How is content changing? Which link-building strategies still work? How important are Voice Search and Visual Search becoming? How can SEOs equip themselves to be ready for the next Google Update and what else will be important for SEO in 2019? In this post, our experts answer your questions from our webinar “An SEO History Lesson”. Here are 22 top tips for SEO in 2019, provided by Marcus Tober, Searchmetrics Founder and Chief Innovation Officer, and Björn Beth, Director Digital Strategies Group EMEA.
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Video: Learning from Mistakes, Building on Success
The questions answered in this post were asked in our recent webinar with Marcus Tober and Svetlana Stankovic, Team Lead SEO Consulting with the Digital Strategies Group, as well as the German sister webinar with Marcus Tober and Björn Beth. In “Learning from Mistakes, Building on Success – An SEO History Lesson”, our experts discussed obsolete tactics from the goldrush era of SEO and strategies that are needed for sustainable success today and in the future. If you didn’t catch the webinar live, or you’d like to hear some of the stories again, you can watch the video here:
Because we couldn’t answer all of your questions during the webinar itself, we’ve compiled all the answers for you to read here.
General SEO Trends for 2019
1. What are your top 3 SEO dos and don’ts for 2019?
Marcus Tober: For me, there’s one main don’t: Don’t do SEO that doesn’t help the user. Lots of things, like link-building for example, have a clear value if the links are well integrated and help the user find information. Other typical SEO basics, like optimizing titles and headlines, should also be carried out with the user in mind. Inclusion of a particular keyword in the page title can help to make an otherwise vague title more specific.
In terms of what you should be doing, these are my three main points:
- Tidy up websites and consolidate or delete content.
- Measure user engagement with metrics like bounce rate and time on site, and optimize accordingly.
- Look at technical SEO to improve things like load times and/or migrate to HTTPS to create the perfect foundation for your site. Even the best content won’t rank if you neglect the technical aspects of your site.
2. Which trends should SEOs be aware of and how should they prepare themselves to face future Google Updates?
Marcus: Looking at the March 2019 Core Algorithm Update, we see another example of Google rewarding user engagement and helpful content. This means that, as the amount of available online content grows, Google is paying more attention to signals that indicate whether users are happy or not. This trend cannot be held back, and traditional ranking factors are going to continue to lose importance, particularly more highly competitive markets. In more niche markets, Google has to rely on things like links and content analysis because insufficient training data is available to draw any conclusions from user signals.
3. What will SEO look like in the future – particularly with things like Voice Search and Visual Search?
Björn Beth: I think Visual Search has a lot of potential for eCommerce. A study by Visenze showed that 62% of Generation Z (up to about 20 years old) want visual search capabilities more than any other technology. This is why Amazon and Snapchat have already developed a visual search solution for shopping via photos. Asos, for example, is another big retailer that has invested in app solutions. Pinterest (Lens) and Google (Google Lens) are also engaging with this topic. Nowadays it’s easier to take a photo than it is to formulate a complex query. So it’s still early days at the moment, but Visual Search is going to be really big, which is why I would recommend not wasting any time in playing around and testing things out.
Voice Search is going to be really interesting when it starts being integrated into more devices, like cars, fridges or houses. As soon as we get used to these devices being the default in our environment, it will gain traction. That’s my point of view, speaking as a 38 year-old. For my kids, it’s completely normal to interact with Alexa or Google Home. We will see how their generation adopts and develops Voice Search further.
Marcus: How relevant Visual Search is depends a lot on which industry you’re talking about. In many areas of B2C, but above all in the B2B sector, desktop traffic is still much higher than mobile. So there isn’t much point on focusing on Visual Search that can’t be used on desktop. Also, the more closely a website is involved in YMYL topics, like financial planning, the more important content and structure are going to remain, because users searching for information on these topics do a lot of research before making a purchase decision. I also think Voice Search is overrated. Google Home and Amazon Echo are used for simple tasks like playing music or turning on a lamp, but they aren’t suited to conducting detailed research.
4. If I have content that doesn‘t go out of date and retains its value in the long-term, should I update this just to make Google happy?
Marcus: You shouldn’t update content if the update doesn’t provide any additional value. Evergreen content that is only relevant at certain times of the year, should receive stronger internal linking during high season. An example of this would be a page about flu symptoms. The content probably won’t change during the year, or at least be very similar, but it only really becomes relevant in November. If you link more strongly to this content during this time, then you are showing Google and your users that “hey, this is more important than it used to be.”
5. If you’ve got lots of content, how do you identify URLs that should be deleted?
Björn: One way is to use Google Analytics or the Google Search Console to see which pages haven’t received any traffic in the last 6 or 12 months. These can then be deleted. Another way is to use a software solution like the Searchmetrics Content Experience to see which pages with similar topics can be consolidated to create pages of higher quality that will potentially also generate more traffic.
Marcus: I can also look at log files to see how often these pages have been crawled by Google or I can look at the cache dates of pages in the Google search results.
6. Is it right to delete content that is competing with other pages, although it may rank better for semantically similar keywords than the content that should be retained?
Marcus: It is entirely possible to be listed several times in the Google search results, in which case the pages competing with each other both have a right to exist. But if pages are too similar, then you do run the risk of Google not being able to determine which page is more relevant. In such a situation, it is better to consolidate the content on one URL. This would also be helpful for the user.
Here’s an example: You’ve got an article with a link to a related image gallery. Now the article ranks – and the gallery does too because it contains images and additional, relevant captions. Now it’s possible that Google will use user intent to test which URL works better and that rankings can fluctuate. If this happens, I would recommend merging the content by incorporating the image gallery in the article.
7. Is it still worthwhile writing SEO content for category pages of online shops? No-one reads these texts in sidebars or underneath product listings, but it still seems to be common practice.
Marcus: Category pages might not be very important for conversions, but they do distribute traffic to sub-pages for individual products where the user can convert. I still think it’s important to include text on category pages. Simply presenting a list of products without any content is, in my option, not enough. What’s important is that the text is of a sufficient quality: Which information is relevant for the user? Which questions would the user be likely to ask if they were to go to a specialized store?
8. Does the position of a text, either above or below the products, affect rankings? Everyone seems to have a different opinion but is there any way of measuring this?
Marcus: The text doesn’t always have to appear below the products. It can be positioned above the products, using an accordion for example. If the text is usually hidden, with only the first few rows visible, then the user can decide whether they want to read this information or not.
Björn: We need to move away from category texts that are only being written for SEO purposes. Instead, texts with a magazine character are more desirable – this means well-written user guides or styling tips that provide helpful recommendations to the user and support their purchase decision. The text should be seen as part of the landing page layout, and not as a”must have” at the bottom or tucked away in a sidebar.
9. The Searchmetrics Content Experience compares word count with competitor URLs. Is content length decisive for rankings?
Marcus: The word count is to act as a guide showing whether a topic requires more or less content.
Björn: Yes, the word count is a great indicator of whether a topic tends to be content-heavy. health topics, for example, will usually require more explanation and be longer. Of course, longer texts still have to make sense – don’t fall into keyword stuffing, but if the topic provides scope for more detail then I would always try to write something ten percent longer than my competitors. On the other hand, if someone is looking for costumes or fashion topics, then a relevant image gallery is going to have a bigger impact on rankings than a few extra words.
Links and link-building
10. If you’ve got high-quality content that you want to get notices, then link-building is a good way of doing this, right?
Marcus: Link-building is a useful part of a PR and marketing strategy if you want to make the user aware of the content’s added value. If the content does provide value, then the links should come on their own. It’s particularly important for big brands that their SEOs work closely with the marketing, PR and social teams when planning a campaign. This way, they can ensure that content can stay live on special campaign landing pages for a long time. If pages are simply deleted once a campaign finishes, you will likely end up with backlinks leading to 404 error pages.
Björn: I think it’s important to think bigger than just the SEO channel. Content seeding via social is, for example, another strategy. If I have some great content that is relevant for a specific niche, then I can use social to share this within my niche and expect to quickly generate high-quality backlinks in this way.
11. How valuable is having a Wikipedia article for the business you are trying to rank?
Marcus: Generally, Wikipedia creates more credibility for you and your business. Because Wikipedia is heavily maintained, it is very hard to cheat there. Companies or individuals that appear in Wikipedia will also gain some credibility with Google. I wouldn’t say this as a ranking factor per se, but it’s definitely a sign that is recognized.
12. What do you think about link-building in 2019? Is the main thing to keep an eye on disavowing?
Marcus: Today, link-building should be considered part of PR. You aim to promote your products or your content in a relevant way and reap the benefits. If you take this approach and work with partners who promote the content effectively, then you should get the awareness, traffic and link-juice that this brings. Ideally, this results in a win-win situation. Again, what’s important is creating added value for the user – that’s when link-building makes sense. Of course, you shouldn’t forget Google’s guidelines and the rules regarding highlighting advertising. In the future, Google will still follow internet links, so link-building will continue to be of some importance.
Björn: Particularly when you’re new on the “Google market”, links are incredibly important for building up authority in your niche. To do this, you should invest creativity in link-worthy campaigns (whitepapers, studies, infographics, presentations, interviews etc.) Basically, use link-building for classic brand-building. Today, if you’re not aggressively pursuing link-building with link or blog networks, then you don’t have to worry about a disavow file.
12. Is it now advised to completely avoid money keywords for external follow-links? The literature seems to say that only things like “company name” or “that’s what the experts say” are ok. Does a link profile still work without money keywords?
Marcus: If that was the case, then every money keyword link would immediately be considered spam. It’s also not clear exactly when a keyword is a money keyword and when it isn’t. The more important thing to consider is that the link being placed is relevant in the context. If it is, then the link can be expressive and contain product names or the like. If you go through and artificially change your links, then this can become a problem if suddenly all the links contain money keywords. But within a normal link profile, you can’t really avoid having some “real” keyword anchor texts.
13. Do all external links to products or services have to be marked no-follow and be marked as sponsored or ads etc?
Marcus: I’m no lawyer, but if links are directing users to products or services without an intention to advertising, then these must not necessarily be marked as such. However, if the author creates content with the aim of earning money (affiliate links) or has made a deal with the product manufacturer, then these links should be marked accordingly.
14. How would you approach link-building? How can you go about getting links when no-one seems to be handing them out voluntarily anymore?
Marcus: I think the world of content creators is bigger now than it has ever been. If you invest ideas and creativity in the production of content, then the links will come. But this doesn’t mean focusing neurotically on backlinks – it means emphasizing user-generation, traffic and credibility. The attention you get from this content is what will generate links.
15. What is the right anchor text strategy to follow?
Marcus: The best anchor text strategy is one where you don’t obsess over the anchor texts your competitors are using and don’t check your own anchor texts every day. It’s much more important to ensure that the links are relevant – whatever the anchor text is – and to analyze user engagement data. These are much more important than having the “perfect” anchor text.
Björn: For internal links, I would still work with hard anchor texts.
16. Some people say that above-the-fold advertising and intrusive interstitials are OK for pages if they aren’t relevant for SEO, like check-out pages. Is that true? I mean they still affect the site’s usability, don’t they?
Marcus: If a website’s overall user data is poor, then this isn’t going to help its SEO performance. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create landing pages and user flows for marketing measures that take place outside the sphere your indexed pages.
17. Is hidden text now acceptable because of the increased focus on mobile, as long as it’s in the HTML source code? Or is content that isn’t immediately visible ignored by the search engine bot?
Björn: Google has stated that it is working on treating hidden texts on mobile devices equally. This was confirmed by John Mueller in a recent hangout session. Currently, texts that aren’t shown are weighted less strongly when determining rankings.
18. Can I first optimize SEO fundamentals, including technical fine-tuning and content publishing, and then optimize usability?
Björn: For me, usability optimization should be considered part of your SEO fundamentals and not be dealt with separately. As we saw from the last Google Updates, this is an extremely important optimization topic. My recommendation is to rework every audit template and every onpage checklist for basic optimization, and incorporate usability measures. A great resource for doing this is Google Playbooks. Where I would agree is the principle that you should first get your house’s foundations in order before you start putting up walls and a roof.
More questions and answers about SEO in 2019
19. What can you say about the Google Core Update of March 2019?
Björn: The latest Google Update from March 2019 has shown again that the impact of brand authority, expertise and user experience on Google rankings continues to grow. My colleague, Malte Landwehr, found that many of the update’s winners have better user signals (time on site, bounce rate, sites per visit). What I find interesting is that many pages in the health sector that saw big gains after the previous update have now seen their visibility drop, and vice versa.
20. Would you recommend leaving seasonal content permanently online and updating it? Or are there exceptions? An example is job ads that are “on hold” – an expired “valid through” date has to be added to the structured data – could Google still punish job ads like this that are still online but “on hold”?
Björn: For job ads there is an “expired” markup that I would certainly use. When I was working at the Swiss online auction platform, Ricardo, we had a lot of auctions that were only current for seven days. We built a static page that displayed the articles that were next to expire. For the individual listing URLs, we integrated a canonical to the static page, which had a very positive impact on our SEO Visibility.
Marcus: I would always group listings together in overview pages. Here you can show active and expired job ads. Then, even if a listing is no longer current, the overview page won’t lose its rankings.
21. Does addressing regional topics by creating country-specific content, even without using hreflang and only using the appropriate domains, really work?
Marcus: According to Google, this is supposed to work even without hreflang. However, Google does sometimes struggle with this so I would always use hreflang.
Björn: We currently have a client that had country-specific domains without hreflang, and they weren’t ranking well with these domains. We have no implemented hreflang and it is working much better!
22. How quicly does Google pick up on improvements that are made on a website? I often hear “at the next update”?
Björn: It used to be the case – with Google Updates like Penguin – that it could take up to a year before changes made to a website would affect its rankings, as they would only be considered by Google when the next iteration of the update came out.
Marcus: If Google is even vaguely aware of your website, then nowadays every change should be recognized very quickly.
If you’re looking for help with your SEO and content strategy, then why not arrange an appointment with our Digital Strategies Group? We’ll be happy to see where our consultants can help you.
Make an Appointment!