Every year search engine optimization (SEO) faces unique challenges. Challenges in how the search engines crawl, parse, and index sites. Challenges in how competition engages in SEO. Challenges in the resources necessary to produce results in organic search. And the ultimate challenge in calculating whether the return on investment of those resources is worth it. SEO in 2020 will face its own set of unique challenges. We are looking into these challenges and determining the best ways to face them in 2020.
While every industry has some unique SEO challenges, they share many of the same challenge. Any business reliant on organic search to reach new customers faces these challenges.
The five challenges discussed in this blog post are:
- Lack of Data
- Increased Competition in Organic Search
- Creating Quality Data
- SERP Landscape Changes
- The Unknown
The 5 SEO Challenges Your Business Is Facing in 2020
Lack of Data
SEO is not a stranger to lack of data. In 2012, Google took away search data from us. Suddenly we no longer knew the exact search queries visitors were using to get to our sites. Where SEOs once had specific insight, we now had “Not Provided.”
SEOs adapted and Google gave us some insight by aggregating some of the query data in Search Console. SEO has always faced the challenge of data being hidden. There has not been a significant disruption on the data used to perform SEO in quite some time. At the end of January, a service run by Avast, the antivirus company, called Jumpshot, shut down.
There are many tools that SEO uses to perform audits and make decisions about digital marketing which relied on Jumpshot data.
Some of the tools affected by the shutdown:
Moz and SEMRush have issued statements indicating their tools are still viable without the Jumpshot data since they had other sources of clickstream data. Rand Fishkin, who founded Moz and went on to found SparkToro issued an explanation of the issues behind Jumpshot for any who are interested in the details.
The end result is a large source of data used by popular SEO tools has been lost with nothing to replace it.
How to handle this loss of data?
For many businesses, the loss of Jumpshot will not have a direct impact. Most likely they were unaware this loss of data even occurred. This data loss does affect the SEO agencies businessess are working with. For any SEO professional using tools like SEMRush and Hitwise to do SEO, diversification becomes important. Reliance on just one tool leaves the SEO professional at the mercy of these kinds of disruption.
A business using an SEO agency should know what tools and processes that agency is using and whether those tools require proprietary data to be useful. Any tool or process that uses proprietary data (e.g. SEMRush, Moz), the agency should be able to explain what it will do if that tool loses access to that data.
Essentially, consider this challenge to be about risk management – knowing what data is at risk and ensuring your marketing agency has a backup plan.
Increased Competition in Organic Search
Competition in organic search is not a unique challenge but the type of competition in 2020 is unique. We contacted Mike Miller, Editor-in-Chief at WildernessTimes.com and a one-time owner of an SEO agency in regards to SEO challenges in 2020.
“The competition will become more fierce around the quality of content. Google’s AI is getting better every day at identifying what’s high-quality content, and what type of articles their readers want to open. Over the past few years, the bar has been raised, and I think that trend will certainly continue,” Mike Miller replied.
Mike Miller is referencing Google’s latest major algorithm update, BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). The BERT update is a machine learning update that helps Google as a search engine understand content even better than before. This means weak content, content that is a quick summary of a topic, will not have the same weight as content written more thoroughly.
BERT taps into another concept Google has been speaking about for quite some time, E-A-T, which stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trust. BERT allows Google to better analyze Expertise, Authority, and Trust.
One of the other factors BERT is making SEO pay attention to is searcher intent. BERT allows Google to better understand why a searcher is using a query. Google provides examples of what the SERP looked like before BERT and after BERT on their blog.
All of this means the traffic your content used to bring in may be judged as lacking by Google.
How to address the content competition for searcher intent?
Mike Miller provides his personal strategy for addressing this SEO challenge. “I’m going to be doing more market research in 2020. This includes collaborating with competitors, scanning the SERPs for new ideas, and also getting feedback from my audience. Instead of asking Google what readers want, why not go straight to the source and ask your fans?”
Creating Quality Content
Creating engaging content is not a unique challenge to 2020, but it is an ongoing challenge SEO has faced. We bring it up now because of the type of content needed in 2020 compared to the previous years. Because of BERT, because of the increased SERP competition, we need better content. We need unique content providing a high value to searchers.
Eric Hoppe, Director of Marketing at Crowd Content Media Inc., said, “The bar is getting higher and higher each year in terms of what content will rank well with Google, but the trend is clear – they’re trying to rank content that better meets searcher intent.”
How to face the challenge of creating quality content?
New and ongoing content is vital. Businesses may feel overwhelmed by this need for content, but there are shortcuts to creating this content, including using User Generated Content. Tap into the photos and videos guests are already sharing on their social media feeds.
To get the third-party perspective, a business needs to consider tapping into social media influencers to help promote your company. A website might say they have a friendly staff, a wall of reviews might confirm this fact, but a social media influencer saying the staff is friendly will make it personal.
SERP Landscape Changes
Google’s search engine results page is an evolving structure. It has been a very long time since SEOs talked about the Ten Blue Links but we have moved on to some very specialized search engine results pages.
Dr. Peter Meyers, a Marketing Scientist at Moz, has been analyzing Google’s SERP for over 10 years. In 2013 he wrote Mega-SERP: A Visual Guide to Google which was one of the first deep dives into all the changes Google was making to the SERP. Recently Dr. Pete published How Low Can #1 Go? (2020 Edition) which again addresses changes made to the SERP and does a fantastic job in highlighting some of the challenges SEOs are faced with in 2020.
The essence of this research is to show how far down the screen the first organic position is compared to 2013. When we discussed content competition above we did not address the competition on the SERP from Google Ads and other Google services.
To remind us of what the SERP was like in 2013, Dr. Peter Meyers wrote, “[b]ack in 2013, we analyzed 10,000 searches and found out that the average #1 ranking began at 375 pixels (px) down the page. The worst case scenario, a search for ‘Disney stock,’ pushed #1 all the way down to 976px.”
In 2020 there are more SERP features pushing the first organic result further down the page. The key challenge in competing on the SERP is about visibility. Google has been using Featured Snippets for awhile now and getting your content used in a Featured Snippet has been a significant goal to help improve visibility of your website.
How to overcome the challenge of a changing SERP?
Kent Lewis, President & Founder of Anvil Media (www.anvilmedia.com) addressed the challenge of getting your website content used in the Featured Snipped, or as many SEO refer to it, Position 0.
“Add structure. Use structured markup (schema) to ensure your classes and related product pages as well as business information (name, address, phone number), is properly formatted for Google and other engines to index properly.”
Adding schema markup to a website is as simple or complex as the website. Any new website build needs to include this markup from the start. Older websites should really first analyze if the website itself needs to be rebuilt to make it more contemporary.
Information on most business websites benefiting from schema markup include the identity (Name, address, phone number, URL) and Frequently Asked Questions. There are SEOs out there suggesting not to overdo the schema markup on the site because Google has a history of using then not using website markup. Investing too heavily in implementing schema might not have the payoff on the SERP in giving the website any visibility in Featured Snippets.
When pursuing Featured Snippet visibility we need to be aware that it might actually cause a website to lose traffic because the searchers are getting the information they need right from the SERP.
“With Google adding article snippets and previews, many content creators will find themselves having to compete with the search engine behemoth for clicks since it undermines the need for searchers to click through to their website. This means that content creators are going to have to offer something on their website to incentivize users to keep returning. They’re also going to have to make content that can’t be answered or responded to in a single snippet.
Voice-controlled gadgets are also becoming more popular and the way internet surfers search is changing along with it. Priority search words may change as the software is better able to recognize the common ways people search for things as Google may auto-corrects searches while it’s still being typed but can’t do this through voice. It also marks a shift to prioritizing articulate, well-developed content over keyword salads,” says Rhea Henry, a content strategist with EnergyRates.ca, a price comparison website that helps consumers find low-cost rates for electricity and gas.
We do not know all the challenges SEO will face in 2020. As a prime example, when writing this blog post, we had no idea the impact COVID-19 would have on the travel industry and we are still sorting out the effect it is having on SEO.
“The biggest SEO challenge in 2020,” according to Stacy Caprio, Founder of Growth Marketing (www.acceleratedgrowthmarketing.com), “will be creating timeless websites and content that won’t be hit with future algorithm changes.”
How to face the challenge of the Unknown?
There is one thing business owners can do to prepare for the unknown.
- Work with digital marketing experts.
Whether it is having a consultant you can turn to or an agency you rely on, you need external expertise and specialists to properly prepare for the unknown. Business owners have too much on their plates as it is to also keep abreast of all the changes happening in SEO. Having a consultant whose only job is to monitor the changes in SEO will go a long way in making sure when the unknown happens, the website is not lost in the changes.
Prepare for the Upcoming SEO Challenges
Francis Digital Marketing will help your business website face these challenges in 2020. You do not have to face them alone or even worse, ignore them. Many SEO professionals have been contacted by potential clients who have ignored years of challenges and want an immediate result. In digital marketing we call this Tech Debt or design debt. If a website has not been maintained for years, has not been rebuilt using contemporary design and with updated usability, then before SEO can really do anything, the website needs to be updated. These updates would include server updates, using content delivery networks, and applying updated code to improve the speed of the sites.
By ignoring challenges, you are incurring this abstract debt which will need to be dealt with before growing your website. Like financial debt, some is not bad. There rarely is a need to be at the forefront of every marketing trend. Ultimately, what dictates whether you should or should not implement anything new is whether your competition is doing it. If you are not ranking well on Google and your competition is, then you need to start fixing these problems. And like financial debt, a lot of tech debt will be devastating to your website and digital marketing. In those cases, you might end up declaring “bankruptcy” and rebuilding your entire website to make sure it meets all the current standards.