Part of being an SEO professional — aka an SEO — means staying on top of all of the latest trends and updates.
But Google makes hundreds or even thousands of updates every year. How can we keep track?
I’ll tell you a secret: the fundamentals of SEO remain the same. High-quality, multi-use content that addresses searcher intent performs well.
Prepare for 2020 by keeping the fundamentals in mind — and following our 4 New Year’s resolutions for SEOs:
- Create multi-use content that matches searcher intent
- Stop freaking out about Google updates
- Attach a specific goal to each piece of content
- Welcome multichannel marketing into your SEO strategy
1. Create multi-use content that matches searcher intent
In 2019, ActiveCampaign saw a steady increase in organic traffic and rankings. Like most content creators, we saw certain drops that seemed concerning but sorted themselves out in a couple of weeks.
We create relevant content that benefits our users. Keyword targeting is part of our overall content strategy, but our primary focus is to deliver expertise on the topics we know the most about.
Many SEOs focus only on building links and exact-match keyword targeting — but SEO as an industry is far beyond that. If you only do SEO to rank for keywords, you should expect low-quality content to drop in rankings and traffic.
When you focus on multi-use content that matches searcher intent, you have that safety net of: “Don’t freak out. What we’re doing is not only geared towards SEO, but is an asset that our Sales, Success, and Support teams can use to drive our product forward.”
Having internal teams share content with our customers will help us gain interest, increase link sharing, and gain natural backlinks to our site.
Google makes hundreds and thousands of changes every year — but every change (so far) has been based on:
- How the search engine results page (SERP) is laid out and how Google visually displays results to users
- The relevance of those results and how they benefit users
- How all of the information that Google collects can help them sell more ads and make more money off of their results
Any Google updates in 2020 will be geared towards 1 of those 3 things.
- Target specific searcher intent
- Deliver high-quality content in those results
- Have a technically sound website
…you will succeed in SEO in 2020. The fundamentals of organic search aren’t going to change.
When you focus on creating multi-use content based on your subject matter expertise and a strong SEO foundation, you don’t need to worry about Google updates — including BERT (which we’ll get into below). Learn more about how to grow your blog through in-depth content that answers specific searches.
2. Stop freaking out about Google updates
At ActiveCampaign, we benefited from Google’s June and September 2019 core updates.
Both our Top 20 rankings and traffic saw tremendous growth after those updates launched. (Source: SEMRush, Google Analytics)
The June and September updates focused on:
- Delivering on the expectations and intents of searchers
- The relevance of those results
But it seems like every time Google releases an update, the SEO world freaks out. There’s always chatter in forums and on Twitter. But even though that chatter gives us visibility into what some of those changes might be, Google will release another update in a couple of weeks. Your “freak out funds” should be saved for the times when you see a consistent pattern in traffic drops.
What the BERT update means for SEO in 2020
In October 2019, Google announced an update centered around Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers — aka BERT.
In my opinion, the BERT update was Google’s polite way of saying, “Hey, we are investing in this thing that will better understand searcher intent and we’ll use it internally to identify opportunities where we can scoop up more advertising money”.
They confirmed this in their blog post:
“In fact, when it comes to ranking results, BERT will help Search better understand one in 10 searches in the U.S. in English, and we’ll bring this to more languages and locales over time.”
So what does BERT mean for SEO in 2020?
BERT will help deliver more relevant results based on searcher intent. But I wouldn’t call it a change or a shift; instead, think of it as a continuation of Google’s dedication to matching searcher intent. And that was the biggest commitment Google made in 2019: A continued push to develop and invest in technology that delivers better search results for specific queries.
The machine learning technology Google uses builds upon itself. Google won’t throw something into the mix that messes with that continuous build; each update is an additional gear that keeps moving that machine.
BERT is not a massive update or disruption to how SEOs should be thinking about things. It boils down to this: The more targeted your content is, the better it’s going to perform over time. And we’ve seen that in our own performance:
This graph shows the organic keyword trends for our free Subject Line Generator tool. The tool is a targeted piece of content that ranks higher over time. (Source: SEMRush)
3. Attach a specific goal to each piece of content
Make sure that each of your main content pieces, for your most valuable search queries, has a specific goal. That goal might include:
- Blog subscribes
- Trial or demo signups
- Email list signups
- New account signups
- Content downloads
Tie a target KPI to each SEO project you work on. This exercise helps refine your project plans to focus on the goals that matter the most to your business.
For example, when we measure the success of most of our blog posts, we focus on blog subscribers, or pages per session, or time on site; all of these general metrics help influence or inform the quality of the content that we put out.
Yes, blog content can lead to trials. But in terms of other areas and metrics, we might look at:
- Link clicks and page pathing
- Click-throughs for our help documentation
The KPIs you choose for each piece of content depend on the purpose of the content and the business outcomes that leadership expects.
Every metric that you measure should ladder up to how you’re achieving a specific business goal with your content. There are the general KPIs of:
- Keyword rank
- Search volume
- Unique visitors
All of these are valid and should be standard SEO KPIs. But the KPIs that rule supreme are the outcomes that you designate for each piece of content.
I’ve had many conversations with previous leaders and CMOs who ask, “Why aren’t we ranking number one for this keyword?” A good SEO is always prepared to say, “because I’ve been driving this much more value from all the other things I was doing” — and prove it.
As long as you and leadership are aligned on the overall goals of the company and how your content ladders up to those goals, you should be in the clear.
4. Welcome multichannel marketing into your SEO strategy
Each of these SEO goals for 2020 ladder up to this: Become a better, more informed marketer. Don’t stick to the old conventions of an SEO. At the end of the day, if you only focus on building links and general keyword targeting, you miss out on so much opportunity to drive larger business value that not only looks better for the business, but it makes you look better, too, which helps your personal growth.
As an SEO, stop staying in your own lane and considering yourself only good for keyword research and optimizations. There are so many parts of SEO that translate to larger marketing efforts that can really impact your business.
Here are 3 areas SEOs should think about in 2020:
- Paid search (SEM)
- Branded search
- Multichannel marketing
Paid search (SEM)
In 2020, know what your SEM strategy is. Make friends with your SEM colleagues! Work with them to figure out:
- Where do most of your ads show up?
- Should you play along with that from an organic perspective? Since you can’t rank for everything, where can SEMs cover?
- In the areas in which your content shows up both organically and through paid search, are the KPIs of both the ad and the organic content the same?
- If so, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
In my experience, Google ads tend to not match the searcher intent, but Google’s algorithm does a much better job matching searcher intent for organic results. When we create organic content, I try to plan for the areas of business value that matter most to us.
The goal: If someone skips over our ad, we organically show the best piece of content that we can provide.
That’s a huge initiative for 2020: Making sure that from top to bottom of the SERP, especially on the branded side, we serve our customers the best content we can.
Branded search can be a powerful tool. If you don’t already, invest in building your brand awareness! The more people understand your brand, the more they will search for it. You can manipulate a lot of search results to deliver high-value content with little effort.
In branded SERPs, there’s a large opportunity to “own” your respective spaces and ensure that the first thing searchers see is:
- The most relevant page
- A page with the right conversion goals, so you can make sure the page has business value
When someone searches for ActiveCampaign, the first thing they see on the SERP should be the most relevant piece of content.
How can we get really good content in front of people through branded search terms?
We build so much content that we may not realize that we’re cannibalizing conversion opportunities. To keep track of any overlapping content, we use a “keep, rewrite, redirect” strategy, or KRR. A KRR helps us identify which pages we want to keep, redirect, or revise so that we can better change the search results for those queries.
The end goal: provide the most relevant, high-quality, multi-use content on branded SERPs.
With branded search, you can influence a lot of unique features, especially on mobile. Some examples include company promotions (above) and YouTube videos (below).
In 2020, SEOs should spend more time talking about SEO opportunities from multichannel marketing efforts. Your website is not the only place where you can grow your search presence! Focus on how to acquire more quality customers via search as a whole.
Accept affiliate marketing
Instead of viewing affiliates as an obstacle to ranking high on the SERP, use them as an opportunity to drive business value. ActiveCampaign has several affiliate partners that write strong content about our platform. We often find that those affiliates show up in search for queries about ActiveCampaign — which means traffic goes to their sites, not ours.
When we see affiliate content ranking for keywords we want, we need to ask ourselves:
- Is it worth spending time trying to outrank affiliates?
- Or is it better to work with our affiliate marketing team to make sure that those content pieces extract value for us, too? Do we focus on link building with those affiliates instead?
- Will 3rd party opinions help build trust with our prospects?
At the end of the day, rankings and search results are a nuanced topic. If affiliate content ranks and brings in business for us, do we want to bury a potential lead opportunity? If you know what content shows up for the queries you want, and you’re extracting as much value from that content as possible, you’re doing your job as a search expert.
Leverage your partnerships
Partnerships are an easy way to scale visibility. At ActiveCampaign we have hundreds of active partners. That’s hundreds of websites that rank for thousands of different keywords — and we share similar customer bases.
From an SEO perspective, link value doubles when we gain high-quality backlinks from our partners. We know that they refer relevant clicks back to our site. None of these tactics require purchased links — all you need are good relationships with your partners.
Build a shared email marketing & SEO content calendar
When you include links in emails, it doesn’t add SEO value — but it can be an excellent way to generate buzz about your content. If you have a newsletter or content-focused email that regularly goes out, make sure the content you link is optimized for search.
This content amplification can potentially get you more backlinks to your content. If your content is already optimized for search, those incremental link boosts can help you rank higher for your target keywords.
Conclusion: How to keep up with SEO trends in 2020
If you stick to these 4 New Year’s resolutions, you’ll be well on your way to SEO success in 2020. In the meantime, here’s how I keep up with SEO trends.
Time is precious — you don’t want to be buried in SEO blogs all day. A majority of my updates come from Barry Schwartz’s Search Engine Roundtable Daily Recaps. There’s a lot of noise in the SEO space; his daily newsletters cut through it and get to the point.
Barry Schwartz is associated with Search Engine Land, so a lot of the updates in his newsletter are also reflected in Search Engine Land. I also look to Search Engine Land for updates regarding Google and Bing changes and how that affects our space.
It’s a good mix of news updates, what’s happening in the SEO industry, and related blogs from other SEO leaders. It’s a good way to understand little trends and things that are going on that can help benefit us.
Keep an eye on the trends and stick to multi-use, intent-matching content, and your decade should be off to a great start. Happy 2020!