Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful to everyone. As such, it consistently improves its search function, catering to the evolving demands of web users.
The search engine giant regularly rolls out minor and broad core algorithm updates, enabling them to match queries with more satisfying answers. In the last five years, search engine optimization has undergone many changes, which forced digital marketers to restructure their strategies.
Among the game-changing updates Google has implemented in the last 10 years are mobile-first indexing, BERT, and RankBrain. These algorithms make the search engine smarter than ever, making life easier for end-users.
The 2019 Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey revealed that in many developed countries, 90 percent of adults own smartphones. Ninety-five percent of these people use their phones every day.
The smartphone has become integral to many people’s lives, affecting many of their habits – even the way they shop. Since 2015, more searches have been made on mobile devices than on computers. In response, Google implemented mobile-first indexing.
This overhaul means that the mobile version of your content is now the main basis for indexing and ranking. So your website can get deranked for not being mobile-friendly, even if it’s desktop-optimized. The goal of this update is to ensure that smartphone users get a smooth, seamless browsing experience.
Since July 2019, mobile-first indexing is the default algorithm used for all new websites.
Another significant change in Google’s algorithm is its ability to match queries with satisfying answers more accurately by understanding user intent.
RankBrain: Understanding Search Intent
Google incorporated machine learning to its algorithm so that it constantly evolves, allowing it to process unique queries. This smart sorting capacity called RankBrain went live in 2015.
Fifteen percent of the queries Google receives each day are new. In other words, no one has ever used a specific set of words to ask the same question before. The goal of RankBrain is to understand the intent behind the search. Even if there are typos or errors in the query, Google will be able to return satisfying answers.
If the search engine encounters a never-before-seen query, RankBrain infers the intent of using past searches. Because it uses machine learning, the algorithm stores this new information for similar questions in the future.
RankBrain helps Google fulfill its mission of organizing the world’s information. So it quickly became the third-most important SEO ranking factor, right after links and content.
To provide more satisfying, direct results to users, Google further improved its search function through BERT. It gives the search engine a more advanced capability to break down queries, gaining a near-human understanding of content.
BERT: Near-Human Understanding of Content
Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT for short, was rolled out late last year. Whereas RankBrain enhances the algorithm’s understanding of search intent, BERT improves how the search engine analyzes the language used in queries.
Instead of nitpicking every word, BERT allows the search engine to take the question as a whole – context and nuances included. The algorithm is especially helpful in cases where propositions like “for” and “to” change the meaning of the query.
BERT also improves the search engine’s ability to process questions in conversational language. This advantage is beneficial as voice search grows more popular since these queries are commonly phrased in the most natural way possible.
Google zeroed in on a specific type of web page content to protect its users, tightening the search quality rating guidelines on “Your Money or Your Life” or YMYL pages.
Protecting “Your Money, Your Life”
YMYL content refers to those that may have a negative impact on a person’s health, safety, happiness, health, and financial stability. Apart from delivering the best-fitting answer to every query, Google wants to make sure that the content they offer is reliable and factual.
Enduring black hat SEO tricks and the emergence of fake news forced the tech giant to take a more aggressive stance toward ensuring content quality.
Google emphasizes the important of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness or E-A-T for YMYL pages. This means making sure your content is factually accurate and published by people with genuine expertise in the topic.
With these algorithm changes, you must be lightning-fast in adopting new trends and techniques to stay on top of search. Whether you’re a digital strategist or planning to start your own SEO business, adaptability is key to keeping up with Google’s regular broad core updates.
Factoring in the four significant algorithm changes – YMYL, BERT, RankBrain, and mobile-first indexing, below are the techniques that SEO and SEM professionals can’t afford to ignore in 2020.
SEO Trends to Focus on in 2020
Voice Search Optimization
Voice searches have been growing in volume since 2016. Industry experts attribute this trend to the increasing mobile usage of consumers for research purposes. Plus, the value proposition of voice search is simple but compelling: it’s so much easier to talk than type. It leaves your hands free to multitask.
Optimizing for voice searches means adapting to two of the mentioned algorithm updates: BERT and mobile-first indexing.
BERT and Voice Search
Voice searchers tend to phrase their queries conversationally. This means posing questions like “How far is Lincoln Center from the Empire State Building?” instead of saying “Lincoln Center distance to Empire State.” BERT processes the voice search and understands that the user is pertaining to distance even if the word isn’t explicitly mentioned.
This attribute of voice searches means targeting your usual keywords isn’t enough. Instead, use tools that generate questions related to different search phrases. Answer the Public, for example, provides a set of queries segmented into whos, wheres, whens, whats, and hows.
The People Also Ask box on SERPs is another useful tool. This feature pulls up queries related to your original search, giving insight into the kind of questions users ask regarding a specific subject. This information should allow you to come up with helpful topics to cover in your content.
Mobile-First Indexing and Voice Searches
Users rely on voice search when they’re multitasking or rushing, so it mostly happens on mobile devices. This means you have to abide by Google’s mobile-first indexing best practices if you want to win voice searches.
First, make sure your website has quick-to-load pages. Mobile voice search users are usually on-the-go and they expect quick results. Second, make your content reader- and voice-friendly by keeping your paragraphs short and concise. Virtual assistants usually mimic the top result. You want to make sure your content is direct-to-the-point to fulfill the user’s demand for urgency.
The quickly growing number of voice searches is also caused by another trend this 2020: featured snippets.
Featured snippets appear as the top entry in SERPs or what we call “position zero.” They provide a direct, concise answer to the query, so that users won’t have to scroll through different websites. The featured snippet is what digital assistants usually read aloud during voice searches.
Winning featured snippets means focusing on your content. Their primary purpose is to offer the most satisfying answer to the query, deciphering the user’s search intent to do so.
Since it relies on user intent, optimizing for featured snippets means adapting to RankBrain.
RankBrain and Featured Snippets
Again, with RankBrain, the keywords don’t matter as much as the context does. For SEO analysts, this means amending your keyword research strategy.
Use close variants and semantic keywords of your target search terms to better suit the user’s intent. This way, you won’t have to compete for exact match keywords that have an extremely high search volume. You aim for those that drive enough traffic but are still easy to rank for instead.
Use tools like TextOptimizer, which generates a list of related topics and phrases based on existing search snippets. These snippets come from Google’s high-ranking pages, so you can be sure that they’re strategic keywords to use in your content.
Out of the four algorithm updates mentioned, three focus on content–BERT, YMYL, and RankBrain. This means SEO analysts and digital strategists should exert extra effort in creating high-impact content for users.
The YMYL update mainly involves content, emphasizing the value of E-A-T. Run an SEO audit on your site to spot issues on your off-page and on-page content. It can measure factors such as keyword relevance, content quality, length, and ease of reading.
To improve your content for YMYL pages, observe the best practices below.
Content Marketing for YMYL
First, create profiles for your content creators. This includes the author’s short bio, articles published under their name, links to their professional social accounts, citations, and even participation in industry events.
Make sure your writers only speak or write about topics that are in their field of expertise. This is essential for content marketing strategy of any website. Don’t offer advice on matters that don’t fall under your specialization. Use only factual, timely, and authoritative sources for your internal links to support the data you present.
Build your authority by publishing articles on reputable and established sites. Forbes, Business Insider, and Harvard Business Review are some publications you want to aim for.
Although social media doesn’t have any direct influence on your SEO, you can use these channels to drive traffic to your on-page content. Share your articles on your social media profiles and in online communities that are relevant to your industry. This increases your reach, and possibly, your engagement.
Ultimately, the focus of your SEO strategy should be your users. Although search engines impose plenty of ranking guidelines, your goal should be to please the reader instead of the algorithm.
You are writing for people, after all.
Providing the best possible user experience will get you better rankings. And this strategy works, proven by the fact that Google continues to advance its algorithm so that it rewards remarkable content. Provide the content that your users would want and need to read about, and your page one ranking should follow.