SEO has come a long way since the old days of overt rank manipulation and successful implementation of black hat techniques. Over the years, Google has released update after update designed to fight back against rank manipulators and provide better results for the user base at large. In response, most SEOs have been forced to scramble, trying to predict Google’s next imminent round of updates and take action to stay at the top of the ranks for as long as possible.
Today, SEO continues to evolve, but not in the fits and spurts of that 2011-2014 era that saw rise to major updates like Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, and Pigeon. Instead, it is being gradually shaped as new technologies appear and become more popular, and user interests change. Consumers themselves are the motivators for Google’s consistent barrage of updates, whether they’re massive game changers like Panda and Penguin or subtle tweaks, like the recently overblown “Mobilegeddon” update.
By reading these consumer trends and understanding the factors shaping user preferences and behavior, we can make reasonable predictions about the future of search—and accordingly, the future of SEO.
Take a look at these four consumer trends, and how they’re starting to take the search world by storm:
Mobile devices have grown steadily in popularity since their emergence almost a decade ago. Today, they’re responsible for more web traffic than all desktop devices. Should that trend continue, and experts predict it will, one day the overwhelming majority of all online traffic will be done on mobile devices, with almost no desktop traffic (or searches) remaining.
Already you can see the results of this consumer shift. Google is heavily stressing the importance of having a mobile site, penalizing any site deemed “not mobile friendly” and even stating that mobile-only sites aren’t necessarily a bad thing. As mobile devices steadily become more favorable to the public at large, the way we consume content, interact with the world, and of course, search, will all change. Location-based searches will grow to become more popular, as will the use of apps and the need for immediate information (both of which are represented here as separate points).
The way we connect to the Internet has changed dramatically over the past decade. In the old days, you would be limited to short bursts of access, allowing you opportunities to browse and hunt down the information you needed using a variety of tools. Today, the Internet is accessible everywhere and with virtually any digital device. Connection speeds are ludicrously fast, and search engines have evolved to give even faster, more concise, more appropriate results. As a result, people have grown to demand more immediate, more concise information in their searches.
You can already see this trend manifesting itself in the way Google provides search results. First, there’s the Knowledge Graph, which gives encyclopedic entries for common subjects and short answers to full-length questions (if possible). This is making it easier for users to forgo the search-and-hunt process altogether and simply read a quick answer at the top of the SERPs. You also have the local 3-pack, which offers quick information on only the most appropriate local businesses for your query (according to Google), offering directions, a website, and phone connectivity with only the click of a button. This need will continue to grow over time, putting pressure on search engines and businesses to provide simpler, more direct information.
Mobile devices are leading the way for people to rely on apps over any other interface. Old forms of Internet browsing involved locating sites via a web browser, whether you were looking for information or a specific function. Today, that “third party” web browser is no longer necessary; apps can connect you to that information and functionality, and users see little use for conventional web browsers.
Of course, as creatures of habit, we aren’t ready to do away with websites just yet. But in the next several years, it’s entirely possible that apps will come to replace what we know as conventional websites. Already, Google is indexing apps and introducing new ranking algorithms to account for mobile apps.
Social media has already grown to become a major influencer in search ranks, but the way we use social media may quickly change. Major platforms like Facebook and Twitter are trying their best to integrate as many features and functionalities into their apps as possible, such as Facebook’s new web search engine and integrated article sharing for major publishers. Most of these platforms are attempting to become one-stop-shops for their audiences, so there’s never a need to venture outside those apps. Such a shift could lead to a world where search engines are found everywhere, not restricted to just Google or Bing (or similar platforms), and the SEO community would need to respond accordingly.
The next several years should be very interesting for search. With Google and Bing leading the way, it’s unlikely that the way we’re used to searching now will be anything like the way we’ll search in 2020. Between artificial intelligence algorithms, the disappearance of traditional websites, the rise of apps and social media, and increasing user demand for quick information, SEOs will need to be sharp and adapt quickly if they’re going to survive.