I am often asked to talk about the future of the SEO industry. The truth is, my views on the future do not change much from year to year. However, in the last couple of years, my answer has changed more than it ever has before. SEO is becoming a broader field that requires a special type of creativity to stay on top. Here are some of my recent answers of where I believe things are headed.
Answers without Clicks
Google will expand the use of Knowledge Graph in many of its search results. Knowledge Graph attempts to predict the specific meaning of searches and provide an answer along-side traditional search results with links so that the user does not need to click on the traditional organic search results. A commonly used representative example is “earth vs mars.” I predict the expansion of these results to more types of searches. The opportunities for SEO’s is to actually try to power those results and become the source because I believe Google will have to cite the source of that information. More on Google Knowledge Graph: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/introducing-knowledge-graph-things-not.html.
A Smaller Pie
Google has expanded its use of PLA (Product Listing Ads) which is an evolution on its traditional shopping results. This directly impact product-based and ecommerce websites since these results are for products. The result of this is the pushing down of traditional organic results and more eyeballs on Google’s PLA’s. In a nutshell, the search pie is smaller for everyone thats not in the PLA paid search program. According to emarketer.com (http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Google-Sees-Success-with-Product-Listing-Ads/1010581), PLA ad spend grew 165% YoY for Q4 of 2013. Also noted, PLA impressions grew 83% YoY–most likely due to better placement on search results.
Focus on User Experience
Search algorithms have evolved to pay increased attention to the user’s experience. This is a logical approach to improving the search experience: if a user performs a search, clicks a link, spends very little time on that page and hits the back button, this is a clear indication that such a result is of poor relevance or quality. The time spent on that page is known as “dwell time” while the action of hitting back is called “pogo-stocking.” Both types of user interactions after the search click have been documented and speculated upon. Yahoo took out the first search patent on pogo-sticking in 2008: http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-adv.html&r=1&p=1&f=G&l=50&d=PG01&S1=20080275882.PGNR.&OS=dn/20080275882&RS=DN/20080275882. In addition, both Google and Bing have commented on the notion of dwell time with some specific metrics. To SEO’s trying to stay ahead of the game, this means making use of analytical tools that measure time on page from organic search, page per visit, bounce rate, and other relevant metrics. It also means an added focus on the user’s experience with the pages they land on and the site as a whole rather than the traditional means of SEO based on keyword relevance.