A new survey of over 900 Americans suggests many business owners may not understand the basics of search engine optimization (SEO), such as how Google ranks websites.

Compared to non-business owners, the 394 business owners surveyed were slightly more informed – though both groups showed a clear knowledge gap.

Based on the survey results, almost 1 in 4 business owners and more than 2 in 5 non-business owners said they were not at all or only vaguely familiar with SEO.

When asked specifically about how Google ranks pages, over 1 in 3 business owners and more than half of non-business owners said they had little to no understanding of the process.

As Fractl, the company behind the survey, explains:

“Not only does that mean they might not be implementing the most effective content strategies and optimizing their websites appropriately, but they’re also likely missing out on low-hanging fruit, like improving site speed and considering site structure.

The good news is that if they learn about SEO now, they can make leaps in the right direction that will help them against their competitors.”

How About an Actual SEO Quiz?

Rather than entirely relying on self-reporting, Fractl also gave survey participants a simple 8-question quiz on SEO. When the scores were averaged, business owners received a 48.7% on the quiz, while non-business owners scored a 38.7%.

Notably, the majority of the survey participants said they believed SEO is either “moderately” or “very” important to the health of their business, indicating a disconnect between the desire to learn and having the time or access to resources to do so.

As the study concludes, “With greater SEO knowledge, companies can see massive gains in their marketing and sales goals and establish a foundation for greater long-term growth.”

After gradually applying its “mobile-first” algorithm to qualified sites over the past few years, Google is signaling it will be expanding the indexing system too all sites within a year – whether they are ready or not.

As reported by Twitter user @KyleW_Sutton and Search Engine Land’s Barry Schwartz, Google has begun sending out Search Console notices to sites who have yet to be included in the mobile-first index describing why their site is not ready.

Within the alerts, the company says “Google expects to apply mobile-first indexing to all websites in the next six to twelve months.”

What Is Mobile-First Indexing

Recognizing that more searches were beginning to come from mobile devices rather than desktop computers, in 2016 Google announced it was launching a new ranking system which prioritized sites that had taken steps to be “mobile-friendly.”

For example, sites with responsive mobile designs, fast loading speeds, and had removed Flash would be prioritized over those which had issues rendering on mobile devices in search results.

Initially, this took the form of an entirely separate indexing system for search results exclusively on mobile devices. However, the company has been working to create parity by making mobile-first indexing the primary method of crawling all sites.

The announcement that mobile-first indexing will be applied to all sites within a year marks the opening of the final chapter in the years-long effort to ensure all search results will load well whether you are at an office computer, using a phone on-the-go, or lounging with a tablet.

What This Means For You

If you have received this email or alert, it is a major warning sign that your site isn’t ready for a huge number of modern devices. Depending on what issue is present, it could mean something as small as an issue with a specific image presenting errors or as bad as your site being entirely unable to render on smartphones.

Either way, there is a large chance the issues present on your site are already affecting your rankings by preventing mobile-searchers from finding your site in search results. This will only get worse as Google moves forward with applying mobile-first indexing to all sites unless steps are taken to resolve the issues Google has observed.

Bing revealed major overhauls to its Webmaster Tools suite this week. The new layout and features aim to make the tools available to SEOs and webmasters faster, easier to use, and more actionable.

As SMX West, the company said the first phase of the overhaul would be coming the first week of March, with a sleeker interface and three primary new features:

  • Backlinks Portal: The current inbound links report will be merged with a disavow links tool to become part of the backlinks report portal.
  • Search Performance: Similarly, the company is combining its page traffic and search keywords reports into a unified search performance report.
  • Sitemaps: Bing is giving its current sitemaps page a general overhaul to make it more valuable to online marketers and webmasters.

When It’s Coming

As the company said in its announcement:

“We are delighted to announce the first iteration of the refreshed Bing Webmaster Tools portal. We are releasing the new portal to a select set of users this week and will be rolling out to all users by the 1st week of March.”

What It Looks Like

Search Engine Land provided several screenshots of what the new portal will look like once it goes live:

Search Performance Report

Backlink Report

Disavow Link Tool

Sitemaps

Once they go live, anyone with a Bing Webmaster Tools account can access the new features by navigating to the Sitemaps, Inbound Links, Page Traffic, or Search Keywords reports.

Why It Matters

Despite being frequently overlooked by brands and marketers, Bing has been quietly cementing its grasp on a significant percentage of the search market. The new tools will make it easier for those taking advantage of this opportunity to better understand their website’s performance and refine their efforts for even better performance in the future.

If you’ve ever doubted the power of search engine optimization, just look at the events playing out surrounding the recently released movie Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). 

After the film significantly under-performed on its opening weekend, Warner Bros. has decided to revise the name to the simpler Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey for better SEO.

As the company explained to The Verge this week, the new title places the popular character’s name at the front of the title instead of hiding it towards the end. The idea behind is a “search expansion for ticket sites” to make the title easier to find for movie-goers who may be less familiar with the Birds of Prey title.

Attentive watchers noticed the change occurring three days after the film’s release across numerous ticket sites.

Did SEO Tank Birds of Prey?

It is too early to really tell how big of an impact the change will really have to the movie’s success. There is some evidence that Google and other major search engines were already surfacing information about the movie and ticket availability when just searching “Harley Quinn” before the change took effect.

Image Source: George Nguyen/Search Engine Land

The revision could actually cause more confusion, as many details about the movie – such as its YouTube trailer – still show the original movie title.

However, the power of SEO and branding can’t be ignored. Studies have shown that more than half of consumers only click on brands they are familiar with within search results. It is also hard to gauge exactly how many potential film goers were turned away or frustrated by irrelevant search results before the change took place.

Either way, the events following the release of Birds of Prey provide a real-world example of how SEO and branding affect the viability of even the biggest products.

When creating content to help your SEO, many people believe they should aim for an “ideal” word count. The perfect number has ranged from 300 to 1,500 words per post depending on when and who you ask. There’s just one problem – Google’s leading experts say there is no perfect word count.

Why Do Word Counts Seem Important?

Since Google is relatively tight-lipped about the exact recipe they use to rank sites on its search engine, SEO experts have traditionally had to rely on their own data to understand the inner-workings of the search engine.

Sometimes, this information is later confirmed. Marketing experts had long believed that site speed was an important ranking signal for Google before the company confirmed its impact.

The problem is this approach relies strongly on correlation – which can be unreliable or lead to incorrect conclusions.

This is also why the “ideal” word counts recommended by “experts” tends to vary so wildly. When we have to rely on relatively limited data (at least, compared to Google’s data), it can skew the conclusions taken from the data.

This is where Google’s John Mueller comes in.

What Google Has To Say

The company’s leading experts have repeatedly denied that they consider word counts to be an important ranking signal. Some have suggested it is lightly considered, but the impact is negligible compared to other factors like keyword relevance or backlinks to the page.

The latest Googler to speak out about the issue is John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google.

In a recent tweet, Mueller used a simple analogy to explain why focusing on word counts is the wrong approach.

Simply put, focusing on how long each piece of content is puts the attention on the wrong area. If you write long posts, simply for the point of hitting a total number of words, there is a high risk of drifting off-topic or including irrelevant details.

The better approach is to create content with the goal of answering a specific question or responding to a specific need. Then, write until you’ve provided all the relevant information – whether it takes 300 or 1,500 words to do so.

In the latest episode of Google’s “Search for Beginners” series, the company focused on 5 things everyone should consider for their website.

While it is relatively straight and to the point, the video shares insight into the process of ranking your site on Google and ensuring smooth performance for users across a wide range of devices and platforms.

Specifically, Google’s video recommends:

  1. Check if your site is indexed: Perform a search on Google for “site:[yourwebsite.com]” to ensure your site is being properly indexed and included in search results. If your site isn’t showing up, it means there is an error keeping your site from being crawled or indexed.
  2. Provide high quality content: Content is essential for informing users AND search engines about your site. Following the official webmaster guidelines and best practice documents will help your site rank better and improve overall traffic.
  3. Maximize performance across all devices: Most searches are now occurring on mobile devices, so it is important that your site loads quickly on all devices. You can check to ensure your site is mobile friendly using Google’s online tool here.
  4. Secure your website: Upgrading from HTTP to HTTPS helps protect your users information and limit the chance of bad actors manipulating your site.
  5. Hire an SEO professional: With the increasingly competitive search results and fast-changing results pages, Google recommends hiring an outside professional to assist you.

The video actually implies that hiring an SEO professional is so important they will be devoting significantly more time to it in the future. Here’s what the presenter had to say:

“Are you looking for someone to work on [your website] on your behalf? Hiring a search engine optimizer, or “SEO,” might be an option. SEOs are professionals who can help improve the visibility and ranking of your website. We’ll talk more about hiring an SEO in future episodes.”

Google says it is walking back a significant recent redesign of its desktop search results after widespread negative reaction.

Earlier this month, the company released an update which brought desktop search results closer to the current mobile results, including changing how ads appeared in the results.

However, many said the change made it difficult to distinguish between paid advertisements and organic search results.

This isn’t the first time Google has been accused of making it difficult to tell ads from organic results, however it is the first time the company has agreed to backtrack on the changes.

In a Tweet, the company said: “Last week we updated the look of Search on desktop to mirror what’s been on mobile for months. We’ve heard your feedback about the update. We always want to make Search better, so we’re going to experiment with new placements for favicons.”

Despite the negative response, Google says initial tests of the change were positive and cited the warm response to similar mobile search results designs.

Read the full statement below:

“We’re dedicated to improving the desktop experience for Search, and as part of our efforts we rolled out a new design last week, mirroring the design that we’ve had for many months on mobile. The design has been well received by users on mobile screens, as it helps people more quickly see where information is coming from and they can see a prominent bolded ad label at the top. Web publishers have also told us they like having their brand iconography on the search results page. While early tests for desktop were positive, we are always incorporating feedback from our users. We are experimenting with a change to the current desktop favicons, and will continue to iterate on the design over time.”

A surprising competitor has entered the arena of search engines, as Verizon Media has announced the launch of its privacy-focused search engine called OneSearch.

The search engine says it will not track, store, or share any data from users including personal and search-related information, aligning itself more with search engines like DuckDuckGo than Google.

The search engine is available now at OneSearch.com.

While DuckDuckGo may be more established, OneSearch hopes to make it easier for businesses committed to privacy by integrating the search engine with existing products.

As the company explains in the announcement:

“OneSearch doesn’t track, store, or share personal or search data with advertisers, giving users greater control of their personal information in a search context. Businesses with an interest in security can partner with Verizon Media to integrate OneSearch into their privacy and security products, giving their customers another measure of control.”

The search engine is also taking privacy a step further by adding an “advanced privacy mode” which delivers search results via encrypted links which will expire within an hour.

In the announcement, OneSearch highlights their full suite of privacy-centric features, including:

  • No cookie tracking, retargeting, or personal profiling
  • No sharing of personal data with advertisers
  • No storing of user search history
  • Unbiased, unfiltered search results
  • Encrypted search terms

As OneSearch promises not to sell users’ data, it will instead rely on advertising to provide its search engine for free. Rather than using users’ browsing data, the search engine says it will show ads based on contextual data such as the current keyword being queried.

Currently, the search engine is only available in North America on desktop or mobile browsers. The company says it plans to expand the search engine to other countries soon and will be launching mobile apps for Android and iOS later this month.

Google has announced it is rolling out a widespread update to its search engine algorithm which it is simply titled the ‘January 2020 Core Update’.

The update began rolling out late yesterday and will affect how the search engine ranks all web pages around the world. However, as it is a “broad core” update, there is no specific issue or ranking signal being prioritized like in past mobile or speed-related updates.

Rather, Google’s recommendations for optimizing for this update remain the same as past core updates, which can be found here.

In the past, Google has described its broad core updates using a metaphor:

“One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2015. A few years later in 2019, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realize they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.”

While the update is unlikely to radically shift search engine rankings, Google’s announcement of the update is relatively uncommon. Typically, Google prefers to quietly roll out broad updates and only confirm core updates when they relate to specific issues or are widely recognized.

This may signal that Google expects relatively large impacts on some search results, though it will take some time for the full impact of the update to become apparent.

If there is anything that has remained true about online marketing over the past decade, it is that online marketing is always changing. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that Google makes around 9 changes to their search engine algorithm every day.

To stay ahead of the curve, businesses can’t just understand where online marketing and SEO is today. They have to be able to look forward to predict the next wave of updates they can expect in the coming months and years.

With that in mind, I wanted to spend some time today talking about some of the biggest trends you can expect to see in 2020 and beyond:

1) Snippets Become The New “Number 1 on Google”

For years, Google has been using Featured Snippets to highlight quick information that may answer your query without ever having to click on a search result. You can see these when you search for recipes, look for lyrics to your favorite songs, or ask questions with relatively simple answers like “How big is the sun?”

Brands have long avoided targeting these snippets which typically appear above all other search results, believing that they reduce the chance of a person clicking onto their website or otherwise converting. However, growing evidence suggests snippets actually drive higher click-through rates and engagement by quickly establishing a single site as the authority.

Over the next year, the competition for these snippets is likely to continue rising, making them the next big fight for search engine results dominance.

2) Mobile Really Comes First

We’ve been talking about this moment for years. We officially use our smartphones and tablets to access the internet more desktop devices.

As such, Google has announced that its ‘Mobile-First Index” would become its primary search index. That means Google is now looking at the mobile version of your site before it ever considers the desktop version when ranking search results.

With this in mind, having a stripped-down mobile version of your site or not having a mobile site is no longer a viable option if you want to succeed online.

Site speed will also continue to be a major ranking factor because of its importance when accessing sites on the go from mobile devices.

3) Visual Search Gets Serious

Visual search has existed as a novelty in online marketing for some time now, slowly improving with each iteration. Now, we are reaching the point where visual search is becoming a major player in search.

While we don’t have statistics from Google Lens or Bing’s Visual Search, Pinterest’s Lens has been a revealing foray into the viability of visual search.

Within a single year of launch, Pinterest Lens was receiving more than 600 million visual search queries every month. This September, the company announced the tool was able to identify over 2.5 billion unique objects within the fashion and home industries.

With this in mind, it is easy to imagine a day in the near future when people regularly find it easier to snap a quick picture than come up with a precise text query when trying to find a specific item online.

4) Voice Search

Speaking of convenience, people are quickly turning to their Alexas, Echos, Siris, and Dots for their casual search needs – whether it is checking the weather or quickly ordering a product.

Out of all the coming changes, this may have the largest effect on how brands optimize their websites and content. This is because voice queries tend to be almost completely different than the types of queries we make when typing into a browser form.

With some estimates suggesting voice search could account for nearly half of all searches by the end of 2020, brands will have to begin optimizing for more conversational “long-tail” search queries and the unique capabilities of voice assistants.

5) Video Rules The Content Landscape

This is another online marketing trend that has been growing for years, but shows absolutely no signs of slowing down in the coming years.

The simple truth is that videos are more engaging than almost any other form of media, providing both audio and visual information in a quickly consumable package. Thanks to faster internet speeds and improved search indexing, they have also been an increasingly effective tool for sharing your content and driving actual engagement.

To give you an idea, some statistics suggest that videos can increase engagement by more than 80% compared to sharing the same information in simple text or audio clips.

Despite this, many brands have still avoided investing in video marketing because they believe it is inherently expensive or ineffective in local markets. Ironically, most users say they often enjoy videos shot using “authentic” methods like shooting selfie-style using a smartphone as much or more than slickly produced commercial videos.

 

Waiting for the “next big thing” to blow up before you jump in is a surefire way to always be a step behind your competition online. You don’t have to invest in every whim or indulgence of the digital marketing landscape, but focusing on these five surefire trends is sure to have you starting 2020 at the head of the pack.