Nothing is permanent except change. Take this to the beautiful world of digital marketing and SEO and it couldn't be more true— ramp up of social media, ever-expanding smarter home and mobile devices, a more and more intelligent Google… and it goes on.
With all that in the picture, what is the future of Search Engine Optimization… What do we expect SEO to be like in the next 5+ years?
Five years could seem like a lot of years to live up to guesses and predictions, in that a lot could happen before then. Or it may even be too short a period.
However, this post tries to dig into what could happen in SEO in the coming years with citations and references where possible.
Let's dive in.
It's Going To Be More Than Google
For the uninitiated, just like Google, Yahoo reigned.
Being once the biggest internet company, Yahoo practically ruled as king of the internet until many missed opportunities and resulting failures.
And this story is not stereotypical of Yahoo. History has always found a way to show up again, at least once in a generation.
Though for Google, unlike Yahoo, the storyline isn't necessarily going to be the same;
- Failing to buy Google when it had the chance.
- Cutting down on an offer price to buy Facebook, just at the last minute of the deal.
- Passing on opportunities to acquire eBay, YouTube, and even Apple.
- Or rejecting a buy offer from Microsoft when it seemed like the best thing to do.
But with the pace at which everything is changing in the tech space, it's fair to say that SEO will over time outgrow Google-centric optimization.
Keyword Research: Your time is up!
What new could possibly come along to replace Keyword research?
Well, the motive for keyword research revolves around making your content as close (if not exactly) to what searchers want, as possible; and it starts from the content title way down to the last paragraph.
If keyword research for SEO was a game, the game that's on now is different from the one played back in the day.
Keywords and their research was the most important piece of the puzzle in SEO then.
It first started with short-targeted keywords. Somewhere along the line, the competition was too much that ranking for simple terms such as “SEO/Search Engine Optimization”, became a hard nut to crack for small and young unpopular sites.
Hence, people started niching down. Soon terms like long-tail keywords gained fame, and we've been on it.
The way we went about keyword research evolved with each of these changes of focus.
Fast forward to today, the searcher's intent is key.
Then, when there was nothing else in the picture and before social media dominance, the only source of organic traffic for websites was Search Engines.
According to research by Growth Badger, social media now accounts for more than 6.44% of overall global website traffic for all niches, and in 2021, more than 50% of revenues generated across 14 major industries was via social sales.
So basically, keywords and keyword research for SEO may not be dethroned completely, at least in the next 5 years, but it will change from what we know it to be today.
A Lot More Will Come Into Play And Many Stripped
The core mission of search engines is to organize the world's information for easy access.
It sounds too simple 🙂 but surprisingly, that's the primary goal and whole reason for SEO.
Over the last couple of years, the journey to achieve this aim has seen, back-to-back, one core (or minor update) after the other.
Take Google for instance. We have had:
- 2011 – Panda
The Panda update ensures sites do not rank when they shouldn't and tries to ensure the right ones do.
It identifies websites that utilize black hat SEO techniques like keyword stuffing, thin, duplicate plagiarized content, etc.
- 2012 – Penguin
The update fished out spammy links and irrelevant, and over-optimized anchor text backlinks.
- 2013 – Hummingbird
Google Hummingbird update was a game-changer for ‘searching and results' and SEO in general.
Prior to this 2013 update, your headline needed to match what a user was inputting into the Google search bar, to an extent, and you could be ranked at the top of the SERPs.
But after the Hummingbird update, Google started reading meaning into search phrases.
The update also tackles keyword stuffing and low-quality content.
- 2015 – Mobile
The Mobile update favors fast and mobile-responsive websites. That means a lack of optimized sites for the teeming mobile era losses.
- 2015 – RankBrain
Google also went a step further by employing some machine learning algorithms in 2015, packaged and deployed, dubbed as RankBrain.
Basically, RankBrain sorts and displays search queries by relevance and get more intelligent with time and more data.
- 2018 – Medic
This update reinforces the “Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T)” standard, which is intended to determine what it takes to create a high-quality website and content that ranks.
- 2019 – BERT
Then in 2019 came the BERT update, short for (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), reportedly the most important update from Google in the past five years.
It improves how Google understands search queries and penalizes poorly written content that is deemed to lack context or focus.
- Recent Years – Core Updates
The quest to provide relevant answers to the questions every searcher has (in a more personalized manner) has led to Google dipping its feet even more into implementing machine learning algorithms that ensure an all-around improvement of already existing updates and the release of new broad core, major and minor updates that just go by “core updates”.
P.S.: All the new and old updates complement one another.
So, each of these updates either came with the introduction of a new best practice, removal, or simply making the old ones less significant.
The prediction is that, just as we've seen in the past, this release-and-alter tradition will see some of the current SEO practices stripped down or off completely.
Ever Heard of BigData?
Already search engines are smart.
They are smart enough to sort through hundreds of billions of web pages and rank the best resources in a matter of milliseconds.
The table is still turning because Search Engines need to get smarter and so will everyone.
With the rise of voice search, internet-connected mobile devices (devices as small as wristwatches), smart homes and appliances, and all the many things that are yet to happen, search engines have a lot to handle.
Mobile phone voice search features and the likes of Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, etc make optimizing voice search crucial for now, 5 years time, and even beyond.
There will be a lot of streams of BigData inflow to the internet and SEO masters better be getting ready to face this future (should it happen, which is almost imminent).
On the other hand, we have Artificial Intelligence which is being applied to basically every aspect of business and life.
Will Artificial Intelligence Make SEO Easy?
The future of SEO is bright but it may also get more difficult in the coming years because as information continues to overflood the internet; there's a little chance that SEO, in general, will get easier.
That's to say that AI may not make SEO easier than it is. Or it may, who knows?
But in the U.S. alone, 28% of small businesses don't have a website, according to new survey data.
So within the next five years, all of these businesses are likely to go live on the internet, thereby competing for a space in the online world.
The internet is large enough for everyone, but since everyone wants to be the best, that's where it gets cranky.
Fortunately, social media has come to the rescue.
Search Engine and Social Media Alliance
In 2015, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo in a Twitter earnings call announced that Twitter and Google had once again reached an agreement (after their 2009-2011 deal) to provide Google with access to the Twitter full stream of tweets, commonly called the Twitter “firehose”.
In similar news, Facebook has turned to a local search engine of its own, reporting over 1.5 billion searches daily.
So, a crucial aspect of the search engines of the future is going to be the use of social media because the least social media will become (apart from being a traditional search engine for readily available information) is an assist to the likes of Google.
SEO is going to be a completely different animal than you see now and that's a lot to think about, isn't it?
But you don't need to do that ‘cus if you don't stop learning and staying afloat, we will see in five years, better off as SEO impact makers.
Just keep in mind that content is still king, image optimization remains an important part of SEO, and backlinks have and will always help website ranking, analytics, and technical SEO, etc remain in place and surging.