Like many other industries, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) moves extremely fast. But where is the future of SEO going? What does an effective, organic strategy need to look like in the next few years?
While not too long ago, everybody was totally focused on keywords and backlinks (links from other websites), today we hear search and SEO more and more in the context of machine learning and artificial intelligence within a collection of hundreds of ranking factors. But there is much more!
However, before we dive deeper into where the search industry is heading (based on my point of view), I would like to make sure you, as a reader, can see Google through somewhat different eyes.
What does Google want?
For marketing specialists, and in particular in the area of search marketing, Google plays a very special role—not only because of their market share (more than 92% in 2020) but also due to their incredible focus on user experience.
Google was the first company to focus on what’s best for their users—after all, a happy user is going to come back for more. This should be enough to shift our view of Google from the “evil giant” to a giant that aims, above all other things, to do what’s best for their users.
Marketing is getting more and more automated: automatic bidding, programmatic marketing, tracking, email marketing automation, hyper-segmentation, cross-platform promotion. All this is only possible due to vast amounts of data points big platforms have gathered about each and every internet user. Those masses of data then need to be analyzed so that algorithms can make sense of it, and leverage information for higher returns on investment.
Companies like Google, Facebook, or Amazon have more information stored about us than we can possibly imagine—and one of their main goals is to obtain even more.
The reasoning couldn’t be clearer: the more information they have, the better they can get at making us happy. While “happy” could mean product suggestions on Amazon, for Google it refers to ads and organic search results.
Already today, search results are personalized based on your location, preferred websites, previous searches, and more. What a person sees in Sydney on many searches isn’t going to be the same result someone would see in Melbourne.
A good example would be a search for “pizza delivery.” Google would understand local search intent and would bring up results geographically near to the respective user. But personalization goes much deeper than that.
The massive amount of data requires machine learning tools to process and artificial intelligence in order to identify patterns that can then be fed back into the algorithm. Google “learns” with every single search.
On a given day, by the way, thousands of searches are being executed by users all over the world for the very first time. Google has never seen them before but will still try to “understand” the underlying search intent to serve a suitable result.
So, for your site’s SEO, how could you beat Google’s AI engine? The answer: with AI itself. From early on, machine learning tools have received a very special place in our toolbox: link research, content brief creation, content optimization. Wherever machine learning tools can be used in SEO, their results should definitely be considered for the ongoing optimization process.
If a search result isn’t relevant for a user, they will hit their browser’s back button and click on another Google result. Relevance can refer to design, layout, content structure, content length and depth, etc. and should always be a top priority in every SEO campaign— – stay relevant!
Users are only happy if they find their answer fast. The way search snippets are designed and the content they contain plays an important role, which is why Google sometimes decides to overwrite a page’s title and so-called meta description in order to present a nicer result to search users.
Care about your search snippets as if they were your cat!
Nobody likes to wait for a page to load, especially on their mobile phones. As a result, site speed and mobile performance and usability are crucial elements for Google when determining the ranking a site deserves.
With users’ patience levels decreasing and attention spans shortening, there is a demand for increased loading speeds, and consequently, search engines will be forced to insist more on a site’s performance. This will especially be the case on the server-side, as 5G and similar technologies are very likely to reduce the effect of large images or videos that before might have been slowing down a page.
Google’s success in providing high-quality search results, is largely based on their algorithm and how it interprets links from one website to another one, as a signal for authority.
With social media and other sources of data giving search engines more and more information, it is very likely that the effect links can have on a site’s ranking might diminish over time.
Until then, focus on actively pursuing links from other websites to your homepage and your pillar articles!
One of the best ways to attract people’s attention in marketing is through personalized communication.
Search engines are getting really good at personalizing search results, and with the growing number of data points of more and more people, it is to be expected that they will get even better in bringing us the right results in the right moment.
Already today, Google tries to come up with search results based on what they know about us, our calendar, and our movements between different places—even before we search for them.
Ever gotten into your car and Google Maps told you how long it would take you to get home? This is Google’s personalization in action!
For search results, personalization will probably, at least in part, mean very personal search preferences.
- Some users might prefer longer and more in-depth articles as search results when they are at home and shorter summaries when browsing through their phone.
- Others will only use their phones to check their email, but whenever they search for products they will buy at Amazon, so Amazon might need to come up first for them on any of their transactional searches.
SEO is an important part of marketing, and personalization will definitely play a big part of marketing in the near future.
How many voice assistants do you have available in your day to day? Most of us might be used to calling Siri or Alexa, Google Assistant or Cortana, to help us with daily tasks, reminders, or to do some quick research.
The essential idea of a voice assistant is to get a question as an input and respond with an answer. This directly affects SEO because voice assistants will limit themselves to very few, if not only one possible answer.
The more we see personalized search results coming up, the higher the chances are that voice assistants rely on a search engine like Google to make sure the first result contains the best possible answer.
While now we generally have ten search results on page one of Google, in the future, it might just really be the first or maybe the first few results that count.
In any case, questions will (and have always been) an essential part of search. People have questions and want answers—fast.
Back in 2010, I had my first client start answering two questions a month on his blog. He did this consistently (with our writers’ help) over many years, and still ranks with very simple answers to very simple questions, getting leads and sales still in 2020, leveraging answers written in 2011.
If you have the best answer to your target audience’s question, you are likely to do very well in SEO. Add consistency over time, and you’re up for a long-term winner!
There is just one thing that Google likes more than making users happy to help them find the right website: make them happy finding the answer directly within Google.
More and more we see search elements popping up in search, like “People also asked” sections, featured snippets, carousels, maps, local search results, and knowledge panels.
All these blocks extract information from websites to answer user queries directly on the search result page, resulting in approximately 50% of searches not leading to a click through to a website.
Google has (and provides) all the necessary information.
The trend towards more and more search components has been clear over the last years. And while they provide a good way for sites to sneak their way into the first page with some specially marked-up answer, site owners will have to accept that Google is actually becoming their website’s homepage, giving direct access to the different parts of information they consider relevant, and sometimes, providing the full answer directly within search results with no click going to the website itself.
Google has a problem.
Not all problems can be solved easily—not even by Google. While still trying to make their users happy, Google aims at finding a way to find out whether a site is trustworthy, has a certain authority in its niche, and whether the presented information comes from a source with expertise in their field.
This is especially true when it comes to so-called YMYL sites (Your Money, Your Life). YMYL refers to sites that have a direct impact on people’s lives (health) and finances, thus directly impacting happiness..
There is just too much content being produced online to keep track, and it’s getting harder and harder to determine which content really should be consumed when seeking advice, and which content has been written by a non-expert on a budget in 15 minutes by rewriting whatever could be found on the subject.
And there’s more: with AI getting more and more ahead, in no time there will be commercial writing programs available, creating original content automatically with AI engines, based on a few parameters like topic, length, level of expertise, etc.
Those engines will feed themselves with thousands of similar texts to extract common patterns and produce articles on their own, in less time than it takes a copywriter to open their favorite editing app.
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, and has become a very important term on from 2018-2019 when Google added a section to their quality guidelines, asking quality raters at Google to check for relevant signals that might indicate whether the site and its author can be trusted.
Branding might just be one of the most important things you can do in order to make sure future algorithms can recognize the expertise you own in your field.
The future of SEO is definitely going to be based on artificial intelligence, enabling search engines to improve user experience through extremely high levels of personalization. The exponential growth of partly AI created content will require extra levels of analysis in order to select not only the best, but also the most trustworthy response to a user’s search intent.