Don’t look too close or you’ll go blind! The future of SEO is largely a kaleidoscopic image without clarity or foresight of what the future will bring. From print advertising to the evolution of SEO, we’ve seen new formats eclipse previous ones. Yet, the same principles persist.
As AI and deep learning fill more prodigious roles as Google’s main algorithms, the future of SEO could be one where best practices are largely left in the dark.
We have already seen how content marketing has risen from the foundations of keyword stuffing and short form spam into one of Google’s most important algorithm factors.
SEO is dynamic. As we examine how changing technologies and trends alter the SEO landscape, I challenge you to think how the best practices will be more difficult to gauge in the coming future and what optimization strategies will have to be employed.
The Mobile Eclipse
71% of total digital consumption is performed over smartphones. Mobile search has been on the rise since 2012, eclipsing the total amount of desktop searches back in 2015. To honor this trend and Google’s user experience, they recently unveiled a new mobile first index coming next year. Google’s mobile index will index and refresh search data faster than its desktop index.
It’s estimated that by 2020, 80% of adults on earth will own a smartphone and there are even plans to cover the world in free wi-fi, so how important is mobile search optimization for e-commerce platforms and local businesses?
Consider these statistics from Smart Insights:
- In Q4 of 2016, mobile conversion rates were lower than desktop rates at 1.55% to 4.14% respectively.
- Desktop-only site visitors still widely outpace mobile only visitors, while multi-channel visitors are larger than both.
- 90% of total mobile consumption occurs in apps, as opposed to web browsers.
Google recently included its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project into its organic results. Many people feel this will be an important ranking factor in the coming years, though not a direct one yet.
AMP documents use stripped down HTML code to display web pages at lightning fast speeds. They are signified with a lightning bolt symbol and even have their own featured carousel at the top of organic search results. Consider the real estate value of possessing AMPs and that a 1 second delay in mobile speed could decrease your conversion rate by 20% and you can easily see the benefits.
There are currently over 900,000 domains that use AMP documents and over 2 billion AMP documents over the web. While this is relatively small, the number continues to grow. With the mobile first index arriving next year, responsive web design will slowly be eclipsed by AMP and Progressive Web Applications (PWAs).
Will AMPs or PWAs become more popular? With greater mobile storage capabilities coming, will app fatigue dissolve and further increase mobile app consumption? Finally, will Google try to convince users to switch to AMP by making it a direct algorithm ranking factor- HTTPS, anyone?
As mobile search eclipses desktop search, the same principles for optimization apply. Unfortunately, we are not sure how the mobile first index will work and how long it will last. This brings us to another prescient technology rapidly eclipsing standard forms of keyword research and SEO as we know it.
The End of Text Search?
40% of adults use voice search at least once a day and it’s predicted that 30% of all searches by 2020 will be screenless. In the past 2 years voice search has risen from 0% in 2015 to 10% of all searches globally.
Bing recently unveiled its Chatbot Directory to help make SERP listings more engaging and user friendly. Consider the growing applications for every mobile application that virtual assistants, such as Alexa and Cortana will have for users. This could even extend into their daily lives, such as driverless car assistants and even smart home assistants.
Voice search is everywhere and the technology is only improving. This has placed a greater emphasis on syntax search and keyword research focused on natural language and strong intent keywords.
In terms of local search optimization, optimizing your microdata and meta tags for local search intent, such as NAP information, will be crucial to maintaining relevancy in your local area.
Does the rise of voice search tip the scales of search volume totally in favor of mobile? Does this result in an exodus of e-commerce platforms to mobile channels, leaving desktop searches to the realm of informational queries?
One thing to consider is the idea that virtual assistants answer user questions using the featured snippet from Google. Text based searches will not completely be eliminated, but optimizing content pages for voice search and traditional keyword based text search will be a new challenge for SEO agencies to overcome.
Brand Building Over Link Building
While inbound links still remain the gold standard of SEO currency, their practice has drastically changed over the past decade. Long over are the days of link farms and link buying schemes.
With the introduction of Penguin into the core algorithm, spam link building practices were all but disavowed. Persistently, there remain many short term spam linking strategies businesses still use. Yet, improving domain authority should focus on acquiring backlinks naturally.
The Penguin algorithm can judge link spam based on its anchor text optimization, backlink velocity, link frequency, and where links are being directed toward.
Many argue that this effectively depreciated the value of inbound links. On other hand, a 2016 Backlinko study found that the average number of links from root domains dropped significantly from SERP positions 2 to 3.
It’s still possible to rank highly in an uncompetitive niche without inbound links. Ultimately, backlinks serve as a third party endorsement of content quality that search engines cannot fully delineate.
This could change with the rise of voice search and advanced deep learning capabilities. As Matt Cutts stated, “links might become less important as Google starts understanding actual language.”
Authoritative links won’t be completely phased out, but their significance will depreciate as AI becomes more capable to parse content quality. It’s truly the only way for Google to completely weed out link spam that still exists.
Links will play an important role from a traffic and PR standpoint. The integration of search and social will begin to play a more important role in organic rank. User signals and social signals will become greater factors in determining content quality. This will shift the focus from link building toward digital brand building to acquire more exposure.
In essence, brand building increases exposure for your website, which attracts links. The focus of SEO will significantly shift toward more traditional marketing strategies, such as brand building over social media channels and focusing on producing high quality content. Bye bye, link spam!
SEO is a rapidly evolving industry and the only way to survive is by following the best practices. The medium may change, but the principles stay the same. As Lauren Fleshman said, “Perfect preparation doesn’t exist. Excellent adaptation does.”