Every now and then, there’s always those news and articles declaring the death of SEO, virtually every single year. Thankfully, SEO is still alive and kicking, if not even more important than before with the saturation of the search engines.
It’s true, however, that SEO as a concept and strategy keeps evolving as time passed. So, for 2019, we will also need to adjust our SEO strategy yet again.
In this guide, we will discuss the relevant SEO tactics and strategies for 2019 and onwards. However, let us begin by discussing the history of SEO evolution.
The Evolution of SEO
SEO as a concept and a marketing strategy has evolved dramatically over the years. SEO has been around for more than two decades now, and although there is always much debate over the actual birth of SEO, the general consensus is that SEO has been around since 1991.
Back then, just like most things in their early stages, competition virtually doesn’t exist. SEO is fairly simple back in those days: stuff your content with keywords, build a network of backlinks yourself, and you are good to go. Yet, although it’s technically very easy compared to today, very few people actually know about SEO back then. Also, the number of searches made on Google are a lot fewer compared to today’s number, which stands around 3.5 billion searches per day.
The biggest factor driving the changes in SEO is the changes in Google’s algorithm. The very first official change in Google algorithm happened in 2002. Since then, many things have changed but arguably the biggest change is about content: we can no longer use low-quality content stuffed with a whole lot of keywords. So, the SEO game also evolved around this time: keywords should be included naturally, and although the demand for high-quality content is not as high as today, the overall content quality and relevance increased.
This approach stayed until around 2010. Until the early 2010s, if your content is good and relevant enough and you optimize your site for SEO (using keywords in your meta tags and descriptions, etc.), you would get ranked on the first page within just a few months.
Around this time, more and more people are using Google, and more and more people realized the power of SEO. In short, SEO got more crowded. From 2010 to around 2013, it’s all about getting more backlinks.
After 2013, two major changes on the internet drove the evolution of SEO. First, there’s the rise of social media. Now it’s not only about backlinks, but social shares matter just as much. The second phenomenon is the rise of blogging and content marketing in general. So, in these days, SEO is mainly about a lot of blogs and getting more social shares and backlinks.
So, how about today? Now there are so many blogs in many different forms from WordPress sites to Tumblr to Medium to others. The audience have also moved to other content medium from videos to podcasts, further complicating the competition. Google have also changed many things on their search results page. Now there are the rich results that are placed above the organic ranked pages. There are also Google Maps results for local-related keywords.
In short, if we only focus on publishing high-quality content and getting more backlinks, we will simply compete with thousands if not millions of other sites that are doing the same things.
So, SEO as a strategy must once again evolve in 2019, and here we will show you how you can also stay relevant.
Improving User Experience
It’s actually a common misunderstanding that SEO is solely about “pleasing” Google so your site will be bumped up. However, we often forget that Google’s aim is to ultimately, provide a better search experience for their users.
Thus, the existence of Google’s RankBrain, an A.I-based machine learning program with the sole purpose of giving the best possible search results for their user.
While RankBrain can (and does) do a lot of things, these activities can be boiled down into two:
- Understanding search queries (or keywords). RankBrain can tweak the importance of backlinks, content freshness, content type and length, and other factors depending on the keywords. For example, content freshness might not be as important for sites providing historical education compared to sites offering up-to-date business tactics.
- Learning how users interact with the search results. For example, let’s say a specific site is currently ranked #1. However, because the site used less engaging title and meta descriptions compared to the site that is ranked second, it can be bumped down.
What do these mean for SEO in 2019, then? Meaning, optimizing the technical aspects of our site are no longer enough, we have to optimize our site to improve user experience to improve mainly three things:
- Dwell time: simply put, how long a certain user spent their time on your site. If your average dwell time is high, Google will perceive your site as relevant, and will boost your ranking.
- Bounce rate: which is, the percentage of user that immediately exit your site after they opened it (especially after they clicked on a search engine result). Bounce rate is closely tied to dwell time.
- Click through rate: the number of people who actually clicked on your search engine result. If a site is ranked high but nobody clicked on the link, Google will perceive it as irrelevant.
So, based on these facts, how can we optimize our site for a better user experience? Here are some key considerations:
1. Make sure your content is engaging and easy to read/view/listen.
The main idea behind this is fairly simple: the more time people spent consuming your content, the higher your dwell time. As we have discussed, higher dwell time will translate to a higher ranking.
Nowadays, content is not always about blogs or other textual forms, as podcasts and videos are getting more popular than ever. Diversifying your content types is actually a good idea to get more dwell time.
In optimizing your content, here are some key areas to focus on:
- Develop better content
Other tactics and optimizations will be meaningless if the quality of your content simply isn’t there. Quality here is not solely about technical factors like what camera you use (for videos), sound quality (for podcasts), or optimized sentence length and structure (for textual contents), rather, it is whether your content can provide values in information and ideas for your audience.
- Structure and readability
First things first, include your keywords sparingly and naturally. Not only your human audience will hate over-optimized content, but so does Google. Over-optimization can lead to Google penalty, so pay extra attention to this aspect.
For textual content, generally shorter paragraphs and sentences are better. Use bullet points to make facts and stats easier to read. For podcasts and videos, make sure your content is well-structured, and there’s no shortcut to telling a good story.
- The bucket brigade
Bucket brigade is a copywriting technique where we essentially break an idea into multiple phrases to pique the reader’s interest. For example:
So how can we increase dwell time?
The answer is:
by using a bucket brigade.
Wait, what actually is a bucket brigade?
Here’s the deal:
The sentences above are designed as a bucket brigade. The idea is to capture the reader’s interest and keep them reading. For podcasts and videos, we can apply the same principle by adding pauses at the right time, dividing your content into multiple interesting sections.
- Use various media
You can combine various form of media within a single content to improve dwell time. For example, adding an interesting gif in the middle of a textual content where your reader can stop and (probably) have a quick laugh. If you can put an interesting, related video in the middle of a blog, this can add a few minutes of dwell time.
Be careful, however, as this practice can backfire if you use too many different forms at once, especially when they are not relevant to each other.
There are obviously more tactics you can implement to optimize your content for a better dwell time, and you might want to check out this guide to learn further.
2. Improve Your Page Designs
Bad website designs that lead to awkward usability and poor overall user experience (UX) is actually a very common reason for a high bounce rate. However, figuring out UX issues can be quite difficult because of a lot of different variables involved that can vary greatly for different sites.
Thankfully, nowadays there are various tools that can help you assess your site’s UX, and you might want to check out this list to find the best user testing tools for your site.
3. Mobile-Responsiveness and Load Speed
It’s no secret that Google now prefers mobile-responsive sites to rank higher. In fact, if your site is not mobile-friendly, there’s a huge probability that it won’t get ranked at all.
On the other hand, back in 2010 Google admitted that site speed is indeed a ranking factor both for desktop and mobile searches.
These two factors are also significant in affecting dwell time and bounce rate: if your site load speed is slow, a lot of people will bounce. If your site is not mobile responsive, you’ll lose a lot of mobile searchers (which is, a lot).
To improve these two factors, here are the key areas to focus on:
- Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights and mobile-friendly test to assess the current state of your site.
- If your site is WordPress-based, you might want to upgrade to themes that are mobile-responsive with better speed performance
- Eliminate unnecessary codes on your pages, this can significantly improve your site’s speed
- Enable browser caching. Again,can significantly improve your site’s speed
- Make sure all buttons are easily clickable on mobile devices. If you use forms, make sure not to use too many fields and make sure they are displayed properly on mobile screens
- Make sure all images and videos are displayed properly on mobile devices, and compress images if necessary to cut down page size (and thus, load speed).
One of the biggest changes of Google’s search algorithm in recent years is the fact that RankBrain has now enabled Google to better understand user’s intention and “context”.
Meaning, optimizing for keywords is no longer enough. Say, there’s a website A that posted a content on “content marketing”. The content is optimized really well and has got a lot of traction and backlinks. However, website A is not actually specializing on content marketing and digital marketing and has never posted other content on the topic. In this case, website A can lose to website B —a digital marketing site— in ranking, which has a technically worse content but has frequently posted on the topic before.
In short, content is no longer king without context.
So, instead of focusing on standalone keywords, you should think in the term of “topics” or “themes”. This will, first and foremost, require a proper understanding of your audience.
Here is how:
- Build a buyer persona. Understand your ideal audience’s behavior, their problems, and especially their search intent.
- Do a keyword research with the aim to understand your audience’s intent. Find keywords with decent search volume yet manageable competition, and design topics to cover these keywords (more on this below).
In short, figure out topics that will attract your audience.
Your next step here is to design your topic clusters. So, we will divide our content pieces into two groups:
- Pillar: a content that covers the broad idea of the topic. For example, if your topic is “digital marketing”, the pillar content can discuss a general view of digital marketing tactics. Generally a pillar content is longer with more than 2000 words.
- Clusters: clusters are smaller content pieces that are linked to the pillar page, which cover different sections of the pillar page in deeper detail. Using the same example, if in the digital marketing tactics content there’s a section about content marketing, we can link a cluster content covering content marketing in a greater detail.
There are two main benefits of using this topic clusters tactic: first, you will provide a greater value to your audience with a series of internally linked content. Again, this will improve dwell time, as interested readers will spend more time on your site, jumping from one content to another.
The second benefit is that Google can crawl these internal links and will recognize that your site is an expert on the topic. This, in turn, will boost your ranking.
Link Building For 2019
Even with all the evolution of Google’s algorithm, one thing remains constant:
Backlinks still matter.
Even Google themselves admitted that backlinks are still the number 1 ranking factor. However, this doesn’t mean that link building hasn’t changed at all since the early days of SEO. Nowadays, it’s not only about quantity, but the quality of inbound links is now more important.
In short, here is the harsh truth:
Spammy links like leaving your link on blog comments, purchasing links, and private blog network (PBN) won’t give you long-term results. They can work in short-term, sure, but sooner or later Google will stumble upon your site, demote your rank, or even worse, penalized your site from ranking at all.
So, what are the safe methods to build more links? In general there are only two main approaches:
- Publish and promote amazing content. A valuable content that is promoted well will always get links. Remember that it has to be both: a good content won’t bring value unless people are aware about its existence, and no matter how heavy the promotion is, it won’t gain traction is the content is simply bad.
- Build relationships. Build relationships with authority sites, media, and influencers of your niche. Blog commenting can work, as long as your aim is to build relationships and don’t just leave links here and there. Offer do to guest posts once you’ve established relationships, and you might want to try influencer outreach.
It’s also important to diversify your backlinks profile. Don’t just aim to get backlinks from high-quality press sites like Forbes or Mashable. Medium-quality blogs, sites, and even forums can still be valuable, and will make your backlinks profile more natural.
Technical Optimization Tips
Technical SEO optimization can be a very broad subject covering a lot of different variables. You might want to check out this technical SEO checklist to figure out areas where your site require optimizations.
However, especially for 2019, here are the main areas where you should optimize the technical aspect of your site:
1. Enable AMP
AMP, which stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, is a fairly new feature by Google, just introduced in 2016. Most likely, you have stumbled upon these AMP pages when searching from your mobile devices, where you can see a circle with a lightning logo besides the result.
AMP search results, which will open instantly on mobile devices, will rank higher than organic-ranked pages, so if you don’t ensure your pages are eligible for AMP, you are missing out.
So, check out Google’s guidelines on AMP to get started.
2. Switch to HTTPS
Google now prefers sites in HTTPS to rank higher. In fact, Google has started to warn users when they are just about to visit unsecured sites, which can lead to a significant loss of traffic.
It is true, however, that migrating to HTTP can be a complicated process, even more if you have a big website. If your site is WordPress-based, you might want to check out this guide for a step-by-step tutorial of the migration process. If not, you might want to check this community site where you can also get help from the community, aside from useful tips.
3. Schema Markup
Structured data markup,in the form of schema.org markup, is essentially a code that can be added to your site’s HTML, with the purpose of assigning properties and attributes so that Google (and other search engines), can index your site better.
For example, you can assign “product review” markup to your products page, so if this specific page is ranked for a certain keyword, the result will show the star rating.
The main benefit of implementing structured data markup is that your page will then be eligible for rich results, which is positioned above the organic-ranked sites on the SERP.
Implementing structured data markup is still often overlooked by many SEO practitioners, and so by implementing this, you are already ahead of most competitors. You might want to check out this guide on how to implement structured data markup for SEO, even i you are not a coder.
5. Monitoring Your SEO Performance
SEO is, by nature, a long-term game where you will need to adjust your strategy here and there over the course of the project to achieve the best possible results. So, measuring your progress using various analytics tools is an integral part of SEO
In general, you should be able to measure things like:
- The performance of your content, which can attract more customers and which require further optimizations.
- UX performance, which page has UX issues, and which already performed well
- The most visited (and the least visited) pages, and why
- Whether the changes and optimizations you’ve made resulted in ranking boosts
- Keyword performance, which might (and should) affect your keyword choices in the future
The free Google Analytics is a good place to start, and there are also various other free tools that can help you in this aspect. Depending on the size of your site, among other factors, you might want to invest on professional analytic tools.
As you can see, SEO in 2019 is especially about how you can deliver more value to your human audience from your site’s UX to content quality to technical optimizations.
Although arguably, SEO is getting more competitive and it’s harder to achieve results, nowadays there are various tools, including A.I.-driven analytics that can help us in optimizing various aspects of our site.
If we have to pick just one most important factor for SEO success, however, it is going to be content quality: the better you can deliver value to your audience through your content, the higher you will rank, and there’s no shortcut around this fact.