With the new year in full swing and an already busy first quarter, our 2019 predictions for SEO in the new year are hopping onto the scene a little late — but fashionably so, we hope. From an explosion of SERP features to increased monetization to the key drivers of search this year, our SEO experts have consulted their crystal balls  and made their predictions. Read on for an exhaustive list of fourteen things to watch out for in search from our very own Dr. Pete, Britney Muller, Rob Bucci, Russ Jones, and Miriam Ellis!

1. Answers will drive search

People Also Ask boxes exploded in 2018, and featured snippets have expanded into both multifaceted and multi-snippet versions. Google wants to answer questions, it wants to answer them across as many devices as possible, and it will reward sites with succinct, well-structured answers. Focus on answers that naturally leave visitors wanting more and establish your brand and credibility. 

Further reading:

  • Content for Answers: The Inverted Pyramid – Whiteboard Friday
  • We Dipped Our Toes Into Double Featured Snippets
  • Desktop, Mobile, or Voice? (D) All of the Above – Whiteboard Friday

2. Voice search will continue to be utterly useless for optimization

Optimizing for voice search will still be no more than optimizing for featured snippets, and conversions from voice will remain a dark box. [Russ Jones]

Further reading:

  • The Influence of Voice Search on Featured Snippets
  • Lessons from 1,000 Voice Searches (on Google Home)
  • How to Discover Featured Snippet Opportunities – Whiteboard Friday
  • How to Target Featured Snippet Opportunities – Whiteboard Friday

3. Mobile is table stakes

This is barely a prediction. If your 2019 plan is to finally figure out mobile, you’re already too late. Almost all Google features are designed with mobile-first in mind, and the mobile-first index has expanded rapidly in the past few months. Get your mobile house (not to be confused with your mobile home) in order as soon as you can. [Dr. Peter J. Meyers]

Further reading:

  • How Does Mobile-First Indexing Work, and How Does It Impact SEO?
  • How and Why to Do a Mobile/Desktop Parity Audit
  • Internal Linking & Mobile First: Large Site Crawl Paths in 2018 & Beyond
  • How Mobile-First Indexing Disrupts the Link Graph

4. Further SERP feature intrusions in organic search

Expect Google to find more and more ways to replace organic with solutions that keep users on Google’s property. This includes interactive SERP features that replace, slowly but surely, many website offerings in the same way that live scores, weather, and flights have. [Russ Jones]

Further reading:

  • Zero-Result SERPs: Welcome to the Future We Should’ve Known Was Coming
  • What Do You Do When You Lose Organic Traffic to Google SERP Features?
  • Google’s Walled Garden: Are We Being Pushed Out of Our Own Digital Backyards?

5. Video will dominate niches

Featured Videos, Video Carousels, and Suggested Clips (where Google targets specific content in a video) are taking over the how-to spaces. As Google tests search appliances with screens, including Home Hub, expect video to dominate instructional and DIY niches. [Dr. Peter J. Meyers]

Further reading:

  • YouTube SEO: Top Factors to Invest In – Whiteboard Friday
  • A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up and Growing Your YouTube Presence
  • Beyond YouTube: Video Hosting, Marketing, and Monetization Platforms, Compared

6. SERPs will become more interactive

We’ve seen the start of interactive SERPs with People Also Ask Boxes. Depending on which question you expand, two to three new questions will generate below that directly pertain to your expanded question. This real-time engagement keeps people on the SERP longer and helps Google better understand what a user is seeking. [Britney Muller]

Further reading:

  • Infinite “People Also Ask” Boxes: Research and SEO Opportunities

7. Local SEO: Google will continue getting up in your business — literally

Google will continue asking more and more intimate questions about your business to your customers. Does this business have gender-neutral bathrooms? Is this business accessible? What is the atmosphere like? How clean is it? What kind of lighting do they have? And so on. If Google can acquire accurate, real-world information about your business (your percentage of repeat customers via geocaching, price via transaction history, etc.) they can rely less heavily on website signals and provide more accurate results to searchers. [Britney Muller]

Further reading:

  • The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Taking Full Control of Your Google Knowledge Panels
  • How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing

8. Business proximity-to-searcher will remain a top local ranking factor

In Moz’s recent State of Local SEO report, the majority of respondents agreed that Google’s focus on the proximity of a searcher to local businesses frequently emphasizes distance over quality in the local SERPs. I predict that we’ll continue to see this heavily weighting the results in 2019. On the one hand, hyper-localized results can be positive, as they allow a diversity of businesses to shine for a given search. On the other hand, with the exception of urgent situations, most people would prefer to see best options rather than just closest ones. [Miriam Ellis]

Further reading:

  • The State of Local SEO Industry Report
  • Local Search Ranking Factors 2018: Local Today, Key Takeaways, and the Future – Whiteboard Friday

9. Local SEO: Google is going to increase monetization

Look to see more of the local and maps space monetized uniquely by Google both through Adwords and potentially new lead-gen models. This space will become more and more competitive. [Russ Jones]

Further reading:

  • New Research: 35% of Competitive Local Keywords Have Local Pack Ads
  • What Do SEOs Do When Google Removes Organic Search Traffic? – Whiteboard Friday

10. Monetization tests for voice

Google and Amazon have been moving towards voice-supported displays in hopes of better monetizing voice. It will be interesting to see their efforts to get displays in homes and how they integrate the display advertising. Bold prediction: Amazon will provide sleep-mode display ads similar to how Kindle currently displays them today. [Britney Muller]

11. Marketers will place a greater focus on the SERPs

I expect we’ll see a greater focus on the analysis of SERPs as Google does more to give people answers without them having to leave the search results. We’re seeing more and more vertical search engines like Google Jobs, Google Flights, Google Hotels, Google Shopping. We’re also seeing more in-depth content make it onto the SERP than ever in the form of featured snippets, People Also Ask boxes, and more. With these new developments, marketers are increasingly going to want to report on their general brand visibility within the SERPs, not just their website ranking. It’s going to be more important than ever for people to be measuring all the elements within a SERP, not just their own ranking. [Rob Bucci]

Further reading:

  • Mapping the Overlap of SERP Feature Suggestions
  • Make Sense of Your Data with These Essential Keyword Segments

12. Targeting topics will be more productive than targeting queries

2019 is going to be another year in which we see the emphasis on individual search queries start to decline, as people focus more on clusters of queries around topics. People Also Ask queries have made the importance of topics much more obvious to the SEO industry. With PAAs, Google is clearly illustrating that they think about searcher experience in terms of a searcher’s satisfaction across an entire topic, not just a specific search query. With this in mind, we can expect SEOs to more and more want to see their search queries clustered into topics so they can measure their visibility and the competitive landscape across these clusters. [Rob Bucci]

Further reading:

  • Build a Search Intent Dashboard to Unlock Better Opportunities
  • It’s Time to Stop Doing On-Page SEO Like It’s 2012
  • Using Related Topics and Semantically Connected Keywords in Your SEO – Whiteboard Friday
  • How to Feed a Hummingbird: Improve Your On-Page SEO with Related Topics in Moz Pro

13. Linked unstructured citations will receive increasing focus

I recently conducted a small study in which there was a 75% correlation between organic and local pack rank. Linked unstructured citations (the mention of partial or complete business information + a link on any type of relevant website) are a means of improving organic rankings which underpin local rankings. They can also serve as a non-Google dependent means of driving traffic and leads. Anything you’re not having to pay Google for will become increasingly precious. Structured citations on key local business listing platforms will remain table stakes, but competitive local businesses will need to focus on unstructured data to move the needle. [Miriam Ellis]

Further reading:

  • The Guide to Building Linked Unstructured Citations for Local SEO
  • Why Local Businesses Will Need Websites More than Ever in 2019

14. Reviews will remain a competitive difference-maker

A Google rep recently stated that about one-third of local searches are made with the intent of reading reviews. This is huge. Local businesses that acquire and maintain a good and interactive reputation on the web will have a critical advantage over brands that ignore reviews as fundamental to customer service. Competitive local businesses will earn, monitor, respond to, and analyze the sentiment of their review corpus. [Miriam Ellis]

Further reading:

  • Time to Act: Review Responses Just Evolved from “Extra” to “Expected”
  • How to Respond to the 5 Types of Google Reviews
  • Location Data + Reviews: The 1–2 Punch of Local SEO
  • See more local SEO predictions for 2019 by Miriam in our Q&A!