As industries become increasingly competitive, and available search sources diversify, it’s becoming even more difficult for businesses to cut through the digital noise. This is why 2023 is certainly not the time to neglect your SEO. Search Engine Optimisation is the practice of optimising your content to rank higher in search. But nowadays, we’re not simply referring to good ol’ Google; in fact, there are more ‘search engines’ than ever before, including the most popular social media platforms.
With the landscape of the digital world constantly changing, is it possible to predict what the future of SEO looks like? This question is obviously rhetorical – as this is precisely what our team of experts has done!
SEO: The Current Environment
We may have been waxing lyrical about the plethora of new search engines out there, but the truth is: Google still reigns supreme – for now, at least (looking at you Bing). Whilst social media search is rapidly on the rise, Google still directs the vast majority of activity on search, and in tandem, influences the direction that other search engines proceed in. Just at the end of 2022, Google released its helpful content update, which demonstrated its continuing aim of providing “people-first” content for users. So, what is people-first content? The term is self-explanatory: it prioritises the wants and needs of the user, providing them with a “satisfying experience.” And, let’s not lie, users will hardly be satisfied if they are misdirected to a site with all the wrong information – or, even worse, rambling pages of tenuously-linked information that barely gets to the point (every recipe page ever). Google is, therefore, cracking down on “uncreative and clickbait content.” Now, this is a movement that we fully support!
This means that site owners need to be aware of the continuing growth of EEAT. This stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness – with the latest addition being ‘expertise,’ which has now separated itself from ‘experience.’ Subsequently, site owners can no longer sit behind a makeshift veil of anonymity, producing content with no experience or prior knowledge. Now, articles need to come from a real, tangible person with real-world expertise, and a background in the industry. So, to sum up: Google is looking for real content, from real people, for real people. This means we are waving good riddance to carefully curated yet vapid content designed to rank and nothing more. Your content has to mean something, and be useful to your audience.
SEO: The Immediate Future
Speaking of expertise, there has also recently been a strong push for technical knowledge. Sanity IO found that Technical SEO was ranked the most sought-after skill by business owners and leadership teams when recruiting for SEO positions. Why? This is naturally a result of the increasing number of guidelines and search features; as the world of search evolves, technical SEO will become ever more pertinent and complex.
Furthermore, we foresee a continuing war on PBNs. For those who don’t know what a PBN is, it is a ‘personal blog network’: a network of sites connected by a singular owner. This allows said user to inflate their own domain ranking artificially; for example, they would be able to build links to their numerous sites, which would grant them faux high authority and an array of high-quality backlinks. You can see why search engines aren’t huge fans of this; it goes against their quality guidelines and undermines their trust system. It’s safe to say that artificially boosting websites for rankings is a big no-no, and will be far less tolerated in the future. PBN-ers used to be relatively easy to spot, as search engines started attributing domain authority to servers instead of individual domain names. However, the pesky PBN-ers got sneaky: they started moving to separate servers to keep under the radar! But don’t fret – search engines now use ICANN data to attribute sites to owners in their war against bad links.
Next up, everybody’s talking about ChatGPT – which is now being utilised by Bing. However, in recent weeks, search engine King Google has seemingly changed its mind on the matter. Google has now explicitly stated that their new AI engine ‘Bard’ is not a search tool. Now, we suspect that this may just be Google saving face after being utterly shown up by Bing (the battle of the search engines is totally a thing), but one thing is for sure: AI is coming, and it’s going to take a sledgehammer to your traditional search experience. We predict that, in time, the virtual assistants we’re all so used to will rise up and take over search. So, essentially, you won’t have to browse search results on search engines; instead, you’ll simply type your search query into a box, and the search assistant will tell you everything you need to know. Anyhow, more on that in the “long term future”!
SEO: The Long Term Future
Search-First Social Media
And here we are – fast-forwarding years down the line. First things first, as a search-first social media agency, we’d be remiss not to mention the uprising of social media platforms repurposed as search engines. In 2021, TikTok overtook Google as the most visited domain in the world, joining the likes of YouTube and Instagram as one of the most popular non-traditional search engines. In the long term, we predict that social media’s reign will continue, usurping the likes of Bing and Google. The simple fact is that users prefer authentic, human content. With platforms like TikTok hosting entirely user-generated content, this places them in favour of Gen Z users, in particular. What’s more, TikTok and Instagram provide easily digestible, short-form video content – as opposed to endless pages of written information. Users nowadays simply don’t have the attention span – or desire – to trawl through Google’s recommendations, when a far more palatable alternative is available.
Like it or not, Gen Z users are the future. Therefore, to keep up with the long term shifts in search, we’d advise any business to implement a ‘search-first approach’ that prioritises social media SEO. We predict that the vast majority of companies will put more time and money into optimising their TikTok content over their website content, for example – focusing on the increasing need to rank highly on social media search. After all, it’s all the rage right now! To learn more about search-first social media marketing, have a read of our blog here.
AI and Search
Next up, as promised, let’s revisit AI and search, but through a long term lens. We all know about the current buzz around ChatGPT, and its applications in content generation and task automation. However, we predict that it will, one day, take centre stage in search. To understand and anticipate how it will be used, we first need to understand how search currently works, and how the companies behind them work.
So, let’s embark upon a little search tutorial! The current search experience works as follows:
- The user has a question.
- They search for said question using a search engine.
- The search engine has a results page consisting of pages that correctly answer that question.
- The user searches the pages for the answer that suits their query best.
People tend to think of search engines as purely philanthropic enterprises rather than what they actually are: a business. To be perfectly blunt, their product is you – search engines want to give you the best possible answer, so that you return to them consistently, and they can then ‘sell’ you to advertisers. This is what made or broke search engines like Ask.com in the early 2000s; they could not provide the relevant answers like Google could, and they were quickly forgotten by users. It’s a cut-throat world out there!
What’s more, there’s an issue with the above search process, and it stems from a lack of control. When you arrive on Google, they have complete control over your experience – until step 4, when you’re handed over to a website which the search engine does not control. Whilst there are ways in which search engines can exercise some level of regulation, in the form of quality rating guidelines and ranking factors, they cannot fully control this step. The problem here is twofold: first, whichever website you click on is an environment that search engines do not control – it could belong to anyone, it could advertise anything, and it could even provide information that drastically alters someone’s life for the worse. The second issue is the lack of potential ad revenue: every minute you’re not on the search engine’s platform, they’re losing money, and whilst affiliate programmes do exist (such as Google AdSense), a share of its profit has to go to site owners. This is where AI comes in – and websites are potentially out.
In ten years’ time, websites themselves may be a dying commodity, as search engines are already moving to reduce control from site creators through tactics such as search snippets and knowledge graphs. But how does AI fit into this? With traditional search engines looking to eliminate websites in order to make more profits, the rise of AI is in their best interests. If AI is able to essentially ‘take down’ websites as we know them, Google will be able to significantly increase its profits. Plus, we need to consider the benefits of AI search from a user’s perspective. Imagine having a friend that knows absolutely everything. There’s power in learning from someone, and a level of information and ease of access on offer that you wouldn’t get from a traditional search. An AI search allows users to receive all available information from multiple sources – at once. As previously mentioned, we are living in a fast-paced consumer culture: even information must be consumed quickly, lest a user loses interest.
In the long term future, the prominence of AI may result in traditional websites becoming null and void – and Google would be all too pleased about this. AI is certainly changing the tide of SEO, and we’re excited – albeit curious – about the pending change. Watch this space!