Search engines prioritise user experiences in 2020

By Marcus Matsi, head of SEO at Reprise Digital South Africa

Search engines are finally putting the user first – enhancing zero click searches, local searches and understanding content better than ever before.

Search engines are getting better at understanding content that is crawled. This enhances the user experience by only serving content relevant to the query’s intent.

Take, for example, Google Featured Snippets (structured data), Google’s Local Packs, Knowledge Graphs, and so on, that result in more than half of all searches being “zero-click searches”. This means that the user’s query is answered on the search engine results itself, without the user having to click on any links.

Ahrefs research shows that if brands rank first in a search and has what is termed position zero (the featured snippet), they gain 31% more traffic compared to just having the first position without the featured snippet.

A second trend in terms of search engines is the proliferation of Local Search. We’re seeing more and more people wanting to find information that is geographically relevant to them. For instance, users want to find food delivery services in their neighbourhood. If a brand’s website isn’t optimised for the user to find that information, chances are high that they’ll move on to one that is.

According to Google’s Consumer Barometer, Local Search is a crucial component, with up to 78% of local-intent mobile searches resulting in an offline store visit within 24 hours.

Effective local search means having hyper local content, augmented for voice and mobile search – brands must always focus on the intent of the user. Does the person want to purely find information or do they want to make a transaction? Interestingly, searches including the words ‘near me’ increased by 590% during 2018 and 2019 searches.

Thirdly, Google is spending a lot more time understanding content. The search engine has released an algorithm update named BERT affecting complicated search queries that depend more on context.

Yes, content remains king but most search engines still don’t understand the content ‘in front of them’ so to speak. There are a lot of cultural nuances, and local pricing references that search engines need to learn by country, by region, by suburb. For instance, using the South Africanised word ‘couch’ instead of ‘sofa’ can go a long way in assisting search engines to learn about geographic-specific data.

Ultimately content needs to be relevant, fresh, trustworthy and authoritative. But hosting sites need to adhere to Google Best Practice and have a fast loading time. In fact, 53% of visitors will leave your site if content doesn’t load in 3 seconds or less. That’s why it’s so important to optimise websites and content for mobile conversions. Also, the better that brands write content and spell out as much detail as possible, the better search engines will learn and the better the overall user experience for the consumer will be and ultimately for brands too.

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