However much you know about SEO, it's not enough if you don't keep on top of the latest trends. Google's algorithm updates and changing user habits mean the SEO rulebook is constantly being rewritten. Businesses that don't keep up will quickly fall behind, or even get penalized if you're following outdated rules.

If you're refreshing your digital marketing in 2020, here are 10 major SEO trends you need to be aware of.

1. Search queries are getting longer

According to Smart Insights, 50% of search queries now contain four words or more. With only 8% of searches being phrased in the form of a question (Moz), this means searchers are instead using long-tail keyword phrases to get more tailored results than they would through generic terms.

Keyword research is still the bedrock of on-page SEO, and including long-tail keywords on your pages can increase the click-through rate (CTR) by 3% to 5%. However, stuffing too many keywords into your content or titles will lead to penalties.

2. In-depth content ranks better

What's the perfect length for a web page or blog post? Analysis of first-page search results (SERPs) by Backlinko, serpIQ and others found that Google favors content around 2,000 words in length. Long content is more likely to be shared once read and receives more backlinks than shorter content.

That doesn't mean you should pad out pages longer than they need to be, but you should look for opportunities to combine several shorter, related pages into one. Well-performing pages offer quality as well as quantity. Longer pages favored by Google are judged to be in-depth and authoritative, offering more value to users.

3. Being number one is still important

With organic search results now often sharing prime SERPs real estate with featured snippets, sponsored links, local listings, image carousels and more generated fields, brands have more opportunities to get featured beyond the traditional top 10. But a high organic search ranking is still an important goal.

2019 research by SEOClarity found that the number one organic search result received 19.3% of clicks on desktop and 27.7% of clicks on mobile. The top five results together accounted for more than two thirds (67.6%) of clicks (Zero Limit Web), and 75% of searchers don't look further than this (HubSpot).

4. Backlinks may be the decisive ranking factor

However finely optimized your pages are, you won't rank highly if you don't have good off-page SEO in the form of backlinks. Links to your content on third-party sites increase your authority and your Google rank.

Google says high-quality content and link building are the two most important ranking signals, but studies by Backlinko and Ahrefs suggest that backlinks have the edge. Not having backlinks is the main reason why pages don't get any organic traffic from Google.

5. Page speed and dwell time are ranking factors

After quality content and link building, Google claims that its machine-learning AI system RankBrain is the third most important page ranking factor.

RankBrain analyzes metrics such as the time your page takes to load (page speed), how long people spend on the page (dwell time) and how many leave without clicking further (bounce rate). It compares these with other sites and favors the site that offers the best user experience.

6. Google penalizes non-secure pages

If your website isn't secured by HTTPs encryption – or it features non-secure HTTP elements such as images – not only will you be at risk from hackers, but your page rank will also suffer. Jumpshot found that 94% of SERPs was made up of HTTPs pages in 2019.

If you create a website in 2020, it will probably be HTTPs encrypted by default. You can check whether your existing site is secure by looking for the green padlock icon by the URL on Google's Chrome browser or contacting your web host. They can tell you how to switch to a more secure site build if you need to.

7. Google prioritizes mobile sites

Now that more than half of searches are carried out on mobiles (StatCounter), Google's algorithm has shifted from desktop-first to mobile-first.

If your website isn't optimized for mobile users, your SEO has probably already taken a hit. Make sure you're using a responsive template that adapts to different screen sizes and layouts, and avoid page features such as expandable 'hamburger' menus that don't perform well on mobile.

8. Almost half of searches are local

If you're targeting a local audience, you should prioritize local SEO. This means including location keywords and adding your listing to Google My Business and other local directories.

64% of consumers check Google My Business for contact details of local companies (Brightlocal). Google reports that three quarters of consumers visit a business they've researched within 24 hours, and 28% of local searches end in a purchase.

9. Voice search is growing rapidly

Voice search exploded in 2019, with a MindMeld survey finding that 60% of people started using the option for the first time within the past year. ComScore predicts that half of searches will be voice searches by 2020.

To optimize your pages for voice queries, make sure you include keywords phrased like natural speech and include semantically related phrases to capture follow-up questions.

10. Visual search is coming

Another type of search that's gaining momentum is visual search. Machine learning apps such as Google Lens and Bing Visual Search allow users to search by image rather than by text or voice. 62% of millennial internet users surveyed by ViSense said they would be more comfortable with visual search than any other new technology.

With image-based sites such as Instagram being among the fastest growing platforms, and 20% of all online searches being image searches (Sparktoro), marketers should make sure their website images are up to scratch with optimized file names, captions and alt text.

Talk to the SEO experts

Worried about falling behind in SEO? Contact our digital marketing experts for as much help as you need getting your pages to the top of Google.

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