The end of the year 2019 is just around the corner. All of you must be already taking stock of how your SEO efforts have been panning out this year. Your mind must be abuzz with new ideas about what strategies to apply in the New Year.
But wait! I think we are getting ahead of ourselves here.
Are you aware of the SEO updates in 2019? Do you understand the implications of the Google algorithm and SEO changes on your website?
Many people are intimidated by SEO. They think it is very tedious and time-consuming. The best way to get over this mindset is to dive head-on and fully understand how SEO works.
Here is a recap of all the changes in SEO and Google algorithms in 2019. With this understanding, we can create better SEO strategies for 2020.
What is a Search Engine?
How many of you have searched for information online?Â I am sure all of you must have done it at some time or the other.
Internet is the buzzword in today’s world. Whether you want to book a movie ticket or want information on how to paint a wall, you search online. You enter your query into Google or Bing, and like magic, you have the relevant information before you.
Cool, isn’t it?
Google, Bing, Yahoo are examples of search engines.
Search engines are web-based software programs that collect, index and organize all the information on the web.
How Does Search Engine Work?
For a better understanding, let us compare the World Wide Web to a massive library. In a library, we sort books according to topics, index, and place them into different sections. When a reader wants to access any book, the librarian provides him the location where he can access it.
A search engine works in the same way. There are millions of websites on the internet that provide information on every possible subject under the sun. Small software programs called web crawlers/spiders go through each web page on the internet. These web pages are sorted, categorized, and stored in a database. When a user searches for information using the search engine, it returns the relevant results on the search engine results page.
So, search engines do three things:
- Crawling: Software programs called crawlers or spiders continuously browse every page on the web.
- Indexing: A copy of the web page is made on completion of browsing. Relevant keywords and URLs are identified and recorded.
- Ranking: Search engines allow users to enter the words they want to search in the search bar. The algorithm starts working. Then, the SERP shows the relevant websites/web pages to a search query.
This whole process happens continuously and is so instantaneous that it appears almost EFFORTLESS.
But here is the things
There is nothing simple about this whole operation.
Complex processes are happening behind the scene every second to give users the best possible information for their search. Every search engine has an algorithm that directs all these processes. Various factors like keywords, metatags, internal and external links, page loading speed, etc., decide the rank of a page on SERPs.
By now, you must have got some idea of what a search engine is. Let’s now look at some of the top search engines in the world.
Major Search Engines in the World
When we talk about search engines, 9 out of 10 people only think about Google. Very often people say that they are googling something when they search online. Google has dominated the search engine scene completely.
Some of the other search engines are:
- Internet Archive
Though there are many search engines besides Google, their market share does not even come a close second.
Reasons for Google Search Engine Dominance
Google is an all-time favorite in terms of the number of users. But why do users prefer Google over other search engines?
Here are some of the reasons why Google has emerged as the forerunner in search engines.
Google places a lot of importance on user satisfaction. It tries to provide the best quality results to its users. Google has an algorithm that strives to understand the intent and context of the searcher and show those websites which provide accurate and relevant information according to the search query.
2. Ongoing algorithm update:
Google attempts to improve user experience through frequent algorithm changes. Google is known to deliver better results than other search engines and that too quickly, which has made its users trust the platform and built loyalty.
3. Top-notch local search:
Google has improved local search. It uses proximity and geo-targeting to give local results to users. Local businesses have found this beneficial as they show up on Google searches. It is helpful to users, as they find services close to their locations.
4. Wide range of online products and services:
Google search is one of the top services of Google. Other products are also popular like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Chrome browser, and Google docs to name a few. These products are free for users and have contributed a lot to Googleâ€™s popularity.
5. Simple and clean interface:
Google has a neat and simple interface. Ads are clearly marked so that users know which are the organic results. We find both organic and paid results on a Google SERP. Ads are shown according to the targeted keywords, so these links are also useful for searchers.
6. Image search:
Image search is another powerful feature that Google offers. Users can search for images according to keywords.
What is SEO?
SEO is a term that I am sure anyone who is into digital marketing is familiar with, but for the uninitiated let me explain.
SEO or search engine optimization are techniques and practices that are used to increase the organic traffic to a website both quantitatively and qualitatively. It helps in increasing the website or web page ranking on SERPs and business visibility.
Why businesses need SEO?
Which business does not want free organic traffic? Every business wants to be discovered online, and SEO helps in this.
Search engine optimization offers a whole host of benefits to businesses. If a business is not using search engine optimization, it is losing out some serious traffic.
1. Customers are searching online:
According to Internet Live Stats, in 2019, there were around 5.5 billion Google searches per day or 63,000 searches per second. This translates into a huge opportunity for businesses to showcase themselves on search engines. Businesses need to be where their customers are.
2. Quality traffic:
People searching online are trying to find solutions to their problems or queries. You can bring in the most relevant traffic through SEO as search engines will show your website to only people whose search query matches the keywords and the content on your website. This is the best traffic which you cannot miss.
3. More likelihood of conversions:
The visitors who come to your website from search engines are more likely to convert as they are already in the market for your product or service. By providing a relevant solution to their problems, you can see greater conversions.
4. Increased ROI:
A good SEO strategy can increase the ROI for your campaigns. Keyword optimized website, blog and other content can help businesses attract, engage, and convert prospects into customers at a very less cost. This, in turn, gives a better ROI.
5. Greater CTR:
Once a website achieves a high ranking on the search engine pages, the click-through rate increases by leaps and bounds. You can get visitors to your website without spending much.
There are several advantages of doing SEO, and we have just looked at some of the significant ones above.
What Is A Search Engine Algorithm?
There are millions of websites out there on the internet. Have you wondered how a search engine knows which website to show to a user? Though the process from initiating a search to the display of the results happens in a matter of minutes, there is a complex set of things happening at the backend.
Every search engine has an algorithm, which is a set of unique rules based on which websites are ranked. This decides which web page matches a particular search query. Each search engine has its unique algorithm, which is a closely guarded secret. All search engines make regular updates to their algorithms to improved search results for users.
Google is the largest of the search engines, and for this article, we will be restricting ourselves to just looking at the changes in the Google algorithm in 2019.
Google Updates In 2019
The Google search engine has come a long way since it was first started in 1998. It is in the habit of making regular updates to its algorithm to return the best possible results to its users.
Here is the deal, some changes in the algorithm are minor and some have far-reaching implications on the ranking and traffic of websites. Google announces the major updates from time to time, but we can assume some minor updates were made from the change in the ranking or traffic to a website.
Let us now look at some of the updates that took place in 2019.
1. Unnamed Update (unconfirmed) – February 6, 2019:
Though this update was not officially confirmed by Google, search engine tracking tools showed fluctuation in traffic and ranking, especially in the UK.
2. Unnamed Update (unconfirmed) – March 1, 2019:
On March 1, 2019, the Google search results page showed as much as 19 results which were way off from the standard 10. This mainly affected in-depth articles that disappeared on March 6, 2019.
3. March 2019 Core Update – March 12, 2019:
This update was confirmed by Google as the third major core update. No details about how this update would affect search traffic or business was officially given by Google.
4. Deindexing Bug – April 5, 2019:
Google confirmed that a bug had been identified that was dropping pages from the search index around April 5, 2019.
5. Indexing Bugs – May 23, 2019:
Search engine indexing of new content was affected due to bugs for two days in a row. Google confirmed this. This saw some major flux in SERPs.
6. June 2019 Core Update – June 3, 2019:
June again saw the pre-announcement of a core update. Only limited details were given of this update. Sites that were previously affected by the core updates were affected again but not as great as the previous Medic update.
7. Site Diversity Update – June 6, 2019:
This update was preannounced by Google. This was directed at sites that had more than two organic listings on page one. Google wanted to bring diversity by showing pages from different domains on page one. According to Moz, this showed a marginal effect.
8. Maverick update – July 12, 2019:
There was suspicion of an update on 12th July as heavy flux was detected by search ranking trackers. Google did not officially confirm any update on this date.
9. September 2019 Core Update – September 24, 2019:
Google came out with another core update in September. Sites that were previously affected by core updates were hit again. Not many details were given by Google about this.
10. Unnamed Update – October 2, 2019:
Search engine trackers observed a lot of fluctuation in search engine rankings. An update was suspected but was not confirmed by Google.
11. BERT Update – October 22, 2019:
A major algorithm and hardware update took place in October called the BERT update. BERT was done to support the natural language processing model which would help Google better understand natural language searches and the context. Google could serve better results using this to a user search queries.
What are Google Penalties?
Search engines aim to provide users with the most relevant and quality information for their search queries. Sometimes, website owners indulge in blackhat and spammy techniques to better their rankings. This can unnaturally improve the rankings of these websites on the search engine results page.
Google deals with these unethical activities in two ways:
- Google algorithm updates
- Google penalties
Google Algorithm Updates: Google time and again keeps updating its algorithm to deal with spammy and malicious content websites. The main aim of all Google updates is to push up the ranking of websites which are following the ethical practices described by the Google policies and push down the ranking of websites with spammy, irrelevant, and thin content. Algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin update act like filters and the penalty affects both visibility and findability of websites on the SERPs.
Google Manual Penalties: Google sometimes takes manual actions against websites that do not follow the webmaster guidelines.
Manual penalties are given by Google after a site has been manually reviewed by a Google employee. We can see a Google penalty in the Google Search Console under Search Traffic under Manual Actions. If no message is shown, then you do not have a manual penalty.
A site comes under manual review when Googls’s algorithm suspects that a site is indulging in unethical blackhat activities. A user may also report a site to Google if they see pages with spam, paid links, and malware when searching.
There are many reasons for manual penalties, and the impact on a website performance on search engines may also differ.
Some of the common reasons for getting manual penalties are:
- Spam generated by users
- Free hosting spam
- Spammy structured markup
- Unnatural links from other websites
- Thin and low-quality content
- Suspicious redirects to other sites
- Unnatural links to other sites
- Hidden text
- Keyword stuffing
- Cloaked images
The intention behind all these activities is to manipulate Google search results.
How to Recover from a Google Penalty?
As we have seen, Google can control unethical practices by webmasters with
- Algorithmic filters
- Manual penalty
Recovery from Algorithmic Updates
An algorithmic penalty can affect both the visibility of a website and the ranking of a website on the search engine results page. This can affect the traffic to a website seriously.
Websites can recover from these penalties by fixing the issues. For example, if a website is hit by a Panda update, it needs to work on on-page optimization of a site. In case, it has been affected by the Penguin update, off-page optimization should be done and unnatural links should be removed. Once the issues with a website are rectified, the ranking and traffic both may improve.
Sometimes, fluctuation in ranking and traffic may be due to Google tweaking its algorithm, and by continuing to follow all whitehat techniques, affected sites will recover with time.
Recovery from a Manual Penalty:
The time taken to recover from a manual penalty depends on the severity. Minor penalties can remain in force for around 30 days and maybe lifted automatically. But if the penalty is for a severe violation, then you might have to start taking action to see that your site meets all the webmaster guidelines.
You should maintain a report of all actions taken by you to identify and rectify the problems. Then, submit a reconsideration request to Google. There will be a manual review by a Google employee. If the reason for the penalty has been corrected, the penalty will be lifted.
It is a good practice to always follow white hat SEO techniques to optimize a website to avoid Google penalties.
Trends Observed in SEO in 2019
Search engine optimization is done so that search engines and users can easily find your site. SEO ensures that visitors to your site get a good user experience.
Some of the trends seen in 2019 are:
Activity Cards for Mobile Users:
At the beginning of the year, Google added a new feature called activity cards for mobile search users. This helps users start from where they left off. So next time you are logged into Google search you will find an activity card at the top of the search pages. You will be able to see the pages you visited, the searches you made.
Featured snippets are stealing a lot of clicks from the number one position result on the search page. If you are already ranking on the first page for a keyword, you have a high chance of your featured snippet being displayed. So, it is a good practice to include a featured snippet.
- Ads Less Obvious:
Earlier when we looked at Google SERPs, we could find ads easily. Now, ads and organic results look alike except for the Ad icon on the corner.
Fewer Organic Results On SERP:
The number of organic listings on SERP has been reducing with time. At one time, 10 organic listings were the norm, but now you can find many SERPs with less than that number. Consequently, the competition for ranking on the first page has also increased.
- Optimize For Voice Search:
Voice search is playing a bigger role in the search as more people are using voice assistants. Many of these voice assistants read the answers from the featured snippets and also the site name of the snippet. So, it is a good idea to use keywords that can facilitate voice search. Include questions wherever possible, and create content that addresses a user’s problems.
Rich Snippets and Schema Markup:
These help in giving additional information about your business. Structured data makes it likely that your information will appear in places like knowledge graph, etc.
Optimize for My Business Listing:
As organic listing continues to move farther down on the SERPs, it is a good idea to rank higher on Google business listing.
User Experience Continues Being Important:
Dwell time on a page and the click-through rate continued to be important for ranking in 2019. RankBrain Googleâ€™s algorithm gives great importance to user experience and this continued in 2019.
Website Speed Important:
Website loading speed continues to remain important. This is especially true for mobile search as users shift to another site if the page does not load fast. This can also affect your page rankings. So use AMP and PWA to enhance the page speed and user experience to continue being favored by Google.
In-depth Content Still Wins:
Instead of just focusing on keywords, Google is also checking how in-depth and relevant the content is. So, in order to stand ahead of the crowd, you need to create in-depth and contextual content which answers all the questions a user might have.
With more people using mobile for their searches, Google is fast realizing this. Soon, the mobile version of your website will be considered the real site. Google is now slowly rolling out the mobile-first index, so it is time that you make your content consistent across desktop and mobile.
Video is the Next Big Thing:
There has been an increase in the number of videos being created, and this is likely to increase even further. If you have neglected using video for your digital marketing efforts, you need to get on it now. Use YouTube or embed a video in your text-based content.
Links are Still Important:
Links have always been important, and continue to be even this year. The focus is on getting organic links based on high-quality and valuable content on your site.
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C):
Finally, let us have a brief look at W3C. It is an international organization that works to improve the web. It was established in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee. It includes hundreds of organizations worldwide from a host of IT industries. W3C is the organization that sets the standards for the World Wide Web to promote cooperation and the ability to work together among all users of the web. It develops guidelines and practices that help in the development of the World Wide Web so that all can benefit from it.
Time and again the debate rages whether SEO is still relevant. People have varying opinions regarding the same. In 2019, SEO has played a major role in website visibility and is expected to continue in 2020 also.
So, keep yourself informed with the SEO updates in 2019. Build from this foundation and improve your efforts for greater website performance in the coming year. All webmasters should concentrate on white hat SEO strategies combined with efforts to provide the greatest value to website visitors.
We would love to hear how your experience with SEO has been in 2019. Do comment, like and share this article, we would appreciate it.