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Predictions for 2020: Experienced Industry Leaders on SEO, Analytics, and Engagement

17th December 2019The Botify TeamThe Botify Team

No one knows what the future holds, but we think it’s worth a guess.

Here at Botify, we were curious to hear from boots-on-the-ground SEOs as well as those in the tech space about the transformation they’ve been seeing this year and what they think that might mean in 2020.

We spoke with in-house SEOs, consultants and agency SEOs, content professionals, and those in the technology space to come up with a well-rounded list of recommendations you can take with you into the new year.

So settle in — it’s time to learn!

Dan Shure on making room for nuance in SEO

Dan Shure is an SEO consultant for the likes of WGBH, host of the SEO podcast Experts on the Wire, and SEO industry speaker. Dan’s been steeped in the world of SEO since 2007, so we knew he’d have great advice for SEOs going into 2020.

No surprise here, it did not disappoint.

“My hope for 2020 is that SEOs stop diagnosing core updates by only using overall site traffic or overall site visibility, and rather do deeper segmenting by keyword, keyword type, page, and page type.”

We’re passionate about segments ourselves, Dan! When you’re working on sites with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of URLs, you need a way to group your URLs into logical categories for more precise analysis.

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“Core updates, in my view, are not the sitewide ‘penalties’ of the past like Penguin or Panda,” he continued. “It no longer makes sense to try to find the smoking gun of each update looking at the domain as a whole.”

We couldn’t agree more. Often, we find that segmentation helps our customers reveal where issues are actually occurring on their site, leading to more precise corrective action. For example, you may see organic search traffic take a nosedive, but upon segmenting your data you might realize that the drop occurred exclusively on your product pages, not your blog pages.

In conclusion, he added: “My hope is that we try to diagnose drops/increases only on pages that were intentionally created for a search audience, to begin with. It can be misleading to focus on pages that just ranked for a particular keyword by accident or luck, that didn't have that plan going into it.”

Here’s to letting go of the all-or-nothing mentality and making room for more nuanced conversations around organic search traffic in the new year!

Shohei Narron on data integration and automation

Shohei Narron is the Technology Alliances Manager at Looker, a unified business intelligence platform that delivers actionable insights to every employee at the point of decision. We recently announced Botify’s new partnership with Looker, which allows teams to integrate their SEO metrics with business metrics within Looker’s visual dashboard. Read more about our partnership with Looker here, and take a look at what Shohei has to say about the upcoming year!

“According to analyst reports, organizations are collecting 61% more data year over year, yet use only 20-50% of it."

Oh, don’t we know it! When just half of your data is put to good use, there are a lot of missed opportunities at hand.

"To break this paradigm, we’re now seeing data being integrated into daily workflows rather than users having to find and pull information themselves. From real-time notifications to automated actions, we expect to see more operational workflows based on integrated data.”

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Data unification goes a long way. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing this come into play more in 2020 – it’ll only help!

Louise Wiseman on server-side rendering and UX

Louise Wiseman is an SEO Manager at TUI, a UK-based travel company. She shared with us that both server-side rendering and user experience are top of mind for 2020.

“Our main priorities that we’ve woven into our strategy focus on react.js and a server-side rendering solution. We also have a pillar on improving the user experience across the site.”

Not only does server-side rendering serve search engine bots the fully-loaded page (ensuring none of your SEO-critical elements are missed), but it also takes the burden of rendering a page off of your end users — talk about improved user experience!

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But that’s not all. Louise also advised that SEOs be vigilant about schema, as well as digging deep to understand how search engines understand human language.

“We’re also focused on optimising for zero-click searches, whether through content or schema markup. Natural language processing is something we've been talking about a lot as well.”

Here’s to serving better experiences to both search engines and searchers in 2020!

Alexis Sanders on cross-channel integration

Alexis Sanders is an SEO at performance marketing agency Merkle and the mastermind behind SEO projects like technicalseo.guru and technicalseo.expert. What does she think will be changing in the new year?

“Strong digital programs will require more cross-team and cross-channel integration.”

At Botify, we love SEO too much to see it siloed, so we were stoked to hear Alexis’s prediction for 2020. When we see SEO as a means to an end, and recognize that other channels are working toward that same end, we can join forces and share data to create stronger campaigns than we could have on our own.

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So how does Alexis recommend integrating?

  1. “Establish a unified report (focusing on core business initiatives and cross-channel progress),
  2. Ensure all channels are unified around a CX vision, and
  3. Test different channel mixes and identify synergies.”

Thanks, Alexis!

Brendan Cottam on mobile-first indexing and JavaScript

Brendan Cottam is the Senior Marketing Manager, SEO at Wayfair. That means that every day he’s focused on solving enterprise-level SEO problems for a prominent online marketplace - experience he drew from to give this advice for 2020.

“Two things are top of mind for me: mobile-first indexing and JavaScript.”

Mobile-first indexing, although it’s been three years since Google first announced it, is still rolling out. In fact, our data shows that 37% of enterprise websites still have not been moved over to MFI, and even some of the ones that have are still working on mobile-desktop parity projects.

JavaScript is only becoming more popular, leaving JavaScript top of mind for a good portion of the SEOs we spoke with for this piece.

As a final thought, Brendan added that “when it comes to those things, stay curious, stay on top of it, and communicate effectively. It’s important for SEOs to tell their story very clearly, and not be afraid to tell it multiple times.”

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Great advice, Brendan! When it comes to preparing for new technologies, SEOs would do well not only to learn the tech, but also how to communicate about it effectively.

Maria Cieślak on not using JavaScript as a scapegoat

It’s no secret that Botifyers like to geek out over technical SEO. That’s why when we heard Maria Cieślak, Head of Technical SEO at Onely, had advice for SEOs going into 2020, we made sure to listen.

According to Maria, JavaScript is often wrongfully accused of causing SEO problems.

“JavaScript is treated as evil in our industry. Based on my observations, many people (SEOs, managers) love to blame JavaScript for all the problems with visibility, traffic. True, JS adds a lot of complexity, but in many cases, websites have plenty of issues with basic on-page or technical stuff (non-JS related).”

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So what kind of SEO problems are often wrongfully blamed on JavaScript?

“Some time ago,” continued Maria, “we were involved in a post-migration review (migration to a JS framework). They suffered from a rankings drop and blamed JS, but it appeared that the proper redirects were not in place.”

As we all know, site migrations are one of the leading causes of SEO disasters. There is a lot that can go wrong if you’re not careful, not just JavaScript.

To wrap it up, Maria said that going into 2020, SEOs should keep JavaScript in perspective and remember all the other critical SEO best practices that still need to be considered — “cover basic technical SEO and then look for more advanced problems.”

Here’s to learning more about JavaScript while remembering the other pillars of our technical SEO foundation!

Jonathan Cherki on transparency and intent

Jonathan Cherki is the Founder & CEO of Contentsquare, a user experience analytics and optimization platform that helps businesses understand how and why users are interacting with their app, mobile, and websites.

"Privacy laws are going to increasingly push businesses to put transparency at the heart of their brand strategy, resulting in more innovative solutions personalizing the experience.”

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100%. Social sites like Facebook, YouTube, and FaceApp have been under tremendous scrutiny, and more people are starting to pay attention to what information apps are storing (and selling). Transparency will go a long way for brands in 2020.

“AI and machine learning will make predictive analytics more accessible, helping digital teams to be more agile. And as consumers continue to blur the lines between channels, we'll continue to see tremendous innovation —especially in mobile — as brands race to build experiences that are relevant to every customer based on their context and intent in the moment."

We’re on the same page! The next iteration of Botify is all about intelligent, prescriptive actions and automation. Plus, we believe Google’s BERT update will bring searchers that much closer to the content they seek.

Aleks Shklyar on JavaScript, content quality, and SERP feature additions

Aleks Shklyar is an SEO Engineer at iPullRank, an agency focusing on technical SEO and content strategy. With his technical background and experience working with a wide range of clients, we were excited to hear what he had to say about what SEO will look like in 2020.

“In my opinion, Google will continue trying to improve their ability to crawl JavaScript efficiently. I'm hoping to see some strides in frequency of JavaScript crawls but highly doubt it'll be perfect in 2020. I would continue weighing the UX pros against the SEO cons when working with sites that heavily rely on it.”

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We completely agree. With updates like Googlebot going evergreen, we know that Google is dealing with JavaScript better than ever, but it’s important to keep render budget and user experience in mind so that your JavaScript-loaded content isn’t a barrier to Google or human visitors.

Pivoting to content, Aleks spoke about “Your Money Your Life” industries, a phrase used in Google’s quality rater guidelines to describe topics that could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety. Companies in these types of industries need to be extra careful with the quality of the content they publish.

“I believe the trend of content quality targeted algorithm updates will continue. There are still many YMYL industries that don't deliver when it comes to expertise on their pages. With the upcoming 2020 election, I expect some type of action against misinformation. With some heat coming in the direction of Google from presidential candidates, some type of response would make sense.”

Lastly, Aleks commented that we should expect to see continued evolution when it comes to SERP features, with Google finding more new ways to answer searchers’ questions as quickly as possible.

“The SERPs will likely see continued testing and possibly new features that make search for specific answers more seamless. Like the recent mortgage calculator addition, many other new features are probably in the works. With tons of schema to leverage, we might see something pretty cool (depending on how you look at it).”

Tyler Reardon on developer collaboration and data

Tyler Reardon is an SEO Manager at Chewy, a large pet products retailer, and former SEO Strategist at CARFAX, an online marketplace for used cars. With his experience working as an in-house SEO for large enterprise websites, we knew he’d have great advice for our audience.

“I think SEOs should be preparing for more hands-on collaboration with developers. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to learn a programming language (I started with Python and JavaScript, but either is fine) because, in addition to helping you automate repetitive tasks, it enables you to have a more informed conversation with developers when making recommendations.”

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With SEOs working more and more closely with development teams to implement their recommendations, we agree that it’s critical to forge friendships, learn to speak each other’s language, and work together to get things done!

Tyler also petitioned SEOs to start, if they’re not already, making recommendations based on data, rather than generic best practices lists — music to our ears.

“We also need to be making a conscious effort to make recommendations based on data rather than just employing best practices. I think in 2020 and the coming decade, it will become a best practice to use a statistical testing methodology to ensure changes made for SEO actually make a positive impact. If we can get there, we’ll build a lot more credibility as an industry.”

Niki Mosier on staying vigilant with JavaScript & SERP changes

Niki Mosier is the Senior SEO Account Manager at Two Octobers and regular speaker at SEO industry conferences. Her advice was twofold: pay attention to JavaScript and watch the SERPs like a hawk.

“Looking ahead to 2020, I think SEOs need to continue to pay attention to how JavaScript is being rendered by search crawlers.”

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Like many of the other SEOs we spoke with, Niki understands the importance of watching how Google and other search engine bots are interacting with JavaScript. Because JavaScript isn't going away, it’s solid advice that every SEO would do well to heed.

Niki continued, “We also need to be attentive to what is happening in the SERPs, as we are continually seeing things come and go. It’s really easy to get caught up in what we’re working on in tools and other places and not actually monitoring the SERPs for clients.”

We couldn’t agree more, Niki!

Frédéric Clement on innovating your marketing strategy

Frédéric Clement is the Chief Marketing Officer at Lengow. Lengow identifies opportunities for scaling, automating, and optimizing online sales.

“2020 will be a key year in ecommerce, particularly for brands that will continue their direct-to-consumer initiatives by capitalizing on existing channels such as marketplaces, or new services from Instagram, Pinterest, or TikTok.”

Yes! We’re very interested to see how ecommerce companies continue to evolve their brands and innovate their marketing strategy across social networking platforms (as they evolve, too!).

“More than ever, this will require a 'technical' approach to online marketing, with the right content strategy and the right tools to monitor and optimize their online presence.”

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That’s a great point! We can imagine that the lines have been getting pretty blurry as the capabilities of each platform expand (i.e. Instagram stories, influencer marketing, etc.). Monitoring at a granular level should be prioritized.

Alina Benny on creating content for searcher intent

Alina Benny leads the content and SEO efforts over at Nextiva, a business phone and customer management solution. At Botify, our conversations can skew toward technical SEO topics like JavaScript (hey, who can blame us?) but if there’s anything we love as much as technical SEO, it’s content optimization. That’s why we were so thrilled to get such solid advice from a content SEO pro.

“Content strategists need to get SEO in 2020. Ever looked up a job description for a Content Strategist? Most often, it has vague asks like ‘knowledge of web development technologies.’ Instead, imagine you only hired content strategists who are familiar with keyword research, on-page SEO, and, most importantly, search intent. What are you saving? Hours spent building long content briefs or slapping SEO onto copy that doesn't match user signals in the first place.”

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We couldn’t agree more, Alina! Here’s to hoping that search is considered as part of the content planning process, rather than something we just try to sprinkle on at the end.

Alina also offered great advice on going beyond the basic TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU searcher categories.

“Think with Google gives a fantastic example with their ‘near me’ searches. While most of these queries look identical, they fall into different parts of the buyer's journey. How much time are you spending on understanding these identical queries in your industry? This is where you go beyond your obvious branded search terms and dig into the longer-tail keywords in your vertical. Then, map this to the need-state of the buyer and serve content that aligns with this.”

We’re with you, Alina. In 2020, let’s start paying attention to real searchers' queries and creating content experiences that match their intent for an overall better searcher experience (and more traffic and conversions to boot!)

Robin Nichols on personalization and privacy

Robin Nichols is the Senior Global Content and PR Manager at AB Tasty, an experimentation and personalization platform that helps customers drive ROI by improving the user experience. UX is a topic that’s always top of mind for us (UX doesn’t just affect how a visitor interacts with your site – it also changes how Google crawls your site). There’s been a lot of conversation around providing better personalization for a customer while ensuring that their data remains private, so, naturally, we’re excited to hear Robin’s perspective on the matter!

“For 2020, we think that consumers are going to continue to expect more visibility and restraint when it comes to (personal) data. Vendors and brands will need to up their game to both reassure consumers and continue to create personalized experiences with this changing perspective.”

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This is an increasingly urgent need – and so complicated. We’re interested to see how companies work to accommodate people in both of these ways!

“The emphasis on the 'experience' part of customer experience is also growing - With AR, IoT, and smart interface tech, brands are going to get more 'experiential' - and experimental - with building customer experiences.

This is something we definitely look forward to seeing!

“Finally, we agree that consumers are gravitating towards brands with a mission statement that is grounded in an ethical vision - especially when it comes to the environment and questions of equal human rights. Conscientious consumers are going to search for brands that match their mindset.”

We’ve been seeing more and more of this – and with good reason. 2020 should be a great year for current brands with ethical origins and missions and for new brands entering the ecosystem (so to speak!).

Closing thoughts & Botify’s hope for 2020

Whew, we covered a lot of ground! From technical advancements that affect search like JavaScript and mobile-first indexing, to shifts in the way we create content, to SEO-adjacent predictions surrounding data and overall digital transformation, it can be overwhelming to read a list like this.

But here’s what we love about this.

The range of opinions goes to show that search is a highly diverse field, full of people who specialize in all different aspects of improving the searcher experience. Some of us are content focused, some are tech focused. Some are in-house, while others are consultants or at agencies. Some specialize in a particular niche, and others focus on having a holistic understanding of digital marketing and technology.

No matter where you land, just remember that you have something valuable to bring to the conversation.

So what about us — what do we Botifyers think about 2020?

We’re hoping to see a more symbiotic relationship between websites and search engines. With Google only crawling about half of the average enterprise website’s content, we know we have a long way to go — but through better data, insights, and time-saving technology, we think that 2020 will see Google indexing more of your important content than ever.

Here’s to a profitable new year!