Google’s search algorithm changes a lot. Since 2000, there have been hundreds of large and small updates (you can view the full list here) that affect whether your content climbs or falls down search engine results pages (SERPs). For marketers, this means a new Google algorithm is always on the horizon.
These frequent and tight-lipped algorithm changes lead to much speculation around how businesses can change their SEO strategy to stay at the top of the rankings. While we never know exactly how the algorithm changes, in this post, we’re going to look at five areas you should pay attention to, to help adapt your SEO strategy accordingly.
1. Mobile-first index
With 60% of searches now performed on mobile devices, mobile compatibility is increasingly important as Google shifts its focus from mobile-friendly to mobile-first. The search giant has already split its search index in two—one for mobile, one for desktop, and announced back in November 2016 that mobile would eventually take priority:
Our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.
That time has now come. In 2019, Google will combine the two search indexes into one, which will prioritise mobile when crawling.
What should you do?
Check how suited your website currently is to mobile browsing with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, which will tell you if your website is easy to use on a mobile device.
You must ensure your mobile site performs as well (if not better) than your desktop site. This means all your site elements must be functional and crawlable on mobile. It’s no longer enough to have a link to ‘view on desktop’ for webpages that don’t perform well on smartphones.
2. More focus on Featured Snippets
‘Featured Snippets’ appear above regular results on SERPs (referred to as position #0). So, if you can rank for them, they can provide a serious boost to your click-through rate and site traffic. Featured Snippets take many forms, from lists or reviews to event dates and answer boxes.
Google are going to continue to expand Featured Snippets in 2019, giving more importance to structured data. Structured data is a line of code that you can add to your site’s HTML that can provide Featured Snippets (also known as rich search results). By adding structured data, you can, for example, score an answer box for a common customer pain point in your industry or create a Knowledge Card for a more visually appealing overview of your company.
What should you do? Here’s what you need to do to add the structured data for Featured Snippets into your HTML:
- Customize the code snippet
- Create a Google Tag Manager tag
- Paste the code into the “Custom HTML” text box and save the tag
- Create a new trigger
- Return to “Schema markup” and add the “Page view” as it’s trigger
- Test using the Structured Data Testing Tool
Look out for an upcoming tutorial post on how-to create featured snippets to get your content up Google’s search rankings!
3. Telling it how it is
Voice search has been one of the biggest growers thanks to AI assistants like Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant. In the past 10 years, voice searches on Google have grown 3,500%, and 40% of adults now use voice search once per day.
As we can expect this upward trend to continue, this puts further focus on mobile optimisation. But voice search also has the potential to change the structure of search terms. We can predict more ‘natural’ search phrases will come through voice search, as people tend towards asking more fully-formed questions.
It’s worth noting that voice search will work hand-in-hand with Featured Snippets moving forward as AI like Google Assistant will read featured snippets aloud as the answer to querying search terms.
What should you do? Voice search will use longtail keywords – more conversational phrases should be used when optimizing for voice search. Your keyword strategy should match this. As they are more specific, long tail keywords generally have a lower search volume, but that also results in less competition and a higher conversion rate, i.e. the people searching for those longtail keywords know what they want.
Consider posing your voice search phrases as questions: “How to improve my SEO score?” for example. If you can combine this with Featured Snippet answers, you can make a considerable jump up Google’s SERP.
4. ‘Linkless’ mentions
In 2017, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes suggested that Google can now associate mentions without a physical link. These so-called ‘linkless mentions’ (i.e. positive reviews, testimonies, and other un-linked mentions of your company) will play a factor in SEO.
What to do: Try to gain as many positive mentions of your company, its products and people as possible. Whether it’s on your blog, website, or on external sites, Google will treat these testimonials favouringly, even if they are not hyperlinked. Don’t neglect real links, though, as these still give these mentions substance and evidence if people want to check what you’re saying is true. This isn’t an excuse to start embellishing your company!
Google admitted a while back that they prefer HTTPS sites in terms of security, and so rank them a little higher. In their recent roadmap, they revealed that in 2019 they will start punishing publishers who fail to add an SSL to their site.
What should you do? By enabling an SSL (secure socket layer) on your site, you can ensure any information going to and from your server is encrypted. This is what differentiates “https” from “http” (the ‘S’ stands for secure) and is a must if your site uses things like geolocation, online payments, or notifications that require the confidential transferral of information. Acquiring an SSL isn’t difficult—all you have to do is purchase a certificate and get your site host to activate and install it. The first free SSL certificates are being introduced, too.
Your new Google algorithm cheat sheet
Remember that the specifics of Google’s algorithm will always remain under wraps. But focusing on these five areas will stand you in great stead regarding best practice SEO for 2019. And make sure to keep up with the Fifty Five and Five blog—we’ll be blogging about any future updates to the new Google algorithm as and when they surface!
Do you need help getting your own content to the top of Google search ranking results? Fifty Five and Five are a full-service digital marketing agency. We combine great marketing with an innate understanding of the Microsoft Partner Network.