Google's New Algorithm Update Means New SEO Best Practices For 2020 Optimize for voice and stay focused on quality content for best Google search rankings.

By Jeff Barrett

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Has your traffic has shifted noticeably in the past month and you can't figure out why? Google's most recent core update in September brought new changes to their search algorithm, ever more finely tuning the way their mind spiders comb the Internet for content and rank it by quality and relevance to match a search query. If your traffic dropped off, you might not be appearing in searches anymore. Why is this happening? The answer is seldom clear-cut when it comes to Google.

It's not unheard of for small businesses to live and die by their Google exposure, or lack of it. In competitive markets, appearing one slot higher in the search results could be the determining factor in whether clickthroughs and revenues come to you instead of your competitor. It keeps SEO experts on their toes. But Google has worked hard to try to kill SEO. Over the past few years, they've engaged a silent game of cat and mouse with the SEO experts who study the impacts of Google's secret algorithm updates so businesses can try to understand who Google favors and why. Going into 2020, here's what we know.

With ads dominating Google SERPs, there's a door fee to rank

It's becoming less and less possible to rank organically on the first page of results at all, even with good SEO practices in place. Years ago, a Google query resulted in a page of "10 blue links', meaning an uncluttered page showing a list of the top 10 organic search results.

Related: 20 Surprising Things You Can Do With Google Search

Those days are long gone. I just Googled "hamster food" and the search engine result page, or SERP, was nearly all ads. It displayed only one visible organic search result, just slightly above the fold. (I don't even have a hamster. I just like to throw the data mining bots for a loop every now and then.)

"Ninety-seven out of 100 of the SERPs in our data set do not have ten blue links. Only three percent do," says Dr. Peter J. Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz. "So this is not the exception. This is our new reality." Nevertheless, a high SERP rank is still worth pursuing. Search engine users will often skim past the ads and scroll down to organic search results, so ranking at the top or scoring a snippet in the answer box for a common search query is still like hitting the jackpot. If you want to be sure you're appearing in relevant SERPs, be prepared to pay the door fee and run an ad. Google, after all, is a business too.

Optimize for voice search because who can be bothered to type anymore?

Some experts project that over the course of the next year we'll see half of all online searches, and 30 percent of web browsing overall, become voice-based.

Related: Google Is Getting Sued for Collecting Data From Kids' Educational Chromebooks

This will mean rethinking your SEO strategy. Think about what your customer would ask Siri or Alexa. Where are they? Are they driving? Cooking? Working out? What do they ask for, and how do they say it? How can you position yourself as the top search result for their query?

Keep quality content as your top priority

Despite all the updates, the shifting goalposts, and the secret ways of the all-knowing algorithm, one strategy has remained consistently above reproach: make content your king. Keeping your website rife with relevant, high-quality content cannot do you wrong. Ultimately, that's what Google is looking for as it gets smarter and more sophisticated. Not the most SEO optimized websites, but the best and most relevant websites.

Related: Google Translate App to Transcribe and Translate in Real Time

Developing a catalog of quality content takes time, financing, and attention to detail. It won't happen overnight, and Google won't recognize you right away.

The ever-shifting nature of SEO makes it hard for an SME entrepreneur to keep up because studying Google from the outside is a full-time job. But SERP rankings still matter, and a Google penalty —- based on whatever their new criteria is —- could mean business suddenly drops off if you inadvertently fall afoul. So keep optimizing, budget for paid results, and be patient. 2020 is bringing new changes to SEO that could directly impact your revenues. Get a good SEO team on your side and start designing your strategy now.

Jeff Barrett

CEO of Status Creative

Jeff Barrett has traveled to nearly every state writing about startup ecosystems. He has won the Shorty Award, and is a Webby Award nominee. He creates dynamic campaigns and influencer networks for Fortune 500 clients including Adobe and Oracle.

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