10 Practical Tips for Boosting On-Page SEO in 2020
What’s different about search in 2020 compared to 2019? These are some of the top SEO trends for 2020:
- Voice search is on the rise, in early 2018 Voice search already comprised 20% of all searches completed in the U.S..
- Search is now firmly mobile-first. Almost 60% of web searches are now performed from mobile-devices.
- Search intent is king. Natural language processing, machine learning, and pre-training models are making search engines savvier. Post-BERT Google is able to recognize the intent of searches in-context.
- Visuals are non-negotiable. Google’s search team often talks about how websites often overlook the power of image and video search. Youtube is the most visited site by Gen Z (users 18-24), and Gen Z won’t go past the first page of a site that’s poorly designed or visually unappealing.
Here are 10 tips to help you improve your on-page SEO accounting for upcoming 2020 SEO trends.
Voice search results are read back to the user by a virtual assistant. The average spoken voice search result is 29 words long, or about 1-2 sentences. The average voice answer across speakers and display devices is a little longer, but only by about 10 words.*
People have very little patience for someone who takes too long to get to the point, they have even less patience for AI that takes too long to get to the point.
In a blog post about the Evaluation of Speech for the Google Assistant we learn that brevity is a ranking factor for voice search responses:
When a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible. It is much more important to ensure that we provide a helpful amount of information, hopefully not too much or too little.
If a user were to ask, “What’s a good gift to get a 7 year old boy for their birthday?” the following content would not be selected:
Everyone knows that birthdays are super important when you are seven years old. I remember being seven years old and desperately wishing for baseball cards and a new catcher’s mitt. However, my 7 year old nephew is from an entirely different generation – all he and his friends want are app store gift cards, legos, and nintendo switch games.
The content above is appealing to a reader, but it’s not appropriate for a voice search result. The content is not concise and it has too many filler phrases.
The content below is less engaging for a reader, but is much more appropriate for voice search users:
Seven-year-old boys surveyed in 2019 want app store gift cards, legos, and nintendo switch games for Christmas.
Voice search results prioritize content that gets right to the point. The goal is to provide a user the correct answer as quickly as possible.
If a phrase communicates no information, it provides no value in voice search. Here are examples of “filler” phrases that delay access to relevant information:
- It goes without saying that….
- It’s no secret that…
- There is no doubt that…
- I might add that…
- It should be pointed out that…
- It is interesting to note that…
Google Voice Search results are also unlikely to pick up sentences that start with the following words or phrases:
- In a sense…
- In fact…
- Sort of…
- Needless to say…
Avoid filler words and phrases that delay the main information to increase your chances of getting picked up in voice search answers.
Avoid complex syntax if you want your content picked up in Voice Search results. Simpler sentences are easier to read and less prone to grammatical errors. Google specifically avoids overly-complex language in voice search results:
It is much easier to understand a badly formulated written answer than an ungrammatical spoken answer, so more care has to be placed in ensuring grammatical correctness.
Keeping your sentences simple can also improve the overall readability of your content, making it accessible to a wider range of users.
A survey of responses for 15,000 searches across 3 device types found the average reading level for voice responses was 8th grade. For reference, Harry Potter is about the same reading level.
Demonstrative pronouns are words that replace nouns in sentences, such as “this”, “it”, “these”, “those”, and “that.”
Voice search results can pull content from anywhere on a webpage, and may not pull in full paragraphs. Demonstrative pronouns limit the amount of content that Google can pull in and provide a clear answer to a user.
If a user asks, “How much is a french prix fixe dinner near me?”
And a website says the following:
Prix Fixe Dinner at Chez Nous includes one appetizer, one entree, one desert, and one beverage of your choice. It is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6pm to 9pm. Appetizer options are as follows: potato gratin, french onion soup, and truffle pomme frites. Entree options are as follows: Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon, and Ratatouille. It is a flat $65 per person.
Google is unlikely to pick this result because it doesn’t have one concise snippet to select.
If instead of using a demonstrative pronoun, the sentence had said “The Prix Fixe dinner is a flat $65 per person.” Google would have had a clear and concise response.
By 2016 mobile users already expected a page to load in less than 3 seconds. Any longer than 3 seconds and 50% of users abandoned the page.
Today’s users are accustomed to even faster technology, and today’s voice search users are only served the fastest results. Voice search results come from web pages that take a fraction of a second to load.
Take a look at this table from SemRush’s 2019 voice search study. Selected content loaded exponentially faster than non-selected content.
Speed will help you prepare for Voice Search, but it will also give you immediate ranking improvements for mobile and desktop.
In March of 2018 Google rolled out an algorithm update specifically factoring page speed into mobile search results, page speed had already been a ranking signal for desktop since 2010. To check out your own page speed and receive specific recommendations, pop your website into Google’s own PageSpeed insights tool.
More searches are completed from mobile devices than desktop, and search engines are now prioritizing content by what best suits their predominantly mobile user-base.
To rank better in today’s mobile-first world, you need to be focusing on how your content serves mobile users (even if your current site traffic is predominantly desktop users).
The first place to check for mobile usability issues is within your own Google Search Console. These are issues that Google has already flagged for your site, which means Google is already factoring “mobile usability issues” into your search rankings.
Next, check how a site appears on Mobile by loading webpages from your own mobile device, or by using a responsive website checker like this one. If you have a user-recording tool installed, like hotjar or lucky orange, you can also see how your site is displaying to those mobile users.
Here are things to look for:
- Are images and assets fitting on the screen?
- Are images and assets resizing appropriately for the screen size?
- Can users easily access all of the page content?
- Ex: is the page short enough to scroll through easily?
- Ex: are large/unnecessary page elements taking up all the space?
- Ex: does the user have to scroll and scroll and scroll to get through the page?
- Are any page elements overlapping in a way that hinders the user viewing content?
- Do you have huge blocks of unbroken text?
- Does the design still look clean?
What you can do:
- Get the user to relevant content faster
- Hide unnecessary images on mobile
- Reduce the font size of headers on mobile
- Move important content to the top of the page
- Add jump links for longer content
- Make content easier to view/read on a smaller device
- Make sure images and graphics are resizing responsively
- Adjust your navigation so mobile users can see all options
- Break up text into 2-3 sentence blocks
- Use more whitespace!
- Increase tap areas so it’s easier to scroll to relevant content
- Use a sticky nav so users can always find a “next step” if they get stuck
For more information on mobile SEO check out our Comprehensive Guide to Mobile SEO.
Mobile users spend heavy portions of their time on social media feeds, YouTube, and Apps — all beautifully designed platforms heavy on visuals and multimedia content.
Multi-media keeps people scrolling, conveys concepts at-a-glance, and helps users interact more fully with content. Multi-media makes blog and page content more engaging.
With images and video pulling in at the top of SERPs now, that content is yet another way to get onto the first page.
How are we certain that images and video are going to matter more in 2020? Google’s Gary Illyes told us during a
Google Images and Video search is often overlooked, but they have massive potential. We simply know that media search is way too ignored for what it’s capable [of] doing for publishers so we’re throwing more engineers at it as well as more outreach.
The same Reddit thread also confirmed that Google’s image recognition technology is using images and the relevancy of images to content as a ranking signal for webpages in the SERPs.
BERT, the algorithm that helps Google better understand the intent behind search queries, launched at the end of October 2019. We can expect to be seeing BERT-related refreshes and advancements throughout 2020.
As Google refines its understanding of the intent behind search queries it will be serving better results, especially for long-tail queries and never-before-seen queries. This means that you should be hyper-focused on creating content that helps a user find the product, service, information, or entertainment that they’re looking for with a search.
Where can you start?
Take a look at Google’s “People Also Ask” questions. These are questions that Google recognizes users are asking. Considering writing concise answers that completely answer the question, and marking the question itself with a header tag. You can also try using FAQ schema.
This approach is especially good for blog posts where you can attract users with content, and then direct them to product or service pages as needed.
Another source for discovering the type of information that users are looking for are forums. Put in your target keyword, and restrict the search to quora or yahoo answers posts, then look at the top results to see some of the most asked related questions that people are asking.
The forum approach has a double benefit – you can go back to the forum questions once you’ve written content, and post a link to the relevant page or blog post.
You can also use content optimization and research tools like LinkGraph’s Focus Terms or Copy Optimizer tools. These content tools scan content for the top 20 results for a keyword (pages already being recognized as relevant in the SERPs by Google), and then gives you a prioritized list of terms included in relevant results, to help you create a topical outline for your content.
If you’re just starting out, our focus terms tool is perfect to get an initial keywords and topics list:
If you already have content drafted, our Copy Optimizer tool can help highlight any gaps.
To learn more about recognizing search intent, and indicators for informational vs. commercial oriented keywords, take a look at Keywords 101: A Beginner’s Guide.
Most users start by visually scanning a page, looking for content relevant to them (not reading paragraph text). Try copying your page into a fresh document, and deleting all paragraph copy.
- What story do the headers tell?
- Would a user be able to quickly jump down to the content most relevant to them?
- Do the headers make sense when you read through them without the paragraph content?
People scan through webpages much the way recruiters scan through resumes – looking for terms and phrases that match what they’re looking for, so make sure common keywords are in your header copy and titles. This is one of the strongest signals to users (and search engines) that your page has relevant content.
Headers are especially helpful on mobile where a user may be scrolling quickly through content, headers every 1.5-2 scroll screens can help a user stay centered and encourage them to keep moving through the content.
OUTBOUND LINKING MATTERS! Google pays attention to what resources you share with your users. As Google puts it, outbound links matter because they:
- Show that you’ve done your research and have expertise in the subject manner
- Make visitors want to come back for more analysis on future topics
- Build relationships with other domain experts (e.g. sending visitors can get you on the radar of other successful bloggers and begin a business relationship)
“Link Neighborhood” is a term coined by the SEO community, and it refers to the type of sites that you link out to, and the type of sites that link back to you, and how they link to each other.
For example, if you were to look at the “link neighborhood” for a celebrity site, you’d probably see a lot of streets to gossip magazines, social media groups, fan sites, and concert venues. If you were to look at the “link neighborhood” for an MIT lab, you might see a lot of streets going to scientific publications, tech news, grant organizations, etc.
Link neighborhoods help give context for the topical focus of a site, and the relative authority of a site; is harvard.edu linking to the site, or is bestcrystalsforhealing.com linking to the site?
Your link neighborhood is a combination of your outbound links and inbound links coming back to your site and web pages.
Finally, Don’t Forget to Promote Your Content!
Link signals (earned media) are some of the strongest relevancy indicators for Google. Inbound links tell Google your content provides value to other people, and the anchor text used to link back to your site tells Google what those users think your site is relevant for.
Try these strategies for promoting your own web content, and expanding its reach beyond your paid and organic site visitors:
- Answer forum questions, and link back to helpful pages from your own site (ex: Quora, Yahoo Answers, Reddit).
- Comment on RELEVANT blogs requesting resources or aggregating information.
- Post links to your pages and posts from your social media accounts (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc).
- Submit products or images to discovery-based platforms (ex: Product Hunt).
- Make short videos for tips, tricks, how-to articles, and more!
Recap: Tips for On Page SEO in 2020
- Be Concise
- Avoid Filler Language
- Keep Sentences Simple
- Limit use of Demonstrative Pronouns
- Use More Multimedia (Video)
- Make speed your first priority
- Review your Content on Mobile not Desktop
- Read the story of your headers
- Promote your content with video
- Leverage Link Neighborhoods
Bonus Tip: Review Page Title + Meta for Key Pages Monthly
If you notice your site is falling in the SERPs when you haven’t made any recent changes, take a look at the page titles and metas that are ranking well for your target term with Google.
Scan through the first page of results for your target term and see if you can notice any patterns that speak to a shift in how Google views the search intent of a keyword. For example, is Google now ranking sites providing informational pages instead of product pages? Or has Google switched from prioritizing “what is xyz” content to prioritizing “how to implement xyz” content?
The perceived search intent of queries can change over time for a number of reasons:
Users can become accustomed to new technology, and no longer need to know what it is when searching for that tech. For example, today’s user is unlikely to be looking for information on what wearable tech is if they type in “wearable tech” as a search query. In this case they’re more likely to be searching for products, product comparisons, or “future of” news stories.
However, if a user searches “virtual reality” informational pages about what these things are and how they work may still be relevant, as the technology is newer.
The perceived search intent of queries can also change because the technology for understanding the meaning of a search query is improving. This type of adjustment is much more likely with long-tail keywords or never-before-seen search.