The hottest SEO trends for the year ahead… You knew this article was coming. Some of these trends you've already seen this year, and some are new, but we can definitely expect to see more of all of them in 2019.

So let's take a look at the hottest SEO trends you'll need to know about to be fully prepared for next year.

1. Page Speed

This one is probably the most obvious trend on the list: We all know for a fact that the Internet of today is all about speed. Over 50% of visitors expect your page to fully load within only two seconds, so there are no other options apart from joining the race. Besides, Google's mobile page speed update has made page speed a ranking factor for mobile devices.

Google's PageSpeed Insights tool has undergone some slight modifications as well. Now the tool has separate tabs for speed and optimization.

The speed parameter is now measured based on FCP (first contentful paint) and DCL (DOM content loaded) parameters.

However, if you've been using other tools for measuring page speed, some discrepancy may occur. The reason is that Google now extracts data from CrUX (Chrome User Experience Report) , which is based on real-user measurements.

As for optimization, it's the same old set of parameters according to which the overall technical website optimization score is being calculated.

To see whether the changes have actually made any impact on SERPs, our team conducted an experiment. Right after the page speed update went live, we analyzed one million pages, their optimization scores, median FCPs, and median DCLs for each unique URL. The experiment revealed these three core results:

  1. An average page ranking within 1-30 positions in mobile search has been improved by 0.83 optimization score compared with pages analyzed before the update.
  2. Optimization score has extremely high correlation with positions in mobile SERPs: 0.95.
  3. There's hardly any correlation between median FCP/DCL metrics and mobile search results.

So, as you can see, the main takeaway from the experiment is that Optimization Score is exactly what influences mobile rankings the most. That is why it now needs to be worked on in the first place. And, so far, there are nine ways for Optimization score improvement confirmed by Google.

2. Linkless Mentions

It's probably clear to every SEO practitioner out there that backlinks remain one of the most powerful ranking factors of all times. Undoubtedly, however, linkless mentions are also making their way toward becoming an equally important ranking signal.

The thing is, search engines are now intelligent enough to calculate a site's authority by associating mentions with brands and brands with their sites. The evidence of Google's taking linkless mentions seriously is apparent:

  • Google's Panda patent refers to mentions as to "implied links," meaning that they could be equal in weight to traditional backlinks.
  • Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes said in his keynote at Brighton SEO in September 2017 that links and mentions on social networks are both of the greatest importance.
  • Earlier, at SMX West 2016, Duane Forrester, formerly senior product manager at Bing, had stated that search engines can quite easily use mentions to determine site authority, and that unlinked mentions can become as strong as backlinks.

It all brings us to the conclusion that it's only a matter of time for unlinked brand mentions to become an official ranking factor. That said, there are only two things that you need to implement in your SEO strategy in 2019 to use linkless mentions:

  • First, brand mentions need to be tracked. Luckily, there are now plenty of tools (such as Awario) that can offer you a helping hand with that. (With Awario, you can filter mentions by sentiment to respond to the negative ones first.)
  • And, second, proceed with growing your mentions. Since unlinked mentions are gradually becoming a real thing, make sure to enrich your arsenal of link-building tactics with social selling, reviews, social customer care, influencer marketing, etc.

3. Voice Search

Although this trend has been with us for the whole of 2018, it's looking like 2019 will have all the hallmarks of being called the year of voice search.

The number of users searching Google without keyboard is growing dramatically. In fact, Google claims that about 70% of queries now include natural language and, of course, that tendency is mostly the influence of voice search on text-based search. Google also reports that 72% of people who own voice-activated speakers say their devices are used as part of their daily routines.

Voice search calls for a somewhat different approach to keyword research. To optimize for voice search, make sure to focus on conversational, longtail phrases, which have greater chances to express a searcher's intent and resemble how people talk in real life:

  • First of all, think of questions that you frequently get asked by your customers on the phone and in live chats, or by people you know when you tell them about your business. When you've made a list of the most popular questions, start creating pages to further optimize them for such longtail, conversational queries.
  • Moreover, make sure to give the most precise and relevant answers to popular questions in your industry. Doing so will raise your chances of competing for a featured snippet in search results.
  • Voice search is mostly a mobile device thing, so don't forget to check whether your website is mobile-friendly.
  • I highly recommend that you implement for marking up your content and telling Google's crawlers what your site is actually about.

4. Mobile-First Indexing

Since March 2018, webmasters have been getting notifications via Search Console that their websites were migrated to mobile-first index. Basically, it means Google will use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking to make the Web more mobile-friendly.

As you can imagine, the process of reindexing all the pages on the Web is pretty time-consuming and will continue through the whole of 2019. However, there's some misunderstanding and controversy surrounding the topic, so to clarify the situation here are some things you should know:

  • If Google spots separate URLs, mobile users will be shown the mobile URL and those who use desktops will be shown the desktop URL. But, the thing is, the mobile version will be the indexed content in both cases.
  • Although the number of URLs being crawled per day won't change much, a lot more mobile pages will be crawled these days as Google needs to re-index everything.
  • There are no requirements that your site be mobile-friendly to be included in the process of mobile-first indexing. So, pages without mobile versions will still be indexed and, of course, will still be shown on mobile devices. But if you are one of those people, please don't miss out any longer and implement responsive Web design for your site.
  • Although mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor for mobile, being migrated to the mobile-first index is definitely not. So it doesn't mean better rankings in Google search.

Of course, sooner or later the majority of websites will be included in the index, so you don't need to worry if your site has been migrated to the mobile-first index or not. The best thing you can do at the moment is to...

  • Implement responsive Web design if you haven't already
  • Make sure, by revising your robots.txt file, that the most important pages of your website are not restricted from being crawled

5. GDPR's Effects

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has generated a lot of buzz within the SEO community (and not only). This European Union regulation, which came into force in May 2018, requires companies to implement the highest levels of protection of their customers' private data.

So, although the Privacy Policy and Terms pages are probably the most boring ones on your site, you need to have them if you don't want to violate GDPR. It's a sign that your site is a professional and credible source for Google to show to users. And by implementing such pages, you will both do your SEO good and satisfy GDPR's major requirement. (By the way, WordPress now offers you a template for creating your own Privacy Policy page.)

If you know for sure that you have EU-based visitors, prior to collecting any data from them you need to have a consent box on your website showing the following:

  • What kind of information you collect
  • How it will be used
  • Where you store the information
  • Consent options for each data use
  • That the information you collect will be protected

And, in connection with GDPR, here is what you need to consider as an SEO practitioner:

Being a US-based company doesn't mean you can't have European customers visiting your site. Accordingly, you need to (1) research how GDPR may influence your business because of the geographical location of your company and your target audience; (2) decide whether you need to restrict some content from EU visitors; and (3) understand what notifications can be shown to them and how to handle gated content.

Since Google Analytics collects users' data from all over the world, it also has to adjust to GDPR standards. Google now has all the personal user data expire after 26 months from the day it was collected. However, it does not include data such as sessions and goal completions—just demographic and affinity information. What is more, Google now gives you an opportunity to change the default 26 months into any amount of time. And if you're targeting US customers only, you can also turn this feature off.

Make sure that you've implemented mobile interstitials correctly. A popup should by no means cover the main content on the page. It's also a bad idea to show a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss to access the main content. And, finally, don't use a layout where a standalone interstitial covers the above-the-fold portion of the page.

With all that said, there's a point of view that SEO will actually benefit from GDPR. In my mind, these are the core advantages in the year ahead and beyond:

  • A shift toward SEO vs. paid search. The area that has suffered a lot from GDPR restrictions is paid marketing. That is why we can expect a lot of marketers to shift toward SEO, which is beneficial for the SEO industry in general.
  • Search to become less personalized. Without enabling cookies, search is once again depersonalized, which makes it easier to reach customers with broader and less-specific queries.

GDPR now technically affects only EU-based websites and websites that are visited by EU citizens, but it's not unreasonable to assume the USA will move in the same direction. It might take some time, but there's certainly a trend for user data control to become more and more restrictive.

* * *

That's it from me for the most buzzworthy SEO trends for 2019. Let me know what other SEO trends you think are worth highlighting.

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Five Buzzworthy SEO Trends for 2019

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image of Aleh Barysevich

Aleh Barysevich is the founder and chief marketing officer of the companies behind SEO PowerSuite, professional software for full-cycle SEO campaigns, and Awario, a social media monitoring app. He is a seasoned SEO and social media expert and speaker at major industry conferences, including SMX London, BrightonSEO, and SMX East.

LinkedIn: Aleh Barysevich