As 2019 comes to a close, we look back at some of the predictions for digital marketing that came true: the influx of chat bots and other forms of artificial intelligence and yet, more personalization, programmatic advertising and a heavier focus on video marketing. In the year ahead, we can expect some of these trends to develop further as companies continue looking for more ways to maintain a competitive edge.
Let’s take a look at ways you can prepare your website for the new year so you don’t get lost in the fold:
Check for Compliance and Security
Some of the best ways to protect your site going into the new year is to install the most recent patches and the latest security updates, framework versions, applications and plugins. Additionally, Chrome (and a host of other browsers) are no longer supporting Adobe Flash Player in 2020, so now is the perfect time to convert any Flash elements over to HTML5 if you haven’t already done so. Here is a great guide for how to do this, but you may also choose to pass this on to your dev team. As it turns out, not only will Flash no longer be supported by these browsers, but it has consistently had a whole host of security issues which makes keeping it difficult to justify.
Another notable change that falls more under the purview of compliance rather than security is making sure your site is ADA compliant. Doing so can protect you and your business from a massive payout in legal fees, especially since the number of lawsuits won against companies whose sites aren’t ADA compliant continue to grow from year to year. In fact, according to UsableNet, there was a 181 percent increase in lawsuits filed in federal courts from 2017 to 2018 for this very issue. Furthermore, the first half of 2019 saw a 12% increase in ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal court because their sites didn’t offer accessibility features for people with disabilities.
Some of the latest guidelines include things like making sure your content is coded for audio translation by screen-reader software and including on-screen captions in all videos. Sites must also be sure to have a way for disabled persons to navigate without the use of a mouse. Entire consulting firms exist to help bring company websites into compliance, so it goes without saying that following guidelines is something you’ll absolutely want to do before 2020. For a quick assessment of how well your current site meets the requirements, we found a free tool here and another one here that can show you what you may have missed.
Focus on the User Experience Like Never Before
In 2020, it is predicted that Google will rank site content according to how well is meets a user’s intent instead of a specific string of keywords. Keyword research will become more obsolete as websites continue toward the trend of providing thorough, long-form content that addresses solving the user’s need or request over matching a keyword phrase.
This is because of the Google BERT update which started rolling out during the end of October this year. According to Google, the BERT update (which stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is the biggest search update in five years. Rather than replace RankBrain, BERT was designed to work with the technology to better understand natural language processing and context to serve results that are more relevant to a user’s search query.
So what should you do? When creating content for your site, approach your content plan holistically instead of taking a keyword-centric approach. As mentioned earlier, long-form content that is thorough and answers or solves something for your user is considered higher-quality and has a better chance of ranking well.
Being user-focused means also proving your credibility and trustworthiness. Give visitors reasons to trust you over your competitors by providing reviews, testimonials and case studies showing why visitors need your company.
Lastly, when given the option to read text or watch a video, 72 percent of people said they prefer to watch a video to learn about a product or service (Hubspot). Companies are catching on that video carries more weight when it comes to increasing brand awareness and leads. If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to seriously consider investing in a quality video production team or equipment to create videos in-house.
Be Mobile-Friendly First
More than half of website traffic in the US came from mobile devices in 2018. Since then, Google’s “mobile-first index” now looks at the mobile version of any page for indexing and ranking before any other version. This means that if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re likely losing rank in mobile and desktop results pages.
So what should you do? If you haven’t already, you should make plans for a site that’s optimized for mobile users. Make sure your mobile version has all the same content your desktop version does (certainly not less) and that page speed is high. Additionally, users who are looking for answers using a mobile device are more often than not in the middle of a task, meaning users want answers that are straightforward and simple. Enter, featured snippets.
You may have noticed that along with BERT came a consistent wave of featured snippet results. These snippets are found at the top of the search page and are usually excerpts taken from web pages that provide the clearest, most concise answer or solution to a given user’s query.
Why does this matter? According to an article from Search Engine Land, nearly half of all Google searches resulted in zero clicks meaning that people are finding the answers to their queries without having to click away from the results page. Featured snippets, therefore, have become the new, most highly sought-after position on the results page. To have a shot at ranking for this position, some tips include researching competitors who may currently be in the coveted spot, making numbered or bulleted lists and providing answers that are clear and brief. It also may go without saying, but your page needs to already rank somewhere on the first results page before it can even be considered for a featured snippet position.
Last, but certainly not least on this list is to perform a site audit. During this audit, you need to look over several areas, including pages on your site that may include duplicate content or content that may overlap in rankings because it is too similar. The goal is to make sure each page ranks separately from the others so that you aren’t competing with yourself for the same set of keywords.
Next, take a look at this results page:
Google results are more diverse than ever before: we see a featured snippet, a “people also ask” section, a video carousel and one organic result above the fold (without having to scroll down). Sometimes there may not even be organic results, but a series of paid text ads or a rich card on the right side depending on the search query. This is to say that there are different formats you need to consider now when it comes to planning your content strategy and how to gain visibility among your target users.
One way is to implement structured data. Simply put, structured data is a form of code that tells Google how to interpret your site. Some examples of items that can be put into structured data format are articles, product reviews, how-tos, FAQs, addresses, books and events. By implementing structured data, you can increase your chances of appearing in one of these rich results formats but it isn’t a guarantee. Just remember that Google prefers accuracy over badly-formed structured data, so only use it where it makes sense. You can refer to this guide to help you know what kinds of information Google considers eligible for rich results with the use of structured data.
It’s going to be an exciting year as we continue to see the user journey evolve in search. Utilizing these web site recommendations for 2020, you and your team should be better prepared for what changes lie ahead. However, as we see time and time again in digital marketing, the only consistency is change. Need help staying on top of the changing digital landscape? Let’s talk.