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Pretty much anytime we speak about something’s future, we’re doing something called extrapolating. By definition, extrapolating involves extending existing data or trends to assume the same procedure will continue in the future. It’s a form of the scientific method that we probably use every day in our own lives, quite reasonably, too: the summers will be hot, the downtown traffic will be bad at 9 AM, and the sun will rise tomorrow morning.
But how can we look into the future of something as complex and ever-changing as SEO? As with all cases of hindsight, we are clear on how SEO began and how it has transformed over time.
We see the inefficiencies of SEO in its infancy and how advancing search engines have altered the playing field.
The catch is this: how can we surmise about the future of SEO without having access to all the mysterious algorithm specifics that Google itself holds?
The answer is simple: we have to extrapolate.
I’ve seen SEO from the boardroom perspective for more than 20 years. I’ve seen the old days of keyword stuffing to the semi-modernization of the late 2000s to the absolute beast that Google has become now, in the 2020s.
Given that, where do I think SEO is going in the not-too-distant future? Here are some thoughts on that.
One aspect of SEO that is essential right now and will become only more vital as time goes on is user intent in search queries.
It’s an antiquated view to think that Google still cares much about exact-match keywords. Maybe 15 to 20 years ago, getting keywords exactly right in your content was a huge deal. Google matched queries to corresponding word strings in content and then served the best of that content to a user.
Today, trying to optimize for exact-match keywords is a futile effort, as Google now understands the intent behind every query, and it’s only going to get better at it as time goes by.
If you recall Google’s BERT update from late 2019, you’ll remember that this was the change that allowed Google to comprehend the context of each search query, or the meaning behind the words themselves. And the latest Multitask Unified Model (MUM) update adds further depth and dimensions to understanding search intent.
No longer does Google look only at the words “family attractions.” It knows that that query references children’s activities, fun activities, and events that are generally lighthearted and innocent.
And all of that came from two words. How did Google do it? Its consistent algorithm updates have allowed it to think like a human.
All of this is to say that user intent has to be part of your keyword and content strategy going forward when you’re doing SEO.
Sometimes, over the years, I have heard people mention that devising an effective content marketing strategy is difficult because as soon as a topic’s period of relevance is over, that content will never rank again. Use your data to analyze content performance and strike the right balance between content and formats.
If you don’t know any more about this subject, you might be tempted to believe that. Maybe, at one time, you got a content piece entitled “Top Furniture Brands of 2019” to rank for the featured snippet. That makes sense. The post was probably a long listicle that described the best brands and linked out to the manufacturers’ websites or retail stores that carried those brands.
But maybe, as spring of 2019 transitioned into fall and winter, that post fell way down the rankings and now can’t be found anywhere anymore.
The reason is obvious: you haven’t made the content evergreen. The best furniture brands of 2019 may not be the best brands of 2020 or 2021 or 2022. So, what do you do? You put the work in to make the blog post evergreen by updating it. Go through and change out the best brands, change the content, change the post’s title, and then republish the post.
You can also just plain focus on subjects that will almost never need any updating at all:
Whether it’s 2021 or 2050 or 2100, there are going to be people who have never hung a thing on a wall before and will need some help online.
Whatever your market niche is, do some topic research in Answer the Public, Semrush, or BuzzSumo to find relevant subjects for you. You can also mine the SERPs to see what kinds of content are ranking already for your desired topics. Just remember to mix in plenty of evergreen content with your more timely content posts. Google will reward you for it.
This final point is about mobile-first indexing, but you likely already know about that. It’s certainly no secret that Google is going to rank your website’s mobile version when it crawls your pages. About 60 percent of all searches are now performed on mobile devices, and so Google now prioritizes a site’s mobile web pages over the desktop versions.
As I said, you knew all that.
What some people still may not know is that Google’s new Core Web Vitals should be a major part of your mobile page optimizations.
The Core Web Vitals are primarily a web-dev task. Overall, the three vitals work together to give users positive, seamless experiences when they access a web page.
The vitals are Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), and First Input Delay (FID).
CLS refers to the amount of moving around that a web page’s content does before it actually loads fully.
If you have a high CLS, that’s bad. It means some elements are appearing before the page loads all the way, which increases the chances of a user clicking on something that then moves elsewhere. That, in turn, means the user will probably click on something unintended.
LCP, meanwhile, is the time it takes for a page’s content to appear. It specifically refers to the amount of time between when you click on a URL and when the majority of that URL’s content appears for you to see.
Finally, FID measures how long it takes users to be able to interact with a web page in any way. These actions could be typing in a field or clicking menu items.
Even if you don’t work in web development, you can see how useful these three measures actually are. They all take user experience into account, which, coincidentally, is why they are part of Google’s larger 2021 Page Experience update.
The Core Web Vitals are essential in and of themselves, but I think my “boardroom” perspective on them is one we can all safely adopt: that they are just examples of more great things to come from Google.
The search engine giant is always thinking of new ways to make users have better, more helpful, and more positive experiences on its platform. As SEOs, we need to be ready to respond so we don’t get left in the dust.
We know that extrapolation can be taken only so far, but that’s why the past is so vital to understand. It can give us hints at what lies ahead.
What will Google think of next? It’s going to respond to whatever need is out there for improved online search experiences.
Think of 2020, when the pandemic was in its infancy. People needed information, and Google responded. Within months, you could tell whether restaurants were requiring masks indoors, how many virus cases were in your county, and where you could go for more information or help.
What, then, is the future of SEO? It’s going to be whatever the masses need it to become.
Kris Jones is the founder and former CEO of digital marketing and affiliate network Pepperjam, which he sold to eBay Enterprises in 2009. Most recently Kris founded SEO services and software company LSEO.com and has previously invested in numerous successful technology companies. Kris is an experienced public speaker and is the author of one of the best-selling SEO books of all time called, ‘Search-Engine Optimization – Your Visual Blueprint to Effective Internet Marketing’, which has sold nearly 100,000 copies.
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