As each year ends and the new year is about to roll in, it is time to think “big thoughts” about what will define search marketing in the coming year.
Last year looking at the challenges ahead, I thought that the defining trends would be Google’s move to mobile-first indexing and the growing use of voice search. This, coupled with changed SERPs, were anticipated to make 2018 a year with mostly incremental change.
These 2018 predictions have come to pass.
Mobile has continued to grow, voice search has gained momentum and the changes to the SERP have shown an intense focus on keeping the user on the page, while directly answering the query.
In 2019, what trends will impact search? This year, perhaps it is time to look to the user and away from the search engine itself. How are users changing and how will this change SEO? Machine learning and AI have made it easier for Google to understand user intent and provide search results that directly address their queries.
The Questions Yield the Answers
Understanding user intent and delivering semantically accurate search results have long been the Holy Grail of search. The advances in AI and machine learning have made it possible for Google to develop a much keener understanding of the user’s intent. What did the user really want to know? All those questions in the SERPs pages have surely yielded a treasure trove of data on user intent. It is now time in 2019 for SEOs to target our messages more directly to the user. It is time to question whether just targeting keywords is the answer. In my opinion, it is time in 2019 to marry keywords to user intent and our marketing messages.
Content Still Reigns, Better Content Conquests
Recent years have shown that for search, content is king. But now, it is imperative to move beyond content for content’s sake into a new realm. Content must be highly valuable and directed with surgical precision to the user. For those who expect to drive sales from search, this will mean creating content that attracts the visitor and addresses the precise need. In my opinion, the value of winning the SERP for the so-called head terms will decline as users demand answers to increasingly specific queries. Voice and mobile searchers no longer fill their queries with Boolean strings of keywords. They want the answer to a specific question now, not after plowing through pages and pages of search results. Content that addresses the user’s immediate query will conquest over imprecise, generic content.
Users Will Broaden Where They Search
In October, I urged readers to optimize their Amazon product listings. This was in response to data that has shown that users begin their product searches on Amazon, not at Google product search. There is a lesson to be learned here: Users will shift where they search to where they believe they will get the best answer. This will continue into 2019, and it is imperative for marketers to broaden their focus to embrace changing user behavior.
Customer Privacy Concerns Will Creep Into Search
The data breaches and wholesale exchange and use of highly personalized data across some big tech firms can be expected to have a corrosive impact on consumer trust. This is particularly important as search becomes more able to target exactly what consumers want. In my opinion, it will be increasingly important in 2019 to build brand recognition and trust so that when your brand appears in the search results, consumers feel confident that yours is a brand they can trust.
User Focus Still Requires Optimal Site Performance
It is not enough to just focus search marketing efforts on meeting users’ needs, but the site itself should not get lost in the shuffle. Solid technical search is still going to be needed. Mobile optimization is essential. So, too, are site speed improvements and adding more rich text. This means that you must not take your foot off the gas on site optimization. While you are at it, consider enhancing your metrics expertise and technology so that you can determine how well all your efforts are working.