2018 was an exciting year for Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Not only did Google release numerous updates to its search algorithm, but the mobile-first index was officially launched, signaling to marketers and web designers that Desktop traffic is no longer a top priority.
Meanwhile in Europe, the GDPR regulation had rippling effects on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) extending far beyond the E.U: besides changing link structures across thousands of websites, it reduced the amount of personal information that marketers can rely on to target web traffic.
These and many other developments have created both advantages and disadvantages for businesses who rely on their sites to draw in traffic and create new customers. SEO leaders have been changing up their game to stay on top and find the best practices for success.
In this article, we'll discuss five SEM trends that will help you to master the SERPs in 2019.
- Now, Mobile Comes First
It seems like online marketers have been talking about mobile-readiness since the first iPhone was released in 2007. When mobile Internet traffic first surpassed desktop traffic in 2015, many took notice, and the results are encouraging: by the end of this year, 94% of all small businesses will have mobile-compatible sites.
But going forward, it’s not enough to be mobile-ready or mobile-compatible. After Google’s mobile-first update, the search engine now sees mobile sites as “normal”. Desktop sites are special versions that take second place. This means that for traffic originating from tablets or phones, businesses without a mobile site are beginning to rank lower than those that have one.
This change has several ramifications on SEO:
- Businesses without a dedicated mobile site or dynamically loaded content have the option of implementing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) or switching to a responsive design template.
- Marketers are able to use longer titles and meta-descriptions since Google has given mobile sites more space than desktop
- Because of the role that ‘tiles’ (small informational snippets generated by search crawlers) play in mobile search, it has become more important for designers to use structured data
That last point brings us directly to the next one.
- Structured Data for AI and Tiles
The tiles that now feature prominently in Google search results are generated by a feature called ‘Search Gallery’. This past year, the company has added several new categories of information that the crawler can generate. Examples include,
- Local businesses
- Corporate contacts (basically a business card)
- Text snippets that define terms
Because these tiles are generated automatically, businesses must use certain formatting to signal the presence of information that can be featured in the gallery. This formatting is called ‘structured data,’ and it takes several different forms which can be found on schema.org.
Although Google has made it very clear that the presence of structured data does not boost a page’s ranking, it can bring a website to the top of search pages when user queries create a card linking to it.
Even sites far down on Google’s index can take advantage of this feature provided they have better information than their competitors based on user satisfaction. This makes structured data one of the most important SEO developments in recent history.
- Mentions are Better Than Backlinks
Google’s ongoing war with backlink fraud has reached a stunning conclusion: although backlinks are still used as ranking signals, brand mentions are becoming the most important factor for gauging the authority and ranking of a site.
In a 2017 interview, Gary Illyes discussed this development when it was first packaged in the Google Fred update:
“Basically, if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding…”
The shift to mentions from backlinks creates a new and arguably more fair dynamic for websites trying to rank: if people like a brand enough to talk about it, Google will rank it higher.
Marketers can therefore improve their site’s SEO in several new ways –
- By tracking brand mentions across the web through regular searches, or via brand tracking tools like Awario or Mention
- By guest-posting, interacting with or submitting other content to blogs and other websites
- By encouraging users or customers to leave reviews on Google and social media
- Local Search Becomes Hyperlocal
Google didn’t shift to the mobile-first index for no reason: in fact, mobile device penetration hasn’t yet reached its summit. By 2020, the data suggests that over 6 billion people across the globe will have a smartphone.
This is very good news for small businesses who hope to reach nearby customers by targeting geographic areas. Since 2016, the number of “Near Me” searches grew by over 500%, and that number will only expand in 2019.
The surge in local SEO is a double-edged blade: on the one hand, businesses have more pre-qualified prospects. On the other hand, businesses located in a large metropolitan area are competing with every other business offering the same product, including those that rank substantially higher.
A solution comes in the form of ‘hyperlocalization’: as location tracking becomes more accurate, businesses can now create campaigns targeting prospects in a single kilometer radius.
Strangely enough, less than half of all retailers have even claimed a “Google My Business” page, which is required for local targeting. 2019 is a fantastic time for them to start.
- Thinking with Intent, Not Keywords
As time goes on, the number of unique keywords that any business can rank for is diminishing. Marketers used to target a product or industry: “red shoes,” “shoe store,” etc. Oversaturation has made this tactic weak and getting a spot on the front-page is a daunting task.
Fortunately, it’s not necessary to rank for basic keywords anymore, and in the past year, search marketers have shifted their focus to user intent. Because humans rarely search for terms as simple as “red shoes” or “shoe store,” it can be more useful to target phrases like “good shoes to match red dress”.
Identifying phrases like these means figuring out what a site visitor actually wants, and tailoring content to their needs. User intent encompasses three basic categories:
- Informational: When users are trying to figure out the answer to a question, they make an informational query like “how are shoes measured in Europe”
- Navigational: When users try to figure out where to find a certain product, they make a navigational query like “where to buy shoes Northern Virginia”
- Transactional: When users are interested in making a purchase, they make a transactional query like “red shoe golden buckles”
To capture more traffic from longtail search terms like these, marketers are including user intent categories in their SEO strategies. Not only does this help to create good lists of target keywords, but it also helps in the development of high ranking content.
Conveyance Marketing Group is a team of bright, innovative and talented veteran marketers dedicated to big ideas, fresh insights and measurable results. We pride ourselves on taking challenging marketing issues and turning them into opportunities for our clients, on pointing brands in the right direction, and on getting our customers noticed both online and off. From branding to websites to digital marketing, and public relations, we handle all your marketing communication needs! Web Design and Development | Brand Strategy | Inbound Marketing | Social Media | SEO | PR