The year’s almost over. Did you accomplish all of your SEO goals?
If you want to make one last big move before we ring in the next year, this roundup is your guide. It features loads of advice that you can convert directly into optimization action plans.
First, dive into the month’s most interesting data experiments. You’ll get to peek behind the veil of the recent core updates, discover how snippets change across devices and gain SEO insights from HTML trends.
Next, hone your competitive edge with the month’s most important guides. Learn about the latest techniques for ranking an eCommerce store, the linkable assets that you should be building and how to speed up stubborn URL migrations.
Finally, there’s a lot of news out that could mean big things for you and your clients. If you like to be prepared, don’t miss these messages from Google, one journalist’s warning about BERT mania and some big predictions for SEO in 2020.
Let’s start with a recent 2019 update, and what we know now.
Google’s September 2019 Core Update – Full Analysis Of Over 6,600,000 Pages
What was the September update all about? The writer of this comprehensive analysis claims to have some ideas. Eric Lancheres lays out the argument that most Google updates happen in a three-stage cycle.
In stage one, the update is released. Next, Google documents cases of unintended effects until sure of a solution. In the final stage, Google releases another minor update to make the original one perform as intended.
This case study suggests that this update is part of the third stage. It’s meant to relieve some of the unintended consequences of the June update.
So, what does that mean for your site? Good things, if you were an unintended victim of penalties. The data reveals that sites on the fringe of the targeted topics are starting to recover. In some cases, recovered sites are already breaking previous records for traffic.
However, it’s not all good news. Some sites that were meant to be targeted may have been missed. That could explain why the data crawl also found sites that took significant hits from the most recent update.
How consistent are featured snippets across devices?
Mobile searches have become an increasingly dominant part of the development of search engines. You’ve hopefully already taken the step of optimizing your website for mobile users, but you can’t stop there.
The case study featured here on RankRanger reveals that the snippets that appear during desktop searches do not necessarily appear for identical mobile searches. This may mean that Google exercises different standards when evaluating content for each type of user.
The experiment here observed a series of searches over the course of 30 days.
That’s not the most threatening figure (depending on your competition), but it is way too many for a coincidence.
What’s Google’s long-term goal here? Unfortunately, there isn’t any good data on that question yet. Have you captured the snippet on both desktop and mobile? If you’re not sure, you should check. You may have some more work to do to really win that snippet across the board.
If you’re looking for some room for improvement, you may be able to use the next case study to polish your HTML formatting. It attempts to determine what role HTML is playing in performance across millions of results.
A Breakdown of HTML Usage Across ~8 Million Pages (& What It Means for Modern SEO)
How fresh are your meta standards? You can now roughly compare where you are to everyone else, or at least, 8 million of them.
This new case study from Moz looks at how a massive collection of sites are using HTML. It looked at how they were using metadata, structured data, meta keywords (lol) and alt tags.
Some interesting patterns emerged. Millions of websites are surviving and even thriving with standards that ignore conventional SEO wisdom. For example, short (or even massively oversized) meta titles and descriptions don’t seem to have a heavy impact on performance.
In some cases, outdated standards seem really risky. A concerning number of active sites haven’t even properly updated their HTML to reflect mobile-first readiness. Google will soon begin showing only sites that have updated their <meta name=”viewport” content=”…”> tag.
The data seems to suggest that are still millions of fresh opportunities out there for people who want to unseat a #1 result, and it may take less work than expected.
If you’re in the mood for a little work anyway, you’ll want to check out the guides that are coming up next. First, an actionable guide for ranking SEO commerce stores in 2019.
An Actionable Guide For Ranking SEO Ecommerce Stores In 2019
eCommerce sites have always had to walk a finer line than other sites. Now, they’re facing challenges from all sides. This guide by Jason Brown at SERPWoo addresses some of the modern challenges of eCommerce and provides recommendations for meeting them.
As the guide itself points out, this is a more perilous niche that it used to be. Google’s updates in recent years have been pointed directly at commerce sites involved in certain topics. Ranking can also feel barely competitive when most people in most niches are hitting the gas with PPC.
Fierce competition isn’t the only threat site owners face. Google is reserving more and more space for “Popular Product” images that divert searchers away from the organic results before they ever see them.
Are there modern solutions? This guide suggests so. It recommends that you focus on expanding images for your currently listed products, outdo your competitors in length of copy and provide exact-match anchors for terms you want to rank for.
As most guides must lately, it closes on the importance of relevant links to performance. If you’re having trouble making friends out there, the next guide covers the linkable assets that you should be building for more attention.
6 Types of Linkable Assets You Should Be Using
Building something unique and valuable to people is the best way to attract great links. If you don’t know what to build next, here’s a guide with some ideas for content, along with breakdowns of how you can help each one reach its potential.
The guide discusses 6 assets in particular:
- Case studies
- Original research and studies
- Tools and lead magnets
- List posts
- Trends and statistics
As it helpfully points out, each of these types of content tends to attract a different type of link. Case studies, for example, are craved by many marketing and industry sites (Sort of like how 3 were sourced for this post).
Original research and trends and statistics can be used to attract links from publishers and journalists. List posts that manage to go viral can be expanded and traded with larger-scale sites for a link.
If you’re in the mood for a strategy that you can put into place right now, not in 30-60-90 days, you may appreciate the next item: A punchy little guide to speeding up stubborn URL migrations.
Speeding Up Stubborn URL Migrations
This guide by Oliver Mason is designed for people who have completed their URL migration but haven’t seen the expected changes. I’ve seen two people complain about it just this week in the Facebook groups.
The guide explores one issue that may be to blame (Google is not properly recognizing migrated pages) and describes one process that may help.
You’ll only need your Google Search Console’s Internal Links Report. This tells you what links Google thinks you have. The links that are properly canonicalized will be removed from the Top Internally Linked Pages list in the report, so the existing list is a good resource.
Once you have the URLs, you forcibly submit them through Google’s Request Index feature. It may mean a lot of clicking. Entering the URLs here should force Google to recognize them and to properly index them as unique pages.
This short item closes up the guides for us. Next, a look at Google’s post from Oct. 26th about understanding the nature of searches.
Understanding searches better than ever before
What is a BERT? What does it want from you? You may ask that after reading about Google’s Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers training.
Fortunately, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds. The short story is that Google has pioneered a type of training that improves machine learning and comprehension. The models used for this training are being introduced because they will affect search in the future.
The main goal of developing BERT was to give machines previously unavailable tools for understanding the context of a word by evaluating the words around it. The implications for search are, of course, more relevant and rapidly-delivered results.
Example from the article:
Does that mean a harder world for SEOs? Or one where the clearest and comprehensive communicators are suddenly at an advantage? Boy, did SEOs have a lot to say about that, but we’ll get to that next.
The model is currently only being used to choose the snippets in several test countries. It could go a lot of places from there, but as of now, there’s no reliable news about how to adapt or be ready for any changes.
Before the next items, some rumbling followed the release of the original post. Here’s a look at some of the disagreements about BERT among the SEO community.
Google BERT Misinformation Challenged
Google’s recent post about BERT inspired a pop-up industry of experts who were 100% ready to build a guide detailing the changes that were going to be necessary. Roger Montti of SEJ collected some of these (anonymously presented) takes, and the myths that they’ve spawned.
Several myths are explored, including the myths that the BERT is the biggest update of all time or that it’s insignificant.
SEOs have speculated that BERT is going to require a harder focus on longtail keywords (as BERT can make more effective use of them). However, as this piece points out, BERT is more concerned with what the searcher means in exact context than what a given publisher means.
The real takeaway is that nobody really knows what BERT means yet. Don’t go implementing massive guides to “optimize for BERT”. No one who claims to know what’s up is credible right now. The credible people will wait until they have the data in their hands.
If you want some informed opinions on what’s happening next, you can’t miss my big 2020 SEO predictions.
2020 SEO Predictions With Matt Diggity
Get some more insight into what next year might bring with this podcast from ContentChampion. In it, we (host Loz James and I) discuss some of the biggest changes of the last year and what they mean for the future.
We discuss the 2020 updates we’re planning to make in terms of technical SEO, on-page SEO and link building. We also go over some of the largest content marketing trends.
What did we come up with? Well, a lot of technical speculation, and not a lot of pessimism.
Yes, it’s true that there’s been a lot of tension between publishers and search engines this year. However, more people are shopping online than ever before, and that translates to more opportunities for us all.
Diversification may be the best way for struggling SEOs to move to the next level. Organic search is more difficult this year, but affiliate marketing (a reasonably adjacent skillset) is experiencing a boom of investment.