Business Owners Tell All: How Do You Envision SEO Evolving in the Next Five Years?

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SEO updates, trends and best practices are known to change literally overnight, and today’s leading SEO strategies could be obsolete in a matter of minutes with every shift of Google’s ranking algorithm. It’s crucial for business owners to not only stay on top of the latest SEO updates, but to also be able to predict upcoming trends before they become the industry standard.

With the seemingly unpredictable nature of SEO in mind, we were curious to hear how business owners, entrepreneurs and marketing professionals envision the future of SEO in the next five years. Which trends do they predict will still be holding strong, and which will be phased out long before 2023?

Wes Marsh, Director of Digital Marketing at  DigitalUs

SEO certainly changes very rapidly, and what we’re doing for SEO in five years in many ways may be just as different as the things we did in 2013 compared to 2018. However, I think there are a couple things that will remain consistent while others will fade away.

Creating relevant content that answers questions for a specific audience in a helpful and authoritative manner will only continue to grow in importance. Structuring that content to be served across multiple devices and via voice readouts will be increasingly necessary. Generating relevant links to that content will also remain critical. Search engines will still be looking at links from other sites not only to your specific content, but also to your domain for trust or authority signals just as they do today.

As for things that will become obsolete: keyword reliance. As Google and other search engines improve their understanding of natural speech, the algorithms will be looking less for specific keywords and begin to understand the world in a way that humans do. Over the next five years, we’ll all be talking much more about the concept of entities rather than keywords.

Anchor text will also become obsolete. Many years ago, having a coordinated effort to manipulate the anchor text of a link could have a significant impact on performance for the keywords in that anchor text link. However, in the same way that the search engines will rely less on keywords, the specific text in the links from other sites will also be devalued.

Kenny Eliason, Founder and Co-Owner of NeONBRAND Digital Marketing

SEO always evolves, but the core of it has always been about helping people find what they’re looking for and that’s not going to change. No matter the landscape 5 years from now, you’ll still rank if you do awesome things in real life and talk about them on the internet. BUT, there is strong evidence to suggest that Facebook is looking to launch their own competitor to Google’s search engine. If Facebook actually pulls it off, social signals (especially in Facebook) will see a tremendous increase in importance. So, along with doing awesome things in real life and talking
about them on the internet, you’ll also have to make sure your friends and followers think it was awesome as well. Even if Facebook doesn’t get into the search market, Google has been incorporating social signals into their ranking factors, too, so it looks like that’s the way things are going anyway.

Rob Watson, Digital Marketing Consultant at Click To Sale

When people talk about the future of SEO, AI and Machine Learning seem to dominate the conversation. There is talk of even keywords – the most basic principle of SEO – becoming obsolete. I can’t see the changes being that drastic within five years, but I do see AI having a big part to play in the future of search. Voice Search is already on the increase and will continue
to grow. AI will allow voice search to become more sequential like a conversation. For example we’ll be able to ask to see some hotels locally. Then we’ll be able to ask which have at least a 3-star rating. Then we might drill down further and ask which have a car park, for example. All of this will happen without starting a new query.

Another area that I think has massive potential for further growth is schema, and particularly product schema on e-commerce. I believe product schema creation will be integrated into e-commerce CMS software to make it simpler. If more sites have detailed schema, it will become easier to search across the whole web for very specific, granular product queries.
For example, searching for laptops under 3kg with a minimum 8-hour battery life and 256GB storage would be possible if all laptops have consistent schema for each product attribute.

Ian McClarty, President & CEO of PhoenixNAP Global IT Solutions

I predict Google will continue to use machine learning to better serve their users. For example, highly customized search results based on individual users. Overall, Google is looking more and more for websites to be resources – even business websites. Therefore, I expect content marketing to infinitely increase. Not just any content, but high-quality content that serves the user’s needs.

Links will have less and less value over time. The reason is simple; they can be manipulated. Google has analytics, as well as all of the data from the Chrome browser to know exactly how users are interacting with each and every website. In the end, I believe websites that focus on serving up the best user experience will win long term.

Sarah Hancock, SEO Manager at

In my opinion, the future of SEO lies with artificial intelligence and machine learning. Over the next several years, Google’s machine learning framework, RankBrain, will get better and better at discerning the user intent behind every search query, so brands that focus on optimizing user
experience and adding real value by addressing people’s search intents, needs, and questions directly will win. SEO tactics aiming to game the system, such as spammy link building and keyword stuffing, will become obsolete.

David Barbour, Co-Founder of Vivio Life Sciences

With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), web crawler algorithms will be far more powerful, perceptive, and keen on user intent. This advancement will mitigate the value of follow links as the main indication of domain authority. Brand mentions, name mentions, and the value of content compared to millions of other results will be the new influence over domain authority and search engine rankings. Search engine results page tags, title and meta data, will still be a large factor; they are the users first look into website relevancy. AI will enhance the accuracy of results based on user intent. Deeming content the supreme factor in future SEO.

Bill Widmer, SEO and Content Marketing Consultant

When it comes to SEO, there is one rule that will hold true until the end of search engines: they want to show the absolute best result for a given query. It doesn’t matter how many links you build or what long tail keywords you target. If your content sucks, it will be beaten.

Within 5 years, I suspect two major changes:

  1. Google will show more video results on the SERPs. They’ve already begun doing this, and as many as 25% or more of all searches have video results on them. YouTube is blending with Google to become a single engine in a way.

    2. SERPs will become more mobile- and voice-friendly. While I don’t see desktop going away any time soon (if ever), mobile is becoming more prevalent than ever. Google is starting to rank sites based on their mobile version now rather than their desktop version. So you better have a strong mobile site. The other factor is voice. More people are getting Alexas and other voice-activated devices, resulting in more spoken queries, which are very different from types out searches. Your content needs to be written in a conversational tone, and you need to understand your audiences language – the exact wording and lingo they use.

Sukhjot (Joti) Basi, Bank Yogi

In the next five years I expect voice search that is responsible for almost 50% of the search on Google to gain 70-80% of the search market share worldwide. This will significantly change how SEO is done. The current trend of writing a minimum of 300 word article so that you can rank higher in a search engine will obsolete. Instead a more precise and shorter content that can meet the needs of a voice user will rank higher. Google has already introduced structured data and rich cards, and data highlighters for webmasters to enhance SEO. The short and precise answers from these elements are used for the voice search thus enhancing your ranking and visibility.

To summarize:
1. Larger content articles will be irrelevant
2. Shorter, precise and unique content will rank higher
3. Use of structured data, rich cards and data highlighters will increase the Voice SEO

Craig De Borba, Digital Marketing Strategist at On Point Internet Marketing

Backlinks will always be a dominating signal but I believe we’re going to be seeing social media playing a much bigger role than it currently is. As technology platforms expand web development will become much more interactive and UX will also become a dominant ranking signal along with larger content driven websites.

Chas Cooper, CEO & Founder of Rising Star Reviews

SEO may change a lot in the short run, but the long run trajectory stays the same.

As early as 2000, Larry Page said “Artificial intelligence would be the ultimate version of Google. The ultimate search engine that would understand everything on the web. It would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing.”

And that’s exactly what Google has done…and will continue to do in the future.

The ultimate future of SEO is that SEO will no longer exist, because search engines will be smart enough that they won’t need any help matching content to searcher’s needs. But that’s such a tall order, that ultimate future may take a century to achieve.

In the near long term, as Google gets continues to take baby steps toward its ultimate goal of human-like AI, you’ll see SEO gradually change from a technical field to a human field. We’ve already seen the shift from keyword stuffing to topical relevance and knowledge cards. This trend will continue. Future SEOs will cater to Google as if Google were a human being reading their content, rather than thinking of Google as a machine parsing data.

Sean Flannigan, Digital Marketing Specialist at coolblueweb

I envision that SEO will move, as it already has begun to, into more and more content marketing. As Google’s algorithms advance, the weapons in this arms race evolve and change. While many people love to write about the death of SEO, it is all a bit of clickbait hyperbole. SEO, by its very nature, is a changing thing and has been since its start. We are already seeing the importance of mobile-friendliness increase and this will only become more essential to a site’s rankings.

Using great content to encourage linking and sharing will continue to be super important as well. Blogs are the major driver of inbound links, especially in eCommerce, where links are more difficult to obtain. From the beginning, Google has stressed the importance of inbound links to transmit trust and authority. It is the number one factor in ranking for good reason. They will continue to be the thing that SEO marketers scramble to obtain.

Google will certainly keep watching for suspicious linking in more and more sophisticated ways. For regular on-page elements, I see no change in the positive effect of great keyword-rich title tags and H1s. Really, marketers just need to keep up to date with how the algorithms change, as they always have, and find the best way to work within them.

Tatiana Morand, Content Marketing & SEO Coordinator at Wild Apricot

SEO is growing more and more competitive, and that’s largely due to the vast amounts of content being produced every day. Google’s algorithms are also becoming more sophisticated, and with that in mind, I think that the future of SEO will mean privileging content that’s actually well-written. Page scraping will look for factors such as sentence structure, and be more stringent with the quality of the images and videos contained in posts as well.

Cory Young, Founder of BCC Interactive

With Google developing more engaging modules inside the SERP (eg., hotel price insights, interactive restaurant menus), tactics like featured snippets will be an absolute must in the future, it will no longer be a nice to have. As machine learning and Artificial Intelligence becomes more prominent in the SEO space, I see marketers leveraging keyword data to
better inform their content development decisions. Publishing quality content will still be at the forefront of the SEO landscape, but as more users ask Google questions, we’ll likely start to see more site content take on the same tone.

As Google’s algorithm becomes more complex, the prominence of keywords in the title, description and body will become much less important, but not quite obsolete. Google has steadily decreased its importance over the years, and as the focus shifts to intent, I think the algorithm will be less reliant on specific keyword indicators.

Jack Dwyer, Chief Strategist for 4Track Content

The future of SEO comes down to user experience. Search engines do their best to deliver the most relevant, useful results that a person is looking for. As algorithms advance with AI, they will soon be able to understand which websites provide those answers in a way that’s meaningful and useful to their customers. Any website with spam, slow load speeds, or too many ads will quickly be trounced in favor of smooth, easy to read, streamlined sites with lots of rich snippets.

George R Perry, SEM Specialist at Bandwidth

The future of SEO is voice, which means that the future of SEO is hyper-focused content that answers questions. While content will continue to be integral to SEO, having content that answers questions, and does it quickly and succinctly, will be crucial to being the sole result in a
voice-driven search world. What’s strange is I don’t think this will result in current strategies becoming obsolete, and will in fact make things like local SEO even more important.

Tom Casano, SEO Strategist at Sure Oak

In five years from now, SEO will look dramatically different than it does today. Some trends that are happening now, which will only accelerate over the coming years, are voice search and Google providing the answers in the search results without the user need to click on a search result and visit another website.

As voice search becomes more widely adopted, Google will be speaking answers back to users instead of sending users to websites. This means that getting in voice search results and being referenced as the source of the answer provided will be more of a branding play than an organic traffic play.

As Google provides more answers in the search results pages, for example, through featured snippets, Google will be sending less traffic directly to websites. This means that branding and direct traffic will become more important over time to offset the erosion of Google sending organic traffic to websites.

Tactically, link building will hold less significance as Google utilizes better off-site signals than solely backlinks, such as brand mentions, social media signals, and citations. Structured data will be more important, and so will non-text content such as video, audio, and other forms of media.

Henri Isenberg, COO at ReviewInc

SEO trends will favor original CONSUMER content. As such, review sites and comments by consumers will get priority. Google will likely leverage Google Maps consumer reviews in their SEO. This will pressure Facebook into allowing Google to index Facebook business review pages. Comments found in social media will also start indexing. Of course, there will be privacy challenges, but consumers can elect to allow their comments to be indexed. Google’s indexing will also include comments and videos. On page (website optimizations) will continue to hold strong although some content and tags will be more important than others. Website speed as a page rank factor will eventually become obsolete because 5G and broadband will be so pervasive.

Kimberly Dioszeghy, Marketing Manager for Reliance Foundry Co. Ltd.

SEO is changing as Google algorithms get smarter and more intuitive about what people are looking for. It will increasingly work like a human curator or librarian, helping people satisfy their search in a single (Google) page—whether that’s finding an answer to a question, watching a video, buying a product, or seeing the latest social media post. Paying for links, even through current white-hat sponsored content, will no longer have a positive effect on SEO rankings. This
means it will be increasingly hard to game the system—instead, businesses need to provide excellent user-centered content that anyone, algorithmic or human, would be happy to pass along. Long-tail searches and local searches will get increasingly important as Google drills down to the exact needs of the user. Additionally, Siri, Alexa, and Google Home are market-disruptive. Rather than serving a traditional SERP, Google will be looking for things for digital assistants to read aloud that perfectly answer a question.

Catherine Giese, SEO Associate at Fundera

I think the most important thing to think about when trying to predict SEO trends is that Google is the dominant player. Google is not just a machine. Rather, it is a company focused on engaging its user base, which is basically everyone. Therefore, the algorithms are going to adapt based on larger trends with regards to how people are searching for answers and what
they are looking for when they ask questions.

For example, the latest algorithm update places importance on human-picked seed pages and ranks based on how close other pages are to those high quality pages based off links. So, the big focus for SEO’s now is on obtaining high-quality links. This likely came about because of increased skepticism about the information available on the web as well as frustration with low-quality, keyword-heavy content. Therefore, it became necessary to hand-pick pages such as Wikipedia and the New York Times as top-ranked, and decrease keyword weight, which in turn created a better, more reliable user experience.

So, in predicting trends, look to attitudes towards the internet. Then apply the SEO lens.

Rachael Kay Albers, Web Designer & Digital Strategist at RKA ink

As a digital agency owner, I’ve watched SEO radically transform over the last decade, away from superficial keyword stuffing that rewards content factories towards an audience first approach that puts the search user first.

As the online landscape becomes more saturated with content, SEO is becoming more human and less technical. Businesses will need to work with talented storytellers, creatives, and copywriters, not Google experts, to perform in search and generate inbound leads. Long form content strategies with a focus on entertaining and delighting audiences with ingenuity and
creativity will continue to hold strong and gain momentum, whereas keyword first strategies will decline in their effectiveness.

Preparing for the Future of SEO

The first step in preparing for SEO of the future is to develop a strong, solid SEO strategy for the present day. Our team of SEO specialists are dedicated to identifying, learning and applying the latest SEO trends in order to create strategies that rank well, drive traffic and raise brand awareness. Contact us today to develop a winning SEO strategy for 2018 and beyond.

How do you envision SEO evolving over the next five years? Be sure to share your predictions in the comments!

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