SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) barely needs an introduction. If you’re a business reading this then I’d be very surprised if you hadn’t heard of it before, but just to put our own philosophy on what it is very simply:
SEO is ensuring that your website is trustworthy, useful and meets the end user’s needs. All search algorithms are based around this. Meet these requirements sufficiently and you will be rewarded accordingly with organic (non-paid) positions on the first page of a search engine.
The methods for achieving theses criteria have changed dramatically since the early days of search engines and are going to continue to do so (most likely) indefinitely.
I did one of the first official curriculum Digital Business courses in Australia way back around the year 2000. In those days the “Search Engine Optimisation” portion of the course consisted of throwing the right keywords into “meta keywords” and having vaguely relevant content. This element of meta data is now all but defunct thanks to a combination of spammers and black hat SEO’s abusing the method as well as technology simply advancing in a manner that allows for greater precision in assessing a website against the user’s needs. Those two factors have been the primary drivers behind the evolution of ranking algorithms since their inception.
However I won’t go into a history lesson on SEO, you can find a better one than I could ever write here. For now we’re looking into the future.
So let’s break this down into…
1. Suspected Evolution of Existing Factors
For starters, Paid reach for content marketing will become a necessity. For those who have already gotten with the program and started a content marketing plan in line with SEO & Social goals (as per Part 2 of this blog series), you’re likely in for a bit of a budget shock over the next few years. More and more businesses are starting to come around to how important this is and as is inevitable, with more content providers it will become harder to stand out from the crowd.
Naturally good content can help with this, but once consumers become spoilt for choice you’ll likely require more of a boost than you can currently take advantage of just by being one of the relatively small amount of businesses with such an offering. Expect paid social exposure to be the main avenue for this, however technology will ultimately dictate both what that social exposure is and what sorts of emerging content channels are the go to platforms (I’d call it and say streaming television will be one). This will also likely require you to diversify your content as well. See more below on “intelligent content” in the “UX” part of this blog for context on that.
You’ll also need to pay a LOT more attention to spam/links. The Penguin algorithm isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future and it is constantly being updated. No matter what you do, do not forget Google’s ultimate goal: To have their search engine become the world’s first genuine Artificial Intelligence. This cannot be stressed enough when it comes to SEO.
Dozens of black and grey hat techniques that currently work have a built in shelf life purely for this reason. The algorithms will surpass human thinking and ingenuity sooner or later, but more likely is a situation where they will simply become too complicated before they even hit an event horizon like that. At this point the early adopters of “link earning” via content marketing instead of “link building” will be the ones who win out in terms of rankings.
Why is that?
It’s because Language and voice search are going to change the entire search landscape. Just as the introduction of the GUI (Graphical User Interface) dramatically transformed everything with the advent of Windows & Apple’s OS, the future LUI (Language User Interface) could closely end up resembling what Star Trek predicted nearly 50 years ago.
Again, AI. Artificial Intelligence. They’re not kidding about this and there is no way that manipulating Google will work forever (perhaps even for very much longer) for either links or content.
You may have heard of a man named Ray Kurzweil, who has been hired as Director Of Engineering by Google with one simple job description: “To bring natural language understanding to Google.”
This has since evolved into his involvement in helping them to realise their AI goals. A dynamic, thinking search engine will be incredibly difficult (if at all possible) to manipulate. So just do the right thing.
Additionally, Negative SEO will likely become a big enough problem that Google (or the government) will deal with it. Currently, Google isn’t worried about this, but the rise of Negative SEO as an (unfortunately) effective and increasingly prevalent way to shoot your competition out of the water could end up waking the sleeping giant.
From Google’s perspective if Negative SEO becomes too large and disruptive to their search results then you can expect them to react harshly and swiftly.
More interesting is the Government’s perspective however, as this could be a legal issue which needs to be legislated. If you think about it in an offline sense, if you were to deliberately engage in sabotage designed to steal business (and by extension revenue) from or deny business to your competitors then you could potentially be in quite a bit of trouble! So I expect that this is something which will catch their attention just as soon as a destructive enough campaign is run against a large enough business.
But with that said, let’s get into what’s coming…
2. Future Factors
App SEO is coming. Okay, so this is kind of already a thing, but it’s nowhere near what it will be one day soon. We talked previously in Part 1 of this blog (which was about Content Marketing) on how Augmented Reality is about to becoming an everyday staple of everyone’s online experience. With this, apps will hit the next level as social media and device usage steps up a notch and offers a whole new world of opportunity for app developers.
Expect apps to be a huge part of your online presence and expect to need help or to know how to get them ranking in the “Apps” tab of Google.
Knowledge graph will dominate informational queries. The knowledge graph isn’t quite “common knowledge” (punintended) just yet, but it’s already primed to inform factual enquiries such as “what is the current temperature in (insert your city here)?” or “what is the circumference of the sun?” as demonstrated:
You may recall a small fuss being made over at Fox “News” (yes, those quotation marks are in the right spot) earlier this year, when Google announced that it was researching the introduction of “fact based elements” to its ranking algorithm. Knowledge graph will play no small part in this as more and more questions are able to be answered “in-engine”, provided it gets quite a bit better at assessing facts. Which leads us to the next point…
…There will be a much bigger focus on SERP (Search Engine Result Page) visuals.
Remember when search results looked like this?
Well here’s an example of the variety today’s results:
As you can see, it’s barely recognizable given that they’ve been updated along with the progression of search engine technology.
To properly explain where this could lead us in the future, I’ll let Marcus Tober of Searchmetrics explain:
“SEOs will grow in many different areas, like data science, product management, copywriting, marketing, development, etc. That means that the group of people who do SEO is growing. Sometimes these people won’t be SEOs anymore and they may not talk about SEO, but it will be SEO all the same.”
So I’d predict that search results will again be unrecognizable in 10 years time and contain types of results as yet unheard of for technology we’ve not yet invented.
Usually though, these sorts of requirements (currently) demand rich content, which leads to the next few points…
Web teams will be more involved with your marketing team (& less involved in day to day website stuff)
I was recently chatting to a friend of mine in recruitment for digital roles (Murray Reordan of Hudson) and he commented (to paraphrase) that “The recruitment of Web Developers and Designers is slowly shifting from IT teams to Digital Marketing teams as the day to day running of these business functions becomes less about technology and more about the customer“
Well as managed IT & Web services continue to grow, there’s less need for any web people in-house to be utilised for such things. It’s now more likely than ever that a web person will be somehow involved in the rolling out of marketing plans in a range of capacities from the implementation of SEO recommendations, to tracking and analytics work, the rollout of intelligent content (as discussed below) and much more.
User Experience is also set to become more important…
Although it already is as per many of the above (and below) factors, it’s possible that the more technical end of UX (User Experience) will become algorithmic requirements. Google have done a good job of gradually coaxing (most) businesses into paying attention to what’s required of them and getting them to see what it’s important to be aware of and as that sort of information becomes more common knowledge they will continue to push the boundaries of what they ask you to know about your online presence.
But arguably the most important element is intelligent content. The reason I have this in the “future” part of this blog is because it will be barely recognizable from content today, at least from the the perspective of the business implementing it. End users will likely take up this new style of content without even realising as is usually the case. The current version of it is explained here and I strongly recommend you read it (after this blog) but simply put, it allows you to be more engaging, interactive & most importantly it is “re-usable & re-configurable”. This kind of content is essential if you want to move into and keep up with the increasingly important world of content marketing and my prediction would be that this is the way in which emerging technology will be incorporated into your plans.
So what might this content look like in the future? Well for end users, how about 3 dimensional for starters? Or fully interactive? Or customized to the user viewing it and the channel they’re viewing it through?
From a marketer’s point of view, intelligent content serves as a method of streamlining multiple needs such as outputting to different channels & recipients, increasing consistency and quality and having the content “age” through its usefulness (you can tweak it more easily). It also cuts down dramatically on development time given the numerous types of purpose driven templates it can facilitate.
I would expect this to be the perfect place for emerging tech to grow into your content marketing and for it to have a positive impact on SEO.
Now for a slightly more disturbing/exciting prediction: Search engines will predict your behaviour. If that seems like a bit of a far fetched idea to you, think about it in terms of an alarm clock. How do they work? They exist along a set of data (seconds, minutes, hours) and serve one very basic function to serve a need at the time you most need it. Sure, you’re the one who feeds it the information on when that time is, but if you don’t think you’re already doing that for search engines simply by turning on your device then think again.
Unwittingly or not, almost everything you do online generates data. Now imagine a clock that knows the best time for you to wake up without you having to tell it. It actually already exists. Now imagine an algorithm (like in a search engine) that exists on a vastly more informative set of data (likes, search history, browser preferences, device, purchases, etc.) and actually has the ability to process that data and make decisions in real time. It’s really just a matter of time before that alrogithm can start to predict your behaviour and feed you what you need at any given moment, or before you know you need it. This is not science fiction. 20 minutes Googling emerging tech in the way of predictive software will show you otherwise.
So how might that influence SEO? I dare say intelligent content could play a fair role in that and wouldn’t say it’s outside the realm of possibility that having intelligent content which can serve different content to the same end user based on behavioural or predictive elements of the algorithm that a search engine deems important could result in increased rankings.
But lastly, let’s talk about Google’s interests and influence. In particular I want to talk about all of this using smart homes. Just think for a second about how voice search will change search terms. Or how the internet connected device you’re using might change search terms. Or how the sort of content you need to deliver on these different types of devices might change. Or how Augmented Reality might change your interaction with these devices!
Smart homes are a whole new and potentially very lucrative market for Google and although they know full well that it will be a little while yet before a) This technology is good enough to be truly viewed as convenient and b) This technology is commonly used, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re betting their bottom dollar on uptake happening at some point.
I’m not really going to explain what this might do to SEO, some of it’s obvious and some of it isn’t, but what I really hope is that your brain explodes with the sheer possibility of something like this.
Not only this, but other things which you should think about are the fact that Google recently bought DARPA, the American military’s robotics division, or that they acquired Artifical Intelligence company “DeepMind” in January of last year, or that Larry Page (who until the recent restructuring under “Alphabet” was the CEO of Google, which means Alphabet really owns all of this stuff), has stated that “Google Island”, a place where research can happen unfettered, might be a good idea. Google is here to stay and they plan to change the world. So far for them, so good.
3. So let’s end with: Future Mindsets, Endless possibility
People say it will get harder for SEO’s, but it will get easier. I stand comfortably by that statement and here’s why:
- Intelligent content arose out of the need to service different types of content to different types of people based on varying needs at any given moment. The reason for this is that search technology is evolving into a place were it will eventually splinter dramatically.
- This splintering will result in very different types of SEO, which will result in very different types of SEO services and providers with different specialties.
- These different parts of SEO will eventually become whole marketing channels and skillsets unto themselves. So much so that “App SEO” could be just as different from “Image SEO” as “AdWords” now is from “Facebook PPC”.
- When this happens, finding someone who is across every aspect of SEO will be increasingly difficult. Not impossible, but they’ll be a rare find. Just like finding someone who can legitimately claim to have mastered SEO, PPC, Social Media & Content Marketing to comparable levels.
- At this point, SEO providers, rather than constantly scrambling to keep up with a range of splintered and varied channels, will start to specialize more in particular avenues and their jobs will become not simpler, but more focused. When you arrive at that point in the timeline, you’ll just need to find yourself an agency with talent in all of these areas and stress levels across the SEO community will likely be significantly lower………. until some sort of disruptive technology that splinters their already splintered niche in SEO arrives at least. #jokingnotjoking
And that’s it from me for today! Outlandish claims made, mountains of research done and many other valid points possibly missed. So if you can think of anything that’s missing, or simply want to disagree with me (in a factual and research backed way) then head on over to our Facebook, Google Page, LinkedIn or Twitter where we’ll be posting this.
And be sure to stay tuned for Part 4!
Kevin Lennon attended one of the first official curriculum Digital Business courses way back in the year 2001 and has been working in Digital Marketing and emerging tech ever since.