SEO and the Future: What They Mean for Your Business

by Andrew Stanten

Whether you like it or not, it is time to accept the fact that the future is now. That is – if you want your business or organization to be as relevant as possible.

That doesn’t mean that you need to fully automate all of your processes and replace your employees with robots — we’re not quite at the Jetsons’ level yet. But if you really think of how far technology and SEO have come in the last decade or so and where it’s headed, it’s really quite impressive.

Gone are the days of ranking well on Google because you publish great content and put your primary keywords on every page of your site. There’s a lot that’s changed since then, is currently in flux and will be coming down the pike. Getting into the weeds about optimizing your site for search engines is for another time, though. Instead, what I want to do here, is explain what these principal changes are and what kinds of business will be impacted.

If you’re now saying to yourself, “This is pointless — none of this will affect my business at all,” then my only response is that people were saying the same thing about social media and its importance back in 2008.

But if you’re not one of the naysayers out there, here are the most substantial changes we foresee affecting search engines in the coming years and whether or not you should be concerned.

1. Voice search

Now, this is something that has been available on devices for several years (Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc.), but it has taken on a completely new life with the recent installations of home assistants like Google Home and the Amazon Echo all around the globe.

The following images from Google Trends do a very nice job of portraying the recent explosive popularity of voice search. For the first example, we used “things to do near me” as the query. Note that the timeframe is from Google’s early days (2004) to the present. No, people weren’t hermits and afraid to leave their homes from 2004-2013 — it’s just a query that implies it is a voice-related command. For your reference, iPhone and Google voice search features were first introduced around 2008.

The next visual represents the recent popularity of the query “ok Google” — the phrase that’s used to activate Google’s voice search feature on mobile devices and Google Home. Bottom line? Voice search is big now, and it’s only going to get bigger.

When you look at voice search from a business perspective, we foresee it having little to no affect on most companies — with the exception of local businesses. Local businesses will, without a doubt, need to brush up on their local SEO best practices, because voice search is how they can really make a killing.

Why are small businesses the main players here? Because voice search is meant to be hands- and eyes-free. You’re much more likely to use voice search for “Italian restaurants near me” than “best data management companies” during your evening commute. Some searches are just more effective when in front of a desktop.

2. Virtual Reality (VR)

Let me be very clear with this one — it is not just for gamers and tech nerds. I unreservedly believe that this is the next major platform to take off and alter the way we do things in every-day life. Comparable to how the radio, the television and the smartphone did. This is more on the Jetsons’ level.

My imagination runs wild when I think of the multitude of ways that this platform will be able to play a sizable role in SEO. These are my top-level SEO-related theories to provide you with some food for thought:

  • VR content will be king. It will be super hot right out of the gate and will then simmer down.
  • Social signals will be powerful and plentiful when that content is circulating.
  • There will be an abundance of new audiences, publications and influencers to utilize and take into consideration when optimizing your site.

So, what businesses will VR affect the most? I’m saying every single one out there. Will this happen next year or the year after that? No. My educated guess is it will hit hard in 4-6 years. This will be a paradigm shift that will have the potential to change the scope of life itself, but since it’s still in its earliest stages, we can only imagine how it will pan out for now.

My advice is to literally start thinking about a VR plan for your business now. Start by recording your wildest ideas and then scale them back if need be once everything takes shape.

3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Some people’s minds may gravitate towards Transformer-like robots taking over the planet, but in the digital marketing world, this is essentially what search engines are all about.

Simply put, AI is when a computer is able to automatically get more intelligent by building off of all its previous knowledge while making new connections. In other words, it’s able to teach itself pretty much everything it knows; as opposed to having a human program it a particular way. I would highly recommend this article by Search Engine Land for a comprehensive breakdown of how AI fits into the Google search algorithm.

Again, here are my top AI and SEO-related theories:

  • The machines will be able to pick up black-hat tactics better. Beware if you’re habitually buying links to your site.
  • It will be more difficult to rank well if your site has been penalized in the past. You won’t be able to confuse or get past the superhuman machines easily.

Expect much more volatility with your rankings. The machines will be able to pick up changes a lot quicker than they do now.

Needless to say, AI will be affecting all business out there in some way, shape or form in the coming years. The machines are getting smarter each day and the best we can do is understand how they work and understand how to make them like us and our sites.

My recommendation is to start cleaning up your site now, if necessary to get rid of any outstanding potentially problematic issues. But before you do that, invest in a rank-tracker tool to monitor where your site stands. Tools like SERPs, SpyFu and Ahrefs are great for this feature alone.

All of this may come off as slightly intimidating, but it’s really all predicated on a single notion: stay informed. Take some time each week to read about the ever-changing world of search engines and to start devising a plan to stay highly-visible on them. Put in some work now, and it will most likely benefit your online presence, business, and bottom-line.

(Shout-out to Team Altitude’s Nick Gorrie, who helped me wrap my brain around all of this futuristic thinking for this blog. Nick lives, breathes and talks this stuff everyday … and was instrumental in this piece coming together.)