Updated in november 2020
General marketers and some specialists occasionally have a difficult time grasping what SEO is – if it’s important and whether it should be a key focus for digital marketing activity. Ultimately, nowadays we like to think search engine optimisation is not a stand-alone channel but as a “series of best practices for the majority of online (and offline) channels”.
Think about it. Planning a Display campaign? Ever thought of using a “search” call to action or developing a new landing page for part of a paid search strategy? What kind of impact will this have on SEO; will this cause duplicate content? Could we optimise this landing page for a natural search to give an opportunity to rank organically?
There’re a lot of questions to be asked but to make it easy, we collated a round-up of some of the most common questions asked by clients and digital marketing peers, with our take on the answer.
Is SEO dead?
Critics (we like to think of them as paid search specialists) have said that SEO is dead or has been dying for many years, and this simply is not true. Instead, SEO has evolved in a variety of ways. Borrowing elements from PR, journalism, video, and even traditional marketing to drive results.
The landscape of search has changed dramatically over the last few years. With the introduction of page speed and user insights as a ranking factor, and the rise of voice search, SEO experts’ job is not the same now as it was five years ago.
Admittedly with the introduction of ‘not provided‘ in 2011, we can see how many marketers place more value in paid search than organic, at-least at a keyword level. However, as we’re told more and more – keywords are not the be-all and end-all.
Ultimately, we think this change in the landscape with natural search professions having to borrow elements from other channels, combined with a lack of transparent data really sparked this conversion on SEO dying.
Therefore, is SEO dead in 2020? The answer here is of course is no. SEO is one of the most successful strategies to increase brand awareness organically. Nowadays, Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) are working harder to offer to online users what they are looking for. What is new in SEO in 2020 then?
- Voice and visual search optimisations. With the rise of smart speakers, online voice shopping is expected to make up to $40 billion in sales in 2022. If you are not optimising your sites for voice search, you are gonna be losing a lot of revenue.
- User intent is key. Search engines are looking at that information that is displayed offering the best User Experience (UX). With video carousels and featured snippets, the era of easy to access data is here to stay.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI). Machine learning technologies are now one of the most relevant components of search engine algorithms. These technologies utilise search queries to predict search intent, gathering, and analysing how users react to these searches.
How has SEO evolved?
Historically, grey hat techniques that drove results in the early days of search engine optimisation no longer work, however as mentioned SEO is not dead. Instead, since the introduction of the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird/Knowledge Graph parts of the ranking algorithm, the practices to increase search engine visibility have changed.
Now, there will always be a place for technical SEO and this mostly hasn’t undergone a large change over the last few years. Ensuring that a website is accessible from GoogleBots (or BingBots) and guaranteeing there aren’t any pitfalls that are causing indexation, crawl-ability or duplicate content issues will play a key part in any SEO strategy of many years to come.
This change in SEO is more to do with content. With the introduction of the Panda, the quality of the content found on a domain is a large part of the on-site ranking factors. Similarly, with the introduction of Penguin, the ability to grow search presence by the purchasing of backlinks is no longer an approach that drives results. Instead, this off-site part of the ranking algorithm, a.k.a links, need to be generated naturally – you need to give a reason for someone to link to you.
This is where we arrive back to content. Whether this is a kick-ass blog post, awesome infographic, or great data visualisation, these are great opportunities to generate coverage/buzz (links) to your domain.
So while there has been a dramatic shift in how you can grow SEO visibility, the end goal is the same.
Should I be investing in paid or organic search?
It’s a bit of a copout but it’s impossible to answer this question without taking the specific situation of a given brand or domain into consideration. For example, a local business that has a small amount of competition that is looking to drive a few leads per week could develop strong visibility in organic and local search results – with a small spend.
However, if you’re a brand-new ecommerce platform that is looking to compete with some of the web giants such as eBay or Amazon, it’s likely that in the short term organic search is going to be a huge uphill battle – and you may want to look at investing in PPC.
Additionally, there is always going to be a case for established brands to run SEO and PPC simultaneously. A website may have fantastic SEO visibility for a fleet of core services, however, let’s say a new product range or service is added it will be difficult to rank for this in the short term – thus paid search is a strong short-term solution to boost search visibility and generate conversions for these services. To take this a step further to a keyword level, brands may want to turn off bidding on keywords where they rank in the top three positions organically. Spend can then be re-directed to keywords where is there is limited SEO visibility.
How powerful is your domain? Do you need to generate conversions now? What’s the cost per click for relevant keywords? What’s the competition like in organic search?
Ultimately what we’re talking about above is investing time into a clear digital marketing strategy – identifying long and short-term goals is imperative when making a decision regarding whether PPC, SEO, or a combined approach is the best option.
In 2020, organic search is considered the most relevant traffic source, as it is often the first point of contact between a consumer and a business.
- Google directs the largest quantity of traffic as they are the most trusted resource for people when performing a purchase.
- Google is also very careful about their rankings and so, the first positions on the ranking will always be for that content that is high quality.
- People tend to prefer organic links instead of paid ads. 70% of the links clicked by users are organic.
- Looking at local SEO stats, 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile phone are visited or receive a call from a user in the next 24 hours.
Will backlinks ever not be part of Google’s algorithm?
In our opinion, not anytime soon. There have been, however, conversations about dropping links as a ranking factor for nearly as long as links have been part of the algorithm.
At SMX Advanced 2012 the previous head of webspam at Google Matt Cutts stated:
I wouldn’t write the epitaph for links just yet.Matt Cutts
Two years later in a Google webmaster video dated February 2014, a user wrote to the webspam team asking if there was a “version” of the Google algorithm that excluded backlinks as a ranking factor. Cutts responded:
We have run experiments like that internally, and the quality looks much, much worse. It turns out backlinks, even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part, is still a really, really big win in terms of the quality of our search results.Matt Cutts
So we’ve played around with the idea of turning off backlink relevance, and at least for now, backlink relevance still really helps in terms of making sure that we return the best, most relevant, most topical set of search results.
Yandex, the largest search engine in Russia announced in December 2013 that links would not be part of their ranking algorithm for some industries. A year later, Yandex brought links back as a key part of their ranking factor. Previously, Yandex was overcome by shady link tactics in their algorithm, so they attempted to try and create an algorithm without them. Evidentially this shift away from links not playing a part of the ranking factor was not a success.
How will voice search impact SEO over the next few years?
Anyone with even a vague interest in SEO will be aware that the rise of voice search and personal assistants like Alexa or Siri will massively impact the future of search engine optimisation. Voice inputted queries on mobile devices will see the rise of direct answers to satisfy these voice queries. Sometimes called rich answers Google and Bing provide direct answer results in answer to specific user questions, where traditionally links to other websites were displayed.
Try it yourself. Open your phone and ask Google: “who is the president of the united states?” this will display Donald Trump. Next, ask “who is his wife”. This would then display as a result, which should display Melania Trump. (accurate as of 2018)
This is an example of the power of the Hummingbird and Knowledge Graph elements of the Google algorithm. Not only can google work out the entities of “President” “United States” and that “who” refers to a person, the follow-up query Google can understand that the “his” in “who is his wife” is related to the prior question and can connect the dots.
Direct answers are Google’s way to provide the best user experience by answer search-questions in the search engine results pages as quickly as possible.
The impact of this on SEO and website practices alike is that domains will need to provide clear answers to these search-led questions.
By the end of 2020, voice searches are expected to be more than 50% of all searches, which is a huge rise. Other studies show that by 2023, over eight billion voice assistants will be in use. Voice searches are changing our approaches to technologies and, now that we have better voice recognition systems, searches are well adapted to natural language. Businesses are then using these technologies to improve the overall user experience.
In terms of keyword searches, queries will be longer than three or four keyword searches. Marketers or business owners will need to figure out and adapt more long-tail keywords, as the longer the keywords are, the highest conversion it will get.
Being one of the best search engine optimisation companies, MintTwist is constantly looking into the evolution of SEO – and will keep you updated with all the latest changes.
Need help regarding the latest voice search SEO news? Contact us for SEO consultancy London.