The SEO industry and the industries that directly impact its future are in the midst of important changes. Smart SEOs need to stay on top of these and be prepared to adapt in the year ahead. A surprising number of posts covering what to expect from the industry in 2019 have regurgitated the same trends that they posted at the beginning of 2018. This is an oversight because the reality is that big changes are on the horizon in 2019 that weren’t really possible to see coming at the beginning of 2018.
Let’s talk about some of those changes now.
1. The Shift Away From Search Begins:
Last September, Google announced important changes in direction that will have a permanent impact on SEO. According to them:
- They are shifting away from answers to journeys, starting by introducing activity cards to retrace your steps, collections to keep track of your searches, dynamic subtopics in the search results tailored to the context of your other searches at the time, and a new topic layer has been added to the Knowledge Graph to help the search engine better understand how content is related.
- They are shifting towards providing information without queries, the primary change being the rebranding of Google Feed to Google Discover, with important updates, and adding it directly to the Google homepage. The updated feed, with content recommendations based on your user history and interests, now surfaces evergreen content in addition to fresh content, categorized and tailored not just to your interests but to your level of experience with the topics.
- Making visual content more useful in search, adding automatically generated AMP stories to results, including featured videos, adjusting image search to be more focussed on how central the image is to the content of the page, and introducing Google Lens to perform a search just by snapping a picture.
Needless to say, if Google Discover takes off, the impact on SEO will be astronomical, since an increasingly large amount of traffic will be referred without any query whatsoever, a change far more fundamental than simply less focus on keywords. Visual search will likewise mean rethinking SEO. The overall impression here is one of thinking about the user journey and how your content fits into it, with much more emphasis on taxonomy and context, and far less on providing isolated answers to isolated content.
In a very real sense, the search is moving in a direction that involves less search, and more content recommendation. This doesn’t make the SEO irrelevant, in fact, it means an expertise in the intersection between algorithms and marketing is more important than ever, but it does mean we can’t live in the past of query-centric discovery.
2. Amazon Search:
Smart SEOs and SEO firms should start thinking more about Amazon and its search algorithms. An incredible 56 percent of consumers visit Amazon before Google if they are looking for a product to buy, and 51 percent check with Amazon even after finding something somewhere else.
SEOs should start spending more time looking at Amazon’s search and product recommendation algorithms, using keyword tools that provide Amazon autosuggestions and start thinking about how to optimize their Amazon pages for Google search in a way that brings traffic which will also improve performance in Amazon’s own algorithms.
Amazon will certainly never replace content search, but Amazon is so central to product search that it will become increasingly difficult to honestly consider yourself an SEO if you are ignoring the platform.
3. App Store and Google Play:
Mobile has been central to search for a very long time now, and apps have been quietly taking more and more time away from browsers. In fact, users spend 90 percent of their mobile time in apps. SEOs who start investing in ranking well in the App Store and Google Play will, therefore, be doing their clients a huge favor if they stand to gain at all from a mobile app.
This isn’t to say that every business needs a mobile app, since a very large portion of that 90 percent is spent on a handful of social media, entertainment, and gaming apps, but the quiet shift in how people interact with the digital world and with the internet as a whole is one that no SEO should ignore.
4. Increase Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T):
An important update to Google’s algorithm occurred last August which seemed to have a lot to do with earlier changes to Google’s quality rater guidelines and their stronger emphasis on E-A-T. More investment in determining how much expertise, authority, and trustworthiness a site and its content creators have is very likely.
SEOs who hope to stay ahead of the curve should start thinking more about author TrustRank, credible biographical information, fact-checking, and Google’s Knowledge-Based Trust algorithm, query anticipation, taxonomy, and investing in experienced content creators.
5. Investment In Progressive Web Apps (PWAs):
A progressive web app functions essentially like a mobile app, but operates within the browser. It is capable of working offline, identifiable as an app by algorithms due to standardization via W3C Manifests, includes push notifications, can be linked to directly, and can be installed.
Should the evolution of apps mirror the evolution of the internet in its early days, in which disparate proprietary platforms were replaced by the open standard of the world wide web, we can expect PWAs to be the future of mobile app use. Certainly, the standardization and openness make them more favorable to “crawling” by search engines, and as the web becomes a more dynamic, less static place, we can expect them to play a more and more important part.
Understanding PWA standards and meeting them in a way that is easy for search engines to understand will be an important skill in the years ahead.
6. Smart Assistants:
Google Assistant is becoming an increasingly advanced tool for users, with two-way communication capability and the ability to assist users directly with far more than returning search results, now including the ability to shop and make orders, and soon even to schedule appointments by making phone calls on the user’s behalf. As Google Assistant and similar AI take over more tasks that a traditional search would have in the past, SEOs will need to think about whether to focus more on content that can never be replaced by an AI assistant, or whether to focus on earning the attention of these AI. Google Shopping also presents the possibility of a worrisome future, since it is currently only possible to place orders through stores that are explicitly partnered with Google, a shift that SEOs will need to make some important decisions about.
The future of SEO is not in jeopardy, but its future is dramatically different from its past. While query search and the importance of solid content certainly aren’t going away, big changes are happening and these won’t always be the smartest place to focus your efforts. Emerging technologies are changing the landscape, and SEO isn’t just about search anymore, it’s about the intersection between algorithms and marketing.