As its the beginning of 2020 I thought it would be a good time to stop, take stock of what happened in SEO during 2019 and where Google seems to be heading this year.
As you will see in this article, Google is on a mission to return credible and accurate results when people search. The patterns we saw emerge in 2019 are only set to continue and likely increase in 2020.
What exactly were these patterns?
Read on to see what we noticed in the algorithm patterns and how local businesses in Perth can take advantage of this.
Natural Language Processing
Last year we saw many of the Google updates move toward Natural Language Processing (NLP). Google is trying to provide a better understanding of the intent behind a search phrase so it can deliver a better result to the end user.
No doubt this has been triggered by the rise of voice search through devices such as Google home minis. For these products to work well, they depend on the Google algorithm’s ability to understand the intent behind search.
It’s also important to note that NLP helps to identify Entities – an absolutely critical component of Google’s algorithm development in the last two years. We will look at this soon, but first lets see how NLP has changed search:
An Example of NLP
The Google blog provides us with an example of how the BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) updates in 2019 have changed the results. In the example below, the prepositional phrase “to” in the search phrase helps Google understand that the searcher is travelling to the USA and therefore in need of a result to assist them with this:
How Does NLP Affect Local Businesses in Perth?
As Google is getting better at understanding what people are asking for, it makes sense that the websites with high quality, informative content will be rewarded with better rankings.
Ensure you have a blog that you add regular content to. Describe your location and the jobs you have done for clients in and around your area. All of these details will help distinguish you from your competition as people search for your services.
The Development of Entities
Coupled with the development of Natural Language Processing, Google is also extending it’s development of Entities.
What is an “entity” in the context of online search? It is like a noun (person place or thing) but much broader. It could cover things like the colour red, or an idea someone has, or a calendar year. What’s important to understand is that Google now looks for entity associations in order to deliver better results.
An Example of An Entity Association
A very simple example of an entity association would be “dentist” and “patient experience”.
Assuming Google makes an association between these two entities, a dental website which talks about patient experience would be deemed more relevant than a dental website which did not (assuming all other factors are equal) and therefore rank higher for the search phrase “dentist near me”.
Extrapolate the above by perhaps 50 other entity associations, and you start to see that the websites which cover or are somehow associated with the right entities will be deemed more relevant by Google will rank higher than other websites.
The good news for local business is that entity associations can be identified. We have been busy testing entity associations and have seen some great results from adjusting website content to include more entities that our research deemed relevant.
We are starting to use entity associations within our monthly processes so our clients benefit from better rankings.
The Importance of Entity Association
It seems like Google is giving more weight to entity association above many other traditional factors in SEO like backlinks in determining which websites rank highest in search results.
This is great news for the SEO industry. Why? Because entity association can be reverse engineered by looking at the current top results for a search phrase. Entity association is much easier to control through the content of a website.
Smart SEO people like Dave Davies regard “entity SEO as the single most important concept to understand in SEO right now. Full stop.”
You may have noticed an increase in knowledge panels in the search results? These are images, FAQs, videos and other media to help deliver a more relevant answer.
This information has been scraped by Google from websites. It highlights how Google is using entities to deliver relevant results. It also in many cases is reducing clicks through to websites as users get the answer they are looking for in the search results.
Expertise, Authority and Trust
A final related trend in SEO in 2020 is the rise of expertise, authority and trust (a.k.a. EAT). Google is looking to provide credible results. This is especially the case for industries related to money and health.
It’s been a bit of a running joke that people consult “Dr Google” to get a remedy for a health issue. Google is trying to eliminate the joke element by providing credible results. EAT updates in late 2018 and 2019 saw many alternative health sites all but disappear from the search results, replaced by much more scientific, medically verified websites.
Webmd.com is considered by most to be a credible source of medical information. In 2019 they saw significant growth in their top 1-3 positions (how many keywords they were at the top of the search results for)
By contrast, mercola.com – considered a little more “edgy” and “alternative” in their approach to health didn’t fare as well in 2019, taking a big hit to top positions in the late July algorithm updates.
What A Local Business Can Do for EAT
Here are some of the things a local business website can do to help satisfy the EAT elements of the algorithm:
- Include a “meet the team” page with original photos of team members and their names.
- Include a comprehensive “about page” which lists the company history
- Include experience and qualifications within a business
- Link / cite authoritative websites within an industry. (You may have noticed who I have and have not linked out to in this article!)
- Include photos of recent work, listing location and the type of work carried out
- Use Schema in your website. Research the different types available and build them on a per page basis, consistent with the content on the page.
Why the Move to NLP, Entities and EAT?
The search results used to return an array of answers. After the updates in 2019 we see that the top ten results have similar content.
Speculating here, but I think this has to do with the “fake news” controversies surrounding the 2018 US elections. Facebook suffered lost credibility and took lengths to repair their reputation in 2019.
Tech giants can no longer afford to allow “wrong” results to muddy their reputation and expose them to liability. The question is how does a computer algorithm determine what is a “right” result?
Well, in Google’s case it is by entity association, EAT and NLP.
How to Leverage these Changes for Your Business
Our focus in 2020 is to leverage these changes in the Google Algorithm and deliver them in our SEO packages. We have adjusted the content we deliver so that it is entity focused and have seen positive results from this.
We have also further emphasised Schema Markup, venturing away from the limitations of plugins to custom coded solutions.
Importantly, it is critical that your website has the correct foundation to start with. Comprehensive “meet the team” pages and “about” pages will go a long way to building trust in the search results.