previous behaviours suggest that to remain competitive aggregators would very quickly implement any markup required to gain an edge in SERPs – even if that meant handing a lot of traffic potential over to Google. The real estate, banking and automotive dealer industries are ripe for this, with extensive schema hierarchies already documented.
Second, I expect to see tasks that would typically require deep technical expertise or developer support to become more easily accessible to non-technical SEOs. The cutting edge will still rely on tools like Python for custom solutions, however Screaming Frog’s recent update to enable anyone to perform Lighthouse reports at scale clearly indicates a shift towards accessibility and UX that I’m 100% in favour of.
George Papatheodorou – SEO Consultant – GeorgePapatheodorou.com
With that being said, the biggest change to SEO in 2020, IMHO, is going to be the growth of voice search.
With 40% of Google Home results coming from featured snippets already, here’s how you’ll get into Google’s featured snippet spot and dominate voice search:
1. Focus on long-tail keywords – even more important nowadays following BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) update in late September 2019. Whenever you create a piece of content, think about the questions that your readers have and how they ask them. Those are the phrases you should aim for.
2. Make sure your title tags and headers ask the exact question as the keyword search. If your article is “The Ultimate Guide to Losing Weight in 2020” and you want your snippet to answer the question “How to Lose Belly Fat?” then make that your title tag – which doesn’t have to be the same as your headline. Then repeat the question in your first header and immediately answer it.
3. Answer the question succinctly. The average paragraph length in a featured snippet is 40-60 words, so make sure to answer your keyword question as clearly and succinctly as possible.
4. Page speed, https over http, social engagement, word count and reading difficulty are a few other factors that help determine who gets the coveted spot. These are good strategies to use when creating new content, but it’s also a great idea to go back and optimise older, evergreen pieces of content. Again, think of the main question that each article answers, and optimise for that.
Branding gives you authority and trust, two things that search engines look at when determining where your content is ranked – remember E-A-T?. Use several different platforms for your marketing (blogs, social media and podcasts, videos etc) and build your brand awareness also giving Google more brand links to index.
Joe Turbin – SEO Executive – Bulldog Digital Media
Looking forward to SEO in 2020, I believe the diversity of content is going to become a bigger factor than it currently is. Having a range of content including blog posts, information pages, videos, image galleries etc. are becoming increasingly important because of the different ways people prefer to take in information. This is geared towards improving the accessibility for website users. I also believe that social engagement will progress to being an important aspect of Google SEO for businesses. Being able to provide easily digestible content is so crucial when operating on social media platforms. I believe that showing that you are actively engaged with your community could be positively rewarded for good business practice.
Jack Withey – Global Head Of Search – De Beers Group
It sounds obvious but I think Google will go even further with ensuring the most useful and human-friendly content pieces and pages perform best. The adoption of BERT, the continued improvement of AI and the growth of snippets used for voice search leads me to believe that Google are working hard to better discern the context of words in search queries and long-tail questions, and then providing content in a form that is desired by the user.
I expect to see more videos, podcasts and visuals popping up in the SERP’s in 2020 in order to feed user intent.
With this in mind, it’ll be important for brands to create ‘complete content’ that answer users’ questions and also relevant/tertiary questions in an easily accessible and digestible way across a variety of mediums.
Dan Taylor – Account Director – SALT Agency
Google Discover isn’t going to go away:
Until recently, Google Discover was called Google Feed and is comparatively a Google native take on a “what’s popular” social media feed.
Whilst it’s still in its infancy, the key message is that brands will need to focus more on the quality of content they produce and consider audience engagement. This doesn’t mean that we need to enter another content marketing renaissance, content is king and so on, but as well as adding blogs and larger content pieces for SEO purposes, content marketing for users also needs to factor into strategies.
It isn’t going to be going away, so gearing strategy for it now will pay dividends in the future. It’s 100% personalized for each user, so you need to make sure the content you’re producing is on point for your audience. It relies on user engagement, and this can be done through other channels such as email, social media, marketing personalisation, etc. Whilst the prominence of YouTube as a content source is rising, this is another argument to increase the use of video as a content medium. Google Discover utilises both evergreen and short-burst content.
Rebecca Moss – Digital PR Manager – JBH The Content Agency
“2020 – Year of the NoFollow link?”
In September, rel=”nofollow”, rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc” basically broke the internet, resulting in Google revealing that they actually can’t understand the nature of links with the nofollow attribute #awks.
So, with that in mind, I predict that 2020 will be what we have all been waiting for. The year that nofollow is finally allowed to shine!
We’re already seeing some publications (who were notorious for their blanket nofollow policy) switching up their approach to external links, adopting a watertight approach to the content they will (and won’t) link to.
Speaking broadly, I hope this will encourage further transparency in editorial guidelines across the board, rather than editors making the call about whether it’s appropriate to link or not.
Rebecca Lehmann – Snr Manager Organic Marketing – Brad’s Deals
Google is working hard to keep searchers in Google’s own ecosystem via ads, knowledge graph, featured snippets, carousels, interesting finds, PAA, and so on. Maybe you’ve ranked in position 10 for years, but where that was maybe the 10th or 13th link on the page, now position 10 is maybe the 50th link on the page and your CTR has bottomed out. Some verticals like travel are being squashed by Google’s own aggregators that are stealing not just traffic but also actual clients and bookings.
So I believe the most important SEO question for companies to ask in 2020 is more existential than technical: “What can we do that Google can’t?” If you can automate it, then so can Google, and you have to move forward on the assumption that eventually they will. If you’re relying on APIs and aggregation, maybe you’re still ranking well enough today but you’re running on borrowed time. I believe that the solution ultimately comes down to finding where your company, your product, and your content can be as human as possible. Google is always going to be great at automating and scaling, and probably better than you or me, but their weakness is that a human-first approach has a much higher barrier to entry.
Jessica Pardoe – PR and Digital Media Executive – Source PR
I think 2020 will be huge for PRs in terms of the impact their pick up has. I may be biased, but I think that the impact of not only links, but brand mentions, will increase. When Google announced earlier this year they’d be introducing 2 new link types, they also mentioned they wouldn’t completely discount ‘nofollows’ anymore either. Does this mean that Google are starting to appreciate that mentions of a brand are just as impactful as links to their website?
At the end of the day, mentions of a brand in the media show reliability to me just as much as links do, but links obviously have way more of an impact. As Google matures and develops, could we see this change? Will traditional PR be enough without having to consistently chase for links? Who knows, I suppose only Google. But there’s my prediction for the upcoming year.
Will King – Head Of SEO – East Side Co
Google’s recent BERT update demonstrates the direction Google is going with search. That is, to understand the true intent behind a search query and then rank webpages that best answer the question. Google’s natural language processing capabilities get better all the time. As does their ability to understand what a searcher is actually looking for, and then to return relevant results.
What I believe we’ll see in 2020 is a reduction in the effectiveness of excessive keyword optimisation tactics. You still see lots of pages ranking with over-optimised content where target keywords are shoehorned into a page. Algorithms like BERT are designed to understand the context of words and their relevance by analysing the relationship between different words in a passage of text. With this in mind, repeating variations of your target keyword becomes a useless strategy.
This brings us back to the concept of expertise, authority and trust in the search quality rater guidelines. The best-optimised content will be that which is produced by actual subject matter experts. Writers who thoroughly understand a topic will incorporate relevant keywords and phrases in a completely natural format, and this will probably perform best on search.
Peter O’Neill – Co-Founder – SEO & Grow
If you put a gun to my head and told me I had to pick one, all-encompassing trend that will impact SEO in 2020, my answer would have to be Zero-Click Searches.
I think so many other sub-trends fall under this umbrella.
Users are finding an answer to their query without visiting an organic (or paid) listing. SEO God, Rand Fishkin, shared data from Jumpshot which detailed that over 56% of Mobile Searches in September this year resulted in Zero Clicks.
This information is really significant for Search Marketers and poses a real threat as it indicates that organic traffic, en masse, will begin to decline.
However, what good marketers know is that where threat lies, opportunity looms.
Krystian Szastok – Digital Marketing Consultant – NewTide Digital
I foresee more changes to the way Google displays the SERPs – the styling, typography as they’re trying to squeeze some profits out of Adwords as more people automatically scroll past the ads.
I’m seeing tons of updates like BERT to do with language processing, likely to be a sign of more and more direct answers, and more 0 click searches.
I hope they’ll learn to recognise the bad links more and continue to learn to appreciate good content and well written, in depth copy. Which with their great entity recognition shouldn’t be an issue in 2020.
It looks like they’re pushing Schema too continuously so I don’t see that ending (for anyone interested in Schema, Krystian has a new WP plugin to help). They’re trying to push voice search yet gave up on providing more solid statistics, but they’ll be trying to move that.
For us SEOs, I don’t want to say ‘great content’ – but I can’t avoid seeing that mixed styles of wording layouts on a page are performing way better than old school ‘walls of text’. I hope Google can appreciate more graphs, images and nice UX – rather than just quantity of wording on a page.
Coral Luck – Content Specialist – Wyatt International
SEO and marketing efforts will become integrated:
81% of B2B purchase cycles start with a web search, and research has shown that rich answers in Google showing more rich answers than ever before. Ranking #1 or #2 is no longer enough – businesses need to do everything they can to reach position zero.
Writing generic, informational content that’s designed to rank for a wide range of keywords will become more challenging, as Google is able to find the information to queries in a wide range of content – even if it is in the middle of an image, video or audio file. To combat this, we’ll see SEOs working with other marketing departments to create holistic content that satisfies each department’s needs. From ensuring the video transcript embraces NLP and matches the tone and flow of your website, to ensuring Google can crawl both audio, image and video content through XML sitemap files and structured data markup, we’ll see more and more B2B businesses look at collaborating their SEO, PR and marketing efforts/
Authenticity will become an SEO best practice:
92% of B2B buyers look for content by thought-leaders in business, as it humanises the company in question. Thanks to the likes of BERT, NLP and E-A-T, conversational search is on the rise, as Google gets better at understanding the context of longer search queries. From this, we predict that authenticity will become an SEO best practice. We’ll see more and more B2B companies opt for thought-leadership PDFs, whitepapers and guest posts that will put individuals in their business at the forefront.
Andrew Smith – SEO & E-Com Consultant – Olivepods
For those who don’t know me I’m Andrew Smith, and I’ve mostly worked on big online travel websites over the past 15 years.
Hard to believe it’s nearly 2020, sounds so futuristic, yet we’re still riding around on scooters and not hoverboards.
Here are my three SEO predictions:
1. I think we’ll see mobile pagespeed take on greater importance. Not because of Google tweaking algorithms but because of SEOs leveraging the new pagespeed insights in GSC, which will prompt more focus on speed over the next year, amongst dev teams. By Q3 I think we’ll have a playing field (especially in the most competitive sectors) that is tougher to rank in because websites will have much faster landing pages. It’s a no brainer from an SEO and conversion perspective and already happening more consistently on gambling affiliates sites.
2. Voice search organic traffic will decline. What I mean by that is BERT will answer voice queries with better featured snippets and potentially other formats but it won’t drive an increase in traffic. You’ve probably seen Rand’s data on zero click serps.
Voice works well for simple tasks; it doesn’t work well for interacting with websites. It’s still quicker and easier to use your phone with your fingers.
3. SEOs will start generating more content at scale. Either by using genuinely useful data to provide insight to their users or through the rise of tools like the OpenAI GPT-2 model for writing content, deepfaking and other technology. I think we’ll find SEOs begin to use this technology against Google. News sites are already using automation to generate breaking news stories, I think we’ll see this go further and find affiliates generating half decent content from machine learning and AI models that are much more sophisticated than the likes of WordAI etc.
Christopher Coussons – SEO Executive – Durham Lane
Google recently began treating no-follow as a suggestion rather than a strict rule, in a clear effort to combat sites that are blanket no-following every outbound link. This is clearly targeted towards news sites, this means that in 2020 I predict that PR will become the favoured way for SEOs to build links in the future, and PR firms completely formed to build links in partnership with big agencies will grow exponentially. We’re already beginning to see this, but I don’t think it has fully been realised just yet. 2020 – the year PR and SEO will finally get married.
Mike Essex – Marketing Trainer & Consultant – Mikeessex.co.uk
What will probably happen? Google will push out another major update. The industry will panic. Everyone will write thousands of guides on what you need to change, why your SEO strategy is outdated, and why blah blah SEO is dead blah.
What I’d like to happen? Please, please, please let 2020 be the year we can move away from this. A Google update shouldn’t be a cause for concern, it should be a reason for optimism. If you track back all the major Google updates of the last five years, from Panda, to Penguin, to BERT, every one of them has rewarded sites that play by the rules.
As someone that took time out of day-to-day SEO and is now back in the thick of it, it’s really clear to me that very little has changed in terms of what Google actually want.
– The same things we’ve been talking about for the last five years still underpin everything:
– A technically sound website
– Robust content that answers user queries, adds value and converts well
– Good quality, varied links from a variety of well-respected sources
Those people who have been working their asses off to do this day in and day out are the ones that don’t need to care about algorithm updates. Hell, they actively fricking crave updates as ultimately they are another chance for Google to reward them for doing the right thing.
So whatever Google changes in 2020, should we care? Probably not. What Google changes is and always has been a distraction from doing the work, attracting the right people and converting them.
Buzz Carter – SEO Manager – Bulldog Digital Media
Now it’s my time to shine & this year I’m coming with some hot takes… Well to be honest, some lukewarm takes, but you guys wouldn’t read if I told you I was dishing up cold takes.
Room Temperature Take: We All Forget About Rel=Sponsored & Rel=UGC
Did you even remember this was a thing? I’d completely forgotten about Google ‘evolving NoFollow’ & I imagine you have too, so here’s a quick refresher: For some reason, Google decided just having rel=NoFollow wasn’t enough, so they introduced rel=Sponsored for sponsored (or paid) links & rel=UGC for links in user generated content.
Anyway, so far, personally, I’ve not seen either of them used much if at all & on top of that, Google suggested they’ll be treating NoFollow’s as a ‘hint’, so it looks like even NoFollows may be pointless by the end of 2020. At its core, the idea of different tags is a good one, but it’s about 10 years too late to be adopted widely and has thrown doubt over whether NoFollow links even have a point in 2020.
Mildly Warm Take: Anti-Trust LawSuits For Google
Now this take isn’t super hot, but still, it’s a bit toasty. Google have already had a few run ins with the EU in regards to anti-trust laws & with the rise of 0 click searches (Searches that don’t end in a click, due to the knowledge graph/featured snippets), I can definitely see another run in on the horizon.
This is a perfect storm for some fines & regulation: Google is still dominant as the number 1 Search Engine on the planet & with features like the featured snippet, Google flights & Google Hotels, it is harder than ever to actually get clicks from Google, even if you rank well. With Google taking traffic opportunities from informational websites & taking potential revenue from Hotels & Air Travel providers, something is definitely on its way.
Slightly Warmer Take: Bing See’s More Market Share
Now, for most people, the only experience you have with Internet Explorer/Edge & Bing, is when you get a new computer & open them up to download Chrome or Firefox (apologies to all 3 fans of Internet Explorer). However, Bing has always been relatively popular in B2B markets – lots of businesses have IE & Bing as their default browser and search engine company-wide. Bing is aware of this, which is why they’re making a push to be the go-to search engine for the business world. Now I’m not saying Bing will take the throne from Google, but if you’re a B2B SEO, you should start brushing up on Bing’s algorithm.
According to Statista, Bing already has an 8.2% market share in the UK for search engines, so don’t be too surprised if they’re coming close to 10% by the end of 2020.
Well, that was a lot of great predictions for where we think the industry is going to go in 2020!
I especially liked that last guy, he was pretty cool.
But in all honesty, as much as we can guess how the industry is going to develop, it will still continue to remain pretty unpredictable. It’s always fun to speculate as to where the industry will pivot in the coming years and it always helps to have an informed opinion about what’s going to happen… before Google hits you like a dump truck with a new algo update.