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It's not about length: SEO content trends to stay ahead of in 2020

Hard as it may be to believe, it’s that time of year again - and no, I’m not talking about making Christmas lists, planning how best to avoid the in-laws over the festive season, and having mild panic attacks about how you’re going to afford all the presents and festivities that the coming months have in store. No, it’s the end of another year, which means it’s time to speculate about content trends for the coming 12 months.

Here are four trends that I think will have a significant impact on SEO content in 2020:

It’s not about length - it’s what you do with it that counts

As digital marketers, we sometimes get a little obsessed with hard and fast rules. It’s inevitable. We work in an industry based on understanding and algorithms, on following best practices, using fool-proof formulae, getting the inputs just right to achieve a precise result. A lot of the time, I think that’s what makes what we do rewarding. But I think one of the mistakes we make is to look for a right answer when there isn’t one.

The question of how long a piece of content should be is divisive because there really is no right answer. Actually, it’s worse than that. There are a lot of right answers. People have short attention spans, so writing concise, 500-word blogs is the way to go, right? But if you look at the top result for just about any search, you’ll find the word count rarely dips below a thousand. So longer must be better, then. Well, you can’t argue with the fact that most readers only get about halfway through a piece of content, and that many don’t even scroll to begin with. The reality is that there’s no ideal length for content, because length in itself doesn’t mean anything. What does matter is how well you’re answering the question, or addressing the needs of your reader.

In my experience, it’s safer to lean towards the longer side. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a great-sounding blog title, and opening the link to find 200 words of half-baked, keyword-stuffed content that doesn’t really say anything at all. It’s equally painful, though, when you start reading a long-form article and realise the writer is trying to draw out a 300 word idea into 3,000. Ultimately, longer content is good, but there are certainly diminishing returns.

Voice search will make you question everything

‘Always read your writing aloud.’ That might be the single best piece of advice I’ve ever heard as a writer. And, since voice search is expected to account for as much as half of all online search traffic by 2020, it takes on a new meaning: if you aren’t reading your own writing out loud, Google’s going to do it for you, and you’d better make sure the results are good enough to drive interaction or conversion.

The key thing to realise here is that voice search is fundamentally different from text search. The average text search phrase, for example, is around one to three words, while the average voice search phrase hovers more around three to six words. Voice searches are also far more likely to be phrased as questions. People talk to their voice assistants like they’re talking to a real person, so it follows that content should respond in kind if it hopes to meet the needs of the searcher.

For content to soak up the lion’s share of voice searches, it needs to be written more conversationally than you might be used to, and it needs to hone in on answering the questions that the user is asking. Content that answers questions head-on, shows a clear understanding of search intent and sheds as much of the unnecessary detail as possible is bound to perform better for voice search traffic, so expect this trend to become increasingly prevalent in the coming months and years.

Zero is greater than one

Another consequence of voice assistants becoming the go-to search channel is the importance of Position Zero: whenever a user inputs a voice search query, their assistant will read out the position zero result before delivering the rest. So, even if you’re dominating the search results for the entire first page, a competitor with the zero spot is going to soak up 100% of the voice search traffic and leave your hard-fought position one content starved for clicks.

Gartner estimates that around a third of searches will be done without a screen at all in 2020, which means that anything beyond the position zero result might as well not exist for voice search purposes. Expect blogging content and other written forms to include an increasing amount of structured data, rich data snippets, and content specifically designed to rank above position 1. This will be particularly important for content with a local element (since a large part of voice search queries centre around local search) and bottom-of-the-funnel searches.

This time, it’s personal

There’s no doubt that personalised marketing messaging works. We live in the age of the individual consumer: people are accustomed to their social media feeds, email inboxes and mobile experiences being tailored to their preferences and interests. So, it follows that expectations are the same for any content they engage with while searching or browsing.

For advertising the remedy is rather simple: serve ads that are targeted at specific factors and show an awareness of the individual customer’s context, preferences and their position in the sales funnel. But for ‘raw’ SEO content - that is, blogs, website copy, landing pages, etc. - it’s a little less straightforward. Depending on how deep down the rabbit hole you want to go, you could include forms, quizzes and surveys to understand exactly who you’re talking to before serving them tailored content, or you could go the simpler route and profile your user base into different personas who are likely to respond to different messaging.

Expect increasingly tailored, topic-focused content to come to the fore even more so than it already has in recent years. Again, customers are increasingly engaging with content that makes real conversation with them and demonstrates an understanding of their context, preferences and what they’re looking for. The more granular you can get when it comes to understanding those factors, the better you’ll resonate with your readers.

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