Ten SEO trends for 2020

Fernando Maciá

Written by Fernando Maciá

At Human Level we have taken out our crystal ball and knowing that we will be wrong in many of our predictions about what will happen in SEO in the coming months, here is our prediction. These are the ten trends that could mark the evolution of SEO in 2020.

1. More Schema and new featured snippets

Google is making great strides towards fully semantic information retrieval. In the meantime, it keeps asking us to add Schema.org structured data markup to our HTML code.

The definition of new schemes has increased exponentially since its launch in 2011. Below you can see the schemes defined at the time of launch (http://web.archive.org/web/20110728002346/https://schema.org/docs/full.html) compared to those currently available (https://schema.org/docs/full.html). Today we can choose from more than three times as many schemes as in 2011.

Schema.org in 2011 and 2019

As a direct consequence of the extension of schema.org and its massive implementation on more and more websites, Google is able to display the answer directly to more queries through the different featured result formats.

If in the second half of this year the protagonist has been the application of featured snippets such as FAQPage and HowTo, for next year we foresee:

  • New formats of highlighted results.
  • Greater control over the consistency between the type of landing page and the featured result. For example, Google stipulates in its usage guidelines for FAQPage that it is not to be used for advertising purposes. However, several travel websites have already discovered that this featured result is a good way to grab more visibility in the SERPs. We predict that Google will eventually veto the inclusion of this structured data markup as the main entity in a clearly transactional landing page. But as long as it doesn’t, let the party go on!
Kayak SERPs FAQPage
The inclusion of frequently asked questions on Kayak’s travel pages allows them to occupy more space in the SERPS.

Otherwise, we continue with the controversy over whether featured snippets generate more or less CTR than a classic first result. As for so many other controversial questions in SEO, the answer is: it depends.

CTR in featured snippets
If the highlighted result does not fully satisfy the user, the CTR skyrockets.

Indeed, it depends on whether the highlighted result is able to fully satisfy the user’s search intent or not. In the first case, the CTR decreases radically, although it is also worth noting the impact on the branding obtained. In the second, the CTR actually reaches figures above 70%.

We will have to continue testing to find out how to gain this “extra ball” in the SERPs while taking care of the CTR and making the most of the branding effect.

You can see here our presentation on the results highlights and their impact on voice search, as well as the video of this presentation.

2. From NLP to NLU

The implementation of Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) is another step in Google’s journey from Natural Language Processing (NLP) to Natural Language Understanding (NLU), i.e. a concept closer to natural language understanding as we humans do.

The key to reaching a more accurate understanding of a natural text lies in understanding the meaning of each word in the context of the rest of the words that make up a sentence, rather than processing them in a linear fashion, in the same order in which they appear. We can see how Google identifies the entities of a text and the relationship between them with the demo version of the Natural Language API:

Identifying entities in a text with Google's Natural Language API demo
With the Google Natural Language API demo we test the identification of entities in a text.

As we see above, Google knows that Fernando Macia is an entity corresponding to a person, and that it is very relevant to the meaning of the text (0.73). You also know that Human Level Communications is a company. He also understands books as an intellectual work and ten as a number.

Text parsing with Google's demo Natural Language API.
Google knows how to relate words to each other to understand the overall meaning of the sentence and each word in context.

In parsing, Google is able to place the function of each word and its relationship to other words in the context of the whole sentence.

As Google better understands natural language:

  • It will better identify the real user need underlying the search intent behind each keyword and, at the same time, it will be able to associate a given need with a whole multiplicity of different search formulations (neural matching).
  • It will better assess which content is most likely to respond to the user’s need, regardless of classic on-page and off-page relevance factors such as the presence of a certain keyword in the page title or in the anchor text of the links.
  • It will rely less on indirect indicators of the quality or usefulness of a piece of content, such as authority and popularity calculated according to the quantity and quality of links.
  • It will rely less on semantic content markup, i.e., the application of structured data markup, to extract information of value. This will put you in an advantageous position to extract the most relevant information and transform it into direct answers for users, using the rest of the Web as your own information repository. And this will happen whether we want it to (applying schema.org) or not.

All this seems to pave the way for Google to truly become an indispensable assistant, capable of understanding spoken natural language and responding in kind with the most relevant data for every need.

3. Entities in all results formats

Google has already been showing us the entities it relates to a given concept in Google Images results:

Entities in Google Images
In the results of Google Images, the search engine shows us with which other entities the searched concept is related.

The displayed entities help refine the image search in a similar way that Google Suggest suggestions help complete a text search. However, it is likely that Google will also begin to show relationships between entities as the variety of recognized entities and relationships expands:

Entities related to Fernando Maciá
Google links the author to his books and to fellow SEOs.

The prediction at this point is a higher percentage of SERPs where the knowledge graph appears and Google shows other entities to which it relates the searched concept, increasing what we already see in US results:

Results for Steve Jobs
A search for Steve Jobs on Google.com yields a number of related entities.

The recommendation to work on this concept would focus on making it easier for the searcher to identify these relationships as well as sources of authority to help validate them. That is, not only links, but references, even if they do not have links.

Presenting all of these relationships directly in the result pages not only facilitate the refinement of the search for the user, but more importantly, statistically validate the relationships between the different entities. That is to say, it will be the users who will confirm to the search engine which are the most relevant relationships between entities for most people.

4. Increased weight of user behavior

This year there was a great deal of controversy as to whether user behavior might be gaining weight as a relevant factor in SEO. Juan Gonzalez, from Sistrix, already published in 2016 a very juicy post with examples of changes in results whose explanation seems to point to the influence of user behavior and Johannes Baus wondered in another (Is user experience a positioning factor?) for this same issue, especially after Gary Illyes debunked similar hypotheses put forward by Rand Fishkin.

The truth is that, regardless of the way in which Google is incorporating user behavior into its algorithm, any SEO has been able to verify how changes in the positions of different results occur without the classic on and off page factors having been affected.

At Human Level we also dared to put forward our own hypotheses in this presentation, the video of which you can see below:

Whatever means Google uses to measure user satisfaction with a given result, we have no doubt that, like the development of semantic aspects, they will continue to gain weight to the detriment of secondary quality indicators such as relevance factors. on page (keyword density, presence of keyword in prominent areas, etc.) and off page (quality, quantity and anchor text of the links).

If you can measure user response internally and directly, why would Google continue to rely on secondary external factors?

5. More variety of result formats

As a direct consequence of points 1, 2, 3 and 4, Google not only accesses, stores and organizes more information, but also understands it and knows how to extract its added value. It has not been long since the search engine started showing results like the following:


Mortgage calculator Google
Mortgage payment calculator from Google results

Or, for example, carousels of results for searches where two categories of entities are related, such as this one for cheapest neighborhoods in New York:

New York Neighborhoods
Carousel of neighborhoods for the search “cheapest neighborhoods in New York”.

Google is showing an increasing variety of featured results and for a higher percentage of results (in 2018, it showed featured snippets for 8% of keywords according to this SEMrush study).

It is clear that the search engine is able to correctly and more finely interpret a greater complexity of search intentions and underlying needs. And their response is also increasingly accurate, making it unnecessary to resort to certain specialized vertical search engines.

Which brings us to point 6…

6. Attack on new verticals

Google does not want to act as a metasearch engine. If we give you all our information, why not offer it directly from your results?

These are some examples of new result formats that have gradually been added to the classic block of ten blue links:

6.1. Stock price

For a stock price search, Google first displays a widget with the direct information. Bad news for the economic, financial, investment and stock market media. Something that, in addition, is already ready to jump to Google Assistant and its voice search.

Microsoft Google stock price
Google shows directly in the results the stock market price.

6.2. Flights

For a route search, Google already directly displays flight options from a variety of providers with prices, information on whether they are direct or with stopovers, dates, and departure and arrival airports. All these data are part of the Flight schema properties, as well as the status of a specific flight.

Flights Dallas New York serps
Direct results to flight searches.

6.3. Hotels

The hotel search also presents results directly from the search engine, geolocated on maps, with user reviews, prices and the possibility of checking room availability by dates. A whole hotel search engine without leaving the Google results pages, to which were added in 2019 the search for prices per day.

Hotel in Dallas serps
Google directly displays results for hotel search

6.4. Ingredients and recipes

The search for recipes and ingredients has been the field of development of numerous niche sites. For ingredient and recipe searches, Google begins to present direct results where it mixes ingredient carousels, recipe results along with a knowledge graph that brings together the most striking aspects of the recipe.

Ingredients and recipes spaghetti carbonara
Results for the search of ingredients for spaghetti a la carbonara

In 2020 we will undoubtedly witness the deployment of new performance formats that will compromise the viability of previously profitable portals. Candidates could include all those related to local tourist information, real estate portals, bibliographic information, instruction manuals, tables of specifications and technical data, advanced level geographic information… and surely many others that we do not even suspect.

7. Lower CTR in organic

During 2019, we could see how Sparktoro’s 2018 CTR study was confirmed by the data. Indeed, if you can check the CTR of top10 positions you will probably have noticed a drop in clicks that does not seem to be justified by the position.

For example, comparing data from the last three months of 2019 with the same months of 2018, we see how the average position improves by more than two positions and yet the average CTR decreases by 45%:

Position vs. CTR in Google Search Console
Position and CTR of 2018 vs. same months in 2019. Although the average position improves, the CTR decreases.

As much as we may disagree with these moves by Google, it seems that this is and will continue to be the scenario from now on. Along with organic positioning strategies, companies that have not yet done so will have to rethink their branding strategy, as building a strong branding seems to remain the only way to protect themselves against a declining CTR.

8. Even more adaptation to local+mobile

We are no longer in mobile-first times but practically mobile-only times: the smartphone has become the device par excellence for accessing the Web. With tablet sales completely stagnant, cell phones are emerging as the primary device of access which favors a higher percentage of searches to be interpreted as local by Google.

Local SEO strategy is therefore gaining importance. It is not surprising that with it Google is in a position to win the war against the large local directories, the 2.0 portals for social recommendations of hotels and restaurants as well as the local business websites themselves and, logically, their Facebook pages as a showcase for attracting business.

Incentivizing the completion of information on Google MyBusiness as well as the voluntary contribution of content (photographs, opinions, etc.) or involuntary (navigation data, physical visit, permanence, etc. transmitted directly from our mobile terminals). search engine attacks the most frequent local searches by sector (restaurants, hotels, stores, trades), by search intent (near here, how to go to…, best stores in…) and out of necessity (what to see, what to visit, when to go…).

In 2020 we believe that the Google MyBusiness interface will be further developed to allow local businesses to build their website practically on Google’s results pages.and so that Google can have the information necessary to satisfy any need from its voice assistant. (since, in addition, it has been confirmed that the structured data tagging Speakable is not only applicable for news content, but also for any other content).

9. Advertising in voice results

As we see voice search and results gradually developing, one thing that escapes no one is that, at least so far, it is not clear how organic information will coexist with advertising.Both have been the foundation of Google’s success over the past twenty years.

Can we expect Google to “delight” us with an ad wedge before returning the featured snippet result? Any kind of prominent positioning for paid results…? Do we position for searches starting with OK, Google?

The latter move is what they seem to recommend from posts like this one from Search Engine Journal and this one from Effective Spend. Although if we are to believe the data, Sistrix’s Juan Gonzalez warns us that, at least in Europe, voice search could also be a long time coming.

Of course, we used to say the same about mobile….. until it happened 😉

10. Google as a unique ecosystem

The common thread of these ten trends we have just reviewed is Google’s increasingly undisguised attempt to become the only ecosystem used by the majority of users.

With functionalities such as the search engine, Chrome browser, Google Maps, Google MyBusiness, GMail, Docs, etc. Google aspires to become the closed Web that every company would like to have for itself, where it has the largest volume of users and information.

Microsoft once tried something like this, and it was the competition authorities who put the brakes on the software giant’s monopolistic aspirations. Google has already received severe fines in both the United States and Europe and with the retirement of its two creators Sergey Brin and Larry Page, we no longer have anyone to ask to respect their famous slogan: Don’t be evil.

He asked us to make the sites faster, to make them mobile-friendly, to implement structured data markup, to give him our sitemapped pages… and we did. You already have all the information. And now what?


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Fernando Maciá
Fernando Maciá
Founder and CEO of Human Level. Expert SEO consultant with more than 20 years of experience. He has been a professor at numerous universities and business schools, and director of the Master in Professional SEO and SEM and the Advanced SEO Course at KSchool. Author of a dozen books on SEO and digital marketing.

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