SEO Industry Updates – January 2019

We’re back with another month of the latest SEO industry updates. From Google SERP changes to creating content that’s inclusive for all, we’ve gathered some of the hot topics from the month of January 2019.

Google Adds Voice Input and Spoken Results to Mobile Web Search

Summary

Google announced on January 29, 2019, that it added a microphone to the Google.com search field starting on Android phones to encourage more mobile web voice search. This newest update is interesting because voice search is already available via mobile through the Android keyboard mic.

When comparing this newest Android feature to the iPhone, you can see the microphone icon only on the Android (even though voice search is available on the iPhone through the keyboard). In addition to the microphone being available to the search field, users will also hear a spoken response with Android mobile web searches rather than silence. This is important because it could encourage users to undertake more searches through voice when their eyes are occupied. *This may or may not technically be the Google Assistant in action.

However, Google isn’t providing a new capability because the search bar on Android’s home screen already offers access to the Google Assistant. Therefore, most searchers probably are not doing the bulk of their searches from Google.com.

Why did Google add this?

Google wants to make voice search and the Assistant universal for a consistent search experience. This addition also encourages and trains searchers to use voice to interact with the Assistant, a cross-platform utility.

Why should we care?

In 2016, 20% of mobile queries were voice search. Even though updated numbers have not been released, we can come to the conclusion that number has increased. It’s important to distinguish between voice search on smartphones and voice search on smart speakers. When looking at smart speakers, use is still not well established. When looking at smartphones, the primary search device is being used today.

Additionally, as the Android Assistant is pushed for more voice search, snippets and structured data are becoming even more important. Queries are likely to increase due to new features, like this one, by Google. Marketers should be optimizing and following for best practices for voice search now.

Key Takeaways

  • A microphone has been added to the Google.com search field on only Android devices, interesting since it’s already available via the Android keyboard microphone.
  • After completing a voice search via the new microphone in the search field, Android users will hear a spoken response which may or may not be the Google Assistant.
  • Google is not offering a new capability because the Google Assistant is already available on the Android home screen for voice search.
  • This new search field feature was created in an effort to make voice search and the Assistant a more consistent experience.
  • Voice search optimizations should be considered, as queries are likely to increase due to new features.

Making Content More Accessible to the Visually Impaired

Summary

It’s estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people live with some version of vision impairment, which in the past has made online experiences difficult. This is where inclusive marketing comes in, to develop digital content that is accessible to anyone and everyone and recognizing that we can’t assume one brand is designed for customers from all walks of life. 

Maximizing the accessibility of your organic search presence means using inclusive marketing to make your brand available to an untapped market, customers with visual impairments. With that in mind, there are some things you can incorporate into your content development to ensure everyone searching your brand understands what’s on the screen. In addition, marketers can utilize features in applications to make all materials as accessible as possible.

Inclusive marketing means creating information and content that is representative of everyone. Following the best practices below makes your content universally accessible and can improve the quality as well as the user experience.

  1. Optimize images with strong alternative text descriptions.

Alt text provides a textual alternative to online content such as images and graphics and increases internet accessibility to users with vision impairments. When a screen reader comes in contact with images on a page, the alt text will be read aloud so the user can understand the image provided on the page.

Alt text also gives SEO rankings a boost by providing search engines more information about a page. The more information they have, the better chance an SEO has to rank for more relevant SERPs. Best practices include:

  • Be accurate
  • Be concise
  • Avoid redundancies
  • Avoid phrases such as “image of….” in your alt text
  • When text is present in the image, this can serve as the alt text
  • If the image links to something else, include this in the alt text
  1. Optimize images with friendly URLs, image titles, and file names.

The file name, URL, and title of your image will help search engines and screen readers to understand what the image is for a more accurate reading. Before uploading an image, make sure the file name is simple, describes the media, and includes target keywords. For example, an unoptimized file name is IMG123987B.png, while an optimized file name is couple-biking-by-the-beach.png.

  1. Use schema markup data for images.

Schema markup is used by search engines to provide more accurate search results. This structured data markup provides additional information to search engines that can improve the knowledge panel and can be read aloud as a featured snippet. This additional context can ultimately change how they might be displayed in search results.

  1. Apply accessibility principles to videos, powerpoints, and PDFs.

As videos become more popular in marketing, it helps to provide accurate video transcripts on the page, in addition to using open and closed captions for video content. Ex. *The text tile attached for closed captions is readable by search engines.

For powerpoints and PDF documents remember to:

  • Create search-friendly file names and optimize titles with target keywords.
  • Add alt text for images and charts within a powerpoint.
  • Complete the meta description field.
  • Include the company name in the author field.
  • Complete additional metadata fields in Adobe Acrobat.
  • Write protect your documents.
  • Link to the document internally and include target keyword backlinks.

Key Takeaways

  • Inclusive marketing is creating content that is representative of everyone, can make information more universally accessible, and can improve the quality as well as the user experience.
  • Optimize images with strong alternative text descriptions.
  • Optimize images with friendly URLs, image titles, and file names.
  • Use schema markup data for images.
  • Apply accessibility principles over to videos, powerpoints, and PDFs.

SERP Changes 2019

Summary

In 2018, consumer searches evolved past what was shown on “blue links” in Google Search for answers. While optimizing your site for position one is still important, the evolution of Google’s search engine results page (SERP) and rise of home assistant devices have made the relevance to search queries just as important as traditional rankings. Here are some other areas to be aware of in a search journey and what to expect in 2019.

Voice Search

The technology has taken a step forward in 2018 with a reported one billion searches per month through both mobile and home devices that featured Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. Many of these searches were locally focused to find businesses nearby (i.e. “where can I find tacos in Ocean Beach”).

Visual Search

Over the past year, Google has been experimenting with updates to knowledge panels and featured snippets to provide users with quicker access to answers to users searches. Look for more updates to these panels such as “carousel snippets” that add modifiers to your search term where a featured snippet appears.  

Images and video will also be another focus area for search results in 2019 as home assistant devices with screens such as the Google Home and Amazon Echo Show become more widely adopted. To provide quicker answers to questions, Google is identifying snippets from YouTube videos that can be featured both in search results and on these devices.

Key Takeaways

With a variety of ways to search, users will take many paths to find information. Here are a few ways to ensure your business is seen.

For local businesses, it is crucial to ensure information on directories such as Google My Business and Yelp are accurate as searchers rely on these to find directions, hours, and contact information for your business.

Implementing structured data onto the right pages of your site can also help Google determine what information can be used in a featured snippet or knowledge panel such as pricing information and event times/dates.

High-quality images with proper alt text can help with ranking in image search and add a visual component to a user’s search journey.

Whether it is through text or video, tailoring your content to answer the most relevant questions around your business can increase the possibility of obtaining a featured snippet. Ensure your posts answer questions in the most comprehensive way possible.

Google Activity Cards Invite Users to be Better Connected with Past Search Activity

Summary

Back in September 2018, at the Future of Search event, Google announced they would be adding a SERP feature called the Activity Card.  We began seeing this rolled out in January 2019. When entering a search query related to a previous search, a dropdown appears with “Your Related Activity” that is visible only to you. You can select these cards to revisit past searches, or as Google describes it, to pick up where you left off in search.

In addition to browsing-related searches, you also have the option to save pages from the Activity Cards to Collections, which is a personalized “Pinterest-esque” content hub. Another important update is that users are now able to delete items from their search history directly from the SERP.  This provides users with more control over their search history and allows Google to provide more relevant search results for users.

Key Takeaways

  • In the past few years, Google has increased focus on providing users with instant answers directly in search results (such as rich snippets, quick answers, people also ask, etc.) This update is not veering away from the quick results, but instead balancing it out with a focus on the “longer search journey.”
  • Google has given some examples of what these longer search journeys look like. (Ex.“planning a trip, and searching for information about a destination over the course of a month,” “meal planning for a new food regimen,” “researching new stretching routines for post-gym recovery”)
  • It is a bit soon to know how to optimize for Activity Cards and Collections. It seems this update will benefit sites with high-quality long-form content that helps guide users through these long-term search journeys.
  • Currently, the Activity Cards only show up for some queries, but we expect it to become more prominent moving forward.

Google Play Store Now Open for Progressive Web Apps

Summary

Companies are finding new ways to help the user have the optimal experience on both desktop and mobile. In 2015, Google developers came out with Progressive Web Apps or PWA. Users are now able to get all the power and function of an interactive app but through a web page. No longer will users be worried about limited space or data usage.

With the power of PWA, users get all they need by using a web browser without needing the full app. Just recently Google announced these apps will be available through the Google Play Store. As users become more aware of the PWAs and start using them, SEO is going to become a bit more challenging.

Below is a list of a few SEO obstacles and how best to overcome them when faced with PWAs:

  • Make sure there are no redirects to unsupported pages. Nothing makes a user more upset than seeing a site trying to load or sending them to a bad page.
  • Don’t have duplicate content use rel=canonical.
  • Not sure what a website will look like, run the site through Google Search Console. It has a tool called Fetch and Render. Using it will allow you to see what Google sees and if any adjustments may be needed for the site.

Key Takeaways

PWAs are coming and there is no way to stop them. The best way for SEO and companies to compete is to make sure sites are updated and are continuing to be optimized. Making sure all the traditional SEO rules are in place and that sites provide users with the most relevant information.

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