Search engine optimization is a field within digital marketing that changes frequently and suddenly. What might seem to the average web user to be a minute update to the search results page — like the removal of URLs at the base of a featured snippet of text — spurs a revolution in SEO, causing SEO teams the world over to make fast and effective changes to their webpages in desperate attempts to maintain their ranking.
Thus, a significant advantage is given to businesses that can anticipate changes to search engine algorithms and craft an SEO strategy that sticks. Undoubtedly, hiring a knowledgeable and experienced SEO marketing agency is the best way to make an SEO strategy future-proof, but reading about some of the best predictions for SEO in the coming years might also help business leaders stay safe (and sane) in their digital marketing practices.
In 2010, a few perceptive SEOs recognized the direction that Google was headed and predicted that Google would be dramatically less effective at pushing traffic by 2020. Low and behold, in 2016, Google introduced rich snippets, which provided many searchers with the information they wanted without compelling them to click any links. Such “clickless” searches have skyrocketed and changed SEO tactics for better or worse.
However, clicklessness isn’t the end — it’s just the beginning. Google’s next major evolution is likely to deliver information without requiring users to submit a query. Already, there is Google Discover: a feed of content highly curated to a user’s interests and needs. Currently, more than 80 million web users are signed up for Discover, and Google could easily roll out similar services to anyone who navigates to Google search. This greatly restricts what kinds of searches are made and what websites can reach Google’s vast and powerful audience.
To appear on Google Discover, businesses need to produce interesting content with high-quality images — then hope that Google deems the content appropriate for the Discover feed. This can be all but impossible to do on one’s own, so having a trained SEO team on hand is crucial.
Google already relies heavily on machine learning and artificial intelligence. In 2015, the search engine introduced RankBrain, which steadily becomes more adept at identifying high-quality content and ranking relevant pages within search. Then, Google announced BERT at the end of October 2019; Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers assists in understanding natural language, which makes it easier for users to find what they need without altering how they instinctively communicate. As machine learning and AI tools, both RankBrain and BERT will improve as long as they have information from Google to consume.
SEOs already need to contend with AI to improve their search ranking, but Google will undoubtedly introduce more AI tools in the coming years. It is important that businesses retain a flexible SEO strategy that can pivot to meet the changing needs of artificial intelligence.
Many web users don’t realize that when they ask their smart assistants for information, those assistants are searching the web for answers. Alexa from Amazon, Siri from Apple and the Google Assistant all transform voice requests into searchable queries, which they then use to find information they can relay back to their users. Today, more than 35.6 million searches are made through voice every month, and that number should increase as more people adopt smart technology.
Google is rapidly trying to keep up and has several tools for meeting the needs of voice search. For one, Google releases a new form of schema markup every month, increasing the granularity of data so smart devices can better understand it. Additionally, Google-driven smart tools have access to Speakable, which allows them to read up to three relevant articles to users. Finally, Google has a development platform called Google Actions, which are applets that increase the internet capability of assistants. Adapting to voice search requires technical manipulation of content and webpages, which necessitates a highly experienced SEO firm.
While image search has been around almost since the beginning of Google itself, it remains relatively rudimentary — which is incredibly surprising considering how heavily Google weighs image optimization within its algorithm. In the nearly 20 years since image search launched, the most significant change occurred in just 2018, when Google Lens allowed users to search using images.
However, Google has hinted at major changes to image search in the coming years. It’s more than likely that image search will begin to function like Pinterest or Instagram, allowing users to accomplish goals through the search, like compiling images or purchasing products. This makes it even more important for businesses to optimize their images, formatting them in the right size and using metadata and captions to improve searchability.