2019: SEO Year in Review
Search was a roller coaster of ups and downs in 2019: Structured data-powered rich results helped to push zero-click searches to an all-time high. Regulatory scrutiny heated up as numerous antitrust investigations of Google were announced domestically and abroad. BERT brought enhanced natural language understanding to search engines. Bing turned 10 — it’s been more disruptive than it gets credit for. We said goodbye to Google+, the company’s biggest (and doomed) push into social media. And, after 21 years, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down and appointed Google CEO Sundar Pichai to lead Alphabet.From algorithm updates to emerging trends, here we look back at the big SEO stories of 2019 that will shape search for years to come.Search updatesGoogle Search algorithm updates. In 2019, Google became a bit more forthcoming about big core updates. On top of confirming the March core update, the company introduced a naming convention (sure, they’re not as fun as the names SEOs came up with, but at least we all have a common language around them now). And, at long last, starting with June, Google began giving SEOs and site owners a heads-up before rolling out core updates. It did the same with September’s core update.The company also made other, more specific updates, including one to givemore weight to signals that indicate expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T) for Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) queries. A diversity update aimed to limit listings from a single domain to two results for a given query. In August, a recency update emphasized more timely featured snippets and another, introduced in September, was designed to give more preference to original reporting. Most significantly, Microsoft and Google both introduced improved natural language understanding via BERT.For a deeper dive, see our roundup of the big 2019 Google search algorithm updates.The search results. Searches ending without a click to website content hit an all-time high this year, now constituting more than 50% of Google searches, according to Jumpshot data. The decline of organic clicks has been brought on by UI changes on the search results page. For example, rich answers, which often eliminate the need for users to click through on a result, have more than doubled in mobile search results since 2018, a Perficient Digital study found. The introduction of support for FAQ and how-to structured data drew mixed reactions from marketers for its potential to increase their visibility on the search results but at the cost of possibly disincentivizing the click.The prevalence of rich results has affected the way people navigate search features, giving rise to what the Nielsen Norman Group refers to as the “pinball pattern,” in which users bounce their attention between elements in a nonlinear fashion. If their study is representative of the way users interact with the search results page, there is a clear incentive for brands to optimize for Google’s ever-growing number of search features.Google’s new black “Ad” label (right) and its green predecessor (left).Google rolled out a mobile search result redesign with black “Ad” labels for paid listings and favicons for organic results. Some members of the SEO community pointed out that the redesign was likely to lead users to further mistake ads for organic results.Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Google employs human contractors to evaluate its search results and, although they do not directly influence rankings, those evaluators provide feedback that helps Google improve its algorithms. In 2019, the guidelines that those evaluators are instructed to follow were updated three times.In May, the guidelines were refreshed with more explicit references to E-A-T and provided directions on evaluating interstitial pages and content creator…
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