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SEO is always evolving, and these trends will dominate search this year
Search engine optimization changes every year as technology allows search engines to better understand user intent. If you're still operating on the same SEO strategy you laid out a decade ago, you're getting left behind by your competitors. Here are the trends influencing SEO in 2019.
1. Topics beat terms
Search engines continue to become more sophisticated, and focusing on keywords alone isn't enough anymore. A trend shaping SEO at the moment is producing content in topic clusters. This strategy involves creating a core pillar page on a particular topic, surrounded by cluster pages that explore the topic in more depth and target longer tail keywords.
The effect of this is that search engines understand the semantic relationship between the pages, establishing you as an authority on a broad topic. In theory this means you could even rank for long tail keyword terms that don't appear in your text, simply because search engines understand the intent behind user searches, and can relate your relevant content to a search on the same topic.
Focusing on topic clusters means understanding user intent the way search engines do. It doesn't mean ignoring keyword research. Rather, it means you create content with the primary goal of answering user intent, and you build an exhaustive library of content that addresses the intent around a specific topic. Make yourself an authority on a specific topic and you could find yourself ranking for long tail and LSI keywords you hadn't even thought of.
Google is pushing its accelerated mobile pages (AMPs) hard. It wants a fast, reliable mobile browsing experience, and it sees AMPs as the answer.
Google hasn't explicitly stated that it will take AMP functionality into account as a ranking signal. However, page load speed is an important ranking signal. And considering Google is moving towards mobile-first indexing, mobile page load speed is going to become increasingly important. If you haven't set your site up for AMP, now is the time to get ahead of the curve before it becomes table stakes.
Optimizing for voice search means thinking about the way people talk. Voice searches tend to be longer than text searches, typically at least 3–5 words. They are also usually phrased as questions. If you create content catering for question-based searches, you'll have an advantage in voice search.
Structured data markup is also important for voice search. This helps search engines understand the context of your content, and serve it up in featured snippets that are perfect for voice searches.
4. SERP features
Speaking of featured snippets, expect to see more features like this intruding on the SERPs. Along with featured snippets, Google is increasing the presence of People Also Ask boxes and Knowledge Graphs. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. While SERP features give you great visibility, they're designed to keep people on the search results page rather than clicking through to your content.
Regardless, the enhanced visibility SERP features give you is valuable. If you want to optimize for these features, you need to get structured data markup in place for your pages.
5. Expand beyond Google
Believe it or not, Google isn't the only search engine out there. And even putting aside Bing and Yahoo, people search on multiple platforms. SEOs are increasingly looking to optimize for platforms like Amazon and YouTube. Amazon in particular requires a different strategy than traditional SEO. Amazon uses its own proprietary search algorithm, and it's all about connecting buyers with relevant products and seeing them convert. To optimize for Amazon, you need to remember that users searching on Amazon are at the very bottom of the funnel. Amazon will take into account factors like price, availability, selection and conversion in addition to keyword relevance.
6. Structured data
We know. We go on and on about structured data markup. But it really is important. It gives search engines context for your content and allows them to understand the specific information your content is providing.
Structured data is important for the aforementioned trends in voice search and SERP features, but it's also useful for local SEO. Adding structured data markup helps search engines understand and contextualize details like your contact information, your store hours and customer reviews and ratings.
7. Hyper-local local search
On the subject of local search, expect to see local SEO become even more geo-specific. Geo-location is allowing search engines to serve up even more relevant results for mobile searches for local services. While local SEO used to serve results relevant to the searcher's city or town, it's now drilling down to more specific locations in even closer proximity. Local SEO is no longer just about being visible in your region. It's about being visible to people walking by within a stone's throw, and it's about being visible at the exact moment they search.
8. Video invades the SERPs
Google loves to serve up video content, and it particularly loves to serve it up for how to related queries. It rolled out its desktop video carousel in June 2018, and videos are gaining even more prominence in the SERPs.
There's plenty of data to suggest that appearing in the video carousel is absolute murder for ecommerce sites. Users looking to buy typically scroll right past the video carousel, and if video is your only appearance in the SERPs for a high intent buying related term, you could see your clickthrough rate and conversions tank.
But video is great for informational sites (and can work wonders for affiliate sites). If you're producing content that serves as a how-to guide, you should definitely consider video as a medium.
Google announced its move to mobile-first indexing in 2018, and 2019 is the year this really starts to take off. As more and more users move to mobile browsing over desktop browsing, more emphasis will be placed on mobile experience. If your site isn't optimized for mobile, you're already behind the curve. The good news (well, "less bad," might be a better way to put it) is that 2019 is probably your last opportunity to make your site mobile-friendly before it's relegated to the dustbin in the SERPs.