2020 was the first year of ‘the future’. In 1982, when Bladerunner was released, it’s the year that people associated with flying cars and spaceships. But with only a few months left on the clock, we’re a little way off those sci-fi dreams and electric sheep.
However, progress has been made. Artificial intelligence and green energy are changing our landscape, and the internet is pushing near five billion users. That’s more than half the planet’s population.
With so many internet users, it’s evident that top spots on search engines will become more competitive in the coming year. And, thanks to rapid technological evolution, search engines will also become smarter. A lot smarter.
Here are the top 10 ranking factors to consider when blogging in the new decade.
1. Backlinks will still be important
Yes, backlinks will still be a prevalent ranking factor. The number of inbound links to your URLs will forever be a sign of authority for Google, so expect more of those junk outreach emails in your inboxes from people ‘begging for a backlink’.
2. Image sizes and mobile UX
Up to 70 percent of web traffic happens on mobile. This will increase in the coming years. Make sure your images load easily for mobile screens, or face the punishment of lower rankings.
3. Site architecture
Website UX and internal linking strategies are not just for the human navigating your site, though that always matters.
As I’m sure you all know by now, Google crawls through links. To give more 'SEO juice' to key pages, then, they need to be found instantly; not after a crawler has followed three links or more.
On the same note, to build content relevancy across your site, you need to link certain topics together with one another. HubSpot’s topic cluster method explains this well:
The logic of your website and how you connect it all together will play a big role in the next decade.
4. Country code TLD
A country-code top-level domain will play a large role in getting higher up those SERPs. In short, having an ‘example.fr’ (for French companies) or an ‘example.it’ (for Italian companies) domain will help you index higher on Google for these specific markets.
If you’re a business selling domestically and you’ve no intention to go global, consider redirecting your ‘.com’ address to a localised country code TLD.
5. Image alt text
This has long been a factor, but as we begin to move away from the written word and produce more visual content, providing as much information around an image will become an ever-increasing factor.
Jon Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, said here that:
‘By adding more context around images, results can become much more useful, which can lead to higher quality traffic to your site. You can aid in the discovery process by making sure that your images and your site are optimised for Google Images.’
6. Content will remain King
Google’s SEO Starter Guide states that:
‘Creating high quality content takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill. Content should be factually accurate, clearly written, and comprehensive.’
And, if you consider that it is Google’s mission statement to ‘organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’, we can begin to understand that high quality, useful and valuable content will remain one of the most important ranking factors for years to come.
‘Users know good content when they see it and will likely want to direct other users to it.’
7. Like coffee, the fresher the better
In 2010, Google launched the Caffeine update, which was one of the largest updates in Google algorithm history. The update made content freshness a prevalent factor, and in 2020 (a decade later), it means that you need to:
- Keep your content up to date
- Continuously optimise it
- Continuously add more value to readers
Content that is published and left alone will drop off in the rankings. You’ve got to keep up with the competition.
8. Content consolidation
This isn’t a factor so much, but if you want to get a quick win on Google and you have a large blog, consider consolidating your content.
I mention this because it ties into the freshness factor. So, to keep this brief, if you have two blog posts published on your site, and both of them are indexing for the keyword ‘coffee’, consider consolidating your blog posts. You can do this by canonicalizing or applying a 301 redirect to the lesser indexed piece.
Google wants a variety of domains in the search engines to give users the maximum choice. In the 2020s, your domain probably won’t rank in the top twenty for a keyword more than once.
9. Voice search
‘Okay Google’, ‘Alexa’, ‘Hey Siri’ and ‘Hey Cortana’ are commonplace commands in today’s households. It’s estimated that this year, 50 percent of searches on Google will be voice commands.
Okay, so voice search technology is still in its infancy. But, if you want to get ahead of the competition, optimising for voice search should be a big priority going into next year.
Like voice, video is also making strides, and as of late 2018, video started showing up in featured snippet spots on Google.
Today, many companies are integrating a video strategy as part of their wider content marketing plan. Next year, then, you should be finding out what relevant keywords have video featured snippets and optimising video content against them.
Give more value away
If you want to rank higher up on Google, the biggest thing you can do is give more value away to your prospects.
There’s a lot of noise on the internet today, and as Google’s algorithms become smarter, it’ll better understand what content is rubbish and what actually provides value to users.
To find out what sort of content is working across your site and what content isn’t, study your engagement metrics. Things like bounce rates, time-on-page rates and visitors over time indicate to Google whether your content is something useful to searchers, or just another blog post on the internet.
Be useful, be valuable, and always consider the reader. Only then can you find those electric sheep.