Do you know SEO? Even if you consider your SEO skills extensive, it's important to stay updated or your websites could get left behind. 2019 has already seen several major changes by Google that have had profound effects across the industries and require companies to adapt and keep rewriting the rulebook.

Keeping your websites and all your content relevant and up-to-date can sometimes be a full-time job. That's why many businesses employ SEO specialists or outsource digital marketing to agencies. If you prefer to handle that side of things yourself, it's important to know the big changes sweeping the search landscape and replacing outdated wisdom.

Read through this guide from Limecube to see the main areas where your SEO strategy should concentrate in 2019 and to avoid wasting effort in other areas.

1. Context is as important as content

Keyword targeting is still an important part of SEO, but the tactics that used to be recommended to get to the top of Google don't work any more – and are more likely to get you penalized if you overstuff keywords.

Google still crawls websites to look for instances of specific keywords, but its machine-learning artificial intelligence system, RankBrain, also scans pages for related words and phrases.

This allows the search engine to deliver more reliable results to users, especially the growing number of people making conversational search queries through voice search.

How to rank for RankBrain? Make sure your pages use latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords. These are terms related to the topic of the page, which show Google that you're covering the topic in depth.

While you may be used to targeting a small number of conventional keywords, semantically-relevant LSI keywords can run into the hundreds or even thousands, depending on the length of your page. The trick is finding the most valuable and relevant ones.

You can generate LSI keywords using free tools such as LSI Graph and Google Keyword Planner or by checking out the related search terms at the bottom of Google search results.

2. In-depth content is king

Quality is always important, whatever type of content you're writing, but search engines are increasingly favoring quantity too. A long web page, blog post or other document that covers a topic in detail is more likely to rank well and get shared than multiple, shorter pages breaking the topic down.

Research has shown that this type of quality, in-depth content needs to be at least 2,000 words in length to cover all the information necessary to readers. Not all pages need to be that long, but you should look for opportunities to merge several pages into one if they share the same theme, bringing all the information together into one place.

A BuzzSumo study of 100 million pages found that long, authoritative content generated more shares and backlinks than shorter pages, especially evergreen content that will always be valuable and isn't likely to go out of date.

3. User experience is more important than ever

As well as working out the context of pages, Google's RankBrain is making user interactions with their search results even more vital for SEO.

RankBrain analyzes how many users click through to pages in search results and how long they stay on the page, scroll down or click through the website. It then reorganizes search results to favor those websites with high engagement and push down those with low interest.

Google has stated that RankBrain is the third most important ranking factor in its search algorithm at present, so it's important to address any issues with user experience that your pages might have. This includes:

  • Speeding up slow loading times
  • Extending time spent reading the page (dwell time)
  • Encouraging click-throughs to more pages on your site
  • Lowering the bounce rate of people leaving

A study by SearchMetrics found that dwell time for the first page of Google search results was 3 minutes and 10 seconds on average, reaffirming that search engines favor long, engaging content.

Pages that have low click-throughs and poor engagement will gradually lose their place in the top search results, no matter how well they've been gamed for traditional SEO.

4. Featured snippets are the new goal

Ranking #1 on Google isn't the perk it used to be, with featured snippets, image carousels, local results, maps and ads often pushing the organic traffic far down the page. The most significant of these are featured snippets – short previews of content from one of the pages on the first page results.

Featured snippets usually show up for search queries in the form of a question. They're intended to answer the question briefly without the user having to click through to the page, unless they want more information.

More than 11% of all search results now present a featured snippet, according to SEMrush. Ahrefs found that the presence of a featured snippet means the number one search result gets 25% less traffic than it would without.

Featured snippets come in three forms:

  • Paragraph – the most common type of snippet, answering or summarizing the search query
  • List – number or bullet lists
  • Table – comparison charts or other data

To claim a featured snippet, your page already needs to be in the first page of search results for your target keywords. Target question-type search terms that already have a featured snippet and write snippet-friendly content. This means:

  • Start with the most important information that answers the search query
  • Keep paragraphs 40-50 words in length (SEMrush)
  • Use descriptive headers with proper formatting
  • Format lists and tables correctly
  • Include a relevant image

This is no guarantee of becoming a featured snippet, but if yours looks better than the existing alternative, Google should take note before long.

5. Mobile websites are now the default

Google has rewarded mobile-friendly websites and penalized others for years, but now that mobile use has reached 60% of all search queries, desktop users are the minority.

As a result, Google has announced that its search indexes now prioritize the mobile version of pages, although the appropriate version will still be shown to users on other devices.

If you haven't already been notified by Google that mobile-first indexing is enabled for your website, this could be because your site isn't as mobile-friendly as it could be.

You can check this by using Google's free mobile-friendly test, which also offers recommendations if your page is found to be lacking. More suggestions are:

  • Don't hide content under expandable sections or menus on mobile
  • Swap the mobile 'm.' theme for a responsive theme that adjusts for every screen
  • Make your content more conversational and better suited to voice search

6. YouTube is the world's second-largest search engine

Search engine optimization campaigns can't afford to ignore video, and YouTube in particular. Cisco predicts online video to account for 80% of online traffic by 2021, with more and more people choosing to bypass traditional search engines and go straight for video results.

What's more, over half of Google search results pages now contain at least one video, many in the form of large video snippets that are hard to ignore. YouTube thumbnails also frequently show up in image searches.

Companies in all industries can benefit from video marketing, but it takes careful planning. Creating high quality video content doesn't have to be more challenging or time consuming than writing blogs, as long as it's planned with care. This is especially the case with the growth of live streaming, which can be completed in a single session without the need for later editing.

Once you've created video content, the optimization process should be familiar – adding keywords (not too many) and related phrases to the video's title, description and tags, as well as to the thumbnail file description and video file itself. You can also embed your videos into your blog posts and web pages to spruce up your written content and share them on your social media accounts.

7. Almost half of searches are voice searches

Voice assistants are getting more sophisticated all the time. While the technology is still subject to error, more people are embracing the convenience and speed of hands-free voice search every year, with ComScore forecasting that 50% of all searches will be voice by 2020.

With voice set to overtake text search in the years ahead, optimizing for voice search is essential for future-proofing your website. People don't speak like they type, and understanding the differences is the key to leveraging voice search success.

Voice search queries tend to be longer and phrased as questions. Searchers may then ask follow-up questions that the search engine knows are semantically related to the previous search, and will automatically substitute any missing words.

With most voice searches being based around questions such as who, what, where, when and why, keyword research tools such as Answer the Public could give you ideas for phrases to target. Using a question and answer format in your content can attract more voice hits too – making FAQ pages ever more valuable as voice search grows.

8. Local SEO beats big brands

Google knows when searches are local, giving local companies precedence over national and global chains for many common search queries. If you have a local business, a good presence in local search results can build your profile and drive traffic to your website and physical premises.

Search results pages now provide more information about local businesses than ever, including listings and maps above the search results. Setting up a Google My Business page means you can edit this information and make sure your business name, address and contact details are listed correctly and consistently across directories.

You should also sign up to other listing sites and review sites. Encourage customers to leave positive ratings and testimonials if they've enjoyed your experience, and this could help you to rise above the competition, especially if their own local SEO strategy is less developed.

9. Images need to be optimized

If you've neglected image optimization in the past, you can't afford to any longer. Greater emphasis is being placed on on-page SEO, and Google Images now link directly to source websites rather than images themselves, which has boosted traffic to those sites.

Search engines are getting better at identifying the contents of images, but you can help them along by including keywords or a descriptive phrase in the file name, alt text and text on the page close to the image. Keep in mind that keyword stuffing isn't tolerated in images any more than it is in standard SEO.

You should also avoid using large images that could slow down page loading times, as user experience is an important ranking factor and many will quickly abandon a slow site. You can reduce the size of images without losing quality by using a file compressor such as compressor.io or using 'next-gen' image formats such as JPEG 2000, JPG XR or WebP that hold more data in a smaller package.

10. Secure sites rank better

If you haven't switched your website from HTTP to HTTPs yet, not only will you be at greater risk from cyberattacks from hackers, your search ranking could suffer as well.

Google announced HTTPs encryption as a ranking factor five years ago, even before their Chrome browser started to warn visitors to HTTP pages that the site was 'not secure.' A HubSpot survey found that 85% of people will stop browsing a site that isn't secure, which can also make you look less professional.

All website builders today should create your site in secure HTTPs by default. If you have an older website, ask the host whether you can switch or consider creating a new, more secure site on another platform.

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