Salience’s 2020 SEO Predictions

As a new decade approaches, the Salience team have been speculating about what the next 12 months may have in store for digital marketers.

We’ve already looked back over a busy 2019 with our The Big Fat Google Algorithm Review, so today we’re looking forward with our predictions, theories and guesstimations for SEO in 2020.

1. Google will expand their content output and dominate more search results

By Alex Harford

Google-owned YouTube already dominates search engine results where videos are concerned, with competitors like Vimeo and Dailymotion barely getting an ounce of YouTube’s visibility according to Searchmetrics data.

Thinkwithgoogle.com, a website about digital marketing and data, ranks well for many related keywords, as well as unrelated and competitive keywords such as [asmr] – currently 5th in Google UK behind only Wikipedia, YouTube, vox.com and sleep.org:

Google Arts & Culture was launched to share high resolution images of museum artwork online. Yet this Google.com subdomain includes hundreds of articles and continues to expand. It already ranks well for common topics. As well as names of people involved in arts and culture, although these aren’t huge volume keywords, I found articles ranking in Google’s top 10 for keywords such as [bruce lee action]:

And [LGBTQI artists]:

About.google’s Stories are another example of Google’s content creation – articles about how Google products are used around the world.

Googlebot is the most powerful scraper in the world, and Google have infinite data on what content is popular and the type of content that works well. They use this knowledge to improve their search algorithm yet could also be using it to hone their own content-creating efforts. Google (as Alphabet Inc.) owns over 200 companies – more data and potential reach.

Website owners and content creators won’t be happy if Google muscles in on content, but Google have the knowledge and power to do it.

2. More SERP Enhancements from Structured Data & Schema

By Tom Fenlon

New schemas and forms of structured data are being added all the time. But a lot of which aren’t represented within Google SERPs.

However, within 2020, I predict that we will see a lot more schema features being added within the SERP with further structured data to provide a more comprehensive search listing from a glance.

This is because by having a more comprehensive overview of a webpage before even landing on it may answer users’ questions from the offset – or at least allowing users to identify which page is best going to answer their query.

This benefits Google as users are getting the best answer as quickly as possible, and this also benefits webmasters (if they are the listing that is getting clicked on that is!) as this should lead to a lower bounce rate, increased engagement and conversion rate.

One of the reasons why I believe Google are going to be placing greater importance on this aspect of websites is due to the fact they have been spending a lot of time informing webmasters and SEOs about structured data at a recent conference in Zurich.

This combined with the increasing integration between structured data and Search Console points to an increased focus by Google.

With this, I would also expect structured data penalties for those misusing structured data in an effort to mislead customers!

Moving forward, it is important that SEOs pay a particular focus on structured data, ensuring it is a key part of their search and content strategy.

3. Google will stop Pre-Announcing Algorithm Updates

By David Ryan

Ahead of the June 2019 algorithm update, Google took to Twitter to pre-announce the adjustment:

This was a refreshing first for Google, who often retroactively confirm an update, rather than letting webmasters know ahead of time.

This notice was extremely helpful in preparing client expectations and understanding performance fluctuations for the approaching change.

Google even suggested they would continue this going forward:

Source – Search Engine Roundtable.

However, as cooperative as this pre-announcement was and despite their assurances to the contrary, I don’t think it won’t carry over into 2020. Why? Just a few weeks earlier Google had several indexation bugs in their algorithm which resulted in hundreds if not thousands of webpages dropping out of their index, through no fault of webmasters. I think this pre-announcement was a “Oops, sorry about that everyone!” unspoken apology to perturbed site owners.

Additionally, in November 2019, webmasters had noticed more fluctuations across the SERP’s and when asking Google for answers, they tweeted out this rather spikey response:

A thread of further passive aggressive tweets followed, linking webmasters to several previous statements on algorithm refreshes and what to expect:

This is very different tone of voice to the helpful pre-announcing Google of just a few months earlier.

Therefore, I think the surprising algorithm alerts beforehand were short-lived and won’t be joining us in 2020, with Google going back to reactively confirming updates shrouded in mystery.

4. Old content will get older, quicker

By Danny Bee

I predict that in 2020 content published on the web that’s considered old and outdated will be dealt with (pushed down into the abyss) quicker and more noticeably than it is at present. Google will E-A-T the old stuff and replace it with the fresh, authoritative new content.

As we know, Google already publicly states that they “prioritize fresher content” and so, as SEOs, we’re often recommending content is updated on the regular, with a “Last updated on” date slapped in there to prove it, or better still that evergreen content is created that lasts. However, it’s not difficult to find not-so-fresh content doing well with rankings (even on page 1) – you can stumble on these sorts of pages every day.

In 2020, I believe Google will adopt a stricter, more stringent approach to content considered outdated in their eyes.

And this is a POSITIVE because if those out-of-date pages you spotted with your morning coffee are competing for the keywords you’re going for, with Google now scrutinising them more, this is an opportunity to shout “Out with the old and in with the new!” while stealing their spot.

Even if you don’t have a competing page yet, you’ve already identified the outdated content, you can use tools to verify that content is still getting traffic, and you’re ready to put together a brand-new resource that’s hopefully more useful, more comprehensive and a better match for the search intent.

Outdated content isn’t a reliable source, so Google is gonna E-A-T it!

For those unaware, Google introduced factors of Expertise, Authority and Trust (E-A-T) into their algorithm, so the importance of a site’s trust signals now cannot be overstated. In the Search algorithms section of Google’s How Search Works report E-A-T is cited as a ranking signal, as is the “expertise of sources”.

If some (hopefully not all) of your site content is looking a bit dusty and dated, well, that’s a signal to Google you may no longer be an authoritative source for the subject matter. And that’s not going to be great for earning clicks and organic traffic! Take action before 2020 or use my glimpse into the future as an opportunity to get ahead!

5. Increased Volatility in non-English SERPs

By Tom Fenlon

In 2020, I predict that there is going to be an increase in volatility within non-English SERPs.

In my opinion, this will have a larger impact on some industries (primarily loans, medical, gambling) more than others, but I would predict that most industries will see a shake-up of some sort.

Currently, the landscape of some non-English SERPs is very reminisce of pre-penguin days – with websites with the most links ranking for competitive search terms, regardless of quality of content. This is due to Google’s difficulty in translating and understanding contextual nuances of other languages – therefore allowing other ranking factors to take priority, hence the strength of links.

However, with the introduction of BERT, I believe this is set to change as content will be deemed more important within non-English SERPs than links in 2020.

As it stands, BERT is only having an impact on featured snippets within non-English search results. Whilst in English language SERPs, it is having an effect on over 10% of searches, but this will increase over time as BERT becomes more effective.

However, due to the advancement in machine learning, the exponential nature of it and general technological improvements when it comes to performance, I would expect BERT to start applying this to different languages very quickly. This is going to change the SERP landscape drastically, with an increase in featured snippets, more emphasis on quality content and devaluing the reliance on links.

6. The Disavow Tool isn’t going Anywhere

By David Ryan

In the years since the 2012 introduction of the Google Disavow Tool, many believe it doesn’t have much value anymore, especially since Google integrated Penguin as a real-time aspect of the algorithm.

However, Google’s John Mueller recently talked about links in a video hangout and how they related to the November 2019 algorithm update. During the call, several webmasters theorised that links had been targeted in this algorithm refresh. John said it wasn’t link focused, but he did offer the disavow tool as a solution in dealing with low value backlinks:

“If you can’t remove those links then using the disavow file is an option, that’s one way for us to kind of drop those links from being used.”

He continued later “In general, usually though people try to focus on either removing the links from the source site or using the disavow tool.”

The fact a highly influential figure at Google is still suggesting using the disavow tool as a solution at the end of 2019, indicates that the service is not going anywhere fast in 2020.

Could Google consider it less in the future? Absolutely and probably very likely, especially as the algorithm becomes more sophisticated, but I think it will still be very valuable as we head into next year.

7. Videos will be huge in 2020

By Danny Bee

Video is everywhere on the web – it’s set to account for 82% of all traffic by 2022 according to Cisco

With a smartphone in every hand and fast internet (even on the go), accessibility to video is fuelling that fire. It’s now even directly in the SERP – have you noticed Google answering search queries with video featured snippets? Beyond this, there’s an explosion of video in the sights of my crystal ball.

In 2020 it’s time to get over the intimidation of making videos given the potential SEO boost they will bring.

The SEO benefit video offers already can’t be sniffed at; a ranking boost from the increased user engagement and dwell time on page, for one. The shareability of video and the impact of this sharing combined with your source link, for another.

We’ll always love lengthy, comprehensive guides that satisfy the search intent (so will Google), but quite frankly it’s quicker to watch a video than it is to wade through all that content. You don’t have to choose one or the other either – if you’ve optimised your page with content and it’s ranking, try pushing it further with the addition of video.

If you’re not taking advantage, start with the (Google-owned) YouTube video sharing platform, you may have heard of it.

Your videos will be uploaded to YouTube, but annotations in those videos can link back to your website, as can the video description. Approach a video’s description like a plentiful piece of content on a webpage, such as putting in a list relevant to the topic of the video. Optimise the title and provide a transcript of the video – the text gives search engines a helping hand in understanding videos (but they have become very good at that lately even without).

2021? You’ll have a whole YouTube channel by then, and just like with the content of your webpages, it’s important to keep older videos up-to-date and relevant, keeping up those trust signals.

So, there we have it, a bunch of juicy SEO predictions for 2020. Now it’s your turn, what do you think will be creating the big headlines in digital marketing over the next 12 months? Let us know in the comments below!