2020 SEO Trends & Predictions: This Year, It’s All About Intent

January 13, 2020

How will we see the SEO world evolve in 2020?

Personally, I think the word of the year is “intent.”

The question is no longer, “What are users searching?”. Rather, it’s “Why are users searching?”.

The SEO community is undergoing a fundamental shift, abandoning short-sighted questions like “What keywords are users searching with?” in favor of thoughtful, user-focused considerations like “What questions are users seeking to answer?” and “What problems are users trying to solve?”.

As the SEO community matures into an $80 billion industry, and Google’s search algorithms and ranking systems get more and more advanced, we’re met with a new set of challenges in 2020: How can we craft content that engages our audience, instills trust in our brand, and satisfies user intent by providing accurate, succinct, and timely answers to our users’ most pressing questions along the path to purchase?

As an industry, we’ve already moved far away from the keyword-stuffing brand of optimization. With Google’s focus on introducing new SERP experiences to support their shift from a search engine to a discovery platform, and optimizing search results for user intent instead of keyword matching, it’s likely that we’ll see SEOs follow suit and adopt a user-focused optimization mindset this year. Specifically, SEO in 2020 will be all about shifting efforts towards ‘intent research’ and satisfying searcher task accomplishment.

Let’s break down a few predictions for 2020 that will help frame this shift.

Prediction #1: Google will focus on E-A-T signals and political neutrality.

The 2016 US Presidential Election drew a lot of eyes toward Google, Facebook, and other internet giants in terms of what, if any, role the internet plays in politics. Through all the controversy of that election, people began to mistrust the information they were consuming and grew paranoid about how various entities were using their personal data.

Specifically, policies regarding data privacy and how internet giants monitor, filter, and/or promote “fake news” came under fire, both from US Congress and the court of public opinion.

While it’s a stretch to say that there was an initial political agenda behind Google’s E-A-T (Expertise-Authority-Trust) movement, the argument can be made that the concept is adjacent to the public’s distrust in online content. Essentially, Google is specifically looking for trust and authority signals and factoring that into their algorithms.

Going into another election year, it’s likely that Google will continue to make moves to that end in order to protect their user experience and dissuade anyone looking to scapegoat them for the political climate.

What can you do?

As a brand generating online content, it will be more important than ever to find ways to prove your E-A-T. You can do this by citing sources, utilizing the experts you have at your disposal to create authorship, and most importantly, making sure the information you’re putting out there is accurate.

Prediction #2: Zero-click searches will continue to negatively impact organic click-through-rate.

If you were to ask a question in Google today, chances are you’ll find the answer without ever having to click on a result. That’s because Google has put tremendous effort into building out rich features on their SERP experiences.

We’ve seen them take on numerous industries in the past couple of years. Today, you can book a hotel room, make a purchase, watch a video, self-diagnose the scratch in your throat, and more, all without leaving Google.

What industry will they seek out next? Restaurants? Ride share? Real estate?

As impressive as this is from a user-experience standpoint, it really means that traffic coming through the SERP to your website is going to naturally see a downward trend.

On the positive side, it also means that users who do click through to your website are going to be more qualified leads. At that point, they’ve likely already received the preliminary information they were looking for at the top of the funnel and are now closer to making a purchase.

What can you do?

There are a few things you can and should be doing going into 2020.

First, it’s time to add a step to your optimization processes: check the SERP. When you or your team are conducting keyword research and formulating ideas for content, it’s crucial to look into what real estate and rich results are available and format your content accordingly.

Second, it’s no longer prudent to rely solely on Google for online traffic and revenue. You must have a presence on other platforms in the digital space.

Finally, with less traffic available, the competition will be fiercer. It’s not enough to simply write content, publish it, and hope that users find it. You need to put it in front of your audience. This is one more reason to supplement your SEO strategy with Content, Social, & Email Marketing campaigns.

In fact, while most companies tend to silo the SEO team and keep them separated from other digital marketing teams, it may be time to integrate them more closely. Doing so will allow them to remain aligned on overall goals and build content that accomplishes all their objectives at once.

Going into 2020, we’ll likely see more brands taking a holistic approach to digital marketing as well as testing new on-SERP SEO strategies.

Prediction 3: Organic competition for branded keywords will rise.

With all of this real estate available on SERPs, it’s no longer enough to simply rank in the top spot for your branded keywords.

Although brands do still tend to easily win the top organic result for their own branded terms, areas such as knowledge panels, video and image carousels, and People Also Ask results provide additional opportunities for third parties and competitors to compete.

Without paying proper attention to these search results, your company could lose out on tons of traffic and visibility.

What can you do?

Don’t rely solely on a keyword ranking report, which will tell you that you’re “performing well” for branded terms. Instead, dive a bit deeper and look at what kind of information and media is being served for these keywords, and then make sure your content strategy reflects that.

Going into 2020, if you’re not keeping an eye on the SERPs for your branded keywords and crafting content to ensure that your brand is visible in as much space as possible, you’ll be gifting your competitors with the traffic that should be yours by default.

Prediction #4: Intent-based optimization will replace keyword optimization.

As previously mentioned, SEOs are already starting to shift their focus from keyword research and optimization to intent-based optimization.

In 2019, the most highly talked about algorithm update was the BERT update. While you can’t optimize for BERT, the update highlighted Google’s own shift toward optimizing their SERP experience to meet user intent, rather than simply matching keywords to content.

What this really means is that you need to understand a user’s journey beyond simply mimicking the words that they use when performing searches in Google. Understand what it is they are looking to do, what problems they are trying to solve, and what questions they are seeking to answer – and craft a meaningful content strategy accordingly.

What can you do?

Again, check the SERP. The SERP is the best indicator of intent, as Google relies on a wealth of clickstream data to understand which results users engage with most for a given query, and that helps inform them of what exactly a user is looking for. They then use that information to optimize the search results for intent.

Keyword research can’t stop at which term has the most volume. The English language is the most complex language in the world. Words can mean one thing without context, but mean something entirely different when placed next to other words. That’s not even to mention colloquialisms.

Google has made strides in their ability to parse the intricacies of natural language, and as they continue to tweak, refine, and adjust their search algorithms to reflect the power of context and intent, SEOs and content developers desperate to recover from 2019’s blows to organic traffic are sure to follow suit and subscribe to user-focused optimization in 2020.

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