In 2019, the launch of Google’s new BERT algorithm got a lot of attention. Naturally, every SEO professional wants to learn how to optimize for BERT.
Well, rather than focusing on how to optimize for that specific algorithm, take a page from Kelly Stanze, Search Strategist, Hallmark, who will be focusing on user-focused optimization and the technical delivery of content.
In short, that means reassessing user access points to search and aligning content with that.
“Look at the mechanics of how something is crawled, indexed, and served in a variety of different search settings,” Stanze said. “With users having more options than ever in how they search for things, it’ll be even more important for SEOs to bear in mind the fundamentals of clean architecture and content delivery.”
With the incorporation of BERT this year into the ranking and featured snippets algorithm, Google has taken a huge leap forward into making search really about intent matching rather pure string matching, according to Eli Schwartz, Growth Consultant and Advisor.
“Content will truly have to be written to user intent rather than just strings that a user might search,” Schwartz said. “Keyword research tools may even become less relevant with the primary dataset for content creation coming from suggested queries. In 2020, the really smart SEOs will get up from their desks to talk to customers so they can find out what their audience really wants from them.”
Frédéric Dubut, Senior Program Manager, Bing, echoed that, noting that keyword research, at least as we know it, is going to become obsolete.
“There’s no sign of [natural language processing] NLP and deep learning research slowing down anytime soon, and you can expect search engines to shift even further from keywords to intent in 2020,” Dubut said. “Both practitioners and tooling providers will need to shift their efforts towards ‘intent research’ and fulfilling user needs.”
As Jenn Mathews, Senior SEO Manager, Groupon, points out, Google is continually updating to optimize search results based on user intent rather than a focus on content/page to keyword matching.
“SEOs need to understand the nuance of what this means with their content as well as have a firm grasp on Google’s past updates leading to this trend.”
We’ve all wanted to focus on intent for the last several years, and better understand what the journey of our customers looks like, said Duane Forrester, VP, Industry Insights, Yext. Now it’s become such an important part of the landscape, it’s integral to the survival and growth for most online businesses.
“If you focus on the customer’s intent, you’ll clearly understand where you fit on that path,” Forrester said. “By providing the best answers for questions on that path, you can more reliably capture and convert customers.”
What does this mean for you?
Focus on how our users talk about their issues, problems, and needs at each aspect of the buyer’s journey much more, according to Keith Goode, Sr. SEO Strategist, IBM.
“Additionally, we’re going to have to extend our efforts far beyond the purchase in that journey to include content that addresses needs after the sale – support, opportunities to advocate, community-building and staying relevant for future purchases,” Goode added.
Always focus on your customers, said Sam Hollingsworth, Director of Search, Elevation Ten Thousand
“Too many brands forget or fail to realize what it takes to attract and impress potential customers. They want real value,” Hollingsworth said. “Just like in a brick-and-mortar establishment, customers want to know that you’re on their side, that they can trust you, and that you are a reliable partner in what is going to be a long-term – hopefully lifelong – relationship.”
Carolyn Lyden, Lead SEO/Owner, Search Hermit, hopes 2020 brings a change where we get back to the qualitative, human side of search.
“So many marketers market their products and services having never spoken one-on-one to their target audiences,” Lyden said.
Without talking to our customers and understanding why they are behaving the way they are, we are limiting our ability to create a smart and holistic strategy, according to Sarah Gurbach, Senior Account Manager, Search and Audience Insights, Seer Interactive.
“So, in 2020, I recommend you go and sit down with your customers,” Gurbach said. “Talk to them, ask them to tell you about their journey to purchase, how they used search, what they thought of your site. Use that data in every decision you make.”
User-focused optimization can only truly be done by integrating SEO into a holistic marketing strategy. Ryan Jones, SEO Group Director, Publicis Sapient, said this will be the biggest trend in 2020.
“Now, more than ever, companies are going to have to stop treating SEO as a condiment that they just add on to their digital strategy, and instead treat it as a key ingredient of their business plan,” Jones said. “SEOs are going to have to grow their skillsets to understand the full marketing and digital stack. It’s going to be less about fixing SEO issues and more about fixing marketing and business issues.”