SEO has come a long way in the past five years – from being a dark art, to an exciting mix of disciplines and tactics.
Although Google has begun to gradually roll out changes and tests instead of immediately implementing algorithm updates to prevent upsetting webmasters – we are aware that we can’t rest in this constantly evolving discipline. If the industry continues to develop at its current speed, we can expect the landscape to look very different by 2020 – but will it be as extreme as we currently fear?
If we look to 2020, what are the obvious assumptions that we can make? The first would be that keyword data will have completely disappeared. Link building will no longer exist, ranking guarantees will be commercial suicide and user signals will be the key to success. And of course, mobile will finally be King. Hopefully the focus will no longer be on rankings and this will signal the end of vanity keywords such as car insurance, credit cards, dresses and so on?
Realistically, what can we expect in the next five years? SEO will not be dead. SEO Managers will still be present within companies and within digital agencies. However, I believe that their delivery will differ:
SEO will be a fully integrated part of the process
This will be even more apparent and will not necessarily imply that we all have to be multi-talented, rather that we are able to understand what the user wants and the search engines that will consequently follow.
SEO in 2020 will be a fully integrated part of the marketing strategy. As such, output will only be as good as the people working within these channels. Experts in content, creative, technical and distribution will be a necessity. They will need to be able to shape the company structure, influence how the agency works and dictate whom they will integrate with.
This isn’t a beginner’s game any longer. You will need to think long and hard before you ask that SEO Manager to run a native campaign or do that ‘bit of paid social’. Those who pull real experts together will win and will successfully drive performance.
Technical SEO will maintain its importance
With SEO moving in different directions, technical SEO will increasingly have to effectively setup the basics. Think of a house built on stilts. If the stilts are weak, the house will eventually tumble into water and will be useless. The tools and skills required to build these strong stilts are constantly changing:
Let’s take a step back to 2009, six years ago:
“We believe voice search is a new form of search and that it is core to our business”
Vic Gundotra, former head of Google+
We all thought that the enablement of voice search would be much quicker, but it’s only recently that we’ve potentially reached effective activation with Google voice search now achieving 92% accuracy (1/10 queries will still be incorrect). Finally, we’re on track for voice search to become part of our lives.
Up until now this search tool has been regarded as a ‘bit of fun’, with people trying to confuse their phones with entertaining search phrases. However, research suggests that this will change and we will increasingly become more comfortable using voice rather than typing.
Finally it appears that search (and the money that can be made with it) is warranting more research and the development of better products to work on voice detection software.
55% of teens – our future customers – in the US already using voice search. Google is working hard to improve its voice search capabilities; mainly accents and directions, whilst also looking at the impact of keywords and prioritising phrases. This will change the way we optimise website content and as such will impact technical SEO. Google is likely to expand its mark up to facilitate voice search, especially after such a long standing effort and the slow uptake over the last six years.
Often dismissed, the distribution of 3D has expanded in the last few years with cinema’s regularly offering 3D screenings and televisions now supporting 3D with football matches being shown in scarily realistic dimensions. This trend will again impact technical SEO. Potentially, it could mean that complex web applications such as 3D could become best in class.
Google will have to work hard to fully understand these applications – a prime example would be of their current deal with AJAX, which will mean a lot of testing to ensure that any new applications are indexed. 3D will impact specific industries more than others – from gaming to fashion and big brand experience – and as such, it’ll be important to understand how the Internet bots will behave when crawling the sites.
Liberation from link building handcuffs
The future will see us freed from link building – it’ll be too risky. We can currently assume a 70/30 split in favour of link-based signals, but as we look into the future we can see that this will change significantly.The question is what will replace it? Technical SEO cannot be relied upon for everything and it is my belief that simple user signals will step in: time on page, dwell time, bounce rate and engagement. You could ask where social signals will sit, but in principle this is engagement building and as such, Google cannot change from one to the other. Potentially, they may try this for a while, but by 2020, what lessons will they have learnt and will they see effectiveness?
This all leads to the questions, will journalists, bloggers and vloggers still add value to a website and will we still want their links?
First and foremost, all links will be nofollowed by default, but Google will not necessarily follow suit; after all links won’t be the primary signal anymore.
Influencers will still be important but they will no longer be the ultimate answer to all ranking questions. The big difference between influencers and other contributors however will be their real effort and as such the influence that comes from constant engagement with others – having an opinion, building your own brand and being knowledgeable.
In conclusion, we will still have our technically minded people who I predict, will, as always, adapt easily to the new landscape. Generally, there will be the necessity for talented experts who can deliver performance via integration and engaging with users will be the most important signal to demonstrate the value of a website. SEO in 2020 will be exciting.