Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization

SEO Strategy in 2020

Search Engine natural language processing is getting better; your content should be, too.

Matthew Howells-Barby

Director of Acquisition


In SEO, everything is anchored in user experience. And that experience hinges on providing the information that a person searches for, in a way that search engines can identify. That’s how search engines provide relevant information to users. 

Search engines are getting better and better at understanding search intent, which means they are providing  more unique and granular search results that better address the user’s specific ask. The content on your website needs to provide a solution to a user’s problem, whether it’s a long-form article or a one-word answer. In the most recent HubSpot Research survey, 64% of marketers actively invest in SEO. While I’d like to see that number increase significantly, I like that SEO is becoming more of a priority across all industries.

Global Companies Actively Investing in SEO

The fundamentals of SEO haven’t changed much over the years, but the problems to solve are constantly changing. Historically, we’ve had to create content that meets the needs of both our audience and search algorithms, and the two didn’t always align. Now, with major advancements in Google’s ability to process natural language, most recently through the BERT update, you can focus more on what the user wants — there is less of a tradeoff between pleasing the algorithm and the user. They generally want the same thing. 

Below are a few areas we are focusing on to improve our organic search visibility this year. I strongly suggest that you and your business consider tweaking your SEO strategy for 2020 to outrank your competition. 

Keep Building a Technical SEO Foundation

Keep focusing on your website’s technical infrastructure. This is essential to delivering a great user experience and lays the groundwork for your SEO efforts. This means things like site accessibility, speed, information architecture, and overall site functionality, and also content that includes proper structured data, internal linking, and other markup to ensure that Google yields richer search results on your behalf. According to HubSpot Research, page speed and mobile optimization are the most utilized tactics for SEO.

What are your company's tactics for SEO? (%)

Search algorithms change constantly — sometimes several times a day. However, the thing that has changed the most over time is the way people search. We just try to keep up. If you continue to provide a solid user experience, strategic content structure, and make sure your site is technically sound, search engines should help people find you. For example, in 2019, HubSpot removed unused 3rd party scripts across HubSpot domains and centralized a list of stakeholders who could add and remove them, significantly reducing the amount of unused javascript that was slowing down the loading time of our webpages, negatively impacting user experience.

SEOs should really be thinking of how to create the most structure on their site - from having consistent navs to employing ordered/unordered lists, using headers and breaks sensibly, schema etc. Having a crisp HTML footprint is the easiest way to qualify for rich features in SERPs.
Jackie Chu's Headshot

Jackie Chu

SEO Lead, Dropbox

Start Focusing on Intent: Give Your Users What They Really Want

Start obsessing over search from your users’ point of view. Drill into their intent. Historically, the name of the SEO game was finding the intersection where high volume and low competition keywords meet. That is still true, but the beauty of the improvements in natural language processing (NLP) is our ability to find pockets of intent around those keywords. 

The level of granularity in a Google search result, for example, is more acute than ever; use this to your advantage as you plan your content. 

Here’s a great example: When you search “London weather,” Google surmises you are in the London area, literally deciding whether to grab a jacket before stepping outside (which is often the case!). So Google serves up the current temperature and maybe the weekly outlook.

Screenshot of a search result for London weather

Now, tweak that search to “London weather July” — Google will infer that you are considering a trip to London in July, so results are skewed toward travel sites and flight arrangements — often Google’s own flight and hotel booking results. The ability to understand user intent through a seemingly small edit is indeed huge.

Search result for london weather july

It may seem difficult to solve for those minor discrepancies in searches, but you don’t always have to create new content to solve for this intent. Maybe your business isn’t even relevant to that variation of intent. Or, it’s quite possible that some of your existing content could be slightly altered or broken apart to better match search intent. 

Let’s look at another example. Maybe you wrote an long-form guide all about Instagram Marketing called “Top Instagram Marketing Strategies.” You’re mainly targeting the search phrase: “Instagram Marketing Strategy”. Even just a couple of years ago this content would likely rank highly for a vast spread of related queries - now, not so much. Instead of trying to rank for everything with one large guide, you could break out parts of it into smaller, individual blog posts to help rank for more granular queries that come with differing intent. 

Here at HubSpot, we now create about half the content we did just a couple of years ago, with a heavier focus on optimizing for intent rather than just search volume. 

Focus on Your Audience, Not the Algorithms

Stop building your SEO strategy around algorithm updates. In search, Google’s goal is the user’s goal. Instead of chasing an algorithm that won’t stand still, place your attention on content that aligns with your user’s intent. For example, HubSpot placed a heavy emphasis on winning featured snippets for important keywords because of its real estate and the great user experience they provide for the user. Here’s how we did it. 

Before you start obsessing over keyword rankings, try to get a solid technical foundation in place. The foundation of SEO lies in three distinct stages: crawling, indexing, and ranking. When your site is not optimized for crawling, search engines can’t access (and eventually index) your content. If you don’t do this part right, nothing else matters. So in this respect, ranking is often the least important stage.

Overall, search engines are getting better every day at understanding what the searcher wants. When approaching your SEO strategy, you should approach every decision with the user in mind. First, establish the foundation of your SEO (ranking and crawling) so search engines can find your content and serve it to the user. Then, focus on improving your site’s technical infrastructure (speed, accessibility, mobile, etc) to improve the user experience on your site. Finally, write content to solve for users’ intent. The days of forcing your way to the top of a search result with keyword stuffing are over. It’s the decade of the searcher. 

My Recommended SEO Tool

Sitebulb is a really good website crawler that analyzes your site and provides an easy-to-understand summary that points out issues and problems in a way the average marketer can understand.

Take a Deep-Dive Into the State of SEO 

Make this the year that you truly get to know your users. Work hard to deliver the information they’re looking for. To learn how others are approaching their SEO goals, you can access over 70 data points and trends from over 3,400 marketers around the world. Dive deeper into HubSpot's survey data by clicking the download button on the banner below. 

Editor's note: This article was researched in December 2019 and January 2020, and was originally published in early February 2020. A lot has changed in the world since then, so keep that in mind as your process these trends and data. 

By Matthew Howells-Barby

Director of Acquisition

HubSpot's Matthew Howells-Barby talks through his view on SEO trends this year and focuses on how a user's intent should be at the center of your SEO strategy.

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