Last year Google updated its search algorithm over 3,200 times. Compare that to just 400 changes back in 2010.
There’s no doubt that all of these changes are good news for the user.
But think about it: when was the last time you believed that Google didn’t understand what you had typed into your search page?
For SEO specialists like Barques’ James Roberts, it is ever more difficult to navigate the changing landscape and adjust marketing strategies to fit.
Here James shares some of the most popular SEO trends that you need to be aware of right now.
And remember, whilst we live in a state of flux, one thing is always certain: the basics never change. Keep giving your users great content and the best possible experiences.
BERT and Rank Brain
So what is BERT? You guessed it. BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
It’s a core search algorithm update designed at improving the language understanding of Google.
BERT is in the same vein as the RankBrain update back in 2015, which is all about Google understanding the intent of searches behind search queries.
In 2018 Google introduced an open-sourced neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training, called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or as Google calls it, BERT.
BERT technology enables anyone to train their own question/answering system.
So how do we optimise for BERT?
According to Danny Sullivan from Google, “there’s nothing to optimise for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to rethink. The fundamentals of us rewarding great content remain unchanged.”
So, in short, you can’t directly optimise your website for the BERT update. Instead, it’s all about doubling down on optimising your website’s content for your users, gaining high-quality links from reputable sources and writing niche relevant E-A-T content.
E-A-T = Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness.
Following the recent Google BERT update, Google is getting better at understanding the context between words. This means that content with great E-A-T = Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness, will do well after the release of BERT.
So what does E-A-T mean?
Expertise – All content now needs to read like it’s been written by an expert; an expert in the field they are talking about.
Authority – The site needs to have authority in the subject niche.
Trustworthiness – Can you trust the site it’s been written on? Does it have a contact form or telephone number for instance?
Is E-A-T a ranking factor?
No, not directly. Google wants to show the highest quality content to its users and weed out the low quantity pages from its results. You can’t optimise for E-A-T because it isn’t an algorithm, but you can implement changes to make sure your site sends the right kind of quality signals to Google.
How can I make sure we have E-A-T?
Firstly, create high quality, indepth, and meaningful content for users. But you also need to think about information structure. For example, if your site sells car tyres, you could create long-form educational pieces about how to choose tyres for specific environments, winter types, or fuel economy reviews.
These articles could then be clustered into various topics. By clustering your topics into compartments through your website architecture, both users and crawlers can easily navigate and understand the content provided.
Following algorithm updates like Panda, Hummingbird and Pigeon, Google has moved away from exact-matching keywords and now it looks at the query context. It tries to understand the search intent of the user to deliver the best possible results.
Thanks to RankBrain and more recently BERT, Google understands far better the connection and context of words and joins the dots.
How to optimise my content to match user intent
When Google assesses a site’s page for ranking on a SERP, it still looks at content relevancy matching intent, but it has to consider several factors when determining if your content is relevant; namely, whether the user’s search is transactional, navigational or informational.
A transactional query is pretty straightforward in signifying commercial intent. A user is looking for a specific company or brand. If you’re looking for a car parts website, Google is going to give you the company’s e-commerce site first because (a) the keyword matches and (b) it has good domain authority.
After that, you’ll probably see more results related to smaller local businesses that might have the same name, followed by car parts content that contains the keyword phrase ‘car parts’.
For navigational searches, if you searched for car parts stores, Google would give you the most relevant bricks-and-mortar stores in your area, as well as online brands.
For informational searches, you might search for car performance trends, expecting the most relevant results to help you do a little research.
Understanding your website’s users is key to knowing what your audience wants. To buy something, to find somewhere or to source more information, make sure your content fits intent and is E-A-T.
UX and SEO
User experience and SEO go hand in hand. A match made in digital heaven. A winning combination.
So what is UX? UX or ‘user experience’ is about how users experience your site. Is it easy to navigate? Is it easy to read? Does the site take ages to load on your mobile phone?
What are some common website design elements that impact both SEO and UX?
H1, H2, H3 etc, These simple snippets of code added to your content do many things to help with both UX and SEO.
On the UX side of things, structuring content into readable chunks with informative headings, allows the user to quickly skim read, giving a full picture of what the page is about in a logical hierarchy. For SEO, it’s the same story.
Splitting your content up with headings and ‘H tags’ allows Google to get the context of the page without too much searching. Google recently noted that H1 tags don’t have an effect on rankings but many SEO specialists would disagree. Leave them out at your peril.
Easy navigation and site structure
Site structure and navigation is not only important for your users, it’s also used as the navigational map through your site for search engines like Google and Bing. The last thing you want to do is to send your users to ‘dead pages’; that’s bad for UX. So don’t do it for search engines either, as that’s equally damaging for SEO.
Think about how your users will navigate your site: can they get to every page they need within a few clicks? This sort of thinking is great for SEO too. Good UX is good SEO.
This is a pretty obvious one for both UX and SEO. A faster site is better for everyone and now that 60% of web traffic is from a mobile device, making sure a site performs well on mobiles is more important than ever.
Site speed has been part of Google’s ranking algorithm for a few years now, and for the first time, the search giant even announced that mobile page speed (rather than desktop) will be used to determine this ranking factor.
Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool is a useful tool in the quest for super-fact websites. It allows you to enter your site’s URL and view the issues it may be experiencing with mobile speed and responsiveness. The PageSpeed Insights measures multiple areas of a page and gives you pointers on how your page can improve its performance.
It covers things such as above-the-fold load suggestions and time to full page load stats. The tool provides concrete suggestions for reducing page load time and hopefully gets your site higher up the search results page.
In 2015, Google released a mobile-friendly #Mobilegeddon algorithm update, making a clear sign of the direction the search giant was heading: mobile.
Mobile-friendliness became a ranking factor. Then three years later in 2018, Google announced that all sites will be ranked on their mobile versions and not the desktop.
This was a bold move but it shows how users now navigate the internet via their mobile devices. It’s never been more important to have a mobile site that performs amazingly and is easy to use. Mobile UX became the key to success.
Navigation was one of the most important factors to think about on mobile experience. All users need to find what they’re looking for quickly, on sites that load fast, on buttons big enough for their fingers.
As you can see from the 2020 SEO trends above, Google is moving away from the keyword heavy SEO strategies and more towards how a site performs for the user.
When considering SEO, think about how your changes will make it easier for users to navigate through a website and how they will find the information they need. Does it fit their intent? Does it fulfill the reason they came onto your site in the first place? Can I make my site load quicker? Could the content be rewritten so it’s easier to understand?
If you could answer all of these questions, you’re on the way to search success.
If you would like to know more about how Barques can support you with search engine optimisation, just drop us a line or call in and see us.
SEO / Digital Account Manager