Google entering verticals and competing directly against publishers, advancements in machine learning and AI and zero-click searches are the trends most likely to affect SEO in the next three years, according to a SparkToro survey of over 1,500 SEOs.
Trends that are here to stay? Respondents were presented with a list of choices and asked, “How much of an impact do you believe the following trends will have on SEO in the next 3 years?” Options were ranked on a zero-to-four scale; zero meaning “no impact” and four meaning “huge impact.”
The trend that professionals responded were least likely to affect SEO included outcomes from US Congressional and Department of Justice investigations, visual search advances and “content-nudging” products such as Google Discover.
Google’s foray into verticals. In addition to its regular search engine, Google’s image and local search engines also hold dominant positions. Another Alphabet-owned property — YouTube — happens to be the world’s second largest search engine.
The company has also expanded into travel by launching Google Flights in 2011 and, more recently, Google Hotels and a trip planning tool that is heavily integrated with Maps and consolidates bookings based on email confirmations. In this example, Google’s travel offerings increase the odds that vacation-goers will use Maps to plan their trips because their reservations, along with places they’re interested in, can be viewed in one place, which may mean that success in this particular sector is more likely to hinge upon a business’ GMB listing rather than their presence on other platforms, such as Facebook, Yelp or TripAdvisor.
On the other hand, several of Google’s attempts at expanding its reach have fallen flat. Its collaborative platform, Google Wave, lasted a bit over a year. You can also find Google+ at the top of the company’s pile of scrapped social networking sites. Not everything Google tries sticks, but when it does, it may make a big enough splash to affect how marketers perform their duties.
Advancements in machine learning. Machine learning may be used to aggregate or identify signals, personalize results based on a user’s search history, better understand search intent and much more. As search algorithms continue to use machine learning and the technology advances, marketers may find themselves focusing more on creating the best possible content for their audiences while leaving the minutiae — such as metadata, keyword research, alt text and the like — up to machine learning to figure out.
Zero-click searches. The majority of Google searches end without a click, but no click doesn’t necessarily equate to no opportunities, Fishkin, who will be delivering a keynote on this very topic at SMX East in New York on November 13, previously told Search Engine Land. As organic listings get pushed further down the results page, on-SERP SEO may become more of a focus for publishers.
Government intervention? “On the trends front, I found the results initially surprising, mostly because I’m a skeptic on the impact of voice answers (which scored highly), and strongly expect the joint investigations from various branches of the US government to results in significant changes to Google,” Fishkin commented in his post, caveating “However, on reflection, I believe the ‘3 years’ timeframe is perhaps responsible for these results. An investigation and subsequent court battle could take significantly longer to resolve.”
Google has recently come under increased scrutiny from the Department of Justice as well as 2020 presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who even proposes breaking up tech monopolies. The company has been fined numerous times by the European Commission and will be presenting Android users with a search engine selection screen as part of its compliance efforts. If the DOJ or congressional inquiries find Google’s practices anticompetitive, it may be forced to change how its algorithms work or the way search results are presented.
Why we should care. Individually, these survey results may not come off as particularly remarkable, but when compared together, they illustrate a much more complex picture of SEO’s short-term future.
The trend that’s most predicted to affect SEO over the coming three years, Google’s entrance into verticals and competing against publishers, combined with the least-voted option, outcomes from government investigations into the company, suggest that we believe Google will be expanding its reach over the internet and the government — for one reason or another — is unlikely to do anything about it.
Machine learning may also advance to resolve searches more quickly, which may mean more no-click searches but can also mean that users find the content they’re looking for even faster, potentially driving higher quality traffic to your pages. To take advantage of those machine learning advances, marketers may need to focus more on their audiences’ experience instead of the details that only search engines see.