The B2B content marketer’s guide to SEO trends for 2019
The key developments in search that B2B marketers should pay attention to
February 7, 2019
Of all the disciplines in marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO) is the one that involves the most constant change – and this can make it intimidating. Nobody knows exactly how the rankings on search engine results are decided (or at least, nobody outside of Google, Bing and other search engines) – but everyone knows that the algorithms and formulas change over time. What worked as an SEO strategy five years ago won’t work today. In fact, what worked last year, probably won’t work in quite the same way this year. If you’re a B2B marketer looking to keep your content visible and build its authority, then keeping up with SEO trends and new SEO theories isn’t a case of being fashionable – it’s essential.
There’s a lot of technical discussion about what the changes are – and it’s easy to feel locked out of those discussions by the jargon they involve: Google updates named things like Penguin, Panda and Possum, latent semantic indexing, quality score algorithms – and that’s before I get into the mnemonics: SERPs and E-A-T, for example. Beneath the technical talk though, SEO trends tend to involve general principles that it’s actually relatively easy to get your head (and your content strategy) around. And it’s well worth doing so.
That’s why I’ve been spending some time at the start of 2019 crawling through the latest theories on SEO best practice and pulling out the key trends that a majority of SEO experts agree with. As a B2B marketer, this is the search stuff that you need to know this year. Applying these principles to the content you create will help to keep it ranking as highly as it should on search engine results pages (that’s what SERPs means by the way). It will build your visibility, impact and credibility. Just as importantly, it will provide the guidelines for a content strategy that stays focused on the information that your audience is looking for – because that’s what good SEO marketing is increasingly about.
Here are the key trends in search for 2019 – the technical, the strategic and the forward-thinking stuff that it’s worth starting to build your approach around today:
SEO trends – the technical stuff
In March 2018, Google announced that it would start treating the mobile versions of websites as the primary versions of those sites when it comes to determining how relevant they are to a searcher’s query. That means it’s vital to check the mobile experience of the content you create and work with your technical teams to make sure the site is responsive on mobile – and that all of the relevant content is included. You’re likely to lose out if you’re investing in rich content that doesn’t display well in the mobile version of your site.
How your pages load on mobile
Google has always paid close attention to how fast pages load – but there are indications that the way it ranks speed is changing. Google added mobile page speed, which is based on actual, real-life users’ experience of your mobile site, as a ranking factor in July 2018. SEO experts say that it doesn’t seem to be exerting a big influence on where pages rank in search results – yet. However, since it’s a new tool in Google’s toolbox, that could change. The upshot? Keep a close eye on how quickly your content loads on smartphones.
SEO trends – the strategy stuff
As a B2B content marketer, this is where the SEO stuff gets really interesting. These trends will help to ensure that the content you create, and the way you create it, earns the visibility that it should on SERPs. It used to be that creating content for SEO meant stuffing the right paragraph of copy with the magic number of keywords. However, search has evolved a long way since then. The SEO trends that matter today invite you to be far more creative and audience-focused. Here are the areas that SEO experts say you should be focusing on in 2019:
Focus on intent – not just keywords
User intent is one of the buzz phrases in SEO at the moment. That’s great news for content marketers, because it basically involves trying to imagine what a user really wants when they type a particular keyword into a search engine. And let’s face it – that type of empathy is what we pride ourselves on. Focusing on intent involves envisaging what the ideal journey for a searcher looks like. What problem are they trying to solve? What type of content are they most likely to find valuable? What format will be most usable and useful for them? It can help to shift your focus from competing for general keyword phrases like ‘B2B marketing’ and research ones that have clearer intent behind them, like ‘demonstrate the ROI of B2B marketing’. As a content marketer, you can also go further. As an extra bonus, in doing so, you’ll be building your content strategy around the longer and more specific questions that tend to be asked through voice search – and future-proofing your SEO approach.
Once you start focusing on intent, you can go further – and try to anticipate the next question your searcher is likely to ask. If you can develop content that answers that as well, you’ll increase your dwell time, and improve your search ranking in the process.
How do you know how well you’re doing at anticipating and delivering against your audience’s intent? Try using Google Analytics to detect signals that visitors are finding the content they were looking for. Did they scroll down? Click on links? Interact with other elements on the page? Optimise your content around indicators of deeper engagement like this.
Plan for content depth – not just breadth
Many SEO experts have interpreted recent updates to Google algorithms to mean that 2019 will be the year that rewards in-depth content like never before. It’s still important to have a good breadth of content, covering different aspects of a subject, responding to the specific questions that searchers might ask, and responding to new topics and trends as they emerge. However, you have to balance that with the importance of each piece having the depth to deliver real value to readers – and signal that value to search engines. If you’re managing your company’s blog (the fulcrum of good SEO and content strategies), don’t rush out endless posts that just skim the surface of issues. Aim to publish at a frequency that enables you to go into meaningful detail. Similarly, there’s a trick to balancing how you split content between posts to make sure you’re not lumping too many diverse subjects together and only lightly touching on them. Aim to publish content that always has a reason for someone to link to it as a source of authority.
If you’re a regular follow of our Marketing Solutions blog, then this advice will sound familiar. We first posted about the correlation between the depth of content, and how well it performed in acquiring backlinks and ranking on search engines, back in 2017. The current buzz in SEO land shows that a long-form content strategy, investing in posts that you can promote with enthusiasm and which others will want to share, is more important than ever.
It’s all about the numbers (the ones on your page)
Backlinks (when others link to your content) are one of the most important factors in determining the success of your SEO strategy – and there are few more credible authorities on the subject that Brian Dean, who runs the Backlinko blog. When Brian comes out and announces that the quality of the stats in your posts will be one of the big factors determining how they perform on SEO this year, it’s worth listening to him. Think about the types of statistics that are most likely to persuade a respectable blogger or website to link to your page when you quote them. Don’t drown every piece of content with numbers. Instead select the most relevant, impactful and robust see next trend) ones you can access. Then put them into a format that’s visible and shareable. Infographics have a big role to play here.
E-A-T like an academic
If you’ve read anything about SEO recently, then the chances are you’ve come across this tasty acronym. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness, the qualities of content that Google now pays closer attention to following a highly publicised algorithm update last year. And Google isn’t alone. Bing has been making noises about rewarding E-A-T as well – awarding authority to the type of pages that a sensible human being would recognise as credible when they tried to read them.
How do you signal Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness to both your website visitors and the algorithms that help bring them to you? A good rule of thumb is to think like an academic when you’re planning, sourcing and creating your content. Pick credible, current sources for the claims that you are making in your posts – and include links to those sources to signal to both audiences and search engines that you’re not just making them up. This is an area we’ve tried to focus on recently in our own content. Wherever possible we try to use stats that are from a credible source, that aren’t older than 18 months (unless there’s a good reason), and that we’d be happy and proud to link to.
Take a similar approach to authorship. Inviting recognised external experts to post on your blog is a great way to boost its authority. Building up the brand of your own internal authors is another. Cultivate different employees and internal experts as regular contributors, help them to deliver the kind of in-depth content that search engines increasingly value, and then promote their posts on social media platforms like LinkedIn, to help build their brands.
Brand – the best kept SEO secret
That brings me to one of the best kept secrets in SEO – and one that’s likely to be let out of the bag this year: Brand. Google and Bing both admitted last year that it’s not just backlinks that determine the authority of your site in search rankings. They pay attention to mentions of your brand and content on different platforms, whether there’s a link involved or not – and their machine learning algorithms will be seeking out signals of what those mentions imply about your reputation and credibility. Think of brand mentions as ‘linkless backlinks’. Whenever people talk about your content or the ideas you share, they are building your authority for SEO – or potentially undermining it.
This is basically a call for marketers to take a more holistic approach to their content strategy. Aim to build content brands that get people talking and which are likely to be cited when they’re discussing an issue with others. And aim to publish content that actually sets the agenda, shares original points of view, and takes discussion of subjects in a new direction.
SEO trends – the future-facing stuff
SEO isn’t just an exercise in optimising for the way things work now. It’s also an exercise in anticipating the factors that will influence the visibility of your content in the future. In this section, I’ve picked out three key emerging trends that it’s worth finding ways to incorporate into your content strategy in 2019, to ensure that content retains its influence going forward.
Planning for zero-click searches
The original goal of your SEO strategy was to drive clicks through to your blog or website. However, that’s no longer the only route to searchers finding the answers they need – and it’s no longer the only way that your content can influence their perceptions of your brand or their buying journey. A growing proportion of searches don’t result in a click at all. Users find all of the information that they need on the SERP itself through the featured snippets that search engines select. At the moment, most of these snippets tend to focus on answers to very practical, lifestyle-oriented questions: directions, opening times and recipes for example. However, their growing influence means they have a role to play in B2B content marketing as well. And that role is likely to increase in a voice search world, where the best answers don’t involve having to visit a website.
How do you plan for a zero-click search world? Try to incorporate concise summaries or concise answers to specific questions within your content – a short summary of the steps required in answer to a ‘how-to’ question, or a really authoritative yet brief definition of a key concept for your sector. These are the types of search queries that are likely to be answered through a snippet – and these are the types of content search engines will look for when choosing which snippets to use.
Get serious about B2B video
Many marketers know that video content can help to improve your search rankings – but in order to leverage video effectively for SEO, it’s important to think about why. Video works best when audiences know why they’re watching it (so signalling this through headlines and page content is important), when it adds enough value to keep them watching (increasing dwell times), and when it’s an experience that others are happy to share and link to. The days of any old video boosting SEO are gone – but relevant, valuable video that helps to answer specific questions will earn you positions on SERPs that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to achieve.
It’s not just about Google
The Google algorithm is a great starting point for sense-checking your SEO strategy – but search is an increasingly diverse landscape, with audiences using different search experiences to access different types of content. You’ll need to consider what influences rankings on Apple, Amazon and Bing if you’re promoting podcast content, online buying, or if you want to reach searchers talking to the Alexa or Cortana virtual assistants. Broaden your search world by researching these other engines. I’ll certainly be spending some time doing that this year.