With 2020 upon us, it’s time, once again, for us entrepreneurs and search engine professionals to glimpse into our crystal balls and create our SEO strategies for the coming year.
But the world of SEO is changing…
Every day, Google optimizes and refines their formula for ranking content and, at this point, it’s hard to keep up with the constant algorithmic additions, subtractions, and alterations.
Luckily, developing a tried and true SEO strategy is not rocket science.
You simply need to identify the most important factors that affect your website’s search ranking (both positively and negatively) and then optimize your site and strategy accordingly.
In this “Mega Guide” I will be laying out a proven and easy to understand strategy that will help you dominate the search engine game in 2020, skyrocket your website to the first page of Google, and ultimately, increase your revenue by leaps and bounds.
But before we get started, I want to make something understood.
This guide is not about “Theories” or “Predictions”.
This isn’t another 1,200 word filler article designed to get your click and leave you hanging.
This guide is the culmination of everything that I learned about SEO in 2017-2019 and everything that the data predicts for 2020.
You won’t find any vague SEOisms or unfounded hypotheses in the following sections and sentences — just raw data and proven techniques.
If you follow the steps that I’m about to show you, 2020 will be the year that you finally break through and master the SEO game.
In a recent interview, Google’s Andre Lipattsev revealed that the three most important factors that Google uses to determine a website’s ranking are (in descending order):
I will be touching on all of these factors over the course of this guide, but for now, I want to focus on content.
Because, not only is content the most important factor in creating an effective SEO strategy, it’s also the most difficult.
At this point in the SEO game, Google doesn’t just want “Good” content.
You can no longer hire freelancers from Bangkok to write 500 word “Craptent” and expect to be ranked on the first page.
Google wants to see that you are creating high quality content that covers your chosen topic in great depth and detail.
Luckily, creating this high quality content (according to Google’s standards) can be boiled down to two simple factors.
Unlike most SEO related issues,, the answer to this question is fairly cut and dry.
All content that you create should be at least 1,800 – 2,000 words, if not more.
Simply put, Google knows that most bloggers and companies cannot completely cover important topics in fewer than 2,000 words and many studies have shown a direct correlation between the length of a piece of content and its rankings.
Although there are plenty of shorter articles that rank #1 for their respective keyword, these pieces of content are the exception, not the rule (and they are typically published by high traffic websites like Forbes and Entrepreneur)
The bottom line?
Write content that is at least 2,000 words if you want to win at the game of SEO in 2020.
Google no longer responds to short, half assed articles that are stuffed with keywords and clearly created to manipulate search rankings.
Instead, Google’s algorithm has evolved to the point that it now pays attention to the context of the keywords that you are using.
Let me give you an example to illustrate what I mean.
Let’s say that you wanted to target the keyword “Become more productive” and get your article to the first page of the search results.
Instead of simply stuffing your article with the keyword in question (like you could have done back in 2008), you must create content that effectively covers the entire topic and its related topics in depth.
When Google’s bots crawl your article, they aren’t just looking for the keyword “Become more productive”.
They are looking for that keyword and every secondary and tertiary keyword associated with it!
So, if you wanted to outrank the current leader’s for the keyword “Become more productive”, you need to create an article that discusses and includes keywords related to:
So how do you find the secondary and tertiary keywords to include in your content?
Easy… Google does it for you.
When you scroll to the bottom of any SERP, you will see a section at the bottom of the page detailing queries related to your original search.
In the case of our example, we have:
You can also use Google’s auto suggestion feature to find inspiration for secondary key phrases.
Although other marketers recommend using paid tools and tactics to find the most relevant keywords, I personally feel that Google provides you with everything that you need to create epic first page worthy content.
In the “Olden Days” of SEO, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and people still communicated in complete sentences (jk dude!), backlinks were king.
If you wanted to make a metric crapton of money online, all you had to do was purchase a website domain, write a few pieces of mediocre content, and then buy thousands of spammy backlinks from unrelated and unreputable domains.
Quantity was the name of the game and the more links you could buy the quicker you could make your millions.
In 2020, this simply is no longer the case.
Ever since Google rolled out their initial Penguin update and its proceeding versions, there has been a massive debate raging among SEOs and internet marketers.
Is it better to generate more high quality backlinks or simply more backlinks.
Before I go any further into this conversation, we need to define what we mean by quality and quantity backlinks.
When I use the phrase “Quantity backlinks” I am not referring to crappy backlinks from spammy websites promoting viagra, fat loss pills, and “This one weird trick…”
I’m simply referring to backlinks from less authoritative websites.
So what’s better? Quality or quantity?
The simple answer is… Neither
When you look at the data, you will quickly realize that both sides of this argument have equally valid points.
On the one hand, it’s very clear that the authority of a linking domain does have a profound effect on your position within Google.
It’s equally clear that the number of backlinks have a profound effect on your position within Google.
If you’re already proficient at SEO and have followed the steps outlined above, you should be able to get at least a few pieces of your content on the first page of Google for your target keyword.
Once you’ve accomplished this goal, you will come face-to-face with the third most important factor that Google considers when ranking content.
After an unassuming launch in early 2015, Google’s machine learning tool known as “RankBrain” took the world of search engine optimization by storm and quickly became one of the most important factors that Google considers when determining the position of a website or blog post.
But what in the world is RankBrain and how does it work?
At the simplest levels, RankBrain is “An artificial intelligence program used to help Google process search queries”.
While this definition might conjure up the mental image of an Ex Machina type universe, their system is much more innocuous and simple than it sounds.
RankBrain simply measures and records how users interact and respond to search results and then changes the ranking of those results accordingly.
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say that you’ve decided that you are finally ready to get back into shape and sculpt that Greek God (or goddess) physique that you’ve always dreamed of.
It’s been a few years since you last set foot in a gym and you aren’t really sure where to start your journey.
So, you whip out your handy dandy iPhone and search “Workout programs to gain muscle”
After quickly perusing through the SERPs, you notice one article that looks particularly juicy so you click on it and get ready to take notes.
As soon as the website loads, you are blown away.
This article is the best darned thing since sliced bread!
You devour every word and keep the tab open so that you can use it as a reference later in the day.
If RankBrain notices that you and several other users are spending a significant amount of time on that article, it will take note and likely give that article a bump up the search engine ladder.
Conversely, let’s imagine that you input the same query except this time, you click on a different result.
Unfortunately for you (and the owner of this piece of content), the second article that you clicked on isn’t just bad… It downright sucks.
So you quickly bounce from that website and return to the previous article.
RankBrain will take note of this bounce and, if the trend is constant across several users, it will decrease the ranking of that content.
From these quick examples, you can clearly see that RankBrain is focused on two factors…
Now that you understand the basics of RankBrain and the factors that it takes into consideration, let’s discuss an even more important topic…
How you can optimize for these factors.
Since the dwell time of your article is based almost entirely on the quality of your content (which I’ve already discussed), I’m not going to waste any of your precious time talking about that factor here.
Instead, I want to focus on becoming what Brian Dean of Backlink.io refers to as “CTR Ninja”.
Once you have landed a piece of content on the first page of Google, the battle has only just begun.
Now you must begin the process of optimizing your SEO meta data to compete with the other 7.5 organic search results.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how amazing your content is or how many backlinks it might have, if you haven’t taken the time to optimize the SEO meta data and ensure that people are actually clicking through to your site you will lose the SEO game.
So how do you increase the click through rate on Google?
The same way that you would increase the click through rate on your blog, Facebook page, or advertisement.
Take a look at these two examples to see what I mean.
Both of these examples were pulled from the same search query “Advanced SEO”.
Both pieces of content come from reputable sources and both of them provide value to their readers.
The first example from Neil’s website ranks #2 on the SERP and the second example ranks #9!
So what’s going on here?
While some people might suggest that it has to do with the quality of their backlinks, the page dwell time, or the website’s design (and they could all be right) I believe that this ranking discrepancy is due to one simple thing.
The click through rate.
In the second example, SEO-Theory uses a simple feature driven title.
“Advanced SEO Techniques for 2017”.
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this title, but it lacks the “pizazz” required to convince most readers to click through.
Furthermore, the meta description is a complete jumble of nonsensical sentences pulled from the introduction.
There is no explanation of what the article is about, how it can help the reader, or what solutions they can expect to find.
On the other hand, Neil Patel clearly followed the three step formula that I just shared.
First, he identified the solution that his audience wanted by peeling back the layers and diving deep into the “Why” behind this particular keyword.
Why do people care about advanced SEO?
They probably don’t find it particularly interesting.
They certainly don’t find it entertaining, and it’s unlikely that they are simply googling “Advanced SEO” for the hell of it.
People care about advanced SEO because it allows them to generate more organic traffic which in turn means less paid advertising and more profit.
And Neil clearly states the benefit of reading his content over the competitors with the title “19 Advanced SEO Techniques that Will Double Your Traffic.”
But he doesn’t stop there.
He then uses the meta description to reiterate the benefit that readers can expect by stating “Here are 19 advanced SEO techniques you can implement right away to increase your search traffic.”
If you had no previous experience with either brand, which result would you click on?
I think the answer is pretty clear.
Another factor that Google is becoming increasingly concerned with is the user experience or UX of your website.
The UX is typically determined by three things:
Let’s dive a little deeper into these three topics so that you understand how to really optimize your website and content for Google and your customers.
The first, and possibly most important UX factor is your website’s speed.
Here are just a few statistics on how the speed of your website can affect your business (courtesy of Kissmetrics)
These stats should make it abundantly clear that your website’s speed and performance matter and they matter a lot.
But the question still remains, how do you actually go about increasing your website speed and improving performance?
While I could devote an entire article to the topic of optimizing your website speed, (and maybe I will) these 5 simple steps will account for 80% of your website speed.
Optimize your code by removing spaces, commas, and all other unnecessary characters, formatting, and unused code.
Leverage Browser Caching
Allow browsers to cache certain information so that users don’t have to reload your website every time they visit it (for more information go here)
Optimize Your Servers
There is too much to unpackage in this article but I recommend spending some serious time ensuring that your server response times are under 200 ms.
Resize images to the smallest appropriate size. Use PNG files for graphics and JPEG files for photographs. Also be sure to use CSS sprites for buttons, icons, logos, and other frequently used graphics.
And now we can move on to the next pillar of user experience… Mobile usability.
In November of 2016, Google announced that they are transitioning to a “Mobile First Index”.
Meaning that, once the index is launched, Google will consider the mobile version of your website as the “Real” site and it will place a reduced importance on the desktop version of your site.
While the mobile first index has yet to take effect, I can all but guarantee you that we will see (at the very least) a beta version of this index rolling out in 2020 and you need to be prepared when they do.
To get optimize your website for the impending mobile first index I recommend that you:
With your website running at full speed and fully navigable on mobile devices, there’s only one element of the user experience left to optimize…
I was out at lunch with a friend of mine the other day when he asked me to take a look at his website and give him some feedback on the layout and design.
Overall, the site looked great but, when I read through his top blog post, I noticed one very obvious and pressing issue.
The comments on his site were disabled.
“What’s up with this?” I questioned him as I pointed to the screen. “Oh” he shrugged, “I got tired of moderating haters and paying for spam filters so I just disabled them.”
While this practice sounds good in theory, it is actually very detrimental to your overall SEO success for one simple reason:
Google cares about social queues.
Gone are the days where good content and a decent design can land you on the first page.
Now, Google expects to see your audience engaging with your content, commenting on your posts, and sharing your best work on social media.
This is one of the biggest rookie mistakes that I see out there and it’s an easy fix that can instantly boost your website’s SEO juice.
Enable comments on your blog, make your social profiles clearly accessible, allow readers to share your content directly from your website and you will be golden.
Another factor that Google has taken a particular interest in recently is the security and authentication of your website.
As more and more transactions take place over the internet, Google wants to ensure that all transactions are fully encrypted and secure.
The simplest way to achieve this goal and appease the search engine gods is to purchase a simple SSL certificate from your hosting provider.
While the prices vary depending on the number of websites you are encrypting and the level of protection that you desire, you should expect to spend about $60/year on this certificate.
In the end, this is a small price to pay for even a marginal increase in your website’s rank and authority.
Another often overlooked factor that plays a big role in your SEO success is your presence (or lack thereof) on different social media channels.
This statement might surprise you considering the fact that Matthew Cutts, one of Google’s top employees, released a video clearly stating that social signals and metrics like Facebook and Twitter followers do not affect search rankings.
But you must always remember that there is a very distinct difference between a factor not causing a jump in your search ranking and a factor not correlating to a jump in your ranking.
Here’s what I mean…
Creating an effective social media strategy may not directly increase your social ranking.
For example, Google won’t crawl your website and follow the links to your Facebook page and then say “Holy crap! 100,000 followers? This guy/gal needs a bump in their pagerank”.
But what will happen is this:
When you have 100,000 followers (which is just an arbitrary number selected for simplicity), you will likely have more people viewing content that you share on social media.
You will have more traffic pouring into your website which means, if you’ve done things properly, you will have more engagement, more organic search traffic, and ultimately, more positive search engine signals that Google looks for.
While social media certainly doesn’t hold the same weight that content and backlinks might, it’s still an important factor and something that you should seriously consider moving into 2020.