With an eventful 2018 behind us, there isn’t any time to sit back and take stock of everything that has changed in the world of SEO over the past 12 months. It’s already time to put your marketing strategies in place for the year ahead, remembering that what worked this time last year isn’t going to get the same kind of results in 2019.
In this article, we’re looking at what you need to be doing now, by producing this SEO checklist. Think of it as an entire list of SEO-focused New Year’s resolutions for marketers – ones you really need to keep!
#1: Make voice search a priority
Voice search hasn’t yet fully matured as a marketing channel. There are still a few questions waiting to be answered; which voice searches are actually profitable? How are paid ads going to fit in? How do brands turn voice searches into paying customers?
However, the number of consumer journeys starting with voice search is rapidly increasing, so marketers need to start optimising for it now. Voice search is incredibly competitive because devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa can only realistically offer one or two options per voice query – no list of ten audio results in this game.
You can’t afford to wait for voice to become a primary source of lead generation because it will already be too late to compete by then. You need to act now, figure out how to generate leads from voice and put strategies in place to nurture voice searches along the consumer journey.
58% of smart speaker owners have used their device to purchase a new item for the first time (Smart Audio Report, 2017)
First, you’ll need to identify where the opportunities are for your brand and map out the journeys that follow. Searches may start on voice but they’re going to move over to mobile and potentially desktop as soon as users want to compare items/services, read reviews, look at images and get more detailed information.
The voice opportunities will continue to increase over time so being able to spot them quickly will be one of the biggest factors in how successful you are. First, though, you’re going to need an optimised voice strategy in place to seize these opportunities when they arise.
The time to start is now.
#2: Focus on featured snippets
One of the biggest challenges with voice search is the competition that comes with only hearing or seeing one result. This isn’t exclusive to voice search, though. Search in general is becoming more competitive with more results returning featured snippets at the top of pages, above the regular list of results.
Featured snippets are your best chance of optimising for the highly-competitive nature of voice search and the growing number of queries that promote one result above all others.
Getting your content in featured snippets requires a new approach to optimisation. The good news is most brands still aren’t optimising for these, which gives you the chance to dive in there while the competition is still cool.
Just keep in mind that things are going to heat up quickly, so this isn’t something you want to hang around with.
#3: Nail your structured data
Everything Google is innovating right now is about returning back to the most relevant result(s) to users for each given query based on artificial understanding of content. This started with Hummingbird back in 2013 and has taken massive strides since RankBrain rolled out in 2015 – a deep learning component of its core algorithm that teaches itself what people are really looking for based on huge amounts of search data.
Without this, technologies like voice search and featured snippets simply wouldn’t be workable.
This means the more Google knows about your content, the better equipped it is to direct the most valuable traffic to your pages. Structured data allows you to provide Google with detailed information about your content, increasing the relevance of results for users and the quality of leads you generate.
This is another strategy brands have been slow to pick up on. Structured data makes your listing stand out from the competition which, in 2019, is more important than ever as the competitive nature of search intensifies.
#4: Address any page speed issues
It’s a shame we still need to talk about page speed in 2019, but the average loading times for sites across the web are still painfully slow. In 2017, Google released an extensive study on the average loading times for websites across various key industries.
The findings were pretty shambolic.
Business & Industrial Markets
Classifieds & Local
Media & Entertainment
Bear in mind, Google recommends a maximum loading time of three seconds for any given page. Chances of converting rapidly decline as loading times increase.
The problem tends to be a mix of slow hosting services, poor code working under the hood and content that isn’t optimised for speed where it matters most. As soon as you overload servers, internet connections or browsers, you’re going to run into problems, and there’s no excuse for this in 2019.
Page speed is now officially a ranking factor (in fact it has been for some time) but it’s the impact on users you really need to worry about. Slow loading times will kill your conversion rates, lead generation strategies and put people off returning to your site.
Once again, this is an area where most brands are falling short which only increases the rewards of getting things in order now.
Eight-step page speed action plan
Get a speedy hosting service
Optimise your pages for speed
Optimise for mobile and poor internet connections
Use a content delivery network (CDN) if you’re targeting visitors from the other side of the world
Implement caching to speed things up for return visitors
Compress/minify your files
Minimise server requests
Be especially strict if you’re using themes, plugins, APIs or any third-party code
#5: Get a visibility boost with AMP
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) not only provide a solution to poor mobile loading times but are also an integral part of Google’s SERPs now. Publishers who feature in Google’s AMP carousel get an instant ranking boost from increased SERP exposure, and users know they’re going to get a faster experience by clicking on results featuring the AMP logo.
Outside of Google, AMP is also being integrated into other mobile publishing platforms and it’s only going to feature more heavily over time – perhaps replacing non-AMP content entirely on these platforms.
Switching your pages to AMP requires a certain level of development skills, although this is becoming increasingly quick and simple to do. Things are easier again if you’re using WordPress, thanks to various plugins that ease implementation. And, let’s face it, WordPress sites are in need of a mobile speed boost, in many cases, more than most.
To get the most out of AMP, you’re going to need to publish newsworthy content. This might not seem like a realistic option for corporate brands, but the rise of data journalism means brands in every industry can create unique, insightful content that writes headlines and deserves a spot in those lucrative carousels.
#6: Make sure you’re ‘mobile first’ ready
After a lengthy build-up, Google fully implemented mobile first indexing in the summer of 2018. Essentially, this serves the mobile version of pages for all search results (unless there isn’t a mobile version), whereas desktop was previously the default.
If your website is responsive (the Google recommendation), this won’t have any direct impact on how your pages perform in search – although there may be some movement based on results shifting around you.
Of course, responsive design isn’t the only solution to mobile optimisation, but it is the preferred one, and Google’s indexing change could have a significant impact if you (or your clients) are running separate mobile and desktop versions.
Keep in mind that Google strongly recommends against having both m-dot mobile pages (e.g.: m.yoursite.com) and responsive versions for the same page, as this will confuse its crawlers. Mobile first indexing works on a page-by-page basis so you can technically have a mix of the two across your site, although this opens up another world of optimisation issues.
If you’re currently running an m-dot mobile website alongside your desktop version and you want to switch to responsive, Google also recommends doing this before your site switches over to mobile first indexing.
Either way, you need to understand the current state of your mobile optimisation strategy and make sure things are in order for mobile first indexing.
At the time of writing this, Google announced that over 50% of all sites globally are now mobile first.
10-step mobile first action plan
Know your current mobile optimisation setup, on a page-by-page basis
If you’re fully responsive, nothing will change
Determine whether your site has been migrated already
Decide whether to stick with your existing strategy and optimise or switch to an alternative method (responsive is recommended)
If you have separate mobile pages, make sure the same content is included on both mobile and desktop versions
Make sure structured data and metadata are present on both versions of each page
Verify both versions of your site in Search Console
Ensure your server allows for the potential increase in traffic to your mobile pages/site
Verify your txt directives are working as intended for both versions
Make sure you have the correct rel=canonical and rel=alternate link elements between the mobile and desktop versions
#7: Earn links, don’t build them
Links are still one of the most important (top three) ranking factors, but artificial link building as an SEO strategy has outlived its time. In 2019, you need to be earning links and authority – not artificially creating it. This is achieved through content rich, relevant and topically authoritative sites wanting to share, link to and talk about what you create (in all its content forms).
This starts with data, and creating content that has something new and valuable to say, which is reflective of your audience wants and desires, not the repetitive stuff that fills up many search engine results pages. As voice search and featured snippets become ever more prominent, it’s going to be very difficult for content that falls short to reach its target audience.
Link earning is another area where data journalism is going be a big deal for marketers in 2019. You have access to all kinds of unique data you can turn into content that offers fresh insights for your target audiences – and the audiences of websites you want to earn links from. This notion of story making from your own unique data insights, as opposed to story telling from existing insights, is an untapped opportunity expected to grow fast.
Always remember – when it comes to link acquisition – it’s the quality of links that matter, far more than quantity.
#8: Increase your brand mentions
In 2017, Gary Illyes confirmed that brand mentions are considered in Google’s ranking algorithms in a number of different ways:
Brand mentions (without links) tell Google that you exist
The quantity of mentions tells Google how many people are talking about you
The source of these mentions gives Google clues about your authority in a particular field
Although brand mentions don’t have anywhere near the impact of high-quality backlinks, Google will expect to see a large volume of mentions from relevant, authoritative sources for a brand that features heavily at the top of results pages.
Mentions are also much easier to get than backlinks. You’re probably not going to start earning the links you need if you don’t already have a healthy collection of brand mentions bolstering your reputation.
You may wish to start factoring in brand, service and website mentions as a leading metric within your content marketing approaches. Mentions are often potential link building end results in waiting, plus they deliver some level of direct business value too.
The right people mentioning you in the most relevant places is a new opportunity area to maximise in 2019 and beyond.
#9: Automate as many SEO tasks as you can
With all the new challenges facing marketers in today’s rapidly changing search environment, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the constantly increasing workload. Thankfully, automation technology has come of age over the past few years and there’s an ever-growing list of SEO tasks you can automate.
The brands that make the most of new opportunities and overcome new challenges most effectively are going to be those that automate everything they can and focus the rest of their resources on the tasks that can’t be automated.
Knowing what to automate (and not to) can be a challenge in itself, but it’s generally the repetitive, formulaic tasks that can be handled by algorithms. Automating links audits, keyword research, finding relevant websites and all kinds of reports can give you more time to focus on content creation, decision making and tasks that make a real difference.
Here at Vertical Leap, we work with Apollo Insights to automate many of the traditionally manual areas of delivery, to a stage where our experts can work with data and information they can trust to derive a true competitive advantage, combining both machine learning and depth of human expertise.
This can include working at substantially greater scale, with focus areas like competitor intelligence, performance forecasting, content gap analysis, keyword research and a range of technical SEO tasks for ourselves and our clients. Automation can handle tasks like this almost instantaneously, while it would take hundreds of hours per week and a larger team to do it all manually – if at all, when considered in line with competing priorities and focus areas.
While the fundamentals of SEO (quality content, strong link profiles, etc) remain the same, the technologies and optimisation techniques for search marketing in 2019 are markedly different to this time last year.
Marketers who fail to adapt to these changes quickly enough are going to find it becomes increasingly difficult to compete at the top of result pages – especially as voice search and featured snippets become more prominent.
Lee Wilson is the Head of SEO for Vertical Leap, a UK Search Marketing and Digital Agency that offers the most effective and thorough search marketing service in the UK, helping companies maximise their online visibility. Vertical Leap combines specialist expertise with a bespoke prescriptive marketing platform (Apollo Insights)… View full profile ›