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The SEO industry approached $80 billion in 2018, and it’s been growing since. Even experts can’t seem to predict where the market will max out.

Why do people keep investing in SEO? Contrary to popular belief, SEO isn’t a set it and forget it type of marketing technique. It’s constantly growing and changing, as it has been since the start.

Think about it. In the early days of SEO and Google, keyword stuffing was a surefire way to get your page listed on Page 1. Today, that’s a surefire way to get a webpage blacklisted or even deindexed.

Long story short, the way we do SEO has changed, and it’s going to keep changing as we enter a new decade. So what changes should those in the cannabis industry be paying attention to? We’ve compiled the top 5 SEO trends you should keep an eye on in 2020 and beyond. 

1. Meet BERT

In October 2019, Google introduced the most exciting update of the decade: BERT. BERT stands for bidirectional encoder representations from transformers. That may sound like a lot of tech jargon. What it means is that Google is using natural language processing (NLP) in a neural network.

Neural networks are a type of artificial intelligence powered by machine learning. The more data they’re given, the better they understand something. Handling billions of queries every day will make BERT better at understanding search intent.

That’s the focus of the update: understanding users better than ever. Many people are used to search engines that tend to ignore prepositions and articles. Those little words, like “and,” “to,” and “the,” tend to get the short end of the stick in traditional search.

Those little words sometimes change the meaning of a search query, though. It’s something human operators recognize, but computers haven’t been able to sort out when “to” and “from” are the all-important words.

NLP and BERT are, in some ways, a response to the changing way people search Google. Not long ago, people had to type everything. Voice search has been on the rise over the last few years, and nowit’s easy to ask Alexa or Siri a question, much like you’d ask a friend. BERT supports this more naturalistic way of asking questions and long-tail keywords. When people use voice-enabled search, they don’t construct their queries the same way as when they’re typing. They tend to ask grammatically correct questions, much like long-tail keywords. With BERT’s enhanced understanding of human speech, you don’t need to worry about Boolean operators any longer. 

In turn, BERT will change content marketing. Traditional search sees short-form content as less likely to answer questions. Advances like BERT may mean a shift back to content that answers questions in a clear, concise manner.

One thing is for sure. BERT will improve and change the way people use Google. Content marketers need to keep up.

2. A Renewed Focus on Quality Content

Quality content isn’t exactly a new trend in SEO, but marketers have more reason than ever to set the bar high. Advances like BERT only make this reality clearer.

Why is quality content so important? Search engines like Google want to send their users to the best possible content for their query. BERT and other intent-focused changes to Google’s algorithm make that clear. Google wants to understand what its users want. Then it wants to match their queries to content. The better Google understands search intent, the more its algorithm can serve those needs.

In short, the gulf between “writing for robots” and “writing for humans” is narrower. SEO directed at pleasing Google won’t go as far as it once did, because Google’s preferences look more like human preferences.

What does this mean? Marketers must pay attention to what their human audience wants. Do they want deep dives, or are they looking for quick answers? Do they prefer videos to text-based content?

Almost all aspects of SEO are influenced by human preferences. Speed is a good example. Google wants pages to load in two seconds or less, but only because human users demand it. If a page takes three seconds or more to load, most users navigate away.

How can marketers keep up? Producing quality content must be the focus. That means doing research and discovering what their audience wants. It means finding the keywords they’re searching for and answering long-tail queries. It means using statistics to discover what content is successful, then translating that success to every piece of content.

3. Speed, Mobile, and the Mechanics of SEO

Technical SEO has recently stepped into the spotlight. Several trends have been driving awareness. Mobile is one of them. The number of mobile users first surpassed desktop users in 2016. Today, there’s many users who never access the Internet by desktop.

Suddenly, it’s easy to see why Google switched to mobile-first indexing. The emphasis on speed also makes more sense, given that mobile users might be even more impatient than their desktop cousins. Why? They’re busy people, and they may have limited time to access a page. Think about someone waiting to catch a flight. If a page isn’t loading, they’re going to go elsewhere for answers before they leave the tarmac.

Aspects of a website like its design and underlying coding affect speed. Marketers should also think about how easy it is to load video and image content. Graphics and video can take more time to load, especially over poor or slow connections.

Technical optimization goes beyond just speeding up a website, though. It also includes ways to make it easier for Google to index and crawl a website. Schema markup makes it easier for Google’s web crawlers to understand what a page is about. A site map helps the crawlers find all your pages and see how they’re interconnected.

Voice search has gone hand-in-hand with the switch to mobile devices. It’s also associated with voice assistants, like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. Mobile users don’t always have their hands free to type their search queries. Enabling voice options can be a faster way to ask Google your most burning questions. 

4. Local SEO Keeps Evolving

Another trend to keep an eye on is local search and SEO. Local SEO isn’t exactly new. It’s been around since Google introduced My Business back in 2014. Local search broke into the mainstream a few years later, and people have been talking about it ever since.

For that reason, many people feel they already have a handle on local SEO. The truth is local search and SEO is just like every other aspect of SEO: always changing.

It’s likely that long-tail keywords and NLP will affect local search in 2020. Google’s BERT update will also make changes to how local search results are ranked.

Optimizing for “near me” searches will still play an important role. You may also want to keep tabs on “entity popularity” and “entity engagement.” Some early evidence suggests Google may rank local businesses based on popularity.

How is Google deciding how popular a business is? It seems to stem from engagement on Google My Business and other review sites. Reviews, referrals, and check-ins have earned a place in your 2020 SEO strategy.

How do you encourage reviews and referrals? There are many strategies, although some of them, such as buying reviews, aren’t going to do you any favors. The best strategy is to focus on the customer experience. By delivering an exceptional experience to a customer, you’re more likely to inspire them to leave your business a 5-star rating.

Better yet, providing a better experience for customers is more likely to encourage them to buy from you again and again.

Linking Local

Almost every SEO strategy will address the subject of backlinking. There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to build links for a website.

Most linking strategies focus on the big picture. You want to have Buzzfeed or The New York Times or even a national association linking back to your domain.

To succeed in local search, though, it’s time to think on a more local scale. A website owner may want to connect with sites that serve their area. This could include local news media, or it might mean connecting with other, local brands.

The good news is it’s often a little bit easier to build these links than it is to get the NYT to link back to a site. Think about community outreach, cross-promotion and partnership with local businesses, and even a good PR strategy to reach the local media.

5. Optimizing for Zero-Click Searches

Another key change to the way people find information online is the advent of zero-click searches. This uses features like the Google “Knowledge Panel,” which displays an answer for the user in the search results. Google’s Local 3-Pack may also be a zero-click search in some cases.

What is a zero-click search? It means the user doesn’t need to click away from the search results page to get the information they’re looking for. Position zero excerpts a snippet from the most relevant site. The Local 3-Pack shows the top three local businesses in Google’s My Business pages, displaying names, web addresses, and even opening hours.

The importance of getting into the Knowledge Panel and the Local 3-Pack can’t be overstated. If people can answer questions without going to a site, the Knowledge Panel is your only opportunity to get your content in front of them.

You can create a Knowledge Panel for your business, which is a great step to take. When someone searches for your organization or company, they’ll be directed to the Knowledge Panel. Updating your Google My Business and earning great reviews is a good way to contend for the Local 3-Pack.

What about position zero? Unfortunately, the only way to get there is to be the best at answering a user’s question. Answering long-tail keywords directly can help.

Be Ready for Everything 2020 Has in Store

As you can see, the world of SEO is always evolving. The new decade promises to be no different in that respect.

Are you ready to take on SEO in the new year? Take the test with a free SEO audit from the experts. It’s a great way to find out what’s working, what’s not, and exactly what you can do to supercharge your SEO strategy for the year ahead.

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Mary Jane Marketers